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National Muslim Leaders Call For Increased Interreligious Dialogue

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Muslim leaders from across the country are asking for a "National Week For Dialogue" next month, in reaction to the controversy over a proposed Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

Outside the proposed future home of the Islamic community center and mosque at the center of a national debate, local and national Muslim leaders spoke out Monday in support of the project.

"We will not allow anyone to deny Muslims their rightful place in the shared freedom space that is America," said Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York.

Supporters are already looking beyond the case of the Islamic community center to broader concerns about anti-Muslim bigotry in America. The leaders are calling for a week of dialogue next month and are asking Muslim leaders to hold open houses at their places of worship to promote religious tolerance and understanding. They said they also hope to allay tension caused by the controversy over the center, officially called Park51.

"Park51 is not a case, it is a cause," said Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "We believe the entire nation has been engulfed into misunderstanding and misinformation. There has been a campaign against this project that we believe is unfair and unnecessary."

Among those in attendance Monday was Imam Mahdi Bray, who is seen in a video published by the Investigative Project on Terrorism pumping his fist in support of the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

"That tape, like maybe the Shirley Shirrod tape, was maybe taken out of context. Only a small portion was shown, but this is not for this press conference," Bray told reporters.

Meanwhile, some families who lost loved ones on September 11th say their opposition to the center has nothing to do with anti-Muslim bias.

"This is not a bigotry thing. This is not an anti-Islamic thing. This is a sensitivity to what happened to our city in that spot nine years ago," said Rosaleen Tallon, who lost her brother in the terror attacks.

The timing of the so-called Week of Dialogue could prove tricky. If organizers get their way it would be held on the weekend of October 22-24, just before the midterm elections -- raising the possibility that people on both sides of the debate about the center might try to politicize the event.

Muslim leaders say they want political candidates to get involved by stating their positions on religious tolerance and diversity in America.

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