CHICAGO (CBS) ― The debate over whether a mosque should be built near Ground Zero in New York City is playing out here in Illinois.
Earlier this week, Gov. Pat Quinn stepped into the controversy, saying he was against the mosque being built near the site of the 9/11 terror attack.
CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports the Governor’s stand caught Muslim leaders in Chicago off guard.
It was a stance Quinn repeated Friday afternoon, when he said, “I do understand going to Pearl Harbor, and I have been there; going to Auschwitz, I’ve been there; and I’ve been to Ground Zero. And I think those are solemn places on Earth; I’ve said that this week. I do think there should be a zone of solemnity around those places.”
Muslim leaders in Chicago were surprised by Quinn’s comments this week.
“We were definitely stunned,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “When I read this for the first time, I was like ‘What? Did I read what I just read?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Muslim leaders in Chicago said they are “hurt and disappointed” by Quinn’s comments.
At the Illinois State Fair on Wednesday, Quinn said the proposed Islamic center and mosque in New York City should not be built near Ground Zero.
“I think we should be sensitive to people on Planet Earth in these special places like Auschwitz, Pearl Harbor or Ground Zero, that they not be subject to political controversy that could cause great harm,” said Quinn.
“Governor Quinn is a reasonable, good man,” said Rehab. “That hasn’t changed and so that comment is out of character and is very offensive to us.”
When asked what his stance would be if a Catholic Church were proposed for the site, Quinn – who is Catholic – said: “I think Pope John Paul told some nuns who built a convent near Auschwitz that they should relocate, and I think that kind of decision is appropriate here.”
Christina Abraham, of CAIR, believes Quinn’s stand will cost him votes in November.
“The 400,000 Muslims in the Chicago area know about this issue. They’re concerned about this issue and it will affect how they make their decision come election time. He’s lost my vote,” said Abraham.
Some of the leaders said they wanted to give Quinn a break.
“We don’t believe he means it, and we would like for him to clarity what he meant by his statement,” said Mohammed Sahloul of the Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
Late Friday afternoon, Quinn said he always pushed for tolerance among all people and religions, but did not back down from his earlier statements about the mosque.
Quinn’s Republican opponent in the governor’s race, State Sen. Bill Brady, earlier this week said it was “insensitive to locate the mosque at Ground Zero.”
Friday, after the Muslim reaction to Quinn’s statement, Brady’s spokeswoman said “Bill is hopeful sensible people will come together to a sensitive solution to the controversy.”