POSTED: 04:27 a.m. HST, Sep 10, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 09:20 a.m. HST, Sep 10, 2010
NEW YORK — The imam leading an effort to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site said Friday that he has no immediate plans to meet with a Florida pastor who has threatened to burn copies of the Quran.
"I am prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said in a prepared statement. "We have no such meeting planned at this time. Our plans for the community center have not changed. With the solemn day of September 11 upon us, I encourage everyone to take time for prayer and reflection."
The statement was an apparent response to the Rev. Terry Jones, who said he would put off plans to burn the Muslim holy book if he was able to meet with Rauf.
It appeared to leave open the possibility of a meeting but did not mention Jones by name or say specifically whether Rauf believed the pastor was a peacemaker.
Shortly after Rauf made his statement, Jones and a fellow Christian preacher, K.A. Paul, of Texas, spoke to reporters briefly in Gainesville, Fla. They did not appear to be aware of Rauf's remarks. Paul said that they were waiting to hear from Rauf directly and that they were issuing him a "challenge" on whether a decision has been made to move the New York mosque project.
Jones and Paul did not say what would happen if they did not hear from Rauf.
Jones outraged U.S. political leaders and Muslims around the world by threatening to have his congregation burn the Quran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
When he announced Thursday that he was calling off the event, he said he was doing so because he had been assured by a Muslim leader in Florida that organizers of the Islamic center in New York City had agreed to build it farther from ground zero.
That claim was immediately denied, though, by all of the key leaders of the New York project.
Rauf said he hadn't spoken with Jones or the Florida imam and had been surprised by their announcement. He appeared to reject outright the idea of negotiation.
"We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony," Rauf said in a statement Thursday evening.
The Manhattan leader of the real estate partnership that controls the site of the planned center, Sharif El-Gamal, also denied that he had talked to anyone about a possible move.
The former clothing store that is slated to become the 13-story Islamic center was locked up and vacant Friday, even as media members gathered outside to witness any demonstrations for or against it.
Police officers guarding the block, which had been closed to vehicle traffic, said the building would be closed Friday and Saturday. They said worshippers who normally attended services there had been directed to a different prayer room about 10 blocks away.
The officers declined to give their names and directed reporters seeking information to contact the police department's public information office.
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik and Mike Schneider in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to this report.