Thursday, February 4, 2016
President Obama said Wednesday that he's in "good company" when critics claim that he's secretly a follower of Islam.
"Thomas Jefferson's opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim, so I'm not the first," Obama said Wednesday at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, making him the first president to enter an American mosque. "It's true, look it up," he said to laughs.
"No one knows whether Mr. Jefferson believes in the heathen mythology or in the" Quran, the Connecticut Courant wrote in 1800.
Obama's historic visit was meant to encourage inclusion of all faiths at a time of increased resentment against Muslims, in part because of fears about Islamic State terror attacks in the U.S. and around the world. Obama spoke about America's history with anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism and anti-Mormonism, and recalled President Kennedy's first election, when some warned that Kennedy, a Catholic, would take orders from the pope instead of the Constitution.
"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 that an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," Obama said. "And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up."
"And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias and targets people because of religion," he said. But Obama also called on Muslims worldwide to also help persecuted Christians and Jews.
"None of us can be silent; we can't be bystanders to bigotry," he said.
In combating terrorism, Americans cannot adopt the terrorists' rhetoric, Obama said. Noting that the self-proclaimed Islamic State bills itself as warriors of Mohammed, Obama said no one should believe or repeat their false claims.
"I refuse to give them legitimacy," Obama said. "We must never give them that legitimacy … they're not defending Islam; they're not defending Muslims," he said, adding that most their victims are Muslims.
The best way to fight terrorism is to "deny them legitimacy," he said. Americans cannot suppress Islam or suggest that the religion is the problem, and instead, they must lift up American Muslims. "That's how you show they lie they are trying to propagate," he said, speaking of the Islamic State.
He said Muslims around the world and in America are rejecting the Islamic State's rhetoric and condemning their actions. And as a result, they are becoming targets.
The world must "amplify" those Muslim voices and support clerics and scholars who reject terrorism, Obama said.