President Obama visits a U.S. mosque for the first time
BY USMAN MAMA
For the first time since becoming president of the United States seven years ago, Barack Obama this Wednesday visited a U.S. mosque in a show of solidarity with American Muslims who are increasingly the victims of assaults—both physical and mental—by other Americans, with the explicit support of some Republican presidential candidates.
The president began his 45-minute address at the Islamic Society of Baltimore—about an hour’s drive from the White House—by saying:
“The first thing I want to say is two words that Muslim Americans don’t hear often enough: ‘Thank you.'”
He goes on to emphatically condemn the surge of anti-Islamic hate that has recently translated into threats, physical attacks and burning or vandalizing of mosques across the country in reaction to terrorist attacks here at home, citing the case of the San Bernardino, California attack that has claimed 14 innocent lives. “We’ve seen children bullied, we’ve seen mosques vandalized,” the president stated, adding:
“It’s not who we are. We’re one American family. And when any part of out family begins to feel separate or second class, it tears at the heart of our nation.”
The president also seeks to instill confidence in the Muslim community by telling the audience that they don’t have to choose between their identities:
“There are voices who are constantly claiming you have to choose between your identities… Do not believe them…You fit in here. Right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too…You’re not Muslim or American, you’re Muslim and American.”
Obama also highlighted the many contributions American Muslims have made and continue to make in this country of theirs, in their own community and at the national level, mentioning sports legends such as boxing legend Muhammad Ali and hall-of-fame basketball players Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon. He also pointed to the contributions of American Muslims who serve in the military and other capacities to keep their country safe.
President Obama’s remarks are unmistakably the denunciation of the campaign rhetoric of some of the Republican candidates for president, especially real estate tycoon Donald Trump’s widely-condemned call to ban Muslims from entering the United States temporarily, and his Republican opponent Dr. Ben Carson’s stance against a Muslim being the president of the United States, contrary to the U.S. Constitution’s rejection of a religious test.
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Right before his much-applauded speech, the president held a closed-door meeting with 12 Muslim American leaders, including students, Quran scholars, doctors and activists.
The president’s appearance at the Islamic Society of Baltimore today is part of a series of appearances before various religious communities in the country, including Jewish and Christian audiences. Tomorrow, he will address a largely-Christian annual gathering in Washington, the National Prayer Breakfast which usually includes participants from outside the United States. In a speech about the Holocaust last week, the president—a Christian—in a gesture of Christian solidarity with the Jewish community, drew thunderous applause when he declared: “I, too, am a Jew.”
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