Muslim in America: Did Obama's Mosque Speech Help?
WASHINGTON -- During his first visit to an American mosque, President Barack Obama told Muslims they don't have to choose between their faith and their patriotism.
His goal was to reassure them they're welcome and free to practice their religion in the U.S., but he may have further isolated some Muslims in the process.
Watch Jennifer Wishon's report below:
It was a big deal when the president's motorcade pulled up to the Islamic Society just outside of Baltimore.
Handpicked Muslims from New York to Los Angeles scored a private talk with the president on what it's like to be Muslim in America.
"Our television shows should have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security," Obama told the gathering.
Watch President Obama's full speech below:
The president, who has drawn criticism for using words like "violent extremism" instead of "radical Islam," says changing his words won't solve any problems.
"This is not a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. This is a struggle between the peace loving overwhelming number of Muslims around the world and a radical tiny minority," Obama said.
He told Muslims they should never feel like they don't belong in the USA. The president's mosque visit was timely as many Muslim Americans report feeling marginalized as anxiety about the Islamic State grows.
"In these uncertain times, some of us might find ourselves doubting where we fit in the society. Personally, this visit by our president is an affirmation to all Muslims we are just as American as any other," college student Sabah Maktar said.
But security experts and even some Muslims wonder why the president chose to visit this particular mosque.
"For 17 years you had an imam at this mosque who later became the regional director of an organization that was named by Treasury a specially designated terrorist organization that contributed funds to Osama bin Laden," noted Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
"And you have, as I understand, an imam serving there right now who has said things about homosexuality that I guarantee you if those remarks had been said in a church or a synagogue President Obama would not set foot there," May said.
The mosque also has ties to organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood that have often been criticized by opponent of radical Islam.
By choosing to visit it, May says the president may embolden those groups and frustrate Muslims working to root out Islamism, which is a movement to impose Sharia law and other Islamic traditions on the West.
Improving relations between the U.S. and Muslim world has been a priority of the president from the beginning – some would argue at the expense of how he's portrayed America.
"I think a lot of Christians and others are a little bit disconcerted that he seems to have an apologetic tone about America towards Islam as though America has mistreated Islam or Muslims when in fact America is a land of great liberty and freedom for Muslims and for all people," Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, told CBN News.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, spoke with CBN's White House Correspondent Jennifer Wishon about the president's speech. Click play to watch.
For a good part of his presidency, Obama has fought charges that he worships Allah.
"Thomas Jefferson's opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim so I was not the first," the president said.
While he denounced anti-Muslim bias, the president also told Muslims they have a duty to reject extreme ideologies.
"To use a little Christian expression, let your light shine," Obama said.
And if frustration sets in, he cautioned Muslims against choosing a life of extremism.
"Don't respond to ignorance by embracing a worldview that suggests you must choose between your faith and your patriotism," Obama said.
Meanwhile, May warns that as Americans continue to fight terrorism, "we are fighting an ideology that is based on a theology and we find that awkward.