Obama to Visit Mosque for First Time to 'Celebrate American Muslims, Reject Bigotry'

President Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama walks down the colonnade from the Oval Office at The White House in Washington, January 12, 2016. |

Barack Obama announced he will make his first ever visit as president to a mosque on Wednesday, in order to celebrate American Muslims and reject bigotry in the country.

The White House affirmed that Obama will visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore (ISB) with the aim to "celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life."

The statement added: "The president will hold a roundtable with community members and deliver remarks, where he will 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."

Maqbool Patel, ISB president, told Al Jazeera that the center is honored to welcome the president.

"ISB is among largest organizations in the nation, and thousands of families are affiliated with this Islamic Centre," Patel explained.

Zainab Chaudry, the Maryland representative for the Council on American Relations, added that the visit is significant for the 3.3 million Muslims in the country, who make up only one percent of the total population.

"Many organizations, including ours, have been calling on Obama to visit a mosque, specifically to address the anti-Muslim sentiment that we see more recently," Chaudry said.

"His visit has been the subject of many dinner table conversations," he added. "The local Muslim community is extremely excited."

MSNBC noted that other American presidents have visited mosques before as well, including former President George W. Bush less than a week following the 9/11 attacks. At the time Bush spoke out against Americans looking to blame Muslims for the terrorist acts, saying that "Islam is peace," and quoting from the Koran.

Obama has also been strongly speaking out against blaming the whole of Islam for the actions of the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria, insisting that that the U.S. is not at war with Islam, but with people "who have perverted Islam."

Back in February 2015, Obama was heavily criticized by conservatives, such as evangelical preacher Rev. Franklin Graham and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, for failing to identify a group of Egyptian victims of IS as Christians, and for refusing to call the terror group "Islamic."

"The truth is — their barbaric murderers openly said they killed them because they were 'people of the cross.' Why is the president seemingly continuing to protect Islam and refusing to open his eyes to the truth?" Graham asked at the time.

Obama argued, however, that using such a word for ISIL, the White House's preferred name for the terror group, would only give the militants what they want.

"These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy. And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorists' narrative," Obama said back then.

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