President Obama plans to visit a mosque in Baltimore next week, his first such foray within the United States, the White House announced Saturday. “The President will travel to Maryland to visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque to celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life,” the White House said in a statement.
The Islamic Society of Baltimore is one of the largest Muslim centers in the region, the Washington Post reported.
“The president will hold a roundtable with community members and deliver remarks, where he will reiterate the importance of staying true to our core values — welcoming our fellow Americans, speaking out against bigotry, rejecting indifference, and protecting our nation's tradition of religious freedom,” the statement said.
The planned visit Wednesday comes after many years of calls from Muslim Americans for the president to visit a center in the United States. Politicians and voices on the right, meanwhile, have accused the president of placing cultural relations ahead of what they call the real priority: attacking extremist groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda. Some, including Republican front-runner Donald Trump, advocate banning all Muslims, American or otherwise, from entering or re-entering the country from abroad.
The president's Baltimore trip appears to be the fruit of a meeting between American Islamic figures and White House officials, including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Council director Cecilia Muñoz and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, the Post reported.
President George W. Bush visited the a mosque only six days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Islamic Cultural Center in Washington, declaring, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam."
The visit comes after increased attacks on Muslims in the U.S., a record number recorded in December: California State University San Bernardino college professor Brian Levin found there have been 38 anti-Muslim attacks in the U.S. since the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris by those alleged to be connected to Islamic State group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked similar spikes in anti-Muslim violence in America after the "Ground Zero" mosque controversy of 2009 and the 9/11 attacks themselves after which anti-Muslim hate violence skyrocketed some 1,600 percent.