President Obama made his first visit to a U.S. mosque to reaffirm the important role that Muslim Americans play in our society. / Photo Credit: WhiteHouse.gov Pete Souza

On February 3, 2016, President Obama visited Masjid Al-Rahmah, also known as The Islamic Society of Baltimore.  The Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in western Baltimore County, also includes the Al-Rahmah School, a full time primary school, and the Quran Academy and Sunday school. President Obama’s visit drew worldwide attention as it marked the first time he visited a masjid within the United States during his two-term presidency.  His visit also came amidst a significant rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes directed towards American Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim.

The burgeoning hate-Islam campaign rocketing the world has seen a recent resurgence due in part to the barbaric atrocities committed by ISIS beasts fraudulently claiming to be Muslim and following the 2015 Paris and the San Bernardino terrorists’ attacks. Within the United States the presidential campaigns of several candidates seeking the 2016 GOP nomination, namely Donald Trump, also contributes to the toxic atmosphere of Islamophobia. In a dangerous game of one-upmanship, candidates stoke fear and play on innate prejudices, embracing unprecedented Islamophobic tactics to garner support.

While some in the American Muslim community warily greeted the President’s first visit to a U.S. Masjid with mixed feelings, as it fell within his last year in office, many others view Mr. Obama’s visit to a Muslim’s place of worship in this current climate as a strong and meaningful show of solidarity and reassurance. The visit comes after President Obama had recently made previous statements of inclusion regarding American Muslims. During the President’s historic 7th State of the Union address, he drew applause after stating, “When politicians insult Muslims … that doesn’t make us safer. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals.” In a rare televised address from the oval office following the San Bernardino attack, President Obama said, “We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death”

At the Baltimore Islamic Center, before an audience which included American Muslim politicians, advocates, Islamic Scholars and students, President Obama brought home the point of inclusion as he began his remarks stating, “The first thing I want to say is two words that Muslim Americans don’t hear often enough. 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.”

Mr. Obama’s visit, even if overdue, was timely and is the complementary part of the 2009 address he gave at Cairo University in which he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” In the midst of rising Islamophobia in the U.S., the time indeed was ripe. In Baltimore, however, the President did not talk about inflexible international conflicts such as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but instead focused on the reality of domestic issues such as vandalized mosques and bullied American Muslim children.

The President showed common feeling with his U.S. Muslim constituents as he stated, “Like all Americans, you are worried about the threat of terrorism, but on top of that, as Muslim-Americans, you also have another concern, and that is your entire community so often is targeted or blamed for the violent acts of the very few.” He said. “It’s not who we are. We’re one American family. And when any part of our family begins to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation.”

Muslim children from Holy Islamberg, NY viewed the speech and were especially heartened when President Obama stated, “These children are just like mine, and the notion that they would be filled with doubt and questioning their places in this great country of ours at a time when they’ve got enough to worry about — it’s hard being a teenager already – that’s not who we are.”

At the 2015 Ramadan Iftar hosted at the White House, President Obama was shown a picture of the children in Islamberg NY, who were holding a sign asking, “Why do you want to kill us Robert Doggart?” The picture was taken following Doggart’s arrest in a conspiracy to organize a terrorist attack against Islamberg’s Muslim residents.

President Obama embraced Muslims in the United States and called for religious tolerance by saying, “And so if we’re serious about freedom of religion – and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country – we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths.” Responding to the hateful and divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric permeating the presidential campaign, President Obama said, “We have to reject politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion,” he said.

Prior to his address, President Obama held a closed-door roundtable with 12 Muslim American leaders. “We’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans that has no place in our country”, he remarked after the meeting.

For President Obama, the remarks were also an admission of how little progress has been made since the speech in Cairo, where he called for “a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground.”  suggested that his hopes for reconciliation had been dashed, but he called on all Americans to stick by the country’s founding ideals.

President Obama acknowledged that too often Americans are only made aware of Islam following terrorists attacks. Noting that this must change, he chided the media for contributing towards the negative slant prevalent in today’s news and for its lack of coverage regarding the many positive contributions of Muslims and the Islamic faith.  President Obama boldly affirmed that Islam is a religion of peace. He further stated that historical proof shows that the founding fathers clearly intended for the constitutional right and guarantee to freedom of religion to include Muslims, who were some of the earliest Americans.

What is hurting the country badly are the hate-mongers like Donald Trump who would rather betray American values by appealing to bigotry than recognize and accept the reality of 2 to 3 million American Muslims, the overwhelming majority being patriotic and loyal citizens, who are as entitled to dignity and respect as everyone else.

President Obama ended his speech by reminding Muslim Americans, “You are not alone; your fellow Americans stand with you.” And he reminded others that the country’s diversity “is not a weakness that is one of our greatest strengths…. We are one American family,” he said. “We will rise and fall together.”

Source: Islamic Post Editorial Board

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