CAIRO – As US Muslims expect President Barack Obama’s first visit to an American mosque on Wednesday, intolerance and Islamophobic rhetoric remain at the top of discussion agenda with the President.
“There are definitely impacts and consequences to words that candidates like Trump and Carson say,” Dr. Suzanne Barakat, said in an interview, referring to Donald J. Trump and Ben Carson, The New York Times reported.
“For them, it’s political gain. For American Muslims, it can be their lives.”
Obama is scheduled to visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday.
Its campus contains a mosque and school that runs from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The visit comes as part of the administration’s push to promote religious tolerance at a time when rhetoric linking Islam with terrorism is growing.
At the Islamic Society, the president will hold a roundtable discussion with community members, including Dr. Barakat, whose brother was gunned down along with his wife and sister-in-law last year.
“We have seen an alarming willingness on the part of some Republicans to try to marginalize law-abiding, patriotic Muslim Americans, and it is offensive,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday.
“And I think the president is looking forward to the opportunity to make that point,” he added.
As part of anti-Islam rhetoric adopted by Republican presidential hopefuls, front runner Donald Trump advocated barring Muslims from the US.
Dr. Ben Carson, on the other hand, has called for close scrutiny of Muslim Americans.
Amid increasing attacks on American Muslims and mosques, prominent Muslim Americans pleaded with senior administration officials to have the president visit a mosque in the hopes of stemming such attacks.
“He’ll talk about how some have conflated the recent horrific acts of terrorists with an entire faith, and how that type of language contributes to making us less safe,” said Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director.
“An entire community is being blamed for the acts of a few.”
For many Muslims, the visit offers a support promised at the beginning of Obama’s regime in 2009 which never came.
Taking office in 2009, Obama made a historic visit to Egypt and addressed the Muslim world as part of efforts to repair the image of the United States among the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.
Obama spoke to the Muslim world from Cairo University and emphasized that there are mosques and Muslims in every state in America.
“So let there be no doubt,” he said, “Islam is a part of America.”
Obama, however, remained silent for long weeks in debate on a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near the World Trade Center in Manhattan, to speak only months later in his Ramadan iftar dinner with the Muslim community.
This has much changed in his last year in presidency.
Only days after the emergence of Republican legislative proposals in Congress to essentially bar all Syrian refugees and of language demonizing Muslim Americans after the Paris attacks, Obama told reporters at a news conference in Turkey that such talk was “shameful.”
“That’s not American; it’s not who we are,” he said.
In his final State of the Union address last month, Obama returned to this subject.
“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer,” he said.
“That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential scholar, compared Obama’s mosque visit and increasingly urgent warnings against anti-Muslim language to warnings made by two other presidents at the end of their terms.
“George Washington warned his countrymen against the increasing power of factions which kindle animosity of one against the other while Eisenhower warned against the unwarranted influence of the military industrial complex,” she wrote in an email.
On Wednesday in Baltimore, Obama will first meet with Dr. Barakat and other American Muslims and will then deliver a speech, although aides emphasized that he wanted to spend much of his time listening.
American Muslim figures attending the discussion with the President will include Ibtihaj Muhammad, a three-time All-American at Duke University and a member of the United States Olympic fencing team.
Also Imam Khalid Latif, executive director and chaplain of the Islamic Center at New York University, who presided last year over an interfaith service with Pope Francis at ground zero, will be among attendants.