President Barack Obama was in Catonsville on Wednesday to visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore. It was the first visit to a mosque by a U.S. President. Following a roundtable with members of the community and an introduction by former Pikesville High student Sabah Muktar, Mr. Obama delivered a speech that decried anti-Muslim rhetoric. Here are a few quotes that stood out:
“If you’re 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.”
This statement came at the end of the speech, but it was the crux of Obama’s message. “You’re not Muslim or American, you’re Muslim and American. Don’t grow cynical,” he said. Following acts of violence against Muslims in the wake of the Paris attacks and San Bernadino and calls for restrictions on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries, Obama sought to speak directly to the community to encourage unity and denounce bias.
“This mosque, like so many in our country, is an all-American story.”
Obama pointed out that the Islamic Society of Baltimore is a community gathering point, playing host to Girl Scout meetings and sports teams. It also has a school and health clinic attached. He said would be familiar to Americans who go to a church or synagogue. The mosque is one of the largest congregations in the Mid-Atlantic and received threats of violence last year.
“Muslim Americans enrich our lives today in every way.”
A long portion of Obama’s speech was focused on listing ways that Muslim Americans have had a role in U.S. history, and serve in many important roles in society, from police to teachers to doctors to entrepreneurs. “Muslim Americans keep us safe,” he said at one point. Obama said Muslim Americans have spoken to him about feeling invisible, and he wanted to take the visit to the Mosque to recognized their accomplishments.
“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 an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths.”
Obama promoted both interfaith learning and unity. As he has done many times, he condemned ISIS and al Qaeda and said their worldview does not reflect the majority of Islam. Equally, he called on people to speak out when religious groups are targeted and reject political statements that are borne of prejudice. He didn’t say Donald Trump by name in reference to that last point, but he probably doesn’t have to at this point.
“To use a little Christian expression — 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. This is a struggle between the peace-loving, overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world and a radical, tiny minority.”
To close the speech, Obama urged Muslim leaders to show the peace-seeking side of Islam loudly and consistently. He said that those representations are the best way to combat ISIS. For American officials’ part, he said the Muslim American community should not be “solely through the prism of law enforcement.” Improving the relationship with law enforcement, however, will be a process, he said. “There will be times where the relationship is clumsy or mishandled. But I want you to know that from the President to the FBI Director, to everybody in law enforcement, my directive and their understanding is, is that this is something we have to do together.”
Watch the full speech, below.
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