by Andrea Guthmann (@AndreaGuthmann)
President Barack Obama on Wednesday visited a mosque for the first time during his presidency to discuss Islamic relations and to combat growing anti-Muslim rhetoric in the country.
Reciting phrases from the Quran and embracing the role and history of Muslims in the U.S., the president asked Americans not to be “bystanders of bigotry,” and reject politicians who manipulate prejudice, targeting people based on religion.
“Let me say as clearly as I can as president of the United States: you fit right here,” President Obama said. “You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America too. You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.”
Dr. Rami Nashashibi, the executive director of the Chicago-based Inner-City Muslim Action Network was at the mosque Obama visited and was mentioned by name in the president’s speech during Thursday’s national prayer breakfast. Dr. Nashashibi discusses Muslim relations and shares his story in the clip below.
Obama shares Nashashibi’s story
During Thursday’s national prayer breakfast, President Obama recounted a story about how Dr. Nashashibi was afraid to pray in Chicago’s Marquette Park with his children the day after the San Bernadino shooting. Nashashibi’s daughter asked him why he wasn’t praying.
“And he thought of all the times he had told her the story of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Robert Marx and 700 other people marched to that very same park, enduring hatred and bigotry, dodging rocks and bottles and hateful words in order to challenge Chicago housing segregation, and to ask America to live up to our highest ideals,” President Obama said.
“And so at that moment, drawing from the courage of men of different religions, of a different time, Dr.Nashashibi refused to teach his children to be afraid,” President Obama said. “Instead, he taught them to be a part of that legacy of faith and good conscience … And he put down his rug and he prayed.”
“I can’t imagine a better expression of the peaceful spirit of Islam than when a Muslim father filled with fear drew from an example of a Baptist preacher and a Jewish rabbi to teach his children what God demands,” President Obama said.
For Dr. Nashishibi, the moment was about demonstrating something for his children.
“I thought about the spiritual courage that people have to summon,” Dr. Nashashibi said.
He said he knew the president was planning on sharing his experience, but he was surprised the degree to which the story was recounted.
“I certainly did not think he would recite the story completely in that context,” Dr. Nashashibi said.
Dr. Nashashibi said that instances of hateful rhetoric and acts of discrimination have been a painful reality for the Muslim community.
“Particularly American Muslim women [who wear the hijab] have felt more vulnerable in certain cases, but … I think the reality is that there are also many Americans, particularly from communities who are drawing from a legacy of fighting hatred, fighting bigotry, fighting racism, who have also rallied with Muslims to call for a better vision, a vision for a better America, a better world.”