A Florida evangelist is responding to efforts to build a multimillion-dollar mosque two blocks from Ground Zero with plans to open a religious center of his own.
Bill Keller (pictured), host of the evangelistic website liveprayer.com, said his 9/11 Christian Center near Ground Zero will begin holding Sunday prayer meetings Sept. 5. The services will be held at a hotel in downtown New York until Jan. 1, when the center moves a permanent site. The facility will be open daily and will house a prayer chapel. Local ministers also will lead regular outreach ministry.
"I was in prayer and God said, 'Listen, if the Muslims can build a temple to their false god at Ground Zero, why can't there be a place dedicated to the true God of the Bible on that same area?'" said Keller, whose website claims 2.4 million subscribers. "Rather than a [protest] event we're going to have an ongoing work of God right there because the Bible says you combat the darkness with the light."
The proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan has generated a firestorm of controversy. The $100 million project calls for a 13-story community center that includes a mosque, performing arts center, meeting rooms and gym. The center, called the Cordoba House, is a joint effort between the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, which says its mission is to improve relations between Muslims and the West.
Feisal Abdul Rauf, a New York imam and chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, said the center is intended to prevent the next 9/11 and will include a public memorial to the nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist attack.
"My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists," Rauf wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed. "We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. Our purpose is to interweave America's Muslim population into the mainstream society. People who are stakeholders in society, who believe they are welcomed as equal partners, do not want to destroy it. They want to build it."
Thousands have gathered to protest the proposed mosque, saying it is insensitive at best for Muslims to build near a site destroyed by Islamic terrorists.
Last week, the debate became a campaign issue in New York's race for governor when Republican candidate Rick Lazio called on his Democratic rival, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, to investigate the funding sources of the group behind the Islamic center. In a letter sent to Cuomo's office, Lazio cited media reports claiming Rauf refused to label Hamas a terrorist organization and that the imam was a "key figure" in a group that sponsored the flotilla that sought to break Israel's Gaza blockade.
In media statements, Cuomo said his office would review any evidence of wrongdoing while accusing Lazio of religious intolerance. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican turned Independent who has defended the planned mosque, said it would be un-American to vet religious organizations.
Many mosque opponents are supporting attempts to confer landmark status on a century-old building at the proposed site. New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing Tuesday to debate the issue, but a vote is not expected until later this summer. A community board decided earlier this month that the building was not structurally significant enough to landmark.
Some critics, including several Christians, say building a mosque so near Ground Zero would be viewed as a victory for Muslim terrorists. They see it as an attempt to establish a beachhead for political Islam in New York.
"The situation in New York is really insulting," said James Lafferty, head of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force who led a protest last month against the building of Cordoba House. "All of the people who were involved in the cowardly attacks on the World Trade Center were from radical Islam ... and they are now establishing a mosque ... in the shadow of the World Trade Center."
Lafferty, whose wife, Andrea Lafferty, is executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, said the Islamic center is part of efforts to establish Shariah law in the U.S. He points to four Christians who were arrested last month in Dearborn, Mich., while preaching during an Arab festival there and says the U.S. could become like Europe, which has considered the strict Islamic law in some cases of family law among the region's large Muslim community.
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