BALTIMORE, Md. — During his first trip to an Islamic mosque during his presidency, Barack Obama called upon Christians to “build bridges” with Muslims and vice versa, urging greater tolerance for the Islamic religion, which he contended “has always been a part of America.”
As previously reported, Obama’s visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday was to serve as a gesture to “celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life.” His 40-minute speech sought to portray Muslims as being an integral part of the fabric of the nation, and to call upon Americans to speak more positively of the Islamic religion.
“For a thousand years, people have been drawn to Islam’s message of peace,” Obama said. “The very word Islam comes from ‘Salam’—peace,” he said. “The standard greeting is ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’—‘Peace be upon you.’”
“Like so many faiths, Islam is rooted in a commitment to compassion and mercy and justice and charity,” he continued. “Whoever wants to enter paradise, the prophet Mohammad taught, let him treat people the way he would love to be treated. For Christians like myself, I’m assuming that sounds familiar.”
Obama then asserted that Islam is a part of American history.
“Islam has always been a part of America,” he contended, stating that many of the slaves that came from Africa were Muslim, and that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams possessed copies of the Koran. “So this is not a new thing. Generations of Muslims helped to build our nation.”
Obama also pointed to the historicity of American mosques dating back to the 1800’s, and said that some thought Thomas Jefferson was a Muslim, so Obama is not the first president to be accused of following Islam.
“It’s true. Look it up,” he stated. “I’m in good company.”
During his speech, Obama also called upon the various religions to find common ground and asserted that Christianity and Islam share a common history.
“We are all God’s children. We are all born equal with inherent dignity. And so often we focus on our outward differences and forget how much we share. Christians, Jews, Muslims—We’re all under our faiths descendants of Abraham,” he contended.
“So mere tolerance of different religions is not enough,” Obama said. “Our faiths summon us to embrace our common humanity. … All of us have the task of expressing our religious faith in a way that seeks to build bridges rather than divide.”
He stated that Christians and Muslims should speak out against violent acts committed against one another.
“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,” he said. “And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up.”
“[J]ust as faith leaders, including Muslims, must speak out when Christians are persecuted around the world or when anti-semitism is on the rise,” he stated, “because the fact is that there are Christians who are targeted now in the middle east despite having been there for centuries, and there are Jews who have lived in places like France for centuries who now feel obliged to leave because they feel themselves under assault—sometimes by Muslims.”
The president called upon Americans to resist profiling Muslims.
“Recently, we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country,” Obama said. “We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion.”
“We can’t be bystanders to bigotry,” he also stated. “Together, we’ve got to show that America truly protects all faiths. As we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas and the rhetoric of the terrorists themselves.”
His speech also called for greater representation of Muslims in American life.
“Our television shows should have some [Muslim] characters that are unrelated to national security,” he said. “There was a time when there were no black people on television.”
Obama has asserted on several occasions during his presidency that terrorist groups are not representative of the Islamic religion, which he claims is by and large peaceful.