The imam leading the effort to build an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero says there is a "misperception" that the proposed site is sacred ground.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said Monday that the location where the center would be built, two blocks from the World Trade Center, has a strip joint and betting parlors nearby. He says it's "absolutely disingenuous" to suggest that it is "hallowed ground."
Rauf, speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, also said that a resolution to the raging debate over its location is being examined.
"We are exploring all options as we speak right now, and we are working to what will be a solution, God willing, that will resolve this crisis, diffuse it and not create any unforeseen or untoward circumstances that we do not want to see happen," Rauf said during a question-and-answer session following his speech Monday.
He did not elaborate on whether the options included moving the center from a site two blocks from the World Trade Center.
But in response to a later question, Rauf said the proposed location, while controversial, was important.
"We need a platform where the voice of moderate Muslims can be amplified. ... This is an opportunity that we must capitalize on so the voice of moderate Muslims will have a megaphone," he said.
During his remarks, Rauf also raised the question of whether the project was worth the controversy.
"The answer is a categorical yes," he said. "Why? Because this center will be a place for all faiths to come together in mutual respect."
He noted: "The world will be watching what we do here."
He also decried some aspects of the debate surrounding the proposal.
"Let us therefore reject those who would use this crisis ... for political gain or even for fame," he said.
Critics of the proposal say putting a mosque so close to where Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center in 2001 shows disrespect for the dead. Supporters cite religious freedom.
Fox News' Eric Shawn and the Associated Press contributed to this report