President Obama will make the first visit during his presidency to a U.S. mosque this week, the White House announced Saturday, as the administration tries to promote religious tolerance at a time when rhetoric linking Islam with terrorism is becoming more voluminous.
On Wednesday the president will visit the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a sprawling community center in the city's western suburbs, that serves thousands of people with a place of worship, a housing complex and schools, according to its website. It is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's largest Muslim centers.
On Saturday, a White House official said in an email that the president is making the visit "to celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life."
"The President believes that one of our nation's greatest strengths is our rich diversity and the very idea that Americans of different faiths and backgrounds can thrive together - that we're all part of the same American family. As the President has said, Muslim Americans are our friends, and neighbors; our co-workers, and sports heroes - and our men and women in uniform defending our country."
At the Islamic Society, the president will hold a round table with community members, the official said.
For years Muslim Americans have lobbied the president to visit a mosque in order to counter the perception that Islam is inextricably linked to terrorism.
The trip to Baltimore comes a month after several prominent Muslim Americans met with senior White House officials to discuss concerns about rising hostility toward people of their faith. During that session - attended by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Council director Cecilia Muñoz and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes - the Islamic leaders asked for Obama to visit a mosque, ideally with former President George W. Bush, as well.
Bush visited the Islamic Cultural Center of Washington, D.C., six days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, where he declared, "Islam is peace," and "the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam."
At a time when some leading Republican presidential candidates, including businessman Donald Trump, have suggested barring foreign Muslims from entering the country, Obama has taken pains to criticize rhetoric that stereotypes one faith group.