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Muhammad Musri, an unusual imam, brokers Quran-burning debate

Imam Muhammad Musri is comfortable brokering interfaith dialogue, but in his bid to stop Florida pastor Terry Jones from burning Qurans on Saturday, he has waded into a controversy with global repercussions.

By Staff writer / September 10, 2010

Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida (c.) speaks to the media with Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center (r.) on Thursday.

Phil Sandlin/AP

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Atlanta

He has stood with Jewish and Christian leaders to support health-care reform. He waded into the Fatimah Bary runaway teen controversy. And he has reached out to Hispanics by teaching the Quran in Spanish.

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But Imam Muhammad Musri, a young and by many accounts unconventional Muslim leader, may have found his greatest challenge as he stepped into a global controversy over Florida pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn Qurans on the anniversary of 9/11.

On Thursday, Mr. Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida and overseer of six mosques, appeared with Mr. Jones to announce the suspension of the Quran-burning gambit. Jones later backtracked, saying Musri "clearly, clearly lied" to him by agreeing to a condition that the Park51 religious center planned for near ground zero in New York would be moved to another location.

WATCH VIDEO: Build a 'mosque' near ground zero?

Musri said later he clearly told Jones that the best he could do was get him a meeting with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the so-called "ground zero mosque." Jones later appeared to have smoothed things over with Musri, saying Friday that he was planning a weekend trip to New York after all.

Musri, who has said placing a Muslim faith center near ground zero is "unnecessary" and a "clear provocation," is walking a difficult tightrope. On the one hand, his influence could garner him respect for ultimately helping to defuse a situation that has already caused global condemnation and protests in the Muslim world.

But Musri is likely to be criticized by some Muslims for brokering what some bluntly call an extortion attempt on the part of Jones, especially since the leader of the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida has said he has only "suspended" the Quran-burning idea.

"Part of the difficulty that [Musri] faces is that he does not fit into expected patterns that most Americans expect of imams," says Islamic historian John Voll, who is on the faculty of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. "There is a tendency to say, 'Why is he doing this?' But then you miss the idea that this may just be a young religious leader who is sick and tired of being in the midst of a society that is always angry … [and who understands] that going and talking to Pastor Terry is not something that is popular among Muslims any more than imams are popular among extremist Christians."

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