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One of the United States’ most visible Muslim-Americans has taken sides in the debate on whether to build a 13-story community center and mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City. Lebanese-born, New York-raised Miss USA Rima Fakih said she is against the plan.
Following President Obama’s comment in favor of the proposed mosque project last week, Fakih was asked her thoughts on the hot national debate by a reporter for “Inside Edition.”
“I totally agree with President Obama with the statement on constitutional rights of freedom of religion,” Fakih, 24, said from Las Vegas, where she represented the USA at the Miss Universe pageant Monday night. But she added: “I also agree that it shouldn’t be so close to the World Trade Center. We should be more concerned with the tragedy than religion.”
Donald Trump, owner of both the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, agreed. “It's very insensitive, and it shouldn’t be there,” he told TV series “Extra” on Monday from Las Vegas. “I'm a big believer in freedom of religion, but I think the mosque being in that location is absolutely wrong.”
In New York City, sides have been divided — with tempers occasionally flaring — over the proposed mosque and community center, which would be located just two blocks north of the site of the worst domestic terror attack in the nation’s history.
While New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and a variety of religious organizations have backed the mosque plan, President Obama weighing in on the issue has stirred the debate nationally.
A recent Time magazine poll showed 61 percent of those polled were against a mosque being erected near ground zero. The poll also famously had 24 percent of respondents believing the president himself is Muslim.
While Miss USA Fakih disagrees with the president on the issue, she’s made it clear she is nonetheless a big Obama fan. She showed off a gold lame costume depicting the golden eagle on the presidential seal that she plans to wear at the Miss Universe competition tonight.
“The symbolism of this costume is a tribute to your work to bring peace to the world,” Fakih said in a promotional video for the Miss Universe pageant.
Fakih is believed to be the first Muslim to be crowned Miss USA after winning the pageant in May. She was born in Lebanon and migrated with her family to New York City when she was 8. When she turned 18, the family relocated to the large Arab-American community in Dearborn, Mich.
Within days of winning Miss USA, Fakih lit a controversy of her own when footage showing her claiming first place at a “Stripper 101” pole dancing competition in a Michigan nightclub in 2007 surfaced. Pageant officials took no disciplinary action against Fakih, however, and she continues to represent the U.S. as Miss USA.
Fakih has said in interviews she’s proud of all parts of her identity.
“I'd like to say I'm American first, and I am an Arab-American, I am Lebanese-American, and I am Muslim-American.”