Obama visits mosque tied to controversial imams
By NBP Staff | February 3, 2016, 13:59 EST
CATONSVILLE, Md. — President Barack Obama paid his first visit to a U.S. mosque on Wednesday, but he chose one that has ties with controversial teachers and leaders, including one who has preached that homosexuality is immoral and “something which we despise.”
A former leader of the mosque, Imam Mohamad Adam el-Sheikh, has been tied to an al-Qaeda front group, and left the Baltimore mosque to lead the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, where radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki had preached, Fox News reported Monday. Al-Awlaki went on to Yemen, where he recruited for a branch of al-Qaeda before he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
A member of the Baltimore mosque’s congregation, Antonio Martinez, now known as Muhammad Hussain, plotted to attack a U.S. Army recruiting center nearby in 2010, according to Investor’s Business Daily. He’s now serving a 25-year sentence, the newspaper said Wednesday.
The Maryland mosque is run by the Islamic Society of Baltimore, which is affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America, an organization designated by federal prosecutors as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, Investor’s Business Daily reported. The newspaper said that in 2007 the Islamic Society of North America was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to send more than $12 million to finance Hamas suicide bombers in the Mideast.
One of the mosque’s teachers and leaders, Imam Yaseen Shaikh, the mosque and school’s top Islamic scholar, has sermonized against homosexuality, referring to it as a mental disorder and said gay sex “is an immoral act, it is a shameful act” that is forbidden in the Quran.
The White House said Obama planned a private meeting with Shaikh Wednesday as part of his visit, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The mosque Obama chose to visit reportedly was recommended by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Investor’s Business Daily said, noting that “the FBI has banned CAIR from outreach because of known ties to the Hamas terrorist group.”
Obama used the midday visit to appeal for tolerance for America’s millions of Muslims, and urged Americans to confront bias and stereotyping that he said is on the rise.
In Baltimore at the society’s suburban mosque and private school, Obama sat down around a large table with Muslim university chaplains, community activists and public health professionals for a discussion about religious tolerance and freedom. He planned an afternoon speech focused on how the U.S. can more successfully confront extremism if it works with Muslims instead of branding all of them as potential enemies, according to the Associated Press.
For Muslim advocates, Obama’s visit was a long-awaited gesture to a community that has warned of escalating vitriol against them that has accompanied the public’s concern about the Islamic State and other extremist groups, AP reported. Although Obama has visited mosques overseas in the past, he waited until his final year in office to make such a visit at home, reflecting the sensitivity of the issue.
Last week, Obama became the first sitting president to speak at the Israeli Embassy. In remarks at the embassy, he warned of growing anti-Semitism in the world, AP said.
Obama’s message at the mosque will follow a similar tack. The White House said he will focus on the need to speak out against bigotry and reject indifference. It’s the kind of effort that Muslim-Americans said they’ve been waiting for from America’s political and religious leaders.
“For some time, we’ve been asking for pushback. Perhaps this will start a trend,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told AP.
CAIR has tracked a growing number of attacks on mosques and on individuals in the months following the Paris terrorist attack and the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California. A severed pig’s head was delivered to a mosque’s doorstep in Philadelphia. Someone attempted to set fire to a mosque in Southern California.
Hooper said harassment and bullying is also on the rise. He cited Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the country as an example of how bias toward Muslims has become part of the American mainstream, AP reported
“I don’t think there’s ever been this level of fear and apprehension in the Muslim-American community,” Hooper said.
In 2001, President George W. Bush visited a mosque on Washington’s Embassy row just days after the 9/11 attacks, urging Americans to get back to everyday business and not turn against their Muslim neighbors.