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Obama supports “Ground Zero mosque”

Narayan Lakshman

Washington: Breaking months of silence, U.S. President Barack Obama waded into the controversy over the “Ground Zero mosque” on Friday when he said at a White House Iftar dinner: “As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practise their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

The plans to build a mosque and community centre two blocks away from the site of the 9/11 attacks caused a furore when they gained the approval of a local community board in Manhattan a few months ago. When the board gave the final go-ahead for the mosque and community centre earlier this month, there were anguished outpourings from those who opposed as well as those who supported the plan.

Mr. Obama indicated his strong support for the mosque when he said: “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”

He, however, underscored that the lives that were tragically lost on 9/11 must never be forgotten. Mr. Obama said the pain experienced by those who lost loved ones was unimaginable and he understood the emotions the issue engendered. “Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground,” he said.

He added that Al-Qaeda's cause was not Islamic but a “gross distortion” of the religion and the terrorist group had killed more Muslims than people of any other religion.

Touching upon the importance of the contributions of American Muslims, Mr. Obama said they excelled in every walk of life, serving as police, fire-fighters and first responders. “Muslim-American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it,” he said.

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