The imam leading the construction of the so-called "ground zero mosque" said Sunday that the controversy surrounding the planned cultural center is a "sign of success," the Associated Press reports.
A heated debate continued Sunday over whether the proposed Islamic cultural center should be built a few blocks away from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in New York City, both for and against the project.
"The fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of success," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf reportedly said Sunday with respect to the project, addressing a gathering at the U.S. ambassador's residence in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain.
"It is my hope that people will understand more," Rauf said without elaborating, according to the AP.
Rauf, who is leading the project with his wife Daisy Khan, made the remarks in Bahrain as part of a trip sponsored by the U.S. State Department. The trip is part of a State Department program that sends rabbis, imams, Protestants and other religious representatives around the world to promote religious tolerance and religious freedom. Rauf made similar trips with the State Department during the Bush administration.
Rauf also gave an interview to Bahrain's Al Wasat newspaper while on the trip, saying that America's Constitution is in line with Islamic principles, the AP reports.
"I see the article of independence as more compliant with the principles of Islam than what is available in many of the current Muslim countries," he said.
Khan said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that the mosque organizers have started meeting with the families of 9/11 victims and other groups that have shown concern about the project.
"We've been bridge builders since 9/11, and that's what we do best, and that's what we've decided to do at this very moment," she said.
Khan added that she was concerned about Islamophobia in America.
"I think we are deeply concerned, because this is like a metastasized anti-Semitism," she said. "That's what we feel right now. It's not even Islamophobia, it's beyond Islamophobia. It's hate of Muslims. And we are deeply concerned."
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