Q: Why did you write this book?
A: I wrote this book because the American public saw me and heard me, but really didn’t get to know me very well, or to understand what my work was all about. This book is my calling card to the American public.
Q: Are you still involved in the project to build an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan?
A: The dream is still alive to build a center that, programmatically, will parallel the YMCA and the Jewish Community Center and includes a (Muslim) house of worship, but also reaches out to broader community. But I am not involved with Sharif El-Gamal’s (Park51) project any longer.
Q: Is that because he wanted a more Muslim-focused building, and you envisioned a broader community center?
Q: You write that the turmoil over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” actually increased America’s standing among Muslims abroad. How so?
A: The opposition tried to brand us as the “Ground Zero megamosque.” The language was deliberately wordsmithed in order to arouse hostility against us. But the idea that the Jewish mayor of New York City and the president of the United States supported a mosque at Ground Zero, and took a lot of flak for it, raised their stature in the Muslim world. Many acknowledged that the same thing could not have happened in many Muslim-majority countries.
Q: You received death threats. Were you surprised at the amount of vitriol the project attracted?
A: Not really. It’s understandable. A certain number of people view Islam as the reason America was attacked. They see anything Muslim or Islamic as fundamentally anti-American, and that’s the link that people like me are trying very hard to break.
Q: Why do you think Islamophobia seems to have increased since 9/11, especially in recent years?
A: There are individuals who are working very hard to promote fear and antagonism towards Islam and Muslims in this country. It’s fueled, in part, by the first African-American president that we have. Obama’s father was a Muslim and people have used this to arouse hostility against him. A kind of racism still exists in the United States, and Islamophobia is a more convenient way to express that sentiment. There has also been an attempt to paint Muslims as enemies of the United States.
Q: And yet, some Muslims think of themselves in exactly those terms. How do you balance between defending your faith and criticizing Muslims who abuse it?