National and Local Responses to Islam: Washington, D.C.’s Diyanet Center
Despite President Barack Obama’s record on counterterrorism and civil liberties issues — including drone strikes that kill innocent civilians and the National Security Agency’s spying on American Muslims — many Muslims were relieved when the “most important public figure in the land” finally visited a mosque in February. In his speech at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Obama pushed back against the Islamophobia that has characterized the Republican side of the presidential race, condemning the “inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country.”
In response, Donald Trump, referencing his long-standing suggestion that Obama is Muslim, sneered, “Maybe he feels comfortable [in a mosque].” Marco Rubio, in a more subtle — and perhaps more insidious — reaction, said that through the visit, Obama was dividing Americans along ethnic, racial and religious lines. “Of course there’s going to be discrimination in America of every kind,” he added. “But the bigger issue is radical Islam.” Rubio thus implied that standing up for equal rights for Muslim Americans will hinder efforts to capture terrorists. Author Max Fisher notes this “suggests that all Muslims should be treated as second-class citizens.”
Such is (part of) U.S. officialdom’s rhetoric regarding Islam in our country, along with horrific hate crimes such as last year’s killing of students Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the Obama administration’s policies. And such is the climate in which the Diyanet Center of America, or DCA, exists.
The DCA recently opened in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Lanham, Maryland. The Turkish government mainly funds the Islamic complex, which is one of the largest in the United States. (The Diyanet is the Turkish government’s directorate of religious affairs.) The complex includes a mosque, Turkish baths, a restaurant, outdoor tennis courts, guest villas and a cultural center.
My visit to the DCA fell on a cold and rainy Wednesday. Driving down Good Luck Road, on which the complex is situated, the mosque came suddenly and dramatically into view, its two minarets puncturing the gray sky. It was constructed with white marble and in a style similar to the mosques of Turkey’s famous 16th-century Ottoman architect Sinan.