Acknowledging that across the US it is a time of concern and fear for Muslims, US President Barack Obama on Wednesday reiterated his commitment to “freedom of religion” and asked his countrymen to show that America truly protects all faiths.
“The best way to fight terrorism is to show the US does not suppress Islam and refute lies to the contrary,” Obama said in his historic address to Muslim community from a mosque in Baltimore, Maryland.
In his first visit to a mosque inside the US, Obama referred to the recent political rhetoric against Muslims in the country, where Christians are in majority, and said that the Americans cannot be silent bystanders to bigotry against any faith.
“I know that in Muslim communities across our country this is a time of concern and, frankly, a time of some fear. Like all Americans, you’re worried about the threat of terrorism, but on top of that, as Muslim-Americans, you also have another concern, and that is your entire community so often is targeted or blamed for the violent acts of the very few,” Obama said in his address to the Muslim American community.
“An attack on one’s faith is an attack on all our faiths,” Obama said as he mentioned recent attacks against Muslim community and also cited those of Sikh-Americans who looks like them. Americans must speak up when any group is targeted, he added.
“We have to respect the fact that we have freedom of religion,” he said.
At the same time, the US President asked the Muslim community to reject extremism and terrorism.
Pushing back at critics who say he should talk about “Islamic terrorists”, he said that, “We shouldn’t play into terrorist propaganda.”
“As we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas and the rhetoric of terrorists themselves,” Obama said, adding that groups like Islamic State militant group are desperate for legitimacy.
“We must never give them that legitimacy,” he said.
In an apparent reference to recent political rhetoric, he opposed the idea of religious profiling.
“Engagement with Muslim Americans communities must never be a cover for surveillance,” he added.
“As we go forward, I want every Muslim American to remember that…your fellow Americans stand with you,” Obama said and assured the young Muslim Americans: “You are not Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American.”
Muslim political leaders “have to push back on the lie” that the West represses Muslims, Obama told the Muslim community leaders.
“This is not a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam,” he said and asked American-Muslims to show they’re faithful to Islam and also part of a pluralistic society in the US.
Obama called for “global pressure” to end the fights between Muslim sects that produces so much bloodshed.
“We are one American family. We will rise and fall together,” Obama said as he concluded his 45-minute speech on the outskirts of the US Capital.
In his first-ever visit to a US mosque as the president, Obama told Muslim-Americans that US will be their partner to help them promote pluralism and peace.
Many Americans only hear about Muslims and Islam from the news after an act of terrorism or in distorted media portrayals in TV or film, all of which gives this hugely distorted impression, Obama said.
Referring to recent attacks on Muslim Americans, Obama said since 9/11, but more recently since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, they have seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith.
“And, of course, recently we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans that has no place in our country. No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim-Americans have surged,” he said.
“Here at this mosque twice last year, threats were made against your children. Around the country, women wearing the hijab, just like Saba, have been targeted. We’ve seen children bullied. We’ve seen mosques vandalized. Sikh-Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims have been targeted as well,” Obama said.
Obama said for more than 1,000 years, people have been drawn to Islam’s message of peace.
“Like so many faiths, Islam is rooted in a commitment to compassion and mercy and justice and charity. Whoever wants to enter paradise, the Prophet Muhammad taught, let him treat people the way he would love to be treated. ..The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are as diverse as humanity itself,” he said.
Citing the contribution of Muslim-Americans to the US, he said that keep the country safe.
“Muslim Americans are some of the most resilient and patriotic Americans you’ll ever meet,” he said.