Obama visits US mosque, says impression of Muslims distorted

President Barack Obama sought Wednesday to correct what he called a "hugely distorted impression" of Muslim-Americans as he made his first visit to a U.S. mosque. He said those who demonize all Muslims for the acts of a few are playing into extremists' hands.

CATONSVILLE, Md. — President Barack Obama sought Wednesday to correct what he called a “hugely distorted impression” of Muslim-Americans as he made his first visit to a U.S. mosque. He said those who demonize all Muslims for the acts of a few are playing into extremists’ hands.

Inserting himself into a debate that has ricocheted in the presidential campaign, Obama told parishioners at a mosque outside Baltimore that he’d heard from young Muslims worried they’ll be rounded up and kicked out of the country. He said Muslims, too, are concerned about the threat of terrorism but are too often blamed as a group “for the violent acts of the very few.”

“We’ve seen children bullied, we’ve seen mosques vandalized,” Obama said, warning that such unequal treatment for certain groups in society tears at the nation’s fabric. “That’s not who we are.”

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, he waited until his final year in office to make such a visit at home, reflecting the issue’s sensitive political implications.

In this year’s Republican presidential campaign, Donald Trump has called for banning Muslims from the U.S. temporarily and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio warned of “radical Islamic terrorism.” Muslim-American advocacy groups have warned of growing antagonism that has followed recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, by those purporting to act in the name of Islam.

“We have to understand: An attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,” Obama said. He said it fell on all Americans to speak up.

For Obama, the visit reflected 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.

Obama, acknowledging that uncomfortable chapter in his own story, noted that Thomas Jefferson had also been accused of being a Muslim.

“So I was not the first,” Obama said to laughter from a hundred or so Muslims who gathered for his speech. “No, it’s true. Look it up.”

Obama challenged Hollywood to start casting Muslims in roles “that are unrelated to national security.” Drawing a parallel with African-Americans’ struggle for broad societal acceptance, he noted, “there was a time when there were no black people on television.”

With no plans to ever again appear on a ballot, Obama faces less pressure to avoid political controversy, and seemed to relish the possibility that his visit would raise eyebrows among some of his most entrenched critics. Ahead of his visit, White House officials acknowledged the visit could spark controversy but suggested that would help make his point about ignorance and religious bias.

Still, the president was pointed in acknowledging that concerns about violence emanating from some corners of the Islamic world were not ill-founded. He denounced what he called an “organized extremist element” twisting selective Islamic texts in a way that ends up reflecting negatively on the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslims.

“It is undeniable that a small fraction of Muslims propagate a perverted interpretation of Islam. This is the truth,” Obama said. He added, “It’s real. It’s there.”

But Obama said suggestions that Islam is at the root of the problem only play into terrorist propaganda, weakening U.S. national security as opposed to strengthening it. He said IS and other extremist groups are desperately working to legitimize themselves by masquerading as religious leaders and holy warriors.

“We must never give them that legitimacy. They’re not defending Islam,” Obama said. “The vast majority of the people they kill are innocent Muslim men, women and children.”

Ahead of his speech at the suburban Islamic Society of Baltimore, Obama met with Muslim university chaplains, community activists and public health professionals to discuss religious tolerance and freedom. Among the participants was fencer Ibtihaj Muhamma. The White House said she’ll make history at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games as the first United States Olympian to compete in a hijab.

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.

“We never thought that when we held our first prayers in the small room nearly a half a century ago that we would be hosting the president,” said Muhammad Jameel, the mosque’s president. “Today is a new starting point. It is also a continuing journey — a journey steeped in American history and tradition.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, accompanied by Premier Jason Kenney, in March when the pandemic had just started in Alberta. On Wednesday, Kenney said COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed in three phases in the province. Photo by Government of Alberta
COVID-19 vaccine available to Albertans in January – distributed in 3 phases

Vaccine won’t be widely available until the fall of 2021

The G.H. Dawe Community Centre in Red Deer is getting a twinned ice rink, spray park and other upgrades as part of the 2021 capital budget. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer city council approves $43.3 million upgrade to G.H. Dawe Centre

In a 7-2 vote, the majority on council felt it’s about time

Olds College received 10 Angus heifer calves, donated by The Canadian Red Angus Promotion Society. (File photo)
Olds College and TELUS to develop new agriculture technologies

TELUS Agriculture is investing $1 million in the Olds College Smart Farm.… Continue reading

Const. Jason Tress leaves Red Deer provincial court. An RCMP officer, whose name is under a publication ban, testified Tress sexually assaulted her at a party in 2012. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Former Red Deer RCMP officer denies sexually assaulting colleague

Former Const. Jason Tress took the stand in his own defence on Wednesday

A new public washroom, proposed for downtown Red Deer, was tabled in the city’s 2021 budget discussions so more questions can be answered about the proposal. (Advocate file photo).
Proposed downtown public washroom is stalled in 2021 budget discussions

More questions need to be answered about the $511,500 project

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is seen at a media availablity to introduce new pitcher Shun Yamaguchi in Toronto on January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, left, and teammate Taylor Austin are shown during training in Whistler, B.C., in this undated handout photo. Montreal Allouettes running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is used to pysching himself up to sprint down a field, evading a crush of muscled men the entire way. But mentally preparing for his latest venture required bracing for a whole new set of anxieties. As he got ready to hop in a bobsleigh for the first time, Murray-Lawrence knew he'd be zipping down an icy track faster than cars are allowed to travel down most highways. Murrary-Lawrence, 27, is one of three CFL players who joined the national bobsleigh team after the league canceled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Shaquille Murray-Lawrence
Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

North Carolina State defensive lineman Daniel Joseph (99) celebrates with linebacker Isaiah Moore after Moore forced a Liberty safety during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Hyman, The News & Observer via AP, Pool
Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

A Canadian Pacific Railway employee walks along the side of a locomotive in a marshalling yard in Calgary on May 16, 2012. CP says an investigation is underway following the release of a video showing one of the company's trains running over dozens of pronghorn antelope in southwestern Saskatchewan.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

Bullet holes from 2014 attack on Parliament Hill to be left untouched in renovations

Bullet holes from 2014 attack on Parliament Hill to be left untouched in renovations

Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, holds a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020., to announce additional funds to improve access to safe drinking water on reserves. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Boil-water advisories at First Nations communities to remain past March 2021: feds

Boil-water advisories at First Nations communities to remain past March 2021: feds

Wilner Cayo, centre, and Frantz Andre attend a demonstration outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's constituency office in Montreal on May 23, 2020, where they called on the government to give residency status to migrant workers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Refugee advocates criticize Canada’s decision to resume deportations during COVID-19

Refugee advocates criticize Canada’s decision to resume deportations during COVID-19

Most Read