updated 8/18/2010 6:39:45 PM ET 2010-08-18T22:39:45

A New York imam and his proposed mosque near ground zero are being demonized by political candidates — mostly Republicans — despite the fact that Islam is already very much a part of the World Trade Center neighborhood. And that Muslims pray inside the Pentagon, too, less than 80 feet from where terrorists attacked.

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And that the imam who's being branded an extremist has been valued by both Republican and Democratic administrations as a moderate face of the faith.

Even so, the project stirs complicated emotions, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a complex figure who defies easy categorization in the American Muslim world.

He's devoted much of his career to working closely with Christians, Jews and secular leaders to advance interfaith understanding. He's scolded his own religion for being in some ways in the "Dark Ages." Yet he's also accused the U.S. of spilling more innocent blood than al-Qaida, the terrorist network that turned the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon and four hijacked airplanes to apocalyptic rubble.

Many Republicans and some Democrats say the proposed $100 million Islamic cultural center and mosque should be built elsewhere, where there is no possible association with New York's ground zero.

Story: 'No regrets' on mosque issue, Obama says

Far more than a local zoning issue, the matter has seized congressional campaigns, put President Barack Obama and his party on the spot — he says Muslims have the right to build the mosque — divided families of the Sept. 11, 2001, victims, caught the attention of Muslims abroad and threatened to blur distinctions between mainstream Islam in the U.S. and its radical elements.

Pentagon chapel hosts Muslims
The Pentagon chapel is part of a memorial to the 184 people killed in 2001 when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the west side of the Pentagon and plowed through three of the building's five office rings.

As part of its massive renovation, the Pentagon opened the nondenominational chapel in November 2002. The chapel hosts a daily prayer group and weekly worship service for Muslims and provides similar services for Jews, Hindus, Mormons, Protestants, Roman Catholics and Episcopalians.

Pentagon officials say that no one in the military or the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has ever protested.

They describe the 80-seat chapel as a peaceful place where some 300 to 400 Pentagon employees come to pray each week.

Vote: OK to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero?

The goal of the Pentagon chaplain office, which runs the chapel, is to "provide assistance and support for the religious, spiritual and morale needs of all service members and employees," said Army spokesman George Wright.

Perhaps one reason the Pentagon chapel has failed to attract much attention is that it looks more like a conference room than a place of worship with its gray walls and maroon carpet and drapes.

Its stained glass windows, which overlook the Pentagon's outdoor memorial to Sept. 11 victims, depict a soaring eagle and American flag.

Unadorned altar
There are no obvious religious statues or symbols, except Catholic holy water at the door, a Bible beneath each seat and an unadorned altar up front.

Otherwise, religious accouterments are brought in for various worship services.

Wright said that Muslim employees can gather for a daily prayer service Monday through Thursday, and attend a Friday worship service run by an imam from a local mosque.

Two in-house Army chaplains run the chapel, neither of whom are Muslim. Col. Daniel Minjares is associated with the Church of the Nazarene; his deputy, Lt. Col. Ken Williams, is Southern Baptist.

Wright said the chaplains provide religious services for their denomination but can provide services such as grief and marital counseling to employees of any faith.

Other faiths rely on local temples and churches to lead worship services.

Mosques near WTC site
Much has been made of a proposed mosque at ground zero, but the Islamic center would be established at 45-51 Park Place, just over two blocks from the northern edge of the sprawling, 16-acre World Trade Center site. Its location is roughly half a dozen normal Lower Manhattan blocks from the site of the North Tower, the nearest of the two destroyed in the attacks.

The center's location, in a former Burlington Coat Factory store, is already used by the cleric for worship, drawing a spillover from the imam's former main place for prayers, the al-Farah mosque. That mosque, at 245 West Broadway, is about a dozen blocks north of the World Trade Center grounds.

Another, the Manhattan Mosque, stands five blocks from the northeast corner of the World Trade Center site.

To be sure, the center's association with 9/11 is intentional and its location is no geographic coincidence. The building was damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks and the center's planners say they want the center to stand as a statement against terrorism.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Giuliani: ‘Don’t build the mosque there’

  1. Closed captioning of: Giuliani: ‘Don’t build the mosque there’

    >> raging over those plans to build a mosque near ground zero . the current mayor of new york city , michael bloomberg , has been one of the most vocal proponents of that mosque. but former mayor rudolph giuliani has a different opinion. mr. mayor, good morning. it's nice to see you.

    >> good morning.

    >> what's your problem with it? most people say, look, it's legal, it's within the constitution. we protect religious freedom in this country. why don't you think it should be built there?

    >> i agree with all that. and beyond that it's an act of right project as far as i can tell under new york law. they never even had to go through all the reviews they went through. the question here is a question of sensitivity. people's feelings. and, are you really what you pretend to be? as i understand this cordoba house, the idea of it is to healing, to show that muslims care about the same things that christians and jews do. that we're one people. that we should be one. well, if you're going to so horribly offend the people who are most directly offended by this, most directly affected by this, the families of the september 11th victims, who i happen to know and have got ton know, you know, really well, then how are you healing? i mean all this is doing is creating more division, more anger, more hatred, and i mean, there are --

    >> are you worried about the imam behind this project ? in terms of his politics, his religious beliefs , do you find him to be anything but the moderate that he's described as by the current administration? and by the way, the bush administration before that?

    >> i'm confused by the imam. i see all the things that you're saying. but i also see a man who said that america was an accessory to september 11th . those are the very words that require me to give $10 million back to an arab chic or prince. he gave us $10 million for the 9/11 --

    >> let me clarify so people understand what you're saying. shortly after 9/11 on "60 minutes" he said, quote, i wouldn't say the united states deserved what happened, but united states policies were an accessory to the crime that happened on 9/11, because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world.

    >> well, that's exactly what the the -- what the arab prince said when he gave me $10 million. that america was an accessory to september 11th because of its foreign policy . america was not an accessory to september 11th . all you've got to do is read about jihad and -- second thing, the second thing he said was, he refused to condemn hamas, with whom he is alleged to have had some ties. a terrorist group . it's recognized by everyone as a terrorist group . and he said america should apologize. so, okay, that's one part of it. the other part of the it is, he has had a history of appearing to be a hero, appearing to be someone that wants to talk about a moderate islam .

    >> he's made appearances with condoleezza rice --

    >> there are two ways you could interpret the koran. the better way, which is the peaceful way, or the warrior way, which is the way in which you get into trouble with jihad. but those quotes trouble me. but here's what troubles me more. if he's truly about healing, he will not go forward with this project . because this project is not healing. this project is divisive. this project is creating tremendous pain to people who have already paid the ultimate sacrifice.

    >> there are a lot of issues are divisive, and yet they have to be tough choices --

    >> matt, matt, but not this. that's true. a lot of issues are divisive. but if you want to claim to be the healer, then you're not on the side of the person who is pushing those issues.

    >> let me play you something you said on our program, "meet the press" back on december 22nd of 2002 . so about 14 months after 9/11.

    >> if you think about the attacks on september 11th , i think everyone will acknowledge that part of the core of that attack was the fact that we have freedom of religion in america . that -- that part of why america was founded. it's part of what we're all about. it's one of the most prominent things about us, that you can be a catholic, a protestant, a jew, a muslim, or no religion at all, and no one's going to interfere with you.

    >> and no one's going to interfere with you. by saying that these people shouldn't build their mosque where they plan to build it, isn't that interfering?

    >> no, of course not. first of all, they have freedom of religion . they can build it. they have every right to build it. the question is, should they build it? are they displaying the sensitivity they claim by building it? for example, the pope asked the nuns to take the convent back from right in front of auschwitz or one of the concentration camps. they had a perfect right to be there. they had the freedom of religion there. the nuns were sensitive enough to the concerns of jews that they pulled it back. now here's a man who is selling sensitivity. he's got $180,000 in the bank, he wants to raise $100 million. ask me how he's going to do it, i don't know. you don't do it by creating this kind of vicious, sort of angry battle that's going on. the people who are speaking about it --

    >> some would say he didn't create the vicious, angry battle. that it's the people who decided to weigh in on it who added it to the battle?

    >> i was the first person on september 11th that stepped forward in the heat of battle, that afternoon, my first press conference and said, no group blamed. do not blame arabs. we have to understand this is a small group , and we have to focus on them. but, the reality is, that right now, if you are a healer, you do not go forward with this project .

    >> a couple of real quick --

    >> if you're a warrior you do.

    >> a couple of quick things. do you think union workers in this city, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, will build on that site?

    >> before i returned to new york last night on an airplane, i was talking to a couple construction workers there. they told me, typical new york accent. we ain't working on that project . let them see if they can go find somebody to work on that project . my answer is, i know new york well enough, you're going to probably find somebody to work on it. i question whether they can raise the money. every indication from the attorney general's report of their charity is they have about $180,000. $100 million project . where is the money coming from?

    >> in your gut do you think if we sit down a year from right now the project will be under construction at this site?

    >> i think governor paterson had an approach. nice compromise, find another place, have a beautiful mosque there. don't offend easily 80%, 90% of the families are seriously offended. i know people who are crying over this who have lost loved ones. you or i might not even agree. we might say, okay, put the mosque there. but maybe we haven't lost that -- that son, that father, person who is watching their child today, and still remember every day that person is gone. it wasn't an attack in the name of islam . it was a perverted kind of islam . but the kind of prevalent view that goes on in a lot of parts of the world. we've got to be sensitive to everybody here.

    >> rudy giuliani , good to have you here.

    >> good to see you.

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