The group behind the proposed Islamic center near New York City’s Ground Zero is refuting reports claiming that the $100 million, 13-story facility will move as part of an agreement to stop the planned Quran burning in Florida.
“It is untrue that Park51 is being moved,” reported the team behind the Muslim-led project in its official Twitter account.
“The project is moving ahead as planned. What is being reported in the media is false,” it added.
The Cordoba Initiative, which originally spearheaded the effort for an Islamic center near Ground Zero, also backed the message by Park51 and directed its supporters to a report highlighting that imam behind the Islamic center “hasn’t” agreed to move the facility.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf “now says he was ‘surprised’ by the announcement,” states the article referred to by the Cordoba Initiative.
In the cited statement, Rauf said he was “glad” that Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., decided not to burn any copies of Islam’s sacred text.
But imam said he has not spoken to Jones or the Muslim leader who reportedly mediated communication between his office and the pastor.
“I am surprised by their announcement,” Rauf stated. “We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."
Just hours earlier, Jones held a press conference and announced that “the imam (Rauf) has agreed to move the mosque” and so he and his church agreed to cancel Saturday’s “International Burn A Quran Day.”
The imam who said he “made contact” with Rauf’s office, Muhammad Musri, was also present at the press conference and said he “got a commitment to fly up to New York and meet with him (Rauf) in the company of Pastor Jones to discuss and come to a decision on relocating the mosque in New York.”
“We are committed to dissolving the situation here and there,” added Musri, who serves as the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.
Notably, Musri also pointed out that he – “like many Americans, Muslim and non[-Muslim]” – feels the placement of a mosque near the Ground Zero location is “unnecessary” and “has become a clear provocation to many people to be violent against mosques across the nation.”
When asked what it would take to call off Saturday’s Quran burning, Jones and members of his church decided they would consider it “a sign from God” to cancel the burning if the group behind Park51 were to cancel or move its proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque to another location.
“The American people do not want the mosque there. And of course Moslems do not want us to burn the Quran,” Jones said Thursday, tying together the two controversial plans.
And after receiving a “guarantee,” Jones told reporters, "If it's not moved, then I think Islam is a very poor example of religion."
Rauf, however, has been adamant about planting the proposed Islamic center two blocks from the site where the World Trade Center once stood.
In an interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien on Wednesday, Rauf said moving the site for the Park51 project would “strengthen the argument of the radicals to recruit, their ability to recruit, and their increasing aggression and violence against our country.”
"If this is not handled correctly, this crisis could become much bigger than the Danish cartoon crisis, which resulted in attacks on Danish embassies in various parts of the Muslim world,” the imam argued.
“If we don't handle this crisis correctly it could become something which could really become very, very, very dangerous indeed,” he added.
Rauf’s claims were quickly shot down by opponents of Park51, however, including the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed a lawsuit challenging the project.
"By interjecting the claim that our national security is at risk if the mosque is not built at that site is not only offensive to the 9/11 victims' families and friends, but to an overwhelming majority of Americans who don't want the mosque built at Ground Zero," remarked ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow.
“The Imam continues to miss the point – Americans are tolerant, but Americans also understand this is not the place to build a mosque," he added.
According to a recent New York Times poll, two-thirds of New Yorkers, including some who support the proposed Islamic community center and mosque, say leaders of the project should find a location further from the 9/11 crash site.
Earlier polls also showed 7 in 10 Americans saying that they oppose the proposed "mega mosque" and 3 in 5 New Yorkers saying the same.
While those behind Park51 say the project “is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture,” opponents of the Muslim-led project say building an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero would be demeaning and offensive to the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Some even say the construction of the center would mark a victory for those who sought and still seek to terrorize the American people.
President Obama, however, has warned against tying Islam with those responsible for the terrorist attacks.
“Let us … remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for,” the president said during a dinner to mark the start of Islam's holy month of Ramadan. “Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam – it’s a gross distortion of Islam."
While Obama admitted that "Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground," he affirmed his belief that “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country."
Notably, however, while President Obama has made efforts to get Jones to call off Saturday's "stunt," he said last month that he "will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there (near Ground Zero)."
“I think it's very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about,” the president stated.