Obama's Religious Outreach Blitz in Turkey

The president's Turkey visit included a sit-down with religious leaders and a mosque tour.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Striking how much time President Obama has devoted to religious outreach over two days in Turkey. Building on yesterday's remarks to the Turkish Parliament about repairing U.S. relations with the Muslim world, the president opened his stay in Istanbul by sitting down with four top religious leaders:

  • Archbishop Aram Atesyan, the Armenian patriarch for all Turkey
  • Chief Rabbi of Istanbul Isak Haleva
  • Grand Mufti of Istanbul Mustafa Cagrici
  • Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yusuf Cetin

Then it was off to tour Hagia Sophfia, one of the world's great religious sites—it was once a Byzantine cathedral, then became an important mosque in the Ottoman Empire, and is now a museum—and the 400-year-old Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque.

Before leaving Turkey for Iraq, Obama reiterated his call for improved U.S. relations with the Muslim world at a town hall with students, where he said:

Sometimes [media stereotypes] suggest that America has become selfish or crass and doesn't care about the world beyond its borders. I'm here to tell you that's not the country I know . . . . We are a country of different backgrounds, races, and religions. We are still a place where anyone who tries can still make it. If that wasn't true, then someone named Barack Hussein Obama could not be elected president. That's the America I want you to know.

Also worth noting is that the new additions to Obama's faith advisory council include the head of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Dalia Mogahed, who happens to be at a conference in Istanbul right now. The Muslim outreach component of the faith council is just getting off the ground, but it bears watching in coming months.