President Barack Obama's first visit to a US mosque contradicted the "toxic political rhetoric being aimed at American Muslims," Robert McCaw, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Radio Sputnik's Brian Becker.
During a visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday, Obama thanked Muslim Americans for their contribution to the country and reaffirmed the importance of religious freedom to the American way of life.
"Let me say as clearly as I can as president of the United States: you fit right here," Obama told the audience. "You're right where you belong. You're part of America too. You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American."
The president condemned anti-Muslim rhetoric, such as proposals by Republican presidential candidates to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States and calls to subject American mosques to government surveillance.
In an interview with Radio Sputnik's "Loud & Clear," McCaw said Obama's visit was "something that communicates from the administration to the American public that yes, Muslims are our neighbors, they contribute to this nation, they are one of us."
Despite receiving invitations from Muslim-American organizations throughout his presidency, Obama waited until his final year in office to visit a US mosque. In contrast, President George W. Bush visited a mosque days after the 9/11 attacks, stressing that the US government was "not at war with Muslims."
Obama's first visit to a US mosque was long overdue, according to McCaw, who said the president has "definitely been timid in approaching the Muslim community publicly."
Rumors about Obama being a crypto-Muslim - he identifies as Christian - have persisted since his first presidential run in 2008, McCaw noted. While his administration conducts outreach programs within the Muslim American community, Obama has kept his distance, McCaw said.
"I think the president's own timidness in engaging with the Muslim community has done a fair deal of damage itself," he said.