Obama Condemns Islamophobia in First US Mosque Visit

President Barack Obama signs remarks for introducer Sabah Muktar backstage prior to speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque and Al-Rahmah School in Baltimore, Maryland, Feb. 3, 2016.

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Baltimore – In his first visit to a US mosque as President, Barack Obama condemned what he called “inexcusable political rhetoric” about Islam, an apparent reference to recent remarks by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump had called for Muslims to be banned from entering the US.

Speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Maryland, Obama said anti-Muslim rhetoric had “no place in our country.” The White House said the visit was intended as a defense of religious freedom and a statement against bigotry.

“The first thing I want to say is two words that Muslim Americans don’t hear often enough,” Obama said after being introduced by Sabah Muktar, a biology major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “Thank you. Thank you for serving your community. Thank you for lifting up the lives of your neighbors and for helping keep us strong and united as one American family.” He praised Muslim-Americans as “some of the most respectful and patriotic Americans you’ll ever meet”.

The president said he recognized that Muslim-Americans were being “targeted and blamed for the acts of a few.” “Many only hear about Muslims and Islam from the news after an act of terror, or in a distorted media portrayal on TV or in a film. Since 9/11, but more recently since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, you have seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith.”

Highlighting the ignorance of people about different faiths, Obama said, “Sikh Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims have been targeted, as well.”

The Islamic Society of Baltimore, a 46-year-old mosque and Quran school in suburban Catonsville, welcomed the president’s visit saying, “(it) occurs amidst increased bigoted rhetoric and violence against Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Americans.”

“As Republicans running for president continue to take aim at Muslims, inciting distrust and hatred, and making our country less secure, President Obama is standing up for American families, Muslim communities, and religious freedom,” said Democratic National Committee (DNC) National Press Secretary Mark Paustenbach in a statement.

“This speech and visit is a reassurance for all American Muslims and indeed all Americans,” said Nasim Rehmatullah, National Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, adding, “We must act on President Obama’s remarks about setting aside sectarian differences, remaining united, and teaching our youth to be proud American Muslims.”

“We welcome the president’s historic visit and applaud his remarks both rejecting anti-Muslim rhetoric and reminding our fellow Americans about Islam’s long history in this nation and about constitutional protections guaranteeing religious freedom,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Executive Director Nihad Wad.

Obama has visited mosques in other parts of the world on official trips abroad during his seven years as president. Earlier, Obama had a closed-door roundtable with 12 Muslim-American leaders. The White House provided details about the participants.

List of Roundtable Participants:

Ms. Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, Founder, Muslim Wellness Foundation & Chaplain at University of Pennsylvania

Imam Khalid Latif, Executive Director and Chaplain, Islamic Center at New York University

Dr. Suzanne Barakat, Chair, Our Three Winners Endowment Fund

Mr. Rami Nashashibi, Executive Director, Inner-City Muslim Action Network

Ms. Khadija Gurnah, Founder, Project Ejaba

Mr. Colin Christopher, Executive Director, Green Muslims

Ms. Ibtihaj Muhammad, United States Fencing Team

Ms. Sarah Jawaid, Community Organizer, LA Voice

Ms. Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud, Student, Yale University

Mr. Saafir Rabb, Founder, Interculture

Dr. Edmund Tori, Associate Director of MedStar Institute for Innovation (MI2), Advisory Board, Islamic Society of Baltimore

Imam Yaseen Shaikh, Islamic Society of Baltimore

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