US: Obama’s first mosque visit
Barack Obama is to visit a U.S. mosque for the first time as American president, the White House has revealed.
President Obama will visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore’s mosque in Maryland next week.
His trip on Wednesday comes amid growing anti-Muslim discourse in the U.S., energized by deadly terror attacks in California and Paris.
According to the White House, Obama will talk with community members and make a speech.
“The President will travel to Maryland to visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque to celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life,” a White House statement on Saturday said.
“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,” the statement added.
The visit is symbolic as it will be the first by Obama to a mosque during his seven years as president.
It also takes place at a time when Muslim leaders are increasingly anxious about reactions following attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
Some Republican presidential candidates have been calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., the closure of mosques and strict surveillance of Muslim organizations.
A spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights organization, welcomed Obama’s decision.
“For a number of years we’ve been encouraging the president to go to an American mosque,” Ibrahim Hooper told Anadolu Agency.
“With the tremendous rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in our country, we believe that it will send a message of inclusion and mutual respect,” he added.
The Islamic Society of Baltimore was established in 1969 by “a group of families that held weekly meetings and Friday prayers at the Johns Hopkins University”, according to the organization’s website.
The society built Masjid Al-Rahmah in 1980, which includes a mosque as well as a housing complex and a primary school.