Local News

Controversial Imam speaks at UNC

Posted March 16, 2011 10:22 p.m. EDT
Updated March 17, 2011 5:57 p.m. EDT

— The man behind a proposal to build an Islamic community center just blocks from the site of the World Trade Center in New York City spoke at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Wednesday night while groups opposed to that plan met outside.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was paid $20,000 in private funds to deliver the 2011 Weil Lecture on American Citizenship. 

He talked about the importance of Americans engaging with the Muslim community and said a community center is one way to help do that.

Abdul Rauf, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Kuwait. He founded and chairs the Cordoba Movement, which seeks to improve understanding among people of all cultures and faiths.

He has been promoting the Cordoba House, a center to encourage multi-faith understanding at Park51, near the site of the World Trade Center tragedy. His project has been labeled the "Ground Zero Mosque" by those who point out that the Sept. 11 attackers were Muslim. 

"I'm committed to bridging relations between the country that I love and the religion that I love," Abdul Rauf told a packed auditorium. 

In a meeting nearby, the Christian Action Network played a film about the families of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

Some of the people in attendance Wednesday night were in New York City when the attacks occurred. 

"I think this mosque at ground zero is a mistake, and I'm here to challenge it," said Iario Pantano, who worked near the World Trade Center. 

Firefighter Tim Brown was a first responder on Sept. 11. He said he lost 93 friends in the tragedy. 

"It's about how hurtful this proposed mosque at ground zero is to the families of 9/11," Brown said. 

While Abdul Rauf was speaking, the group lit candles outside the talk.They were greeted by a group who supports Cordoba House.

University officials said Abdul Rauf is not raising funds for the center during his public speaking engagements across the country. He is scheduled to speak at Duke University on Thursday.