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.”

Just Posted

A rodeo south of Bowden drew a huge crowd on May 1 and 2, 2021. (Photo courtesy Mom’s Diner’s Facebook page)
Organizers of central Alberta anti-lockdown rodeo plead not guilty

Ty and Gail Northcott charged under the Public Health Act

(Black Press file photo.)
Road closures at both ends of Red Deer next week

Red Deer motorists should expect delays with road closures in the north… Continue reading

(File photo by Advocate staff)
37-year-old from Red Deer dies in highway crash

An individual from Red Deer has died after a collision on Highway… Continue reading

Grade one teacher Heidi Dimou arranges the desks in line with physical distancing policy in her class in preparation for the new school year at the Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal, on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta students expected to return to in-person learning next week

Kids can anticipate a return to the classroom next week in Alberta.… Continue reading

This grizzly bear had been hanging out near Aurum Lodge and the Cline River area and was later killed by Fish and Wildlife, says an area resident. (Contributed photo)
Grizzly sniffing for human food west of Nordegg killed

Lodge owner reminds campers to keep all food away from wildlife

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

(CPAC)
Trudeau says he knew about investigation into general overseeing vaccines weeks ago

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he learned weeks ago that… Continue reading

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States for a COVID-19 vaccine and avoid quarantine on return if they meet some straightforward conditions, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirms.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Canadians can drive to U.S. for COVID-19 vax and avoid quarantine, Ottawa confirms

TORONTO — Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Quebec can modify part of the Canadian Constitution unilaterally: Trudeau

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Quebec can unilaterally modify part… Continue reading

In this Thursday, April 29, 2021, file photo, giant bucket-wheel excavators extract coal at the controversial Garzweiler surface coal mine near Jackerath, West Germany. Canadian environmentalists are welcoming a report from the International Energy Agency that says new fossil fuel investment must end if the world is to meet its climate goals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Martin Meissner
Canadian environmentalists happy with International Energy Agency report

Environmentalists say a report from the International Energy Agency that concludes investment… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ceasefire needed in Israeli-Palestinian conflict to avoid loss of more civilians: PM

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is calling for a… Continue reading

A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis
Saskatchewan wildfire grows, forcing evacuations in the area to expand

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Dry conditions and strong winds caused a large… Continue reading

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Tam hopeful for summer even as Canada hits grim death milestone in COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA — Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says she expects… Continue reading

Sheffield United’s Daniel Jebbison celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Sheffield United at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alex Pantling/Pool via AP
Canadian teenager Daniel Jebbison turns heads with Premier League goal

Jebbison, 17, is the youngest player in Premier League history to score on his first start in England’s top tier

Most Read