On Feb. 3, President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit a U.S. mosque for the first time since he took office seven years ago.
Obama will deliver a speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in Catonsville, Maryland, and meet with community members to discuss religious freedom, White House officials said, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Obama has never visited a U.S.-based mosque during his two terms as president. As a symbolic gesture in 2010, he toured the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Administration officials said they hope his visit to the Baltimore mosque will send a message at a time when Muslim leaders are anxious about the spread of Islamophobia. Many crimes against Muslims have been reported following terrorist attacks in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California.
Muslims have also been a predominant topic in the 2016 presidential race, most notably with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who wants to temporarily ban them from entering the country until new security measures are put in place.
"The president believes that one of our nation's greatest strengths is our rich diversity," White House spokesman Keith Maley said, according to the Sun. "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."
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is happy Obama will be visiting the mosque.
"For a number of years we've been encouraging the president to go to an American mosque," council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said. "With the tremendous rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in our country, we believe that it will send a message of inclusion and mutual respect."
Obama’s decision to visit a mosque will surely not go unnoticed by conspiracy theorists who think the president is Muslim and not Christian as he says.
According to a 2014 poll conducted by Alex Theodoridis, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Merced, 54 percent of Republicans said they believe Obama is “deep down” a Muslim, the Washington Post reported. Twenty-six percent of Independents gave the same response, as did 10 percent of Democrats.