A “triumphant joy” may be the best words to explain the feeling of Muslims in Baltimore speaking to Anadolu Agency following President Barack Obama’s historic visit to their mosque.
The American president’s visit Wednesday came at a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. has peaked, finding expression even among some Republican presidential candidates.
For the first time, the person at the helm of the country visited a mosque and pledged to Muslims that he would protect them against bigotry, sending a strong message to those who exploit terror attacks to turn against Muslims.
Rahima Saeed, a member of Islamic Society of Baltimore (ISB) told Anadolu Agency she was so happy that she felt as if the president visited her house.
“I am so excited,” she said. “I’ve never seen him so closely; he is so good and I really enjoyed his speech. He spoke very well.”
The president held a roundtable meeting with members of the community, and addressed the community and the press in a very strong tone expressing the need for recognition of Muslim contributions to the U.S.
Khadija Gurnah, who was present at the round table meeting with Obama, told Anadolu Agency that the president was there indeed to “affirm that Muslims are significant part of America” against the anti-Muslim rhetoric raging on.
Gurnah is the founder of Project Ejaba, a platform for Muslim young adults that provides resources and programming to promote social change, as well as a national campaign to raise awareness on mental health issues and an interfaith program for Muslim artists across the country.
As a White House Champion of Change, she is also a public health professional and an advocate for youth.
She said that in the round table meeting there were also people with different affiliations such as advocates of climate change, civil liberties as well as members of youth movements and criminal justice reform supporters.
According to Gurnah, Obama attentively listened to their experiences and the challenges they face.
The Vice President of the ISB, Muhammad Jameel told Anadolu Agency that the community has been lobbying Obama for years to have him visit Islamic centers and mosques across the country, “so that he can be the one from the pulpit to the rest of the nation to say that Muslim are part of this nation.”
“There has been a lack of pushing back against Islamophobia by many politicians,” he noted. Describing Obama’s visit as a “very bold step” Jameel said that the he, by visiting a mosque, “cancelled out the words by other politicians”.
He added that the community was contacted by the White House just a week ago about the President’s intention to visit the mosque, but added that it was just Saturday that they got a confirmation that Obama will visit the mosque.
Noting Obama used the right language and sent a strong message to the American society in terms of his administration’s stance against Islamophobia, he said that the outcome still depends on the media’s interpretation of his words.
The director of financial and administrative affairs of the ISB, Zubair Ensari said that it was a long busy week for them to prepare the mosque for the president’s visit.
“We did a lot of work as you can see, in the dome and the paintings. We refreshed all the carpets. We put new curtains. Since Saturday morning, my team and I have been working endlessly,” he said.
The community’s leadership alongside a group of community members held a press conference at the mosque after Obama’s departure.
Speaking at the press conference, Jena Chung, a medical doctor at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and an ISB member, said that she was delighted with President Obama’s remarks “reminding us that this nation and its progress is built on plurality, morality, mutual respect and freedom”.
Jose Acevedo, the director of Director of ISB religious studies, told reporters that there were several moments in the president’s speech that stirred the emotions of the Muslim audience.
“Today, hearing the Qur’an being recited in front of the president addressing the nation and the world about such an important topic was another timing of emotions,” he said.
Linda Sarsour, New Yorker Muslim activist, on the other hand, said that it was a little late for Obama to visit a mosque after seven years in office.
“We thank him [Obama] for his words and we hope that his words will be translated into policies that uplift American Muslim communities.”