President Barack Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore Wednesday morning, marking the first time he has visited an American mosque as president and garnering praise from Asian-American community leaders.
Obama began his visit with a round table discussion with Muslim community leaders and relayed his support for the Muslim community with a speech that denounced both extremism and anti-Muslim prejudice.
Obama began his speech simply: "The first thing I want to say is two words that Muslim Americans don't hear often enough," he said. "Thank you."
He went on to condemn the anti-Muslim bigotry and prejudice that has risen because of the "violent acts of the very few." The Islamic Society of Baltimore has received threats twice in the past year, the president said.
"We've seen children bullied, we've seen mosques vandalized," he said. "It's not who we are. We're one American family, and when any part of our family starts to feel second class or separate or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation."
The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) released a statement Wednesday afternoon praising the president's visit. The group, a national coalition of civil rights organizations, has made standing against anti-Muslim hate and bigotry one of its top priorities.
"The President's first visit to an American mosque could not come at a more important time, to remind our nation of its strength in diversity and its founding principle of religious freedom," NCAPA National Director Christopher Kang said. "Asian Americans have experienced history when our country has succumbed to fear and hysteria--whether it was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act or the forced removal of 120,000 loyal Japanese Americans to detention camps during World War II--and we stand with the Muslim, Sikh, Arab and South Asian American communities to say never again. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing hate, discrimination, and prejudice to undermine who we are as a nation."
Lakshmi Sridaran, co-chair of the NCAPA civil rights committee and director of national policy and advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), expressed optimism for improved treatment of American Muslims in a time of increased violence and hateful rhetoric against the community.
"Since 9/11, American Muslims have been placed under government surveillance, going against our nation's alleged values of religious freedom and tolerance," she said in a press release. "We are encouraged by the President's visit to talk with community leaders. We hope this will lead to stronger policies on hate crimes during this period of resurgence in violence and rhetoric targeting Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. We encourage everyone to confront anti-Muslim sentiment in our own homes and communities. Anyone can help our efforts to track hate crimes and access resources on SAALT's website."