Attending the World Forum of Spiritual Culture, recently held in Astana, Kazakhstan, Rauf made exclusive statements to the Cihan news agency. He claimed that Westerners’ lack of knowledge about Islam had led them to harbor prejudices and fears about the religion and explained that the source of prejudice against Islam in the West is not the Sept. 11 attacks but Islamophobia, which is caused by a lack of knowledge of Islam and provocative media articles.
He called on all Muslims in the United States and the world to work to eliminate prejudices against Islam, while noting that the real Islam portrayed by Islamic figures such as Yunus Emre and Ahmet Yesevi should be introduced to other people.
The Kuwaiti-born Rauf, 52, spurred protests in the United States when he proposed building an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center, which collapsed in the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Rauf said the protests against his proposal came as a result of some American media outlets’ provocations.
“For 25 years I have been leading prayers at a mosque which was established by a Turk who moved to New York from İstanbul. The people there know us and we know them.
Initially, only one-third of the mosque was being filled. Now, the mosque can only host only one-third of the Muslims who want to pray there. The mosque falls short of meeting the need,” Rauf said, adding that one of the Muslims attending prayers at the mosque purchased a piece of land close to ground zero for the construction of a new mosque.
He said they decided to establish a cultural complex there to provide good services to people and have space for conferences and seminars to be held. When they shared their idea about establishing a cultural complex, Rauf said the local administrations gave their approval and sided with them despite the protests.
Rauf also noted that religious leaders, politicians and faith organizations gave their project strong support, adding that even President Barack Obama was in favor of the project. “We are now trying to explain to the people that it will be a cultural complex that will be constructed, not solely a mosque,” he said.