The White House held three separate meetings Monday with faith leaders to discuss concerns about rising hostility toward religious minorities, and Muslim leaders pressed for President Obama to do something he hasn’t since taking office: Visit a U.S. mosque. Ideally, they said, the visit would be with former president George W. Bush.
The meetings were typical in a way of the ones top White House officials hold all the time to hear people’s concerns, but the crunch of three in one day, and a related meeting there Thursday, shows increased concern about recent reports of hate incidents against Muslims, and Sikhs who people confuse with Muslims. Terrorism incidents in Paris and California have led, Muslim leaders say, to a sharp rise in discriminatory incidents.
Among the approximately 10 Muslim leaders who came to the White House on Monday to meet with several top officials was Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy group. The meeting, she said, was called by the White House. According to a White House official, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes attended.
Khera said she pressed the White House to consider something Muslim Americans leaders have requested over the years: A visit to a mosque.
“I think it would be enormously comforting and also send powerful message to Americans about recommitting to religious freedom — especially if we had Bush and Obama visit together,” she said. She said her group hadn’t raised the question with Bush, who visited a mosque six days after the Sept. 11 attacks and said “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.”
Separately,Jarrett didn’t rule out the idea of Obama visiting a mosque, but declined to say whether it would happen.
“We are looking for opportunities for helping to defuse a lot of discriminatory and bigoted rhetoric that could cause harm,” she said. “We are looking for ways to signal the importance of the fundamental belief of freedom of religion embodied in the Constitution.”
Also Monday, Jarrett participated in a call with a range of faith-based groups “to share information about efforts to combat discrimination and highlight the need for welcoming all faiths and beliefs,” the first official said. Muñoz met with representatives of the U.S. Sikh community to discuss how the White House can support Sikhs at a time when concern of bias is high.
On Thursday the White House will host a wide range of faith and civil society leaders to discuss promoting religious pluralism.
In addition to Khera, among other Muslim leaders at the White House on Monday were Imam Mohamed Magid of the prominent Northern Virginia mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS; Dalia Mogahed, a scholar with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; Khaled Latif, chaplain at New York University; and Hoda Hawa, director of policy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.