US President Barack Obama has defended controversial plans to build a mosque and Muslim cultural center near the site of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York.
“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,” The National Post reported Obama saying during a speech he made at an Iftar dinner (the meal which breaks a Muslim’s daily fast during Ramadan) at the White House. “That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”
Obama said that commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable, and he noted that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution had established the freedom of religion. Obama, who has made improving ties between the United States and the Muslim world a cornerstone of his foreign policy, said: “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam; it is a gross distortion of Islam,” he stated. “These are not religious leaders; these are terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children.”
On August 3, a New York city agency cleared the way for construction of a mosque and community centre two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks. Plans are for the 13-storey centre to include a 500-seat auditorium, art exhibition spaces and a swimming pool.