WASHINGTON – President Bush reminded a crowd of Muslim Americans of the country's deep dedication to religious freedom and the United States' defense of Islam against attacks from terrorists.
Following in the footsteps of President Dwight D. Eisenhower a half century ago, Bush rededicated the Islamic Center of Washington on Wednesday. He pointed to the Center's close proximity to a synagogue, a Lutheran Church, a Catholic parish, a Greek Orthodox chapel, and a Buddhist temple to highlight America's religious diversity.
"The freedom to worship is so central to America's character that we tend to take it personally when that freedom is denied to others," Bush said.
"Our country was a leading voice on behalf of the Jewish refusniks in the Soviet Union. Americans joined in common cause with Catholics and Protestants who prayed in secret behind an Iron Curtain," he continued. "America has stood with Muslims seeking to freely practice their beliefs in places such as Burma and China."
However, Bush switched focus to the growing Islamic extremism in the Middle East and the difference between extremists and moderate Muslims.
"This enemy [extremists] falsely claims that America is at war with Muslims and the Muslim faith, when in fact it is these radicals who are Islam's true enemy," Bush emphasized.
"They have staged spectacular attacks on Muslim holy sites to divide Muslims and make them fight one another," he said. "The majority of the victims of their acts of terror are Muslims."
Teachers being beaten, the gruesome murder of a young boy, a suicide attack involving children, and the bombing of a wedding were examples of violence by Muslim extremists given by Bush.
"They claim to undertake these acts of butchery and mayhem in the name of Allah. Yet this enemy is not the true face of Islam, this enemy is the face of hatred," said the President, noting he has "invested the heart" of his presidency to helping "Muslims fight terrorism."
Muslim American leaders were urged to speak out against radical Muslims and condemn violence to rescue their religion from the hands of extremist militants.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that Muslim Americans overall are similar to the rest of America, sharing common values and attitudes, and subscribing to a "decidedly" American worldview.
In addition, a solid majority of Muslim Americans believe that if a person works hard they can be successful in the United States, and that Muslims in the country should try and adopt American customs instead of trying to remain distinct from society, according to the Pew study.
Christians and Muslims in the United States and the Western world have also worked together on many issues including social justice, environmental and humanitarian causes. There are some 631 interfaith groups working on progressive causes such as poverty, human rights and peace, as documented in the Mapping Faith database.
Earlier this week, two prominent relief agencies – United Methodist Committee on Relief and Muslim Aid – committed to a multi-million partnership to help people suffering from disasters and conflict. Both groups hope that the inter-religious co-operation can be a model for the world on cross cultural and religious understanding.
"We want to create a model for other religious and non-religious organizations to follow, to demonstrate that people of very different, and sometimes conflicting, backgrounds, faiths, and cultures can work together to help humanity," the Rev. R. Randy Day, general secretary of the United Methodist Global Ministries, said in a statement.
President Bush during his rededication speech also announced that he will appoint a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to listen and learn from Muslim states, while also exchanging ideas about American views and values. Bush is the first president to make such an appointment to the OIC.