Decrying anti-Muslim bias, Obama pays 1st visit to a U.S. mosque

CATONSVILLE, Md. -- President Barack Obama paid his first visit to a U.S. mosque on Wednesday, appealing for tolerance for America's millions of Muslims and calling to confront the bias and stereotyping that he says is on the rise amid tough talk on terrorism in the presidential campaign.

See Full Article

At the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a suburban campus with a mosque and K-12 school, Obama sat down around a large table with Muslim university chaplains, community activists and public health professionals for a discussion about religious tolerance and freedom. He planned an afternoon speech focused on how the U.S. can more successfully confront extremism if it works with Muslims instead of branding all of them as potential enemies.

For Muslim advocates, Obama's visit was a long-awaited gesture to a community that has warned of escalating vitriol against them that has accompanied the public's concern about the Islamic State and other extremist groups. Although Obama has visited mosques overseas in the past, he waited until his final year in office to make such a visit at home, reflecting the sensitivity of the issue.

One of the participants meeting with Obama, Ibtihaj Muhammad, has qualified for a spot on the United States Olympic Team for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. The White House said she'll make history as the first United States Olympian to compete in a hijab.

"They all have their own story to tell about the way that they contribute to and enrich the communities in which they live," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Last week, Obama became the first sitting president to speak at the Israeli Embassy. In remarks at the embassy, he warned of growing anti-Semitism in the world.

Obama's message at the mosque will follow a similar tack. The White House said he will focus on the need to speak out against bigotry and reject indifference. It's the kind of effort that Muslim-Americans said they've been waiting for from America's political and religious leaders.

"For some time, we've been asking for pushback. Perhaps this will start a trend," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR has tracked a growing number of attacks on mosques and on individuals in the months following the Paris terrorist attack and the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California. A severed pig's head was delivered to a mosque's doorstep in Philadelphia. Someone attempted to set fire to a mosque in Southern California.

Hooper said harassment and bullying is also on the rise. He cited Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's call for a ban on Muslims entering the country as an example of how bias toward Muslims has become part of the American mainstream.

"I don't think there's ever been this level of fear and apprehension in the Muslim-American community," Hooper said.

In 2001, President George W. Bush visited a mosque on Washington's Embassy row just days after the 9-11 attacks, urging Americans to get back to everyday business and not turn against their Muslim neighbours.

For Obama, the visit in his final year in office reflects a willingness to wade into touchy social issues that often eluded him earlier in his presidency. For years, Obama has fought incorrect claims that he's actually a Muslim and was born in Kenya, beliefs that polls suggest remain prevalent among many Republicans. Obama, a Christian, was born in Hawaii.

With no plans to ever again appear on a ballot, Obama faces less pressure to avoid political controversy. Ahead of his visit Wednesday, White House officials readily acknowledged the visit could spark controversy but suggested that would help make his point about ignorance and religious bias. White House press secretary Josh Earnest predicted Obama's visit would "prompt exactly the kind of discussion and debate that the president thinks is worth having."

Nearly half of Americans think at least some U.S. Muslims are anti-American, according to a new Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday. Two-thirds of Americans said people, not religious teachings, are to blame when violence is committed in the name of faith. However, when respondents were asked which religion they consider troubling, Islam was the most common answer.

Meanwhile, some Republicans have criticized Obama for not linking attacks like the one in Paris to "radical Islamic terrorism." Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Trump have voiced that concern.

Obama has said he refuses to describe the Islamic State and other such groups that way because the term grants them a religious legitimacy they don't deserve.

In June 2009, just five months into his presidency, Obama toured the Sultan Hassan mosque during a visit to Cairo. In a speech at Cairo University, he declared that the U.S. would never be at war with Islam. "America and Islam are not exclusive," he said, and share "common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."

Attendees at the Baltimore mosque are predominantly of Turkish heritage, although immigrants of other nationalities also participate, said Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies specialist at American University who has researched mosques around the U.S.

Obama left it to the last minute to visit a U.S. mosque, Ahmed noted, "but better late than never."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Canada Post is scaling back its letters-from-Santa program for kids who write from school

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada Post says Santa won't be sending as many personalized letters to kids this year, though he still wants to make sure he responds to every note he receives. The postal agency says many children write letters to Santa both from home and from school, which gave Santa and his elves a total of 1.6 million notes to reply to last year. Source
  • Hydro hip-hop: listen to two tunes about Ontario hydro bills

    Canada News CTV News
    The Wack MCs have the “Hydro Blues.” “Look at this bill -- am I reading it right?” they rap in a new music video. “If I feed my kids, I gotta shut off my lights?” Source
  • 12 dead in hotel fire in Georgia's Black Sea resort

    World News CTV News
    TBILISI, Georgia -- The Georgian Interior Ministry says 12 people have died in a fire in a hotel in the Black Sea resort city of Batumi. Russia's TASS news agency is quoting the ministry as saying the fire engulfed the Leogrand hotel late Friday evening. Source
  • Canadian charged in Yahoo hacking case to plead guilty in U.S., court records say

    Canada News CBC News
    A Canadian accused by the United States of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 breach of Yahoo accounts is expected to plead guilty next week, according to court records. Source
  • Notley wins over Calgary business crowd, starting with 'eastern bastards' remark

    Canada News CBC News
    Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke. "I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," the Alberta premier said. Source
  • Starting with 'eastern bastards' remark, Notley wins over Calgary business crowd

    Canada News CBC News
    Two years after struggling through a speech in front of an awkwardly silent business crowd, Rachel Notley stood before the Calgary Chamber again on Friday and opened with a joke. "I spent the earlier part of the week out in Ontario — you know, the home of those eastern bastards," the Alberta premier said. Source
  • Jewish group, residents of Ontario town urge new name for 'Swastika Trail'

    Canada News CTV News
    A major Jewish advocacy group in Canada has stepped up efforts to help some residents of an Ontario town convince local politicians to rename a street currently called Swastika Trail. B'nai Brith Canada started an online petition Thursday calling on Puslinch Township, about 75 kilometres west of Toronto, to change the street name. Source
  • Fraud trial of the 'Muslim Madoff' adjourned after accused fires lawyer: Crown

    Canada News CBC News
    The trial of a Toronto businessman charged with fraud for allegedly pocketing millions in "Shariah-compliant" mortgages has been delayed until next fall — just as it was beginning. The opening day of the trial for Omar Kalair, dubbed the "Muslim Madoff" by some of the homeowners who were allegedly left thousands in the hole after buying into the mortgages marketed to Muslims, got underway earlier this month. Source
  • False killer whale is latest cetacean to die at Vancouver Aquarium

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Aquarium says the false killer whale it rescued off a beach over three years ago has died at the facility. The aquarium says in a statement that Chester's behaviour changed Wednesday and despite intensive veterinary care, he died this morning. Source
  • 'Chester' is 4th cetacean dead at Vancouver Aquarium this year

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- A false killer whale has died at the Vancouver Aquarium, becoming the fourth cetacean to die at the facility in the past year. The aquarium said in a statement that Chester's behaviour changed Wednesday and despite intensive veterinary care, he died on Friday morning. Source