On his first visit to an American mosque, President Obama assured Muslims “you’re right where you belong” in the United States while calling on the community to condemn terrorism and violence against other faiths.
Obama was welcomed to the Islamic Society of Baltimore by a few protesters outside the center’s fence and proceeded to a roundtable discussion with Muslim leaders, including Imam Yaseen Shaikh, a resident scholar at the Islamic Society.
After that meeting, an honor guard of Muslim Boy Scouts brought in the U.S. and Maryland flags and led the audience in the pledge of allegiance before a recitation from the Quran.
Obama hailed the mosque, “like so many in our country,” as “an all-American story.”
“Now, a lot of Americans have never visited a mosque, and to the folks watching this today who haven’t, think of your own church or synagogue or temple and a mosque like this will be very familiar. This is where families come to worship and express their love for God and for each other,” he said. “…So the first thing I want to say is two words that Muslim-Americans don’t hear often enough, and that is thank you. Thank you for serving your community.”
“…You’ve seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith. And, of course, recently we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans that has no place in our country. No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim-Americans have surged.”
Mentioning concerns he’s heard from Muslims that they’re going to be targeted, the president stressed “for more than 1,000 years, people have been drawn to Islam’s message of peace.”
“Whoever wants to enter paradise, the Prophet Muhammad taught, let him treat people the way he would love to be treated. And for Christians like myself, I’m assuming that sounds familiar,” he added.
“Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote that, ‘even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach to us, he would find a pulpit at this service.'”
“By the way, Thomas Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim, so I was not the first,” he later quipped.
Obama said “Muslim Americans are some of the most resilient and patriotic Americans you’ll ever meet,” and urged Hollywood to “have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security.”
He described terrorist groups as “an organized extremist element that draws selectively from Islamic text, twist them in an attempt to justify their killing and their terror.”
“All of us have the task of expressing our religious faith in a way that seeks to build bridges rather than to divide…. 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 attack on one faith is attack on all our faiths.”
“And just as faith leaders, including Muslims, must speak out when Christians are persecuted around the world or when anti-Semitism is on the rise. Because the fact is that there are Christians who are targeted now in the Middle East, despite having been there for centuries, and there are Jews who’ve lived in places like France for centuries who now feel obliged to leave because they feel themselves under assault, sometimes by Muslims. We have to be consistent in condemning hateful rhetoric and violence against everyone, and that includes against Muslims here in the United States of America,” Obama continued. “So none of us can be silent, we can’t be bystanders to bigotry.”
Obama addressed those who argue he should speak more frankly about Islamic extremism.
“I often hear it said that we need more clarity in this fight, and the suggestion is somehow that if I would simply say these are all Islamic terrorists, then we would actually have solved the problem by now, apparently,” he said, evoking laughter from the crowd.
“We can’t suggest that Islam itself is at the root of the problem. That betrays our values. It alienates Muslim Americans, it’s hurtful to those kids who are trying to go to school and our members of the Boy Scouts… That kind of mindset helps our enemies. It helps our enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe. So let’s be clear about that.”
Obama said Muslim-American voices speaking out against terrorism “are there; we just have to amplify them more.”
“To use a little Christian expression, let your — let your light shine because when you do, you’ll make clear that this is not a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam,” he advised. “…Now, that doesn’t mean that Muslim Americans aren’t free to criticize America and U.S. foreign policy. You know, that’s part of being an American.”
The president told Muslims that the government can’t “deal with you solely through the prism of law enforcement” and “we can’t securitize our entire relationship with Muslim-Americans.”
“Today, there are voices in this world, particularly over the Internet who are constantly claiming that you have to choose between your identities,” Obama said. “As a Muslim, for example, or an American. Do not believe them. If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as president of the United States — you fit in here. Right here.”