President Obama marked the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Saturday with pleas for unity as controversy over a planned mosque near Ground Zero fueled anti-Muslim sentiment across the nation.
"They may seek to spark conflict between different faiths, but as Americans, we are not --and never will be -- at war with Islam," he said. "It was not a religion that attacked us that September day; it was Al Qaeda -- a sorry band of men which perverts religion."
"Just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions at home as a diverse and tolerant nation," he said.
Obama also used his weekly radio and Internet address to try and tamp down the contentious atmosphere driven by the mosque controversy and a Florida pastor's threat to burn Korans.
"This is a time of difficulty for our country," the president said. "And it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness -- to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common.
"But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do not give in to this temptation," Obama said. "We stand with one another. We fight alongside one another. We do not allow ourselves to be defined by fear, but by the hopes we have for our families, for our nation, and for a brighter future."
Obama marked the day nearly 3,000 people died in terrorist jetliner attacks with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City.
First lady Michelle Obama joined former first lady Laura Bush in Shanksville, Pa., where the fourth plane crashed after passengers rushed the cockpit. Vice President Joe Biden is in New York for the service at Ground Zero.
In his radio address, Obama called on Americans to recapture the sense of common purpose felt on that dreadful day.
"If there is a lesson to be drawn on this anniversary, it is this: We are one nation -- one people -- bound not only by grief, but by a set of common ideals," he said.
"By giving back to our communities, by serving people in need, we reaffirm our ideals -- in defiance of those who would do us grave harm."
Former President George W. Bush said in a statement that he and Laura "recall the many acts of heroism on that day, and we honor those who work tirelessly to prevent another attack."
"May God bless our great country and those who defend her," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement honoring the victims of "that terrible day," said memories of the attacks "remain searingly vivid."
"We remember the pain of loss, but also the pride in our people and our country," she said.
In the GOP's weekly address, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., echoed Obama's plea for a common purpose. Kyl called for the country to "recapture the unity that allowed us to come together as a nation to confront a determined enemy."
Without mentioning the president by name, Kyl seemed to question the Obama administration's commitment to the war on terror begun by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama recently declared an end to combat missions in Iraq even as he pledged to renew efforts to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and pursue Al Qaeda terrorists.
"The fact that none of the subsequent attempts to attack us have succeeded seems to have removed some of the urgency and commitment so necessary to succeed in war," Kyl said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.