President Barack Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore Wednesday in his first visit to a mosque in the U.S. during his presidency. In a 45-minute address, he called on Americans to embrace Islam as a religion of peace.
Obama referenced recent tragedies in Boston, Chattanooga, Tenn. and San Bernardino, Calif., that were carried out by Islamic terrorists and emphasized that they represent only a small fraction of all Muslims.
“Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL, they’re not the first extremists in history to misuse God’s name,” Obama said in the speech. “We’ve seen it before, across faiths. But right now, there is an organized extremist element that draws selectively from Islamic texts, twists them in an attempt to justify their killing and their terror. They combine it with false claims that America and the west are at war with Islam.”
Obama emphasized that it is essential for the United States to deny those groups’ “legitimacy” and not buy into religious propaganda they distribute.
“We can’t be at war with any other religion because the world’s religions are a part of the very fabric of the United States, our national character,” he said.
Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Art Abramson said that although he was not able to attend the speech, the president’s visit was “extremely important and valuable” in helping to bridge religious divides.
“Despite what certain political candidates are accusing the Muslim community of, with President Obama’s visit to the mosque yesterday he has signified that community’s importance as a major part of American life,” he said.
In a written statement, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md) praised the president on his plea for religious tolerance.
“As Americans, religious freedom is baked into our DNA,” he said. “The finer moments of our history are those where we have stood up to bigotry and prejudice. In that spirit, we must seize every opportunity to celebrate the contributions that proud and diverse communities — like Maryland’s Muslim community — bring to our broader society.”