By Jill Colvin and Olivia Scheck
MANHATTAN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged Americans to support the mosque near Ground Zero and said that religious tolerance is key to fighting terrorism in a powerful speech at a Ramadan dinner at Gracie Mansion attended by the mosque's developer.
Developer Sharif el-Gamal and Daisy Khan, who has also been involved in the planning of the controversial community center, were among nearly 100 guests who gathered Tuesday evening for the mayor's Iftar dinner, the evening meal that breaks the Ramadan fast.
Bloomberg pleaded with New Yorkers — and Americans — to support religious tolerance and freedom at a speech before the meal that echoed his remarks on Governors Island.
"If we don't practice here at home what we preach abroad, if we do not lead by example, we undermine our soldiers, we undermine our foreign policy objectives and we undermine our national security," Bloomberg said.
"If we say that a mosque or a community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom," he argued.
The mayor added that he feels very strongly for the people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks — like Talat Hamdani, a woman in the audience whose son Salman was killed — and that the best way to defend the memories of the victims was to defend the mosque.
"This is a test of our commitment to American values and we have to have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy. We must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years," he said.
The audience, which included officials ranging from NYPD top cop Ray Kelly to the mayor's commissioner of immigrant affairs, rose to give Bloomberg a standing ovation at the end of the speech.
Following the remarks, Mosque developer el-Gamal told reporters that he was "blessed to be an American, to be a New Yorker and to be living in the greatest city in the world."
"Mayor Bloomberg's speech embodied the values and the mores that we as Muslim-Americans live and cherish," he said. "I'm just so honored and blessed. He touches my heart every time that I get to hear his ideas on out rights as Americans and his brave and unwavering statements that are continuing over and over again."
Khan said that she was also deeply affected by Bloomberg's words.
"I was almost in tears," she said. "He delivered a passionate speech in defense of our deepest American values. He spoke to the constitutional principles of religious freedoms, the power of pluralism in America and the relationship to our foreign policy and national security."
The guests, seated around tables in the baby blue banquet hall at Gracie, dined on dates to break the fast and ate lamb kebobs as a main course. Guests were offered a choice of apricot, apple and cherry juice to drink.
Earlier in the day, when asked if he would consider donating personal funds to the mosque, the mayor said, "If I give to religious organizations, it would tend to be to my temple or another temple."