Justin Sink / Bloomberg
President Barack Obama will visit a US mosque for the first time in his presidency next week, when he travels to Baltimore Feb. 3 to meet with Muslim community leaders.
Obama will hold a round-table with community members and “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,” the White House said in a statement on Saturday.
Obama has denounced American hostility toward Muslims following December’s IS-inspired mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, and Republican presidential campaign front-runner Donald Trump’s subsequent call to temporarily ban Muslim immigration. The mosque visit will be made the day before the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
“We’re not going to build progress with a bunch of phony tough talk, and bluster, and over-the-top claims that just play into IS’s hands,” Obama told Democratic members of Congress gathered in Baltimore for annual retreat on Jan. 28. “We’re not going to strengthen our leadership around the world by allowing politicians to insult Muslims or pit groups of Americans against each other.”
In calling for religious tolerance, Obama has repeatedly invoked his predecessor, former president George W Bush, who visited a Washington mosque just six days after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The White House hopes Obama’s first visit to a US mosque will pack the same symbolic punch. He has previously visited Muslim houses of worship in Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey.
His choice of mosques, the Islamic Society of Baltimore, is also notable because it was prominently featured in the first season of the popular “Serial” podcast.