Islamic Center 'Ground Zero Mosque' Controversy Heats Up

"I do believe that people of all religions have a right to build edifices or structures or places of religious study where the community allows them to do it under the zoning laws and that sort of thing," Olson said in an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell. "We don't want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith."

The religious debate has intensified as a new poll from the Pew Research Center reveals that 18 percent of Americans -- nearly one in 5 -- erroneously believe that the president is a Muslim. The number of Americans who believe the president is a Christian, which he is, has declined from 48 percent last year to 34 percent today. A full 43 percent say they do not know what the president's religion is.

Islamic Center Won't Rule Out Saudi, Iran Funds

The developers behind the center won't rule out accepting financing from the Mideast -- including from Saudi Arabia and Iran -- as they begin searching for $100 million needed to build the project.

The religious organization and the development company behind the center declined to say how much of the $100 million needed to build the facility has already been raised.

"We are in the planning stages," said Oz Sultan, spokesman for the center. "We have just started the process of fundraising planning."

Sultan said it would take three to six months to establish a plan on how to raise the needed capital. He said any fundraising campaign would begin domestically, but he would not comment on whether it would extend overseas or to foreign governments.

"We'll look at all available options within the United States to start. We're hoping to fund this predominately from domestic donors. That can be everything from institutions all the way down to personal [contributors,]" said Sultan.

When asked if they would then turn to foreign donors, Sultan replied, "I can't comment on that."

Pressed on whether the developers were willing rule out accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, he repeated, "I can't comment on that."

Fifteen of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 were Saudi Arabian and funding from that country could further anger those already opposed to the mosque. Many mosques in the U.S. have been funded in part with Saudi money.

Iran has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.

Sultan declined to say how much, if anything, the developers have raised so far.

Through the Park51 Twitter account, Sultan said: "We will disclose funding of the project in compliance with state and federal law as well as vet investors with the [Department of] Treasury."

Sultan said the timeline for fundraising is typical for large scale building projects in New York City.

"You 'spec' the project and then go to the bank, bond offerings and private investors. When Donald Trump says he's building a $250 million building, it's the same general process," he said.

Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, the cultural organization behind the mosque is currently on a federally funded State Department tour of the Middle East, visiting Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The imam is a Sufi Muslim, a mystical branch of Islam whose adherents have been attacked by Muslim extremists overseas.

Rauf will not be allowed to raise funds for the Islamic center on this trip, which will cost U.S. taxpayers around $16,000.

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