Obama Will Visit Baltimore Mosque In Plea For Religious Tolerance

President Obama will be visiting a mosque in Baltimore this week, which marks his first presidential visit to a Muslim house of worship in the U.S. The president has visited several mosques around the world, but never one in America.

President Obama will give a speech on religious freedom and acceptance at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in Catonsville. His visit will “celebrate the contributions of Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life” and “reiterate the importance of staying true to our core values: welcoming our fellow Americans, speaking out against bigotry, rejecting indifference and protecting our nation’s tradition of religious freedom,” White House officials said in a statement late Saturday.

White House spokesman Keith Maley said, “The president believes that one of our nation’s greatest strengths is our rich diversity. As the president has said, Muslim Americans are our friends, and neighbors; our co-workers, and sports heroes — and women in uniform defending our country.”

During a time when anti-Muslim sentiment in the public has risen, fueled by fears of terrorist acts committed by extremist groups, Obama’s visit to the mosque is meant to show the Muslim community is a peaceful one. He’s united with the community, who have nothing to do with the terrorists.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, was pleased with Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in the U.S., the NY Daily News reports.

“For a number of years we’ve been encouraging the president to go to an American mosque. With the tremendous rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in our country, we believe that it will send a message of inclusion and mutual respect.”

Republican presidential candidates have been the most outspoken lately about Muslims with Republican front-runner Donald Trump proclaiming the country should ban all Muslims from entering, claiming this will keep the country safe from terrorist attacks. President Obama has outright criticized Trump’s proposal.

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer,” Obama said during the 2016 State of the Union.

The Baltimore Sun reports that, days after the September 11 attacks, a time when there was also much anti-Islamic sentiment, then-President George W. Bush visited the Islamic Cultural Center of Washington.

The other Republican presidential candidates want either limits placed on allowing refugees from Muslim countries such as Syria and Iraq to resettle in the U.S., or to prevent refugees from coming into the country at all, much like Trump wishes. These candidates’ reasoning is that allowing Muslim refugees will compromise the country’s security.

The Baltimore Sun also reports that polls conducted late last year show a majority of Republican voters support Trump’s proposal, while most Democrats and independent voters opposed it.

Michael Smith, a resident scholar at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, said he hopes Obama’s visit to the mosque will calm fears that he believes have been exacerbated during this year’s race to the presidency.

“Hysteria is never good for unity of the country. This visit by the president will show how we need to, as Americans, join hands and come together more than ever…. Now is the time for unity.”

After the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernandino, there has been an increase in attacks against Muslims and Sikhs. In December, a meeting with faith leaders was held at the White House where several of the leaders asked Obama to visit a mosque soon. After consideration, White House officials and the president decided he should visit a mosque in the country.

Do you think President Obama’s visit to the mosque will ease fears of the religion of Islam?

[Photo courtesy of AP]