NEW YORK — Arrayed on the steps of City Hall, New York Muslim leaders on Wednesday condemned the ugly rhetorical attacks aimed at Islam and its followers amid a national furor over a planned Islamic center two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
During a news conference, the Muslim leaders labeled the verbal attacks un-American, and a New York congressman described the vitriol as beneath New Yorkers.
"This nation was founded on the values of religious freedom and tolerance and fairness and justice and pluralism," said Imam Al-Amin Abdul Latif, president of New York's Islamic leadership council, which includes 55 major mosques and groups. "We're going backwards."
U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, a 20-term Harlem Democrat who is facing a primary challenge this month, said opposition to the center should be particularly problematic for New Yorkers, who traditionally have prided themselves on embracing every immigrant and religious group, and their right to live and pray where they want. But he said politicians seeking election this fall have stirred up public opinion against the center.
"Candidates running for re-election are not rational people," Rangel said with a note of self-irony.
As they listened under the broiling sun to the speakers Wednesday, imams from across the city held aloft signs declaring Muslims' support for peace and justice. They also brandished photographs of a special Muslim prayer service held days after Sept. 11, 2001, in memory of 300 Muslims who were among the nearly 3,000 people killed that day. The service was at a mosque blocks from the still-smoking wreckage; that mosque remains in the area.
"We do not believe that we are good enough to die, that we are good enough to minister to others, that we are good enough to respond to tragedy, but we are not good enough to build a place where we can pray right where we worked and died," said Imam Talib Abdur Rashid.