Q&A: Proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero

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 Who's behind the project?

Park51 is a product of the Cordoba Initiative, a nonprofit organization headed by the Muslim cleric Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, a Jericho High School graduate. The group aims to improve relations between Islam and the West by hosting leadership conferences for young American Muslims, organizing programs on Arab-Jewish relations, and empowering Muslim women. Rauf, 62, was born in Kuwait and educated in Malaysia, London and the U.S.

He's a prolific speaker and author of several books about the role of Islam in the modern world, including "What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West." He and serves as imam of a mosque in New York's TriBeCa neighborhood, also not far from Ground Zero. The State Department recently sent him on a religious outreach trip to the Middle East, one of several he has made on behalf of the U.S. government since 2007. He promotes himself as a moderate bridge builder, but Rauf has made comments over the years that alarmed some observers and in the past that helped fuel opposition to the proposed project.

In a CBS News interview shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said, "United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened." In a radio interview this year, he refused to call the radical Islamic group Hamas a terrorist organization, saying "the issue of terrorism is a very complex question."

Where is it exactly?

The address is 45-47 Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. The building, which once housed a Burlington Coat Factory store, was closed after being damaged by debris from the 9/11 attacks. SoHo Properties, a private real estate development company and partner in the Islamic center project, bought the building in 2009 for $4.85 million. Muslim prayer services have been held weekly there since.

Why was this site chosen?

Khan has said the growing number of congregants at the only other mosque nearby created a need for an additional Islamic center in the neighborhood. The project was also a way to showcase the efforts of moderate, peace-seeking Muslims and their involvement in the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, she said. "We want to create a platform by which the voices of the mainstream and silent majority of Muslims will be amplified. A center of this scale and magnitude will do that," Khan told the AP.

Can opponents prevent its construction?

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Not really. It's private property, and the developers own the building. The street is zoned to accommodate houses of worship. The project cleared its last regulatory hurdle when the city's Landmarks Commission voted unanimously not to designate the building a historic landmark, clearing the way for demolition. Opponents' best hope would be through a public relations campaign urging the developers to resite it out of respect for victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families.

How's it being funded?

Sharif El-Gamal, owner of SoHo Properties, has said fundraising efforts were just getting started and would be handled with great vigilance. "We pledge to all New Yorkers and all Americans that we'll work under all applicable laws and regulations. By no means will we accept support from persons with anti-American views or agendas," he wrote.

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