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NYC Imam: Working on Solution to Defuse "Crisis"

Updated 10:21 a.m. ET

The imam leading an effort to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site said Monday that events of the last few weeks "have really saddened me to my core," but promised that he was working on a solution to the "crisis" his plans have caused.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said he was disappointed that many of the arguments made against construction of the Islamic interfaith center have been based on "deliberate misinformation and harmful stereotypes."

"I am deeply distressed that some have exploited this issue for their own agendas," he said.

Rauf did not directly address questions about the future of the planned Islamic center - first known as Cordoba House and later renamed Park51 - in Lower Manhattan, saying only that "all options are on the table" and that he was working diligently to bring about a solution that will please all parties. He said that crises always present opportunities as well.

He also raised the question of whether the project is worth the controversy. He says the answer is "a categorical yes." He says the center would be a place for all faiths to come together in mutual respect.

He says that "the world is watching what we do here" and that it is important to "live up to our ideal."

He said that he was genuinely taken by surprise by the recent furor over Cordoba House, given that it caused no stir when the project was announced (and appeared on the front page of the New York Times) more than nine months ago.

"The importance of the meeting is not as much about what Imam Feisal said about the proposed Muslim community center at Ground Zero, than about what he did not say," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, who attended the meeting as a member of the Council.

"The imam said that all options are on the table, but he did not answer questions about whether he was willing to compromise on the location or about the financing" of the project, she said.

Rauf said that that every religion in the world has extremism. "Sadly, Islam is among them. All faiths have among their members those who distort and twist their core values to their own agendas."

He said 99.9 percent of Muslims in the world find the attitudes of extremists "absolutely abhorrent."

"Terrorists violate the sanctity of human life and corrupt the meaning of our faith. In no way do they represent our religion and we must not let them define us," he said.

He said Islamist extremists would have others believe that there is a battle between Muslims and those outside their faith. "That idea is false," he said. "The battle is not between Muslims and non-Muslims; it is between moderates of all the faith traditions against the extremists of all faith traditions," he said.

"We must not let extremists hijack the discourse and hijack the media." That, he said, only fuels extremism.

To break that cycle, Rauf recommends creating a coalition of moderates across all faith traditions to battle extremists.

He specifically addressed political leaders, the media, and the business community in pleas to be part of that moderate movement, calling on the politicians to "reject those who would sell America's soul for a short-term gain in public opinion."

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