Earlier this week President Barack Obama visited a mosque for the first time during his stay in the White House, which is something I commend him for. While I feel as though Obama and the left are often quick to poo-poo the threats of extremist Islam – they’re very real – I also think we as a country could do a lot more to make it clear that peaceful, law-abiding Muslims are welcome.
Obama’s visit to a mosque helps that, I think.
But when I was reading the transcript of his remarks to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, this caught my eye:
Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation. They were part of the flow of immigrants who became farmers and merchants. They built America’s first mosque, surprisingly enough, in North Dakota. (Laughter.) America’s oldest surviving mosque is in Iowa. The first Islamic center in New York City was built in the 1890s. Muslim Americans worked on Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars. A Muslim American designed the skyscrapers of Chicago.
Yeah, yeah. Muslims in North Dakota. Ha, ha, ha.
Actually, the state has a long history with Islam. The President is talking about the mosque near Ross, North Dakota, which was built by Syrian-Lebanese immigrants who were prompted to move to North Dakota by the Homestead Acts. It was, as he notes, the first mosque in America.
And did you know that, after all the different flavors of Christianity, Islam is North Dakota’s second most prominent religion? It’s true, though the percentage runs in the low single digits.
Sometimes people laugh at North Dakota as being a bland state where nothing interesting has ever happened. That’s not really true. Our state has a rich history, whether we’re talking about the indigenous peoples who settled the plains or the Germans and Norwegians and Russians and, yes, even Muslims who came later.
Unfortunately, in more recent years, the state has had something of an ugly relationship with Islam. We saw a sad spectacle during the last legislative session with one lawmaker – Rep. Dwight Keifert of Valley City – who blocked an invocation in the state House from a Muslim spiritual leader. Republican legislative leaders at the time told me that the Muslim leader would be invited back at a later date to give an invocation to the House (he did give one to the Senate), but that never happened.
That’s really too bad.
You know what would be nice? If the North Dakota House of Representatives invited a Muslim leader to give the first invocation of the coming 2017 session. It would sure help right a wrong.
Here’s the video of Obama’s remarks: