A new controversy has surfaced for Imam Faisal Rauf, the spiritual leader of the proposed mosque and community center near ground zero.
According to IPT, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, questions have emerged about how a Muslim group led by Rauf obtained tax exempt status. The group, the American Sufi Muslim Association, ASMA says it "hosted and conducted prayer and meditation sessions…" on its tax exempt application filed in 1998.
ASMA listed its established place of worship as 201 West 85th Street, a New York City apartment house. The group claimed average attendance at worship services was between "450 and 500."
The problem according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism is that the building lacks the necessary public space to house that many congregants. Furthermore, IPT says records show Imam Rauf's wife, who a year earlier was listed as one of the religious groups directors had a one bedroom apartment in the very same building.
The ASMA did not return our phone calls and Rauf remains out of the country until tomorrow on a State Department tour promoting interfaith dialogue. At a think tank in Dubai he said controversy over the so called ground zero mosque could shape the role of Islam in America.
Speaking at a local TV station he told an interviewer that the mosque opposition is being led by a "very small group and they have succeeded in putting some confusion, arousing confusion and suspicion in a broader base of people and this is unfortunate."
Supporters of the mosque , including leaders of dozens of Muslim organizations rallied on Wednesday on the steps of New York's City Hall. Among the demonstrators was New York City Congressman Charlie Rangel who said "this isn't a problem for Muslims; it's a problem for Americans in doing the right thing and respecting our constitution."
Meanwhile, the US State Department which has taken some flak for funding Imam Rauf's overseas tour says it is pleased with his trip. While the Imam says the controversy has expanded beyond a piece of real estate, critics say its all about location, location, location.