Letters to the President: Reflections on Growing Up as Muslim Americans

(from the White House website)

POTUSeidToday, Muslims in America and around the world are breaking fast and celebrating the end of Ramadan with family and friends. President Obama offered the following statement:

Upon the arrival of a new crescent moon, Michelle and I send our warmest greetings to all those celebrating Eid al-Fitr in the United States and around the globe.

 For Muslim Americans, Eid is an opportunity to reflect on the 30 days spent fasting and to recommit to values of gratitude, compassion, and generosity. In neighborhoods and homes across the world, this special occasion begins in the early hours of the day when families dress in their finest attire in preparation for prayers and festivities. Homes are decorated with ornaments and lanterns. Gifts are wrapped and envelopes of money are prepared for kids. Above all, Eid is a time to gather and celebrate with loved ones.

 Muslim Americans are as diverse as our nation itself—black, white, Latino, Asian, and Arab. Eid celebrations around the country remind us of our proud history as a nation built by people of all backgrounds; our history of religious freedom and civil liberties, and our history of innovation and strength. These legacies would not be possible without the contributions of Muslim Americans that make our country even stronger.

 This past month, our country and the world endured challenges and senseless violence that broke our hearts and tried our souls. Our prayers are with the hundreds of innocent lives, many of them Muslim, taken during the month of Ramadan in places like Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad, and Medina.

 Here at home, we’ve also seen a rise in attacks against Muslim Americans. No one should ever feel afraid or unsafe in their place of worship. Many Americans have shared in the experience of Ramadan by volunteering in community service efforts to assist those in need and even fasting a few days with their fellow Muslim American co-workers. In the face of hate, it’s our American values and strength that bring us together to stand in solidarity and protect one another—thereby, making our Nation stronger and safer.

Muslim Americans have been part of our American family since its founding. This Eid, we recommit to protecting Muslim Americans against bigotry and xenophobia, while celebrating the contributions of Muslim Americans around the country, including one of our finest, the People’s Champion Muhammad Ali, to whom we bade farewell this Ramadan. Later this month, Michelle and I will host an Eid celebration at the White House and we look forward to welcoming Americans from around the country to celebrate the holiday.

 From our family to yours, Eid Mubarak!



Whose extremism? Using the phrase ‘Islamic extremism’ — or not.


Donald Trump is very clear on the subject: If President Barack Obama doesn’t use the words “radical Islamic terrorism” to discuss the brutal killings in Orlando, “he should immediately resign in disgrace!”

Most Republicans seem to agree that it’s essential to link Islam to the tactics and goals of extremists and terrorists. Nebraska’s Republican Sen. Benjamin Sasse (no fan of Trump) to Obama: “You’re wrong. Telling the truth about violent Islam is a prerequisite to a strategy.” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted that Obama “shows a total disconnect from the problems we face in confronting/defeating radical Islam.” GOP strategist Ed Rogers wrote that the president’s refusal to refer to “radical Islam” was “a remarkable display of arrogance and tone-deaf rhetoric.”

Hillary Clinton has decided to do an end run around the issue. “Radical jihadist, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either, but that’s not the point.” For her, the challenge is to go after the perpetrators of hateful crimes without tarring an entire religion — or being distracted by a rhetorical sideshow.

Let’s say Trump and his allies are right — that it’s important to label the religious underpinnings of those who seek to kill innocents; that when a killer calls on religion to justify his actions, let’s identify that religion for all to see.

But can we really stop with Islam?

Take Robert Dear, the deranged man who in November took a semiautomatic rifle into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. He killed three and wounded nine. His motivation? To be “a warrior for the babies.”

Dear is not just an extremist: He is a “Christian extremist.” He called his anti-abortion activism “God’s work.” He dreamed that “(w)hen he died and went to heaven, he would be met by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven and they would thank him …” He sprinkled his confession to the police with Bible phrases.

To understand Dear, don’t we have to understand the Christian teachings this Christian extremist believed he was upholding?


There’s no reason to be terrified about mosques

ows_145471998019129I have a feeling that President Obama’s visit to a Maryland mosque this week was kind of too little, too late (“In mosque visit, Obama decries anti-Muslim bias,” Feb. 4). It is ironic that while Obama is sending drones to kill Muslims abroad, an Islamophobe like Donald Trump only calls for banning them.

Republicans think Muslims just don’t fit here. Obama, on the other hand, thinks Muslims fit just fine right here in America, once they make it into the country alive. “Let me say as clearly as I can as president of the United States: You fit right here,” Obama assured thousands of Muslim Americans at the Islamic Society of Baltimore who came to listen to the first black president of the U.S. This probably was not the first time Obama had visited a mosque. His father was a Muslim, which has been a scar that has followed him all of his life.

According to a September CNN poll, 29 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, including 43 percent of Republicans. Obama joked about such notions in his mosque visit, saying the same rumors had stained Thomas Jefferson. “I am not the first,” he said. “I am in good company.”

Americans have a medieval view of mosques; many seem terrified of mosques. Most mosques in this country were at some point churches or schools that closed down. Very few mosques are actually built as mosques.

A big chunk of Americans who have never visited a mosque think mosques are breeding grounds for terrorist jihadists. Mosques, unlike churches, have no membership or denomination. Any group or imam can open a mosque. If you don’t like a mosque, you simply go to another one or build your own.


How are Muslims around the world reacting to Obama’s visit to a mosque?

obamaPresident 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.


Obama, in Mosque Visit, Denounces Anti-Muslim Bias


WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday embraced Muslims in the United States as part of “one American family” and implicitly criticized the Republican presidential candidates in a warning to citizens to not be “bystanders to bigotry.”

In a visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first to a mosque in the United States as president, Mr. Obama recited phrases from the Quran and praised American Muslims as a crucial part of America’s history and vital to the nation’s future.

“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,” Mr. Obama said.

Although Mr. Obama never mentioned Republican presidential candidates like Donald J. Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, the targets in his remarks were clear. “We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion,” he said.

The speech served as a bookend to a 2009 address Mr. Obama delivered at Cairo University, where he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” In Baltimore, the president did not talk about intractable international conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and focused instead on the more prosaic reality of vandalized mosques and bullied American Muslim children.


Obama will make first presidential visit to a U.S. mosque

Islamic-Society-of-BaltimorePresident Obama plans to make his first presidential visit to an American mosque on Wednesday to deliver a message about religious tolerance — and to challenge what he sees as Republican intolerance on the campaign trail.

The president will visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore, one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s largest Muslim centers, to urge Americans to embrace the diversity of their neighbors, including the millions of Muslim citizens.

While he won’t mention Donald Trump or any other GOP candidates by name, one top aide said, Obama wants to speak out against what he sees as a strain of Islamaphobia aimed at playing on fears of domestic terrorism.

“The kind of rhetoric that we’ve seen from Republicans didn’t just emanate from Mr. Trump,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “It has, unfortunately, infected our political debate in a way that doesn’t reflect the values that are so central to the founding of our country.”

He won the White House in 2008 only after a concerted effort to prove to voters that he is a Christian who did not inherit his grandfather’s Muslim religion along with his father’s Islamic-sounding name. He and his family occasionally attend church services.


Handcuffed for Making Clock, Ahmed Mohamed, 14, Wins Time With Obama


17CLOCK2-master675HOUSTON — Ahmed Mohamed’s homemade alarm clock got him suspended from his suburban Dallas high school and detained and handcuffed by police officers on Monday after school officials accused him of making a fake bomb. By Wednesday, it had brought him an invitation to the White House, support from Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg, and a moment of head-spinning attention as questions arose whether he had been targeted because of his name and his religion.

As a result, a 14-year-old freshman at MacArthur High School in Irving, Tex., who is partial to tinkering, technology and NASA T-shirts and wants to go to M.I.T., found himself in a social media whirlwind that reflected the nation’s charged debates on Islam, immigration and ethnicity.

“Cool clock, Ahmed,” President Obama said on Twitter. “Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.” Mr. Obama’s staff invited Ahmed to the White House for Astronomy Night on Oct. 19, an event bringing together scientists, engineers, astronauts, teachers and students to spend a night stargazing from the South Lawn.