Moving the proposed mosque from its location near Ground Zero to another site in New York City is not an option on the table right now, the wife of the imam involved in the controversial building said Sunday.
Daisy Khan, the wife of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf and one of the planners of the proposed building two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, said key stakeholders will meet about the project, but no conversation has been scheduled with New York Gov. David Paterson, who has offered to work on alternative locations for the would-be mosque and community center.
"What we're doing is we're meeting several stakeholders right now, because we understand the pain and the anguish that has been displayed throughout the country ... And we indeed want to build bridges. We don't want to create conflict. This is not where we were coming from," Khan told ABC's "This Week."
"We first want to meet with all the stakeholders who matter, who are the New Yorkers. ... We will meet and we will do what is right for everyone," she said.
But Khan added that too much is at stake so the project must go on.
"We have the Muslim community around the nation that we have to be concerned about, and we have to worry about the extremists as well, because they are seizing this moment. And so we have to be very careful and deliberate in when we make any major decision like this," she said.
Protesters convened Sunday in New York City to protest what has been known as the Cordoba Initiative. Opposition to the mosque and community center has focused on its location near the site of the worst act of war on American soil, not the constitutional right of Muslims to build houses of worship.
But the rhetoric has become very heated as politicians weigh in and the project becomes closer to reality.
"This is sacred ground. Two thousand souls went to Heaven that day and this is not the place for a mosque," said one demonstrator.
Some of the protesters object to Rauf going on a State Department-sponsored, taxpayer-funded trip through the Middle East while having said shortly after the Sept. 11 attack that U.S. policies "were an accessory to the crime that happened" on Sept. 11.
In an interview with a Bahraini newspaper set to appear Monday, Rauf reportedly said that U.S. constitutional rights are more in line with Islamic principles than the limits imposed by some Muslim nations. In a copy of the article obtained by The Associated Press, he is quoted saying the freedoms enshrined by the U.S. Constitution reflect true Muslim values.
Outside Rauf's charm offensive overseas, opponents of the mosque at home have also raised concern about the financing. Former Republican Rep. Rick Lazio, who is running for governor, said he wants some clarity over the developers' refusal to reject outright any funding from Iran.
"Where's this money coming from. Let's have a full accounting, let's open the books," Lazio said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Khan pledged that funds would be raised by a finance board that will have comply with U.S. laws.
"We have promised that we will work with the Charities Bureau, that we will adhere to the highest and the strictest guidelines set forth by the Treasury Department, because there is so much angst about this," Khan said.
Khan and Rabbi Joy Levitt, the executive director of the Manhattan Jewish Community Center which has served as a model for the Cordoba House, also criticized conservatives like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who compared the construction of the mosque near Ground Zero to the erection of a Nazi site near the Holocaust Museum in Washington or a Japanese construct next to Pearl Harbor.
Levitt called the comparison "terrible imagery" and argued that Gingrich has never been to the JCC nor knows what it's about. Khan added he also never visited the mosque in Tribeca, 12 blocks from Ground Zero.
"We've been neighbors, and we've been good neighbors. And as neighbors, we feel we want to rebuild our city and our neighborhood," she said.
Khan also expressed concern that the United States is "beyond" Islamophobic.
"This is like a metastasized anti-Semitism. That's what we feel right now. It's not even Islamophobia, it's beyond Islamophobia. It's hate of Muslims. And we are deeply concerned," she said.
Khan said the Islamic community center that she envisioned duplicates the JCC. It would include a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, athletic facilities, classrooms for cooking or small educational forums and a prayer space for Muslims to worship.
"It's basically become a place where ideas can be exchanged, but tolerance, mutual respect can also be extended," she said.
Khan said the site would be modeled after the JCC or YMCA because "all religions Americanize over time. They go from a place of worship to a place of service ... and (the) Muslim community is inevitably going to also develop such a center."
Khan added that the project is still al ong way off because the developers had to go through "several processes and civic hurdles" like making sure the site did not have landmark status in the city.