U.S. President Barack Obama visited an American mosque on Wednesday and declared that attacks on Islam were an attack on all religions, in an effort to counter rhetoric from Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates that has alienated Muslims.
“We have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," Obama said at the mosque in Catonsville, Maryland, outside Baltimore. "When any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up."
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States after a California couple who killed 14 people last December were described by authorities as radicalized Muslims inspired by Islamic State militants.
Republicans vying to be the party's candidate for the Nov. 8 presidential election also have argued against Obama's plan to accept 10,000 refugees fleeing Syria's war, saying it raised national security risks.
Obama urged people watching on television who had never been to a mosque to think of it as similar to their own houses of worship.
"Think of your own church or synagogue or temple, and mosques like this will be very familiar," he said.
Before Obama's remarks a man and woman did a recitation from the Koran, then an honor guard of two boys and two girls carried the American and Maryland state flags into the mosque. The children led the audience, with some men in prayer caps and most women in head scarves, in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.
Obama urged young Muslims not to embrace a worldview that required them to choose between faith and patriotism.
"You fit in here. Right here," he said. "You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American."
The president, who is a Christian, said it was important to have more Muslim characters portrayed on television unrelated to national security themes, and he said engagement with Muslim American communities must not be a cover for surveillance.
To counter perverted versions of their religion portrayed by extremist groups such as Islamic State, Obama urged regular Muslims to "let your light shine," a Christian expression.
"This is a struggle between the peace-loving overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world and a radical tiny minority," he said. "Ultimately I'm confident that the overwhelming majority will win that battle."
Obama's motorcade zipped past two women holding signs protesting his visit and equating Islam to terrorism.