Obama, declaring that attacks on Islam were an attack on all
religions, decried the "inexcusable political rhetoric" against
Muslims from Donald Trump and other Republican presidential
“We have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on
all our faiths," he said at the mosque outside of Baltimore, which
he said had received threats twice in the past year. "When any
religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak
Trump, the Republican front-runner, called for a temporary ban on
Muslims entering the United States after authorities described a
California couple who killed 14 people last December as radicalized
Muslims inspired by Islamic State militants.
Obama's visit was aimed at showing Americans another side of Islam.
Before he spoke, Cub Scouts who attend a school run by the mosque
carried the American and Maryland state flags into the prayer hall,
a plain room save for a three rows of window panes, 99 in all, each
depicting one of the names of Allah in Arabic.
"Think of your own church or synagogue or temple, and a mosque like
this will be very familiar," said Obama, who, following Islamic
custom, took off his shoes to enter the hall.
The children led the audience, with some men in prayer caps and most
women in head scarves, in the Pledge of Allegiance. A man and a
woman recited a verse from the Koran about tolerance and inclusion.
Obama, a Christian, outlined the tenets of Islam, and gave a brief
history of Muslims in America. He noted that founding father Thomas
Jefferson specifically mentioned Muslims when he spoke about the
American right to freedom of religion.
"Thomas Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting
he was a Muslim, so I was not the first," said Obama, who has long
been accused of secretly being a Muslim, to a roar of laugher. "I'm
in good company," he said.
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Obama asked a row of Muslim American military service members to
stand, as well as Ibtihaj Muhammad, a member of the U.S. fencing
team who will be the first American Olympian to compete in a hijab,
or head scarf, in this year's Rio Olympics.
The president touched on pop-culture depictions of Muslims as
terrorists. "Our television shows should have some Muslim characters
that are unrelated to national security, Obama said.
Turning to extremist groups such as Islamic State and what he
characterized as perverted versions of Islam portrayed by them,
Obama urged regular Muslims to "show who you are. To use a little
Christian expression - let your light shine."
Later, he told a crowd of cheering children, who had packed the
mosque's gymnasium to watch his speech on large screens, that one
day they too could become president.
Obama urged young Muslims not to embrace a worldview that required
them to choose between faith and patriotism.
"You fit in here. Right here," he said. "You're not Muslim or
American. You're Muslim and American."
(Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Jeff Mason; Editing by
James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)
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