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Abdul Rauf to speak in Duke Chapel

The leader of the controversial effort to construct a Muslim cultural center in lower Manhattan near ground zero is set to speak on campus today.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the head of the Cordoba Initiative, will speak in Duke Chapel at 12 p.m. in a conversation with Dean of the Chapel Sam Wells. The event will be moderated by Duke Muslim Chaplain Abdullah Antepli and Associate Dean for Religious Life Christy Lohr Sapp.

The imam was met by between 50 and 60 protestors associated with the Virginia-based Christian Action Network during his address yesterday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a stop on his national speaking tour, The Daily Tar Heel reported. The University is not anticipating protestors today, however, said both Duke Police Chief John Dailey and Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek yesterday evening.

In Chapel Hill, Abdul Rauf focused on anti-extremism and noted that Islam is not America’s enemy.

“If you ask many Muslims, they will tell you America, and the way we live in America, is more Islamic than the way we live in our homelands,” Abdul Rauf said, according to The Daily Tar Heel.

The New York-based imam became controversial in 2010 when plans for the $100 million Park51 center—which includes plans for a mosque—prompted a national political debate leading up to the November midterm elections. Those who supported its construction, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, cited the need for religious tolerance. Detractors characterized the cultural center’s construction as disrespectful to those who were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In August, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission decided to withhold landmark protection of the 150-year-old building currently located on the Park Place site, eliminating a significant impediment to the Park51 center plans.

But the debate over the Islamic center and mosque continues. The New York Times reported that a New York City firefighter appeared in court Tuesday to ask a judge to overturn the city’s decision, which he alleges was unjustly influenced by Bloomberg’s vocal support.

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