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Washington: President Barack Obama has sought to reassure the Muslim community amid an "inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim-Americans" that has seen Sikh Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims targeted as well.
Visiting a mosque in the US for the first time in his seven years as president Wednesday, Obama described Muslims as essential to the fabric of America as he sought to rebut the rhetoric from Republican presidential candidates, particularly frontrunner Donald Trump.
"I know that in Muslim communities across our country, this is a time of concern and, frankly, a time of some fear," he said citing it as one reason for his visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a 47-year-old mosque in Maryland outside Washington.
"Like all Americans, you're worried about the threat of terrorism," said Obama. "But on top of that, as Muslim Americans, you also have another concern -- and that is your entire community so often is targeted or blamed for the violent acts of the very few."
"Since 9/11, but more recently, since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, you've seen too often people conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith," he said.
"And of course, recently, we've heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country," Obama said without naming Trump, who has called for a temporary bar on the entry of Muslims into the US, or anyone else.
"No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim Americans have surged," he said. "We've seen children bullied. We've seen mosques vandalized. Sikh Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims have been targeted, as well."
"Let me say as clearly as I can as president of the United States: you fit right here," 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."
As he decried Republican counter-terror plans that would single out Muslims for extra scrutiny, Obama insisted that applying religious screens would only amplify messages coming from terrorist groups.
"We can't be bystanders to bigotry," Obama said. "Together, we've got to show that America truly protects all faiths. As we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas and the rhetoric of the terrorists themselves."
Obama has visited mosques in the past, but never inside the US, which is home to 2.75 million Muslims, according to the Pew Research Centre.
Alluding to conspiracy theories that suggest he himself is a Muslim, Obama who is a Christian, said the same rumours had plagued Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third US president.
"I am not the first," he said. "I am in good company."
Later at the State department asked whether attacks on the Sikhs in the US were sending a wrong image about US overseas, spokesperson John Kirby described such attacks as "abhorrent."
"Attacks on anybody in the United States - whether they're verbal attacks or physical attacks - by virtue or due to a faith that they proclaim is abhorrent and not in keeping at all with American values or who we are as a country," he said.
"Obviously, we wouldn't want people to take away from that a wrong impression about who we are as America, because it doesn't represent American values," Kirby said.