MANAMA, Bahrain, (AP) – The imam leading plans for an Islamic center near the Manhattan site of the Sept. 11 attacks arrived in the Middle East on a U.S.-funded outreach trip on Thursday.
The U.S. State Department said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf arrived in Bahrain for the start of a 15-day tour in which he is expected to discuss Muslim life in America and promote religious tolerance.
The trip — estimated to cost about $16,000 — is funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs and will include visits to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The department said Rauf will get a daily $200 honorarium for the tour. Airfare is included, as well as the standard federal government per diem for expenses and lodging in each of the cities he will visit, spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
The published maximum per diem rate for U.S. government employees in Manama is $396, in Doha it is $341, and in Abu Dhabi it is $496.
Details of the imam’s specific plans in each country have been closely guarded — possibly in reaction to the rancor in the United States over plans proposed by the imam’s organization, The Cordoba Initiative, for an Islamic cultural center near the site of the World Trade Center towers.
Rauf will not be allowed to raise funds for the mosque on the trip, Crowley told reporters Wednesday.
“We have had conversations with the imam to make sure he understands that during these kinds of trips, he’s not to engage in any personal business,” Crowley said.
“We value his participation as a religious figure here in the United States who can help people overseas understand the role that religion plays in our society,” he said.
Rauf’s tour has drawn attention because of his plans to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan near ground zero. Foes of the project say it is insensitive and disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 and their families. The debate has become politicized ahead of November’s midterm congressional elections.
According to the State Department, it will be Rauf’s fourth U.S.-government sponsored trip. He traveled twice to the Middle East in 2007 during the Bush administration and once earlier this year.