CAIRO – The announcement of the long-awaited visit by President Barack Obama to a US mosque has been widely welcomed by American Muslims, praising its timing in the middle of growing anti-Muslim hostility in the country.
“For a number of years we’ve been encouraging the president to go to an American mosque,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR, was quoted by Baltimore Sun.
“With the tremendous rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in our country, we believe that it will send a message of inclusion and mutual respect.
“[We’re] glad he has taken that step. The reason we ask is to send a message of inclusion and religious diversity at a time of skyrocketing Islamophobia in our nation.”
Obama’s visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in Catonsville, was announced on Saturday by the White House.
Planned next Wednesday, it 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, the official said.
“The president believes that one of our nation’s greatest strengths is our rich diversity,” White House spokesman Keith Maley said.
“As the president has said, Muslim Americans are our friends, and neighbors; our co-workers, and sports heroes — and our men and women in uniform defending our country.”
The Islamic Society of Baltimore was formed in 1969 by a group of families that held weekly meetings and Friday prayers at the Johns Hopkins University, according to the group’s website.
The society expanded to its current site in the 1980s, building Masjid Al-Rahmah, which includes a housing complex and a primary school.
The visit comes as Muslims face increasing hostility as a result of anti-Islam rhetoric exploited by Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
“Hysteria is never good for unity of the country,” said Michael Smith, a resident scholar at the society and an imam at the Islamic Society of Annapolis.
Smith applauded Obama’s decision to visit and said he hopes it will calm what he described as a measure of hysteria that has developed in some parts of the country.
“This visit by the president will show how we need to, as Americans, join hands and come together more than ever. … Now is the time for unity.”
Baltimore County police said last spring that they would increase security around the campus of the society following several threats, including a phone call in which someone threatened to “spill Muslim blood,” according to a report by WJZ.
Obama was in Baltimore briefly Thursday night to speak with House Democratic lawmakers gathered at an Inner Harbor hotel for their annual retreat.