President Barack Obama made his first visit to a U.S. mosque on Wednesday, assailing what he called growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
At the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Obama said recent terror attacks blamed on Islamic extremism in Paris and San Bernardino have led to a spike in “people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith”.
He said that has led some Muslim-Americans to fear that they will be rounded up and expelled from the U.S., including children not unlike his own.
“We've heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans that has no place in our country,” he said after meeting behind closed doors with Muslim community leaders from around the U.S.
“We have to be consistent in condemning hateful rhetoric and violence against everyone, and that includes against Muslims here in the United States of America.”
Some Republican candidates have issued strongly anti-Muslim statements during the presidential election cycle, particularly businessman Donald Trump who called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. due to security concerns.
Such sentiments must be tackled “head on” as a threat to the “very fabric of our nation”, Obama said.
“An attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,” he added.
"When any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up and we have to reject politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias and targets people because of religion.
He said that while the “overwhelming majority” of Muslims reject terror, it is “undeniable” that others use their “perverted” interpretation of the religion to justify acts of horrific violence.
“Groups like ISIL are desperate for legitimacy,” he said. "They try to portray themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors who speak for Islam. I refuse to give them legitimacy. We must never give them that legitimacy."
The American president had previously visited mosques abroad, but had not done so at home during his seven years in office, highlighting the political importance of this visit. He will also not run for re-election, having filled the U.S.’s two-term presidential limit next year, and will not have to worry about any electoral blowback from the visit.
Making light of politically charged assertions that he is a Muslim, Obama, a Christian, said that founding father Thomas Jefferson was also accused of being a Muslim.
“So I was not the first,” he said. "It's true. Look it up. I'm in good company," he said.