Imam Steps Down From Project Near Ground Zero

The imam who was named three weeks ago to lead religious services at the proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero said Friday that he was stepping down. The move is the latest in a string of public relations setbacks for the project.

The imam, Sheik Abdallah Adhami, who stirred controversy shortly after his appointment by telling a reporter for NY1 News that most homosexual behavior was linked to early childhood abuse, said in a statement that he was giving up his role in the project, known as Park51, to devote more time to completing a book.

The project’s developer, Sharif el-Gamal, announced the appointment of Mr. Adhami on Jan. 14, the same day he declared that another Muslim cleric, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, would give up his role as the Islamic center’s longtime spiritual leader and public face. Mr. Gamal said then that Mr. Adhami would lead Friday prayer services and be a religious adviser to the project, possibly to be joined later by other advisers.

On Friday, a joint statement by Mr. Adhmai and Mr. Gamal said that Park51 officials had never intended that Mr. Adhami would fill the role vacated by Mr. Abdul Rauf, who remains one of four members on the project’s board of directors.

Mr. Adhami’s withdrawal comes days after a flurry of statements and clarifications from Park51 and Mr. Abdul Rauf. On a national speaking tour to promote interfaith understanding, Mr. Abdul Rauf last week told the editorial board of The Buffalo News that he would be willing to change the location of the center if another property became available.

The current site proposed for the project — 51 Park Place, two blocks from ground zero — has stirred angry protests by political leaders and others who say it is insensitive to the families of those who died in the 9/11 attacks.

In response to the Buffalo News report, Mr. Gamal on Monday restated his intention to build the 16-story Muslim center at 51 Park Place, a former coat store that he owns.

“Imam Feisal has no authority or control over this project, over its board of directors or over Soho Properties, which controls the real estate,” Mr. Gamal said. “Park51, the Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, is more than any one personality or imam.”

Mr. Abdul Rauf said that he had spoken hypothetically and that he accepted his reduced role; he said he would devote his time to his interfaith mission.

Efforts to raise an estimated $100 million to build the center are just beginning.

In announcing the departure of the second imam on Friday, Mr. Gamal praised Mr. Adhami’s contributions to this project. “His teachings and scholarly work on the Islamic faith remain an important part of our community,” the statement said. “We look forward to him, God willing, leading prayers informally for Park51 in the near future.”

Mr. Adhami, 44, described his coming book as a scholarly work to help English-speaking readers “in understanding and facilitating the language of the Koran.”

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