The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which holds an annual national convention thought to be the largest gathering of American Muslims, invited all presidential candidates — Democratic and Republican — to this year’s conference in Houston, Texas.
As The Texas Tribune reports, only two accepted the invitation: Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.
Both White House hopeful pledged to overturn President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, discussing a number of issues pertaining to the Muslim community in the United States.
“The fact is, as I know, that Muslim Americans for generations have been part of the fabric of our American family,” Castro told the crowd, condemning what he says is a message that is being sent to the Muslim community; “you’re the enemy, or you’re the problem.”
Sanders — who “got a particularly enthusiastic response,” according to the Texas Tribune — was introduced by his campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, who is Muslim, and held a fiery speech discussing a wide range of issues, including Donald Trump and white supremacist violence.
“We must speak out at hate crimes and violence targeted at the Muslim community and call it what it is: domestic terrorism,” the senator said.
Sanders also talked about foreign policy, touting his opposition to the Iraq War which, he noted, created major instability in the region, leading to the rise of the Islamic State. He also criticized India for revoking Kashmir’s autonomy, urging the United States government to get involved and protect the people in the disputed territory.
The senator also argued that there are reasons for optimism, pointing out that non-Muslims had joined Muslims to protest against Trump’s travel ban.
“What that tells me is that the American people understand our country is at our best when we stand together regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs.”
The crowd may have been impressed by Sanders and Castro, but organizers and activists are disappointed by the fact that they were the only two candidates to accept the invitation.
Houston: Islamic group hosts Sanders and Castro and braces for rightwing rally https://t.co/42tZo6XB6K— The Guardian (@guardian) August 31, 2019
Wa’el Alzayat, the CEO of Muslim advocacy group Emgage and a former member of the Obama administration, told Politico that Democrats need to “follow up words with actions.”
“They have positioned themselves as the party that has opposed the Muslim ban, rampant Islamophobia, and the rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration,” he said.
Activist Linda Sarsour was harsher in her words.
“Many political operatives believe Muslims are a liability,” she said.
According to the publication, many Muslim operatives and activists had already felt neglected by the Democratic Party.