Obama cites Quran to reach Muslims from Egypt
President's speech touches on Islam, Israel and Iran
American President Barack Hussein Obama ended his Middle East tour and headed to Germany Thursday after he addressed the Muslim world from a tightly secured Cairo where he quoted from Islam's Holy Book and stressed the United States was not in competition with Islam in a bid to heal the rift that has developed between the two.
Obama was in Cairo following a brief stop in Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with King Abdullah, and arrived at Cairo University to give a landmark speech that was a fulfillment of his inaugural speech promise to reach out to Muslims.
The president spent the day in Egypt where he toured the Sultan Hassan Mosque, one of the world's oldest, and visited Egypt's main attraction the Pyramids of Giza.
"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition," Obama told the packed university hall.
Before continuing Obama bid the room "assalaamu alaykum," or peace be upon you, to the delight of the crowd, which cheered and applauded.
Obama addressed several issues from women's rights to economic development but not before he talked about his personal links with Islam and the role of Islam in American history and stressed that America was not at war with Islam.
"Islam is a part of America," he said as he called on Muslims to help the United States fight extremism because "we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan" but we need to be confident that there were no more violent extremists determined to kill Americans.
The president said that he felt it his duty to negate the negative stereotype of Islam in the West and said just as "Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire."
I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition
Moving on to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the president began by describing his nation's bond with Israel as "unshakeable" and speaking about the years of suffering and persecution of the Jewish people.
Obama went on to decry anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, the denial of which he said was "baseless, ignorant and hateful."
Speaking of the dislocation and suffering of the Palestinian people over the past 60 years, Obama said "let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable."
"America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own," he said, as he called on Palestinians to abandon violence.
Obama said the only resolution was for both sides to accept a two-state solution and said that is "in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest."
He then reiterated his stance on Jewish settlements and went on to say: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."
Iraq and Iran
The president said that although he believed the Iraqi people were better off without the "tyranny of [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein" the events that took place in Iraq affirmed that diplomacy was the best way.
Obama said the United States did not want to claim Iraqi territory or resources and promised to withdraw combat brigades by August 2010 and remove all troops from Iraq by 2012.
The president went on to say that he had ordered the closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison by early 2010 and that the U.S. prohibited the use of torture.
After describing the tumultuous history between Iran and the U.S., Obama said "it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve."
I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons
Obama said the issue of nuclear weapons was not about American interests but about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could "lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path."
"I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons," he said, adding that all nations, including Iran, have the right to peaceful nuclear power as long as they comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The president made no mention of Israel at this point.
Democracy and freedom
Obama went on to say that the promotion of democracy did not include imposing one nation's system on another.
Obama said he welcomed all democratically elected governments, making no mention of the Islamist group Hamas, which was elected in 2006, but added as long as they are peaceful.
"Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them," he said.
The leader went on to discuss freedom of religion and called on Muslims to embrace their religions tradition of tolerance and to close fault lines amongst themselves and put an end to the violence between Sunnis and Shiites.
He also said it was equally important for Western nations to avoid "impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism," Obama said, possibly a reference to the ongoing headscarf debate and the cartoons issue in Denmark.
Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them
Quoting from the Quran
Obama gave his speech following a tour of the Sultan Hassan mosque, one of the world's oldest, and he expressed his deep respect for the history of Islam.
Likely to stir the emotions of Muslims everywhere, the president started his speech by greeting the room the Islamic way and went on to repeatedly quote from the Quran much to the delight of his audience who constantly interupted him with appaulse.
"There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Quran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth," he said.
After making a couple of references to Islam's Holy Book, the president went on to quote the Ayat, or verse, and said the "Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind."
Bringing an end to his speech Obama sought inspiration from all three holy books of the Abrahamic faiths and said: "We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written."
"The Holy Quran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another," he said, adding "the Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."
And ending with "the Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Quran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth
Obama quotes the Quran
Obama's speech was aimed at targeting the distrust in the Muslim world towards the United States, which saw its image sullied by the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, Guantanamo Bay, the stalled peace process and the Iraq war.
But many Arabs are still withholding judgment on Obama's administration, and he has a chance to win greater approval in a speech to mend ties with world Muslims, said Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.
Arab approval ratings of U.S. leadership remained low—at a median of about 25 percent—in a survey across 11 Arab countries conducted after Obama took office, higher than in the last months of the prior administration in all but two countries.
Gallup, in a summary of the poll results, reported the rise may reflect Obama's pledge to pull U.S. troops from Iraq and close its detention centre at Guantanamo.
The success of the U.S. leader's diplomatic initiatives in the region—like advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace and halting Iran's nuclear program--may depend on how well Obama is able to improve U.S.-Islamic ties.
Some of his first moves as president were calling Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, giving an interview to the pan-Arab Al Arabiya TV, made an unprecedented video address to Iranians and, in Turkey, reassured Muslims the United States was not at war with them.
Obama arrived in the Middle East after sparring publicly with new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over West Bank settlements, an issue he sees as an impediment to resumed peace talks.