Washington: President Barack Obama plans to visit a mosque near Baltimore on Wednesday to make a plea for tolerance and religious freedom, the White House said Sunday.
The former imam in question is Mohamad Adam El-Sheikh, who served at the Baltimore mosque from 1983-1989 and 1994-2003. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan, he had moved to the U.S. in 1978 and went on to receive several advanced law degrees as he became involved in the religious community.
It will be Obama’s first visit as president to an American mosque — though he visited a Jakarta mosque during a 2010 visit — and comes at a time when American Muslims have reported a surge of anti-Muslim sentiment, linked partly to comments from Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.
“The president will travel to Maryland to visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque to celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom,” a White House official said.
The mosque is in the city of Catonsville, just west of Baltimore.
The official said Obama would meet with community members and then deliver remarks emphasizing “the importance of staying true to our core values — welcoming our fellow Americans, speaking out against bigotry, rejecting indifference and protecting our nation’s tradition of religious freedom.”
Following the deadly attacks late last year in Paris and in San Bernardino, California, both linked to radical Muslims, Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the country “until we can figure out what’s going on.”
He has also insisted that he saw television images of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 — something no independent news source has been able to confirm.
Amid anecdotal reports of increased attacks on Muslims and mosques, US faith leaders called for Obama to visit a mosque and make a high-profile appeal for tolerance, much as President George W. Bush did when he visited the Islamic Cultural Center of Washington just days after the 2001 attacks and said, “Islam is peace.”
The Islamic Society of Baltimore was established by a handful of families in 1969, according to its website. It has grown to include a school, a nursery and a health clinic.
The website says the center “aspires to be the anchor of a growing Muslim community with diverse backgrounds, democratically governed, relating to one another with inclusiveness and tolerance.”