Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, American Vice President Joe Biden, and other dignitaries officially inaugurated the Diyanet Center of America in Landham, Maryland on April 2. In the morning, hundreds of local Muslims and Turkish diaspora gathered in the rain around the center’s main mosque to hear President Erdogan and the Turkish President of Religious Affairs Mehmet Gormez speak. After the mosque was inaugurated and publicly opened for Dhur prayers, President Erdogan unexpectedly appeared amongst the worshipers to pray and recite Quran. Finally, the President toured the center’s cultural buildings and finished with a speech and Q&A session with American Muslim and Turkish college students organized by the Turken Foundation of America.
President Erdogan’s speech to students focused on challenges in the United States and abroad, and the role that Muslim students can play in solving such problems. First, President Erdogan discussed the challenges facing Muslim students today, saying there are “two trends to fight: terrorists masquerading as Islam and Islamophobia.” The President stressed that he believed such problems could only be solved by Muslim students by “acting with [an]Islamic awareness in United States [to]spread authentic Islam at universities.” He specifically cited the Diyanet Center and Turken Foundation as great ways of combating such sentiments. Additionally, he warned of the dangers of ethnic fragmentation amongst Muslims, saying, “don’t be fragmented” and challenging Muslims students to “contribute to building an intellectual and scientific response” to the challenges facing Muslims.
In addition to these remarks, President Erdogan used the opportunity to touch on his views of Western media’s criticisms of his government, terrorism in Turkey, recent clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the supporters of Fetullah Gullen, a self-exiled Turkish cleric in the United States whose followers have been accused of creating a “parallel state” within Turkey.