Gov. Charlie Baker said there's more that unites people of different faiths than divides them as he paid a visit to a Boston mosque on Friday.
Baker said that as governor it's important he makes clear to those of various faiths — Christians, Jews and Muslims — that they all have a place in Massachusetts.
He prefaced his comments with the traditional greeting "salaam."
"The vast majority of the people that I talk to in communities of faith ... the languages are different, the stories are different, but the meaning is the same," Baker said during brief comments to those gathered at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the largest mosque in New England. "Everybody is trying to get to the same place. The paths are different, but the goal — the desire to be better than you were yesterday, to be a better person, to serve, to grow — I hear it everywhere I go."
Organizers said Baker's visit was the first by a sitting Republican Massachusetts governor.
Baker, who attended the Friday service and listened to a sermon before speaking, told those gathered at the mosque that he's visited "two or three dozen houses of worship" since he was first elected governor in 2014.
"Everyone wants to be part of a thriving community. Everyone wants to be part of a family. Everybody knows they have flaws that they need to work on. People accept the fact that they need to persevere to be better," he said.
Baker said having the opportunity to get out of his circle of family and friends and meet people from all types of faiths has been one of the great privileges of being governor.
"It's a blessing... You discover there so much more that unites people then divides them," Baker said.
Baker was well-received.
During a prayer service, Sheikh Yasir Fahmy of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center said, "We can't fear people. We have to love people."
Muhammad Suleiman, a 23-year-old student in Boston, said he was happy to see the governor. He said sometimes Muslims can feel isolated in the larger society.
"His being here shows us that he cares about us," Suleiman said. "It shows us that he cares about our community being a part of Boston and part of society."
Yusufi Vali, the center's public affairs director, said the state's Muslim community has had a relationship with the administration even before the visit. Baker says he invited Yasir to his office after hearing him speak so powerfully last fall at Boston's Tree of Life vigil in honor of the 11 people killed at the Pittsburgh synagogue.
"He talked about his love for the people of the Jewish community and how heartbroken he was by the agony they were going through," said Baker.
Yasir then invited Baker to the mosque.
Vali said he hopes the relationship continues.
"We hope that this visit continues to deepen this relationship and we as a community continue to work with the governor around a whole host of issue facing our community and the whole commonwealth," Vali said.
Approximately 1,500 congregants come to the center for each weekly prayer service.
Speaking to reporters after the service, Baker said it's important for a governor to get out of the Statehouse bubble and visit as many different communities in the state as possible.
"I've said many times I'm the governor of all the people of Massachusetts and whether you're a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim I think important for me to make clear to you that you have a place here," he said. "I think it's important for people in public life to spread their wings a bit and get outside their traditional circle of what they know and who they know."
Those who attended the prayer service at the mosque said they appreciated Baker's visit.
"It was good idea to come over here and learn how we pray and the culture. And the way he talked was nice," said Hussein Hussein.
Baker wasn't the first governor to visit the center. Former Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, spoke at the same mosque in 2010.
Other Republican governors have also reached out to their local Muslim communities.
In 2017, GOP New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu tweeted out that he was "Incredibly proud to be the first sitting governor to visit the Islamic Society of NH Mosque in Manchester" saying they had "a fantastic meet & greet."
In 2016, former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad honored the state's Islamic community by signing a proclamation declaring a "Muslim Recognition Day" in Iowa.
In 2017, former Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner approved the creation of the Illinois Muslim American Advisory Council to advise the governor and legislators on policy issues affecting Muslim Americans and immigrants.
Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has also attended a number of events with Muslim community.