President Obama Visits an American Mosque For the First Time
President Barack Obama made an appearance at an American mosque on Wednesday for the first time in his presidency, a symbolic act during a time when anti-Islamic rhetoric is growing. The mosque, at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, was at one time just a small gathering place but has now grown into one of the largest Islamic communities in the Mid-Atlantic.
“If we’re serious about freedom of religion—and I’m talking to my fellow Christians who are the majority in this country—we have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths,” Obama said to the crowd gathered at the mosque.
Obama stressed the importance of unity among all Americans, especially amongst different faith communities. Obama also praised the Muslim community for its contribution and role in America’s history. The United States is home to 1.8 million Muslim adults and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Muslim Americans keep us safe,” said Obama. “They are our police. They are our firefighters. They’re in [the Department of] Homeland Security.”
This is not the first time a president has visited a mosque. George W. Bush visited one shortly after the 9/11 attacks, whereas Obama has only been to mosques outside of the country.
During his presidency, Obama has been asked by many different Muslim groups to visit mosques as well as to publicly denounce the comments made by 2016 presidential candidates and the growing Islamophobia in general. However, it was not until Wednesday–seven years into his presidency–that President Obama first stepped foot inside an American mosque.
This trip is a bit more complicated for Obama than it was for George W. Bush. The President has been constantly criticized for being a “closeted Muslim,” making his visit in light of those conspiracy theorists a tricky thing to work around. A CNN/ORC poll done in September found that 29 percent of Americans said that they believe that Obama is a Muslim; among Republicans, it was 43 percent.
Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio host, often refers to Obama as “Imam Barack Hussein Obama,” putting more of the emphasis on the words “Imam” and “Hussein.” He has also asked, “…why can’t we call Imam Obama America’s first Muslim president?”
Timing is a key factor for his recent visit. This election cycle has brought out increased Islamophobia among Americans and shown how polarized the issue of terrorism really is.
During this election cycle more than one Republican presidential candidate has spoken out against Islam altogether:
“Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” – Donald Trump, Nov. 2015
“It’s not about closing down mosques. It’s about closing down any place — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — any place where radicals are being inspired.” – Marco Rubio, Nov. 2015
“[There is] a fundamental foundational problem in Islam of embracing issues of freedom of conscience and religious persecution.” – Rick Santorum, Sept. 2015
“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” – Ben Carson, Sept. 2015
In reference to the alleged Muslim “no-go zones” in Europe, former candidate Bobby Jindal said, “If we’re not careful the same no-go zones you’re seeing now in Europe will come to America.”
The refugee issue has also caused candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz to propose that preference should be given to Christian refugees, claiming that Christians are at no risk of committing violent crimes.
In contrast, here is what the Democratic candidates have been saying:
“I don’t think we’re at war with all Muslims. I think we’re at war with jihadists…you can talk about Islamists who also are clearly jihadists.” – Hillary Clinton, Nov. 2015
“It’s always playing one group against another. That’s how the rich got richer while everybody else was fighting each other. Our job is to build a nation in which we all stand together.” [in response to islamophobic rhetoric] – Bernie Sanders, Oct. 2015
During a time when the anti-Muslim rhetoric is growing, not only among presidential candidates but also in the general public, the President’s visit was crucial in his effort to combat the nonacceptance and fear felt by many Muslim-Americans.
Here is the full video of President Obama’s speech: