Obama to visit US mosque for first time

Barack Obama at the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo, Egypt, in 2009Image copyright

Image caption

Barack Obama visited the Sultan Hassan Mosque in Egypt in 2009

President Barack Obama is due to visit a mosque in the United States for the first time since taking on the role.

He will speak at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Maryland on Thursday morning.

He has visited mosques in other parts of the world on official trips abroad during his seven years as president.

The White House said the visit was intended as a defence of religious freedom and a statement against bigotry.

‘Tradition of religious freedom’

The president would “reiterate 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,” a White House official was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says it has tracked a growing number of attacks on mosques and Muslim individuals since the Paris attacks in November 2015 and a shooting in San Bernardino, California, in December.

A report by the group warned that “levels of anti-Muslim sentiment follow trends in domestic US politics”, highlighting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call in December for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US.

Ibrahim Hooper from CAIR said: “I don’t think there’s ever been this level of fear and apprehension in the Muslim-American community.

“For some time, we’ve been asking for pushback. Perhaps this will start a trend.”

Mr Obama is in his final year as president. A week ago, he became the first sitting president to speak at the Israeli Embassy, where he warned of growing anti-Semitism.

Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies specialist at American University, said Mr Obama had left it “literally to the last” to visit a US mosque, but he said: “Better late than never.”

In 2010 the White House blamed a “misinformation campaign” for a growing belief that Mr Obama was a Muslim. Over the course of his presidency, some people have said he is a Muslim pretending to be a Christian.

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