President Obama’s first visit to an American mosque since taking office predictably drew criticism from his opponents on the campaign trail and conservative commentators. But what was the reaction from the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims?
For the most part, a collective shrug.
The symbolism of Wednesday’s visit did not go unappreciated, especially in the U.S., where Obama was lauded for taking a stand against the inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslims and exhorting Americans not to confuse millions of patriotic citizens with a “radical, tiny minority” who engage in violence. But many wondered why the president had waited until his seventh year in office.
President George W. Bush visited a mosque in Washington within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to reassure American Muslims and appeal for tolerance.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim groups had been urging Obama to make a similar visit for years. Obama has visited mosques during official visits abroad, including in Egypt and Indonesia. But the president’s aides feared such a visit in the U.S. would feed the rumors — inaccurate but persistent– that Obama is a Muslim.
“Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Republican front-runner Donald Trump said of Obama’s visit on Fox News, a loaded comment from someone who has appeared to question Obama’s Christian faith as well as his birthplace.
Obama’s visit also drew criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who accused the president at a town hall in New Hampshire of “always pitting people against each other. Always.”
However, Obama was received warmly at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, where he noted that Jefferson’s opponents “tried to stir things by suggesting he was a Muslim, so I was not the first. I’m in good company.”
Zainab Chaudry, the council’s outreach manager in Maryland, said the visit was “a significant step in the right direction and will hopefully encourage our nation’s political and religious leaders to join him in pushing back against rising Islamophobia.”
The visit also generated some self-deprecating humor, including this tweet from the author, lawyer and Harvard University scholar Qasim Rashid:
Outside the U.S., however, the speech had little impact.