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Muslim leaders meet in Queens to discuss Park51 Islamic center

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A large group of Muslim leaders from around the country gathered in Queens over the weekend to discuss the growing amount of tension arising over the plans to build an Islamic community center near the former World Trade Center site in Manhattan.

Members of 20 groups — including the Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York Islamic Leadership Council, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Muslim Women in Islam Inc. and the Parliament of World Religions — met at the Doubletree Hotel near John F. Kennedy International Airport Sunday to come up with a plan to clear up the controversy over the Park51 project and reach a mutual understanding between Muslims and people of other faiths, according to Zaheer Uddin, the executive director of the Majlis Ash-Shura.

On Monday, the morning after the closed-door summit, the leaders assembled outside the planned site of Park51 and called for a nationwide week of dialogue starting Oct. 17 to confer about the concerns over the project and the anti-Islamic sentiment that has been voiced throughout the country.

“It is our hope and desire that these events will help to allay tensions in civil society caused by the Park51 controversy and will build bridges of understanding that unite and strengthen our nation,” the summit said in a statement released after the meeting.

Uddin was one of the leaders who participated in the event and said that the leaders are trying to show people that Islam is a tolerant religion and its worshippers are entitled to the same rights as other Americans.

“When they left, they were unanimous on our members to have the right to build houses of worship anywhere in the U.S.,” he said of the summit.

Uddin and his fellow leaders said the rise in verbal attacks against Muslims from people who associate their religion with terrorists is becoming a major problem in the country and leaders of all faiths needed to take a stand against the rhetoric.

“[W]e stand against the racism, hatred, religious intolerance and ethnic bigotry directed at Islam and American Muslims,” the summit said in its statement. “We call upon local and national elected officials to join their colleagues in denouncing and rejecting inflammatory rhetoric that endangers the lives of Muslim Americans.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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