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A way forward <br> Imam's offer should help ease stress over proposed mosque

Having opposed the location of the proposed mosque two blocks from ground zero, we were heartened this past Saturday to hear Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf tell The News editorial board that if he can find another, proper location farther away from ground zero, backers would build there.

"If someone is willing to offer another site, I would move," he said, uttering the words families of loved ones who were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center towers have longed to hear.

The current proposed site in a former coat store at 51 Park Place in Manhattan, where both he and real estate investor Sharif el-Gamal set out to build a 13-story center, is too close.

The issue pitted the project's Muslim board against local groups that were vociferous in opposing the location. Unions pledged they would never let the mosque be built there. Leaders took sides, but more than 70 percent of New Yorkers were against the location.

This change of heart by a truly religious man should bring joy to many groups, particularly Muslims throughout the country who were forced to guard their mosques because of the backlash over the controversy.

There is also the global view. Muslims throughout the world were watching to see if the mosque would be blocked at that location. That mosque leaders have voluntarily pulled back should put out that fire.

Rauf talked about a center more along the lines of a Jewish Community Center that would be open to everybody, and that would be far more productive in any effort toward healing between cultures and religions. In fact, he maintained that he never proposed a mosque, but simply a prayer space. Point taken.

We have had our own reservations. While acknowledging any religion's First Amendment right to build a house of worship anywhere in America, The News had expressed its dismay last fall over a stance that appeared inflexible.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Rauf reportedly expressed general frustration that "radical extremists have hijacked our discourse," and warned that moving the site could prompt a violent backlash from some Muslims abroad.

The imam has blamed much of the interpretation of his words, and what he called the rebranding of the project into some sort of 13-story ground zero mega-mosque, on the media. His demeanor and intellectual discourse and, more important, his expressed, on-the-record desire to consider another location if a suitable site is presented, should be well received.

We salute Imam Rauf on his change of heart. He truly is a cleric of peace.

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