“I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion” — President Eisenhower, June 28, 1957, Islamic Center, Washington D.C.
In an on-line story dated February 3, 2016, TIME magazine informed its readers that President Barrack Obama would be visiting the Islamic Society Mosque in Baltimore, Maryland, thus setting a milestone for his presidency. The reporter, Sarah Begley, reminded readers that the President was far from being the first American President to do so.
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The honour, she said, belonged to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. He opened the Islamic Center of Washington in the city’s Embassy Row district on June 28, 1957. First lady Mamie Eisenhower accompanied him to the dedication ceremony.
In his speech, President Eisenhower emphasized the importance of religious freedom in the USA, and highlighted the “Muslim genius” that has cultivated some of history’s most important inventions, discoveries, art, literature and thought now considered indispensable to modern civilization.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Remarks at the Opening of the Islamic Center in Washington D.C. on June 28, 1957
By DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
(see profile, below)
[For a photo of the President delivering the speech, please click Politicio — ed.]
Mr. Ambassador, Dr. Bisar, Governors of the Islamic Center, and distinguished guests:
It is a privilege to take part in this ceremony of dedication. Meeting with you now, in front of one of the newest and most beautiful buildings in Washington, it is fitting that we rededicate ourselves to the peaceful progress of all men under one God.
And I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion. Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience. This concept is indeed a part of America, and without that concept we would be something else than what we are.
The countries which have sponsored and built this Islamic Center have for centuries contributed to the building of civilization. With their traditions of learning and rich culture, the countries of Islam have added much to the advancement of mankind. Inspired by a sense of brotherhood, common to our innermost beliefs, we can here together reaffirm our determination to secure the foundation of a just and lasting peace.
Our country has long enjoyed a strong bond of friendship with the Islamic nations and, like all healthy relationships, this relationship must be mutually beneficial.
Civilization owes to the Islamic world some of its most important tools and achievements. From fundamental discoveries in medicine to the highest planes of astronomy, the Muslim genius has added much to the culture of all peoples. That genius has been a wellspring of science, commerce and the arts, and has provided for all of us many lessons in courage and in hospitality.
This fruitful relationship between peoples, going far back into history, becomes more important each year. Today, thousands of Americans, both private individuals and governmental officials, live and work — and grow in understanding — among the peoples of Islam.
At the same time, in our country, many from the Muslim lands — students, businessmen and representatives of states — are enjoying the benefits of experience among the people of this country. From these many personal contacts, here and abroad, I firmly believe that there will be a broader understanding and a deeper respect for the worth of all men; and a stronger resolution to work together for the good of mankind.
As I stand beneath these graceful arches, surrounded on every side by friends from far and near, I am convinced that our common goals are both right and promising. Faithful to the demands of justice and of brotherhood, each working according to the lights of his own conscience, our world must advance along the paths of peace.
Thank you very much.
Date posted: April 28, 2020.
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Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) served as the thirty-fourth president of the United States, governing from 1953 to 1961, after a military career culminating in his role as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. Eisenhower’s presidency was largely occupied by foreign affairs, most notably the Korean War, the expansion of U.S. involvement in the Middle East after the Suez Crisis, and the general deepening of the Cold War. Even domestically, many of Eisenhower’s achievements were shaped by national security, including the construction of the interstate highway system. Eisenhower joined the Presbyterian Church as an adult and played a role in the addition of “In God We Trust” on American currency. Eisenhower famously stated that “our government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”
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Noteworthy book: “This Day in Presidential History,” by Paul Brandus. For each of the 365 days of the year, Brandus offers fascinating facts, historical anecdotes, and pithy quotations from and about all the presidents of the United States, from George Washington to Donald Trump.