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NYC mosque imam on outreach tour in Mideast

MANAMA, Bahrain - The imam leading plans for an Islamic center near the Manhattan site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks began a U.S.-funded outreach tour of the Middle East yesterday to talk about religious tolerance in America.

The U.S. State Department said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf arrived in Bahrain for the start of a 15-day tour in which he will discuss Muslim life in America.

"He will be visiting mosques," said department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "He will be involved in direct discussions to help people in the countries he'll visit understand the role of religion in our society, how American Muslims celebrate Ramadan, how we emphasize religious tolerance in our society."

The trip - estimated to cost about $16,000 - is funded by the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs and includes visits to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Details of the imam's specific plans in each country have been closely guarded - possibly in reaction to rancor in the United States over plans proposed by his organization, The Cordoba Initiative, for an Islamic cultural center near the site of the World Trade Center towers.

Crowley said Rauf would record short lectures for Bahraini television to take advantage of expanded audiences during the month of Ramadan and could even address the controversy of the new Islamic center. - AP

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