A leader of the effort to build an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center on Wednesday thanked the New York Police Department for coming to his aid during the furor over the project when he and the mosque were receiving death threats.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said at the department’s annual pre-Ramadan conference that he was forced to move because of the threats two years ago, but the department gave care and attention to the mosque, to the workers, to him and his family.
“I want to publicly express my deep gratitude,” he said.
Rauf helped come up with the idea for the center, called Park51, and promoted it amid fierce criticism because of its location. Rauf now has a reduced role in the project, which is moving forward although nothing has been built yet.
Plans called for replacing a defunct clothing store two blocks from the World Trade Center site with a 13- to 16-story building that would hold athletic facilities, a day care center, art galleries, an auditorium, a 9/11 memorial and a prayer space with room for a congregation of about 1,000.
Critics assailed the project as insensitive, saying it was improper for a Muslim institution to be located so close to the site of an attack by Islamic extremists. The furor dissipated following the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks last year.
Rauf also said Wednesday that he understands the criticism over NYPD surveillance of Muslims, but he believes the department is doing a good job, and he welcomed the invitation to speak at the conference. The auditorium was full of Muslim leaders, despite the absence of some Muslim groups who said they were boycotting over prior reports by The Associated Press about police surveillance of neighborhoods and mosques since the attacks.
The boycotting groups said in a joint statement that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had refused to meet with them and address their concerns. They said they were advocating “accountability and oversight in curbing civil and human rights abuses by law enforcement agencies.”
Rauf said that boycotting did nothing to help the dialogue improve over Muslim relations in the United States, and encouraged people to speak out.
“If something is done which is not perfect we need to speak to each other and help each other find a way,” he said. “The problem is when we boycott then we remove ourselves from being at the table.”