The President Speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore

The President Speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore


The President: Well,
good afternoon. And, Sabah, thank you for
the wonderful introduction and for your example — your
devotion to your faith and your education, and
your service to others. You’re an inspiration. You’re going to be
a fantastic doctor. And I suspect, Sabah, your
parents are here because they wanted to see you so —
where are Sabah’s parents? There you go. (applause) Good job, Mom. She did great, didn’t she? She was terrific. To everyone here at
the Islamic Society of Baltimore, thank you for
welcoming me here today. I want to thank Muslim
Americans leaders from across this city
and this state, and some who traveled even
from out of state to be here. I want to recognize
Congressman John Sarbanes, who is here. (applause) As well as two other great
leaders in Congress — and proud Muslim Americans —
Congressman Keith Ellison from the great state
of Minnesota — (applause) — and Congressman Andre
Carson from the great state of Indiana. (applause) This mosque, like so
many in our country, is an all-American story. You’ve been part of this
city for nearly half a century. You serve thousands of
families — some who’ve lived here for decades as
well as immigrants from many countries who’ve worked
to become proud American citizens. Now, a lot of Americans have
never visited a mosque. To the folks watching this
today who haven’t — think of your own church, or
synagogue, or temple, and a mosque like this
will be very familiar. This is where families come
to worship and express their love for God and each other. There’s a school where
teachers open young minds. Kids play baseball and
football and basketball — boys and girls — I hear
they’re pretty good. (laughter) Cub Scouts, Girl
Scouts meet, recite the Pledge
of Allegiance here. With interfaith dialogue,
you build bridges of understanding with other
faith communities — Christians and Jews. There’s a health clinic
that serves the needy, regardless of their faith. And members of this
community are out in the broader community, working
for social justice and urban development. As voters, you come
here to meet candidates. As one of your members said,
“just look at the way we live…we are
true Americans.” So the first thing I want to
say is two words that Muslim Americans don’t hear often
enough — and that is, thank you. Thank you for serving
your community. Thank you for lifting up the
lives of your neighbors, and for helping keep us
strong and united as one American family. We are grateful for that. (applause) Now, this brings me to the
other reason I wanted to come here today. I know that in Muslim
communities across our country, this is a time
of concern and, frankly, a time of some fear. Like all Americans, you’re
worried about the threat of terrorism. But on top of that,
as Muslim Americans, you also have another
concern — and that is your entire community so often is
targeted or blamed for the violent acts of
the very few. The Muslim American
community remains relatively small –several million
people in this country. And as a result, most
Americans don’t necessarily know — or at least don’t
know that they know — a Muslim personally. And as a result, many only
hear about Muslims and Islam from the news after
an act of terrorism, or in distorted media
portrayals in TV or film, all of which gives this
hugely distorted impression. And since 9/11,
but more recently, since the attacks in
Paris and San Bernardino, you’ve seen too often people
conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the
beliefs of an entire faith. And of course, recently,
we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against
Muslim Americans that has no place in our country. No surprise, then, that
threats and harassment of Muslim Americans
have surged. Here at this mosque,
twice last year, threats were made
against your children. Around the country, women
wearing the hijab — just like Sabah — have
been targeted. We’ve seen children bullied. We’ve seen mosques
vandalized. Sikh Americans and others
who are perceived to be Muslims have been
targeted, as well. I just had a chance to meet
with some extraordinary Muslim Americans from across
the country who are doing all sorts of work. Some of them are doctors;
some of them are community leaders; religious leaders. All of them were doing
extraordinary work not just in the Muslim community but
in the American community. And they’re proud of their
work in business and education, and on behalf
of social justice and the environment and education. I should point out they were
all much younger than me — (laughter) — which is happening more
frequently these days. And you couldn’t
help but be inspired, hearing about the
extraordinary work that they’re doing. But you also could not help
but be heartbroken to hear their worries and
their anxieties. Some of them are parents,
and they talked about how their children were asking,
are we going to be forced out of the country, or, are
we going to be rounded up? Why do people
treat us like that? Conversations that you
shouldn’t have to have with children — not
in this country. Not at this moment. And that’s an anxiety echoed
in letters I get from Muslim Americans around
the country. I’ve had people
write to me and say, I feel like I’m a
second-class citizen. I’ve had mothers
write and say, “my heart cries
every night, ” thinking about how her
daughter might be treated at school. A girl from Ohio, 13 years
old, told me, “I’m scared.” A girl from Texas signed
her letter “a confused 14-year-old trying to find
her place in the world.” These are children
just like mine. And the notion that they
would be filled with doubt and questioning their places
in this great country of ours at a time when they’ve
got enough to worry about — it’s hard being a teenager
already — that’s not who we are. We’re one American family. And when any part of our
family starts to feel separate or second-class
or targeted, it tears at the very
fabric of our nation. (applause) It’s a challenge to our
values — and that means we have much work to do. We’ve got to tackle
this head on. We have to be honest
and clear about it. And we have to speak out. This is a moment
when, as Americans, we have to truly listen to
each other and learn from each other. And I believe it has
to begin with a common understanding of
some basic facts. And I express these facts,
although they’d be obvious to many of the people
in this place, because, unfortunately, it’s not
facts that are communicated on a regular basis
through our media. So let’s start with this
fact: For more than a thousand years, people
have been drawn to Islam’s message of peace. And the very word
itself, Islam, comes from salam — peace. The standard greeting is
as-salamu alaykum — peace be upon you. And like so many faiths,
Islam is rooted in a commitment to compassion
and mercy and justice and charity. Whoever wants to
enter paradise, the Prophet Muhammad taught,
“let him treat people the way he would love
to be treated.” (applause) For Christians like myself,
I’m assuming that sounds familiar. (laughter) The world’s 1.6 billion
Muslims are as diverse as humanity itself. They are Arabs and Africans. They’re from Latin America
to Southeast Asia; Brazilians, Nigerians,
Bangladeshis, Indonesians. They are white and
brown and black. There’s a large African
American Muslim community. That diversity is
represented here today. A 14-year-old boy in Texas
who’s Muslim spoke for many when he wrote
to me and said, “We just want to
live in peace.” Here’s another fact: Islam
has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times,
many of the slaves brought here from Africa
were Muslim. And even in their bondage,
some kept their faith alive. A few even won their freedom
and became known to many Americans. And when enshrining the
freedom of religion in our Constitution and
our Bill of Rights, our Founders meant what
they said when they said it applied to all religions. Back then, Muslims were
often called Mahometans. And Thomas Jefferson
explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious
Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all
faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now —
“the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and
the Mahometan.” (applause) Jefferson and John Adams
had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote
that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send
a missionary to preach to us, he would find a
pulpit at his service.” (applause) So this is not a new thing. Generations of Muslim
Americans helped to build our nation. They were part of the flow
of immigrants who became farmers and merchants. They built America’s first
mosque, surprisingly enough, in North Dakota. (laughter) America’s oldest surviving
mosque is in Iowa. The first Islamic center in
New York City was built in the 1890s. Muslim Americans worked on
Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars. A Muslim American designed
the skyscrapers of Chicago. In 1957, when dedicating
the Islamic center in Washington, D.C.,
President Eisenhower said, “I should like to assure
you, my Islamic friends, that under the American
Constitution … and in American hearts…this
place of worship, is just as welcome…as
any other religion.” (applause) And perhaps the most
pertinent fact, Muslim Americans enrich our
lives today in every way. They’re our neighbors, the
teachers who inspire our children, the doctors who
trust us with our health — future doctors like Sabah. They’re scientists
who win Nobel Prizes, young entrepreneurs who are
creating new technologies that we use all the time. They’re the sports heroes we
cheer for — like Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
Hakeem Olajuwon. And by the way, when Team
USA marches into the next Olympics, one of the
Americans waving the red, white and blue — (applause) — will a fencing champion,
wearing her hijab, Ibtihaj Muhammad,
who is here today. Stand up. (applause) I told her to bring
home the gold. (laughter) Not to put any
pressure on you. (laughter) Muslim Americans
keep us safe. They’re our police
and our firefighters. They’re in
homeland security, in our intelligence
community. They serve honorably in our
armed forces — meaning they fight and bleed and
die for our freedom. Some rest in Arlington
National Cemetery. (applause) So Muslim Americans are some
of the most resilient and patriotic Americans
you’ll ever meet. We’re honored to have some
of our proud Muslim American servicemembers here today. Please stand if you’re here,
so we can thank you for your service. (applause) So part of the reason I want
to lay out these facts is because, in the discussions
that I was having with these incredibly accomplished
young people, they were pointing that so
often they felt invisible. And part of what we have
to do is to lift up the contributions of the Muslim
American community not when there’s a problem,
but all the time. Our television shows should
have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to
national security — (applause) — because — it’s
not that hard to do. There was a time when there
were no black people on television. And you can tell good
stories while still representing the reality
of our communities. Now, we do have another fact
that we have to acknowledge. Even as the overwhelming
majority — and I repeat, the overwhelming majority
— of the world’s Muslims embrace Islam as
a source of peace, it is undeniable that a
small fraction of Muslims propagate a perverted
interpretation of Islam. This is the truth. Groups like al
Qaeda and ISIL, they’re not the first
extremists in history to misuse God’s name. We’ve seen it before,
across faiths. But right now, there is a
organized extremist element that draws selectively
from Islamic texts, twists them in an attempt to
justify their killing and their terror. They combine it with false
claims that America and the West are at war with Islam. And this warped thinking
that has found adherents around the world —
including, as we saw, tragically, in Boston
and Chattanooga and San Bernardino — is real. It’s there. And it creates tensions
and pressure that disproportionately burden
the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens. And the question then is,
how do we move forward together? How do we keep our country
strong and united? How do we defend ourselves
against organizations that are bent on
killing innocents? And it can’t be the work
of any one faith alone. It can’t be just a burden
on the Muslim community — although the Muslim
community has to play a role. We all have
responsibilities. So with the time
I have left, I just want to suggest a few
principles that I believe can guide us. First, at a time when others
are trying to divide us along lines of
religion or sect, we have to reaffirm that
most fundamental of truths: We are all God’s children. We’re all born equal,
with inherent dignity. And so often, we focus on
our outward differences and we forget how much we share. Christians, Jews, Muslims —
we’re all, under our faiths, descendants of Abraham. So mere tolerance of
different religions is not enough. Our faiths summon us to
embrace our common humanity. “O mankind,” the
Koran teaches, we have “made you peoples
and tribes that you may know one another.” (applause) So all of us have the task
of expressing our religious faith in a way that seeks to
build bridges rather than to divide. Second, as Americans, we
have to stay true to our core values, and that
includes freedom of religion for all faiths. I already mentioned our
Founders, like Jefferson, knew that religious liberty
is essential not only to protect religion but because
religion helps strengthen our nation — if it is free,
if it is not an extension of the state. Part of what’s happened in
the Middle East and North Africa and other places
where we see sectarian violence is religion being a
tool for another agenda — for power, for control. Freedom of religion
helps prevent that, both ways — protects
religious faiths, protects the state from —
or those who want to take over the state from using
religious animosity as a tool for their own ends. That doesn’t mean that those
of us with religious faith should not be involved. We have to be
active citizenry. But we have to respect the
fact that we have freedom of religion. Remember, many preachers and
pastors fought to abolish the evil of slavery. People of faith advocated
to improve conditions for workers and ban child labor. Dr. King was joined by
people of many faiths, challenging us to
live up to our ideals. And that civil activism,
that civic participation that’s the essence
of our democracy, it is enhanced by
freedom of religion. Now, we have to acknowledge
that there have been times where we have fallen
short of our ideals. By the way, Thomas
Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by
suggesting he was a Muslim — so I was not the first — (applause) No, it’s true, it’s true. Look it up. (laughter) I’m in good company. (laughter) But it hasn’t just been
attacks of that sort that have been used. Mormon communities have been
attacked throughout our history. Catholics, including, most
prominently, JFK — John F. Kennedy — when he
ran for President, was accused of
being disloyal. There was a suggestion that
he would be taking orders from the Pope as opposed to
upholding his constitutional duties. Anti-Semitism in this
country has a sad and long history, and Jews were
exclude routinely from colleges and professions
and from public office. 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. (applause) And when any religious
group is targeted, we all have a
responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a
politics that seeks to manipulate
prejudice or bias, and targets people
because of religion. We’ve got to make sure that
hate crimes are punished, and that the civil rights of
all Americans are upheld. (applause) And just as faith leaders,
including Muslims, must speak out when
Christians are persecuted around the world — (applause) — or when anti-Semitism is
on the rise — because the fact is, is that there are
Christians who are targeted now in the Middle East,
despite having been there for centuries, and there are
Jews who’ve lived in places like France for centuries
who now feel obliged to leave because they feel
themselves under assault –sometimes by Muslims. We have to be consistent in
condemning hateful rhetoric and violence
against everyone. (applause) And that includes against
Muslims here in the United States of America. (applause) So none of us can be silent. We can’t be
bystanders to bigotry. And together, we’ve got to
show that America truly protects all faiths. Which brings me to my next
point: As we protect our country from terrorism, we
should not reinforce the ideas and the rhetoric of
the terrorists themselves. I often hear it said that we
need moral clarity in this fight. And the suggestion is
somehow that if I would simply say, these are
all Islamic terrorists, then we would actually have
solved the problem by now, apparently. (laughter) Well, I agree, we actually
do need moral clarity. Let’s have some
moral clarity. (applause) Groups like ISIL are
desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray
themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors
who speak for Islam. I refuse to give
them legitimacy. We must never give
them that legitimacy. (applause) They’re not defending Islam. They’re not
defending Muslims. The vast majority of the
people they kill are innocent Muslim men,
women and children. (applause) And, by the way, the notion
that America is at war with Islam ignores the fact that
the world’s religions are a part of who we are. We can’t be at war with any
other religion because the world’s religions are a part
of the very fabric of the United States, our
national character. (applause) So the best way for us to
fight terrorism is to deny these organizations
legitimacy and to show that here in the United
States of America, we do not suppress Islam; we
celebrate and lift up the success of Muslim Americans. That’s how we show the lie
that they’re trying to propagate. (applause) We shouldn’t play into
terrorist propaganda. And we can’t suggest that
Islam itself is at the root of the problem. That betrays our values. It alienates
Muslim Americans. It’s hurtful to those kids
who are trying to go to school and are members
of the Boy Scouts, and are thinking about
joining our military. That kind of mindset
helps our enemies. It helps our
enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe. So let’s be
clear about that. Now, finally, just as
all Americans have a responsibility to reject
discrimination — I’ve said this before — Muslims
around the world have a responsibility to reject
extremist ideologies that are trying to penetrate
within Muslim communities. Here at this mosque, and
across our country and around the world, Muslim
leaders are roundly and repeatedly and consistently
condemning terrorism. And around the globe,
Muslims who’ve dared to speak out have often been
targeted and even killed. So those voices are there;
we just have to amplify them more. (applause) And it was interesting, in
the discussion I had before I came out, some
people said, why is there always
a burden on us? When a young man in
Charleston shoots African Americans in a church,
there’s not an expectation that every white person
in America suddenly is explaining that
they’re not racist. They can — everybody is
assumed to be horrified by that act. And I recognize that
sometimes that doesn’t feel fair. But part of the answer is to
make sure that the Muslim community in all
of its variety, in all the good works
that it’s doing, in all the talent
that’s on display, that it’s out there visible
on a consistent basis — not just at a certain moment. (applause) But what is also true is, is
that there is a battle of hearts and minds that takes
place — that is taking place right now, and
American Muslims are better positioned than anybody to
show that it is possible to be faithful to Islam and to
be part of a pluralistic society, and to be on the
cutting-edge of science, and to believe in democracy. (applause) And so I would urge all of
you not to see this as a burden, but as a great
opportunity and a great privilege to
show who you are. To use a little Christian
expression — let your light shine. Because when you do you’ll
make clear that this is not a clash of civilizations
between the West and Islam. This is a struggle
between the peace-loving, overwhelming majority of
Muslims around the world and a radical, tiny minority. And ultimately, I’m
confident that the overwhelming majority
will win that battle. (applause) Muslims will decide the
future of your faith. And I’m confident in the
direction that it will go. But across the
Islamic world, influential voices should
consistently speak out with an affirmative vision
of their faith. And it’s happening. These are the voices of
Muslim clerics who teach that Islam prohibits
terrorism, for the Koran says whoever
kills an innocent, it is as if he has
killed all mankind. (applause) These are the voices
of Muslim scholars, some of whom join us today,
who know Islam has a tradition of respect
for other faiths; and Muslim teachers who
point out that the first word revealed in the Koran
— igra — means “read” — to seek knowledge, to
question assumptions. (applause) Muslim political leaders
have to push back on the lie that the West
oppresses Muslims, and against conspiracy
theories that says America is the cause of every
ill in the Middle East. Now, that doesn’t mean that
Muslim Americans aren’t free to criticize
American — U.S. foreign policy. That’s part of
being an American. I promise you, as the
President of the United States, I’m mindful that
that is a healthy tradition that is alive and
well in America. (laughter) But like leaders everywhere,
these leaders have been offering, and need to
continue to offer, a positive vision
for progress, and that includes political
and economic progress. And we have to acknowledge
that much of the violence in places like the Middle East
is now turning into fights between sects — Shia,
Sunni and others — where differences are often
exploited to serve political agendas, as I said earlier. And this bloodshed is
destroying Muslim families and communities, and there
has to be global pressure to have the vision and the
courage to end this kind of thinking and this approach
to organizing political power. It’s not
historically unique. It’s happened in every
part of the world — from Northern Ireland
to Africa, to Asia, to right here in the United
States — in the past. But it is something that
we have to fight against. And we know it’s possible. Across the history of
Islam, different sects traditionally have lived and
thrived together peacefully. And in many parts of the
world they do today, including here in
the United States. Like people of
all religions, Muslims living their
faith in a modern, pluralistic world are called
upon to uphold human rights, to make sure that
everyone has opportunity. That includes the
aspirations of women and youth and all people. If we expect our own
dignity to be respected, so must we respect the
dignity of others. (applause) So let me conclude by saying
that as Muslim communities stand up for the future
that you believe in, that you exhibit in
your daily lives, as you teach your children,
America will be your partner. We will — I will — do
everything I can to lift up the multiplicity of Muslim
voices that promote pluralism and peace. (applause) We will continue to reach
out to young Muslims around the world, empowering them
with science and technology and entrepreneurship, so
they can pursue their God-given potential,
and help build up their communities and
provide opportunity. It’s why we will continue to
partner with Muslim American communities — not just to
help you protect against extremist threats, but to
expand health care and education and opportunity — (applause) — because that’s the
best way to build strong, resilient communities. Our values must guide
us in this work. Engagement with Muslim
American communities must never be a cover
for surveillance. (applause) We can’t give in to
profiling entire groups of people. There’s no one single
profile of terrorists. We can’t securitize our
entire relationship with Muslim Americans. We can’t deal with you
solely through the prism of law enforcement. We’ve got to build trust
and mutual respect. That’s how we’ll keep our
communities strong and our communities united. As I was in discussion with
the young people before I came in here, I said
this will be a process. Law enforcement
has a tough job. Some of these groups are
specifically trying to target Muslim youth. We’re going to have to be
partners in this process. There will be times where
the relationship is clumsy or mishandled. But I want you to know that
from the President to the FBI Director, to everybody
in law enforcement, my directive and their
understanding is, is that this is something
we have to do together. And if we don’t do it well,
then we’re actually not making ourselves safer;
we’re making ourselves less safe. And here, I want to speak
directly to the young people who may be listening. In our lives, we all
have many identities. We are sons and daughters,
and brothers and sisters. We’re classmates; Cub
Scout troop members. We’re followers
of our faith. We’re citizens
of our country. And today, there are
voices in this world, particularly over
the Internet, who are constantly claiming
that you have to choose between your identities —
as a Muslim, for example, or an American. Do not believe them. If you’re ever wondering
whether you fit in here, let me say it as
clearly as I can, as President of the United
States: You fit in here — right here. (applause) You’re right
where you belong. You’re part of America, too. (applause) You’re not Muslim
or American. You’re Muslim and American. (applause) Don’t grow cynical. Don’t respond to ignorance
by embracing a world view that suggests you must
choose between your faith and your patriotism. Don’t believe that you have
to choose between your best impulses and somehow embrace
a world view that pits us against each other
— or, even worse, glorifies violence. Understand your power
to bring about change. Stay engaged in
your community. Help move our country
forward — your country forward. (applause) We are blessed to live in
a nation where even if we sometimes stumble, even if
we sometimes fall short, we never stop striving
for our ideals. We keep moving closer to
that more perfect union. We’re a country where, if
you work hard and if you play by the rules, you
can ultimately make it, no matter who you
are or how you pray. It may not always start off
even in the race, but here, more than any place else,
there’s the opportunity to run that race. And as we go forward, I want
every Muslim American to remember you are not alone. Your fellow Americans stand
with you — just as Sabah described her friends after
she decided that she was going to start
wearing a hijab. That’s not unusual. Because just as so often
we only hear about Muslims after a terrorist attack,
so often we only hear about Americans’ response to
Muslims after a hate crime has happened, we don’t
always hear about the extraordinary respect and
love and community that so many Americans feel. I’m thinking about the
seven-year-old boy in Texas who emptied his piggy bank
to help a mosque that had been vandalized. (applause) Or all the faith communities
that rallied around Muslim Americans after the
tragedy in Chapel Hill. The churches and the
synagogues standing shoulder-to-shoulder with
their local mosques, including the woman carrying
a sign saying “We love our Muslim neighbors.” Think of our men and
women in uniform who, when they heard that a
little girl was afraid because she’s a Muslim, sent
her a message — “I Will Protect You.” (applause) I want every American
to remember how Muslim communities are standing
up for others, as well. Because right
now, as we speak, there are Muslims in Kenya
who saved Christians from terrorists, and Muslims
who just met in Morocco to protect religious
minorities, including
Christians and Jews. (applause) The good people of this
mosque helped this city move forward after the
turmoil of last year. Muslim Americans across
the country helped African American churches
rebuild after arson. Remember the Muslim
Americans in Boston who reached out to victims
of the Marathon bombing; the Muslim Americans across
the country who raised money for the families
of San Bernardino; the Muslim Americans in
Chattanooga who honored our fallen servicemembers,
one of them saying, “in the name of God, the God
of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, God bless
our fallen heroes.” (applause) We are one American family. We will rise and
fall together. It won’t always be easy. There will be times where
our worst impulses are given voice. But I believe
that ultimately, our best voices
will win out. And that gives me confidence
and faith in the future. (applause) After more than 200 years,
our blended heritage, the patchwork quilt
which is America, that is not a weakness,
that is one of our greatest strengths. It’s what makes us a
beacon to the world. It’s what led that mother
who wrote to me — the one who worries about her young
daughter — it led her to end her letter with
hope, despite her fears. She said, “I still believe
in one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty
and justice for all.” (applause) May God’s peace be upon you. May God bless the United
States of America. Thank you very
much, everybody. (applause)

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