Obama Reaffirms Religious Liberty in First Visit to U.S. Mosque

Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama, on his first visit to a U.S. mosque as president, says Americans “too often” conflate Islam with terrorism.

Barack_Obama_speaks_in_Cairo,_Egypt_06-04-09U.S. President Barack Obama speaking at Cairo University on June 4, 2009.
Photo: Wikipedia.

“We’re one American family,” Obama told Muslim-Americans at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. He said the entire Muslim community is often blamed for the “violent acts of a few.”

He also said “inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslims has no place” in the country.

Earlier, Obama took part in a roundtable with Muslim-American leaders to hear their concerns.

“It will be an opportunity to do a couple of things. The first is to affirm the important role that Muslim-Americans play in our society and to affirm our conviction in the principle of religious liberty,”  White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

Obama has previously visited mosques overseas.

Countering anti-Muslim rhetoric

Obama’s first visit to a U.S. mosque comes during a presidential campaign in which Republican candidate Donald Trump called for a Muslim database and a temporary ban against any new Muslim immigrants entering the United States following the December 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California.

While many prominent Republicans, including U.S. Sen. John McCain and fellow presidential candidate Jeb Bush, condemned Trump’s call for a Muslim ban, candidate Ben Carson noted last year that someone who belongs to the Islamic faith is unfit to serve as U.S. president.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” Carson said in a September 2015 interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Obama has not addressed the candidates’ anti-Muslim remarks directly, but has spoken broadly against such rhetoric on several occasions, most recently and most forcefully during his final State of the Union address last month.

He called on Americans to reject any politics that target people because of race or religion.

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong,” Obama said in his January 13 speech.

Muslims should be able to practice their religion without being subjected to interference from the government or divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail, Earnest said.

“It’s certainly true that we have seen an alarming willingness on the part of some Republicans to try to marginalize law-abiding, patriotic, Muslim-Americans,” he said. “And it is offensive.”

Collaborating with Muslim community

Muslim-American groups have long lobbied Obama to visit a mosque.

The request was reportedly made most recently when top White House officials met with Muslim-American leaders at the White House in December, amid a series of reported hate crimes against the community.

Local media report the Islamic Society of Baltimore has been on the receiving end of such threats, with police bolstering security around the facility.

In a statement issued Monday, ISB welcomed the president’s visit.

ISB says it was formed in 1969 by a group of families that held weekly meetings and Friday prayers at a local university. It expanded to its current site in the 1980s, building Masjid Al-Rahmah, which includes a seminary, health clinic and K-12 school.

In the wake of the San Bernardino attack, Obama emphasized the importance of the government having an effective partnership with Muslim-American leaders to counter attempts by extremist groups like Islamic State to radicalize members of the Muslim population.

Earnest said Obama’s remarks Wednesday will not necessarily focus on national security, but will affirm Muslim-Americans’ contributions and their right to worship.

“They shouldn’t be subject to ridicule or targeting by anybody, let alone somebody who aspires to leading the country,” he said.

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