U.S. election-year politics are interfering with the plan to build an Islamic centre near the site of the September 11 attacks, the Muslim cleric leading the project said in comments published Monday.
Kuwait-born Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been tight-lipped on the planned cultural centre as he tours Gulf Arab countries to speak about religious radicalism, but said he felt the uproar was linked to the U.S. congressional elections in November.
There is no doubt that the election season has had a major impact upon the nature of the discourse, Abdul Rauf said in an interview with Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper.
The imam said the issue was not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between moderates of all the faith traditions and the radicals of all the faith traditions.
The proposed Islamic centre in lower Manhattan has generated fierce opposition from conservative politicians and people who see the project as an offence to the approximately 2,750 people killed when Islamist militant suicide hijackers from al Qaeda slammed planes into the Twin Towers.
Controversy grew earlier this month when the State Department confirmed it was financing Abdul Rauf, a Sufi Muslim scholar, to travel the Middle East for a U.S.-backed educational and cultural program, calling him a distinguished cleric.
Abdul Rauf has tried to focus his talks during his tour of Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on Islam in the United States and the fight against religious radicalism.
The radicals feed of each other and need each other to sustain themselves. So we need right now to combat radical voices, that's the only we way we can win this struggle.
The imam said he planned to speak directly on the issue of the Islamic centre, which has been backed by leaders of several faiths, when he returned to the United States later this week.
(Writing by Erika Solomon; Editing by Jon Hemming)