President Barack Obama visited the 47-year-old Islamic Society of Baltimore today, his first trip to a mosque in the U.S. He discussed religious tolerance, and his appearance is seen as an effort to combat the Islamophobia and bigotry that has risen unchecked in the presidential race and nationwide. He first sat in a roundtable with various Muslim leaders, then spoke a couple hours later to a packed audience of about 200 people.
Below is a live update from Editor-in-Chief Amina Chaudary, who spoke with attendees and shared what happened. You can also stay updated via Twitter.
READ MORE ON OUR COVERAGE OF THE MOSQUE VISIT
- Check out award-winning author Peter Manseau’s analysis of how Obama’s visit and speech differs from previous administrations’ outreach efforts.
- Read Reza Aslan’s thoughts on the president’s speech, which he called an important address but pretty unimpressive.
- Ned Price of the National Security Council offers some context for the president’s words and his agenda for the rest of his term.
2:35 PM: Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, on his reaction to Obama’s speech: “I thought they were powerful, substantive and both a call to action not only for the larger American community but for Muslims and faith communities across the board.”
On whether anything was lacking: “Any speech is going to have its limitations. The president did have time to get into some of the more substantive critiques about particular cases, but overall, I don’t think you could have asked for anything more for this time, for this place, right now.”
2:30 PM: Dr. Suzanne Barakat on her reaction to the roundtable with Obama: “There were a group of about 10 people who came and shared the amazing work that they do, from community activism to conservation to politics and medicine. And I think the theme that was stringing throughout was social justice, and the importance of distinguishing this double standard that we have, where anytime someone who is Muslim or Muslim appearing or has a Muslim-appearing name, we try to attribute any act of violence as one of terrorism. But when someone who is white, we call him mentally ill, or if you’re in Oregon, we call him an activist. And their security is important and we just need to continue to uphold to the same standard for all people. So that was one of the things. I think it went well, I think it reflected in the speech, some of the remarks that were made and some of the frustration with assuming the burden on a lot of the Muslim community members and leaders. If the KKK did something, we’re not holding the entire Christian community responsible. So there’s still work to be done on changing that narrative, but I think today was a good milestone.”
On his speech: “I think it was a pretty good speech. It was a historical moment that our president is coming to an American mosque for the first time in his presidency, and including remarks of endorsement of saying that American Muslims belong in the fabric of this country.”
2:15 PM: Ibtihaj Muhammad on her reaction to Obama’s speech: “I was excited that the president decided to meet with the American Muslim community. I think this is such a crucial time, not just for Muslim community, but for the greater American community and society. I was appreciative. I’m a person who believes that everything happens at the time when they’re supposed to happen, so I’m excited to get the conversation started and hopefully we’re moving toward change and toward a better situation for Muslims here in the United States.”
About Obama mentioning her in his speech: “I’m a pretty low-key person, so I was a little mortified but excited at the same time to be acknowledged by the president of the United States is pretty awesome.”
About her qualifying to be on the American Olympic team as a fencer: “It still doesn’t feel real. It all just happened recently, I’m still in a state of ‘I have practice tonight.’ So I’m going to keep working hard and try to put myself in the best position to do well this summer in Rio.”
2:10 PM: Imam Khalid Latif on his reaction to Obama’s speech. “I thought the tone and tenor that he had was very different from past speeches. I think it is indicative of understanding a little bit better where Muslims are experientially in the United States right now given the realities of relationships. They’re heavily impacted by political discourse, law enforcement relationships, etc. I think for him to come out with some of the statements that he did is a step in the right direction. … I think the fact that he said that it’s the first of a series of things, that there will be continued engagement is what I’m really banking on. So I would say that the conversation could probably become more specific, and it could be something that could add that much more clarity to really what the Muslim American experience is like. I think overall it was good.”
11:40 AM: Naeem Muhammad, a Muslim artist and member of the musical group Native Deen, who was born and raised in Baltimore: I look forward to hearing him “really welcoming the Muslim community and acknowledging their contribution to the American fabric since its existence. Because Muslims have been here, the African American community or just from the time of slavery up until now, Muslims have existed in this country. And its presence has been here even older than the country itself. … [I’d also like to hear him talk about] how Muslims should get involved and continue to do the great things that we are doing but to continue them and expand them and grow them. … It’s kind of special to really have him recognize Muslims in our area. Again Baltimore community is a diverse community, African American community, one of the oldest Islamic schools that’s continuously running today, which I graduated from, the Islamic Community School, is from Baltimore. … He should have been here earlier, but you know Ahlan wa Sahlan, welcome.”
11:30 AM: Imam Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America: “We would like to hear from President Obama to address the issue of Islamophobia and to speak about the rights of Muslims as part of the American social fabric. … Baltimore is a city that … has a great population of African American Muslims. And this mosque … has been working with the civic engagement, and working with interfaith groups. We’re very happy to have him be in Baltimore. … [For the president to be in an American mosque] says that American Muslims are part of American social fabric, and speaking at the mosque shows that he really wants to address the Muslim community from the place that is so dear to them which is the mosque.”
11:25 AM: Haroon Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding: “I’d like to hear from him about Islamophobia, about religious freedom and about what he thinks we can do to fight back against the kind of rhetoric we’re hearing right now. … Had he done this before [visit a mosque] it wouldn’t have had the same impact and because of the anti-Muslim sentiment right now, the optics in the power of his first-ever visit to an American mosque are stronger. Had he visited a mosque before, and done it a second time, it just wouldn’t have had the same resonance or the same excitement. So it’s a much more powerful statement against what we’re seeing coming out of the Republican Party right now. … Considering what’s been going on in Baltimore, considering how many people feel like there hasn’t been enough action from the White House to help people on the margins, and that a lot of the progressive agenda has not been followed through with, I think it’s important. … They’re going to have his head directly under the Allah medallion. So everyone in the right wing is going to freak out like you wouldn’t believe. So you heard it here first. I’m calling it. I’m telling the right wing what to do next. Because then if they do do it, we can say that they’re just taking orders from a Muslim. … The main point here is that many Americans think mosques are a place where extremism grows, or radicalism is encouraged or defended. And by coming here and saying that’s not true, this is what a mosque really is, and that more Americans should go out of their way to try to learn about Islam.”
11:20 AM: Obama has a roundtable with 12 American Muslim leaders. Some participants you see in the photo below are Dr. Suzanne Barakat, chairwoman of Our Three Winners Endowment Fund and whose brother was among the victims of last year’s Chapel Hill killings; Colin Christopher, executive director of Green Muslims; Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud, a Yale student; Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation and chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania; Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network; Sarah Jawaid, community organizer for LA Voice; Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer who just became the first American who will compete in the Olympics this year in Rio in hijab; Imam Khalid Latif, a chaplain at the Islamic Center at New York University; Khadija Gurnah, founder of Project Ejaba; Saafir Rabb, founder and CEO of Interculture; Edmund Tori, associate director of MedStar Institute for Innovation; Imam Yaseen Shaikh of the Islamic Society of Baltimore.
11:15 AM: Priscilla Martinez of the Boy Scouts of America. “As an American Muslim who’s also a woman and of Mexican American heritage, I’m proud to be here. I welcome the president’s visit, I hope that it will help us as Americans to come together and to remember that what unites us is more important than what may divide us in the long run. … I do hope that the president will have some words to say about the rise of Islamophobia, about the rise of anti-Semitism, as well as the disparaging remarks that folks have been making lately against women and against minorities. I hope that his remarks will be well received and will hopefully open some hearts and some minds. … My kids and I have faced some Islamophobia, myself more than them. And it kind of comes and goes. Maybe about five years ago, there was a small surge. I think right now, it’s probably worse than it was even after September 11th, and I feel that has a lot to do with the tone and the tenor of the conversations that everybody’s having out there. I feel like people are starting to feel a little bit more emboldened and a little bit more able to maybe kind of push the envelope on the fine line between free speech and hate speech. And I think that that’s unfortunate. But I’m trying to keep hope alive and trying to keep my eyes on the long run. And I often remember MLK’s quote about the arc of the moral universe being long.”
11:10 AM: The president arrives at the mosque. He’s greeted outside by a couple of protesters holding signs calling on him to not find Hamas. You read that right.
11:10 AM: Ghulam Sangi, is a staff sergeant, served in the U.S. Army for nine years, and now he works with the government. He came to the U.S. from Pakistan 17 years ago. “I know [the president] is big on diversity and inclusion of faith. So I want to hear what … sort of encouragement he has for the Muslim community. A lot is going on these days in the media, we see books in the stores talking about banning Muslims and connecting terrorism with the Islamic faith, and I’m personally offended by those words. So I want to hear what President Obama has to say and how we can go together as a country, as a nation. … I don’t have to prove to anyone that I’m [an] American. I have served my country. People who claim that we are somebody else, other than Americans, they have never served the country.”
11:05 AM: Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding: “I’m hoping that the president will reassure the American Muslim community that we are full members of this country, that the anti-Islamic and the Islamophobic rhetoric that we’ve been hearing is something that should be condemned, that is anti-American, that is unAmerican. And I’m hoping that he’ll also recognize our contributions, our contributions to this country economically, our contributions in the arts, in athletics, and our contributions to our national security. … [His visit] is late, but it’s also very necessary right now. If he had done it earlier, it would have been nice, but now it’s necessary. … I’m focusing on the positive impact that he can make now and we need it more than ever. … In light of recent statements about American mosques, I think this destigmatizes American mosques. I think Baltimore is a great choice because of all that’s happened in Baltimore, and actually the role of this very community in rebuilding Baltimore after the protest and the uprising. So I think it’s the perfect choice to signal and to communicate renewal and a new start.”
11:00 AM: Anwar Khan, head of Islamic Relief: “I would like to hear from President Obama how the Muslim community can work more with the rest of American society. We are not a separate community, we are part of American society. We come in all colors, come in all different backgrounds, we tend to be more affluent and more educated than the average American. … Seven years we’ve been waiting for him to come, seven years. You know, they say better late than never, so we’re very proud that he’s over here, and we just wanted to show our support with the president. People will attack him for coming here, but he’s amazing that he’s standing side by side with people of other faiths, even when others are trying to demonize us, he’s standing with us. President Bush did that after 9/11, President Obama is doing that today, we’re very proud of our president for standing up for all Americans.”
10:57 AM: Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat: “I think it’s more important that the president of the United States, in reaction to a storm of anti-Muslim hate, chooses to come to a mosque and talk about inclusion and tolerance in the United States. No matter what he says, the fact of doing it is incredibly important. And so I’m glad he’s here and his presence means a lot.”
10:54 AM: Shaarik Zafar, Special Representative to Muslim Communities at the State Department. “I think what we’ll hear probably is about the rich history of Islam in America, Muslims in America. I think the president’s going to talk about the importance of religious freedom and how Muslims are part of the fabric of the United States, and how this country faces a number of challenges and how Muslims are part of the solution, just like other communities. With respect to anti-Muslim sentiment, the president’s made clear that when we go down that road, we lose, and that Muslims are, like I said, part of the fabric of America. … Anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Muslim rhetoric is something the president will be addressing.”
10:52 AM: Activist Linda Sarsour: “I’m hoping that he’s here to reaffirm that the United States and our fellow Americans, including our president, are against all forms of discrimination and stand for religious freedom and ensure that the Muslim community can be reassured that we will live in our country in safety and our mosques will be safe, our children are safe in the public school system. … Obama visiting a mosque [after] seven years is quite late, but I would say better late than never before your presidency is over, and I think it is an opportune time with the rise of Islamophobia and the heated rhetoric that’s happening in political discussions, that the time is now for him to have made that decision.”
10:50 AM: Hasiynah Mohammed, with her sons Yanas, Isa, Mujahedeen and daughter Uswa. She talks about her experience with Islamophobia.
10:45 AM: Katherine Soliman of Baltimore attends the mosque. She says that she hopes to hear Obama address the immigration issue, a topic that is dear to her as her husband is Egyptian and has had difficulty adjusting to life in the U.S.
10:40 AM: Aquil Smith, 28, of Baltimore says he’s hoping to hear that “we’re one nation, just to hear that we’re one human family, and the fact that Islam and Christianity, we all contribute something good to this beautiful country. So that’s what I want to hear. I want to hear what greatness Islam has contributed to America and the new things that we can offer here.”
10:35 AM: A few protesters outside the mosque before the president is due to speak. Hear what they have to say.
10:30 AM: The scene outside the Islamic Society of Baltimore. All the action is clearly inside.