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Obama Visited Mosque for the First Time During his Presidency

AP

On Wednesday, President Obama embraced Muslims in the United States as part of "one American family" and implicitly criticized the Republican presidential candidates in a warning to citizens to not be "bystanders to bigotry."

In a visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit to a mosque in the United States as president, Mr. Obama recited phrases from the Quran and praised American Muslims as a crucial part of America’s history and vital to the nation’s future.

"And so if we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country — we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," Mr. Obama said, New York Times reports.

Although Mr. Obama never mentioned Republican presidential candidates like Donald J. Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, the targets in his remarks were clear. "We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion," he said.

The historic 45-minute speech at a large, suburban Baltimore mosque was attended by some of the country’s most prominent Muslims. In what appeared to be a counter to the rise in Islamophobia, Obama celebrated the long history of Muslim achievement in American life from sports to architecture and described Muslims as Cub Scouts, soldiers and parents, pointing out the mother of the pre-med college student who introduced him at the podium.

While Obama has many times, including in the last few months, spoken out against anti-Muslim rhetoric, Wednesday’s visit was the longest and most direct such effort — an intimate conversation between a faith community and a president who has at times seemed to put himself at arm’s length, the Washington Post writes.

Concerns about Muslims and Syrian refugees in the United States grew after terrorist attacks in Paris in November and after a mass shooting by a husband-and-wife team in San Bernardino, Calif., in December left 14 people dead and 22 seriously wounded.

Since then, attacks on American Muslims and mosques have spiked, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. At a meeting at the White House last month, prominent American Muslims pleaded with senior administration officials to have the president visit a mosque in the hope of stemming such attacks.

Mr. Obama also said that anyone who suggested that the United States was at war with Islam not only legitimized such groups as the Islamic State but also played into their hands. "That kind of mind-set helps our enemies," he said. "It helps our enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe."

Mr. Obama ended his speech by reminding Muslim Americans, "You are not alone, your fellow Americans stand with you." And he reminded others that the country’s diversity "is not a weakness, that is one of our greatest strengths."

"We are one American family," he said. "We will rise and fall together."

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