A Florida evangelist
is responding to efforts to build a multimillion-dollar mosque
two blocks from Ground Zero with plans to open a religious center of his own.
Bill Keller (pictured), host of
the evangelistic website Liveprayer.com, said his 9/11 Christian Center
near Ground Zero will begin holding Sunday prayer meetings Sept. 5. The
services will be held at a hotel in downtown New York until Jan. 1, when the
center moves a permanent site. The facility will
be open daily and will house a prayer chapel. Local ministers also will lead
regular outreach ministry.
“I was in prayer and
God said, ‘Listen, if the Muslims can build a temple to their false god at
Ground Zero, why can’t there be a place dedicated to the true God of the Bible
on that same area?'” said Keller, whose website claims 2.4 million subscribers.
“Rather than a [protest] event we’re going to have an ongoing work of God right
there because the Bible says you combat the darkness with the light.”
The proposed Islamic
center in lower Manhattan has generated a firestorm of controversy. The $100 million project
calls for a 13-story community center that includes a mosque,
performing arts center, meeting rooms and gym. The center, called the Cordoba
House, is a joint effort between the American Society for Muslim Advancement
and the Cordoba Initiative, which says its mission is to improve relations
between Muslims and the West.
Feisal Abdul Rauf, a New York imam and chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, said the center is intended to prevent the next 9/11 and will include a public
memorial to the nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist attack.
“My colleagues and I are the
anti-terrorists,” Rauf wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed. “We are the people who want to embolden the vast
majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. Our
purpose is to interweave America’s Muslim population into the mainstream
society. People who are stakeholders in society, who believe they are welcomed
as equal partners, do not want to destroy it. They want to build it.”
Thousands have gathered to
protest the proposed mosque, saying it is insensitive at best for Muslims to
build near a site destroyed by Islamic terrorists.
Last week, the debate
became a campaign issue in New York’s race for governor when Republican candidate Rick Lazio called on his Democratic rival, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, to investigate the funding sources of the group
behind the Islamic center. In a letter sent to Cuomo’s office, Lazio cited
media reports claiming Rauf refused to label Hamas a terrorist organization and
that the imam was a “key figure” in a group that sponsored the flotilla that
sought to break Israel’s Gaza blockade.
In media statements,
Cuomo said his office would review any evidence of wrongdoing while accusing
Lazio of religious intolerance. On Monday, the Associated Press reported that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican turned Independent who has defended the
planned mosque, said it would be un-American to vet religious organizations.
mosque opponents are supporting attempts to confer landmark status on a
century-old building at the proposed site. New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing Tuesday to debate the
issue, but a vote is not expected until later this summer. A community
board decided earlier this month that the building was not structurally
significant enough to landmark.
Some critics, including
several Christians, say building a mosque so near Ground Zero would be
viewed as a victory for Muslim terrorists. They see it as
an attempt to establish a beachhead for
political Islam in New York.
“The situation in New
York is really insulting,” said James Lafferty, head of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force who led a protest last month against the
building of Cordoba House. “All of the people who were involved in the cowardly
attacks on the World Trade Center were from radical Islam … and they are now
establishing a mosque … in the shadow of the World Trade Center.”
Lafferty, whose wife, Andrea Lafferty, is executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, said the Islamic center is part of efforts to establish
Shariah law in the U.S. He points to four Christians who were arrested last month in Dearborn, Mich., while preaching during an Arab festival there and says the
U.S. could become like Europe, which has considered the strict Islamic law in
some cases of family law among the region’s large Muslim community.