More presidential candidates are visiting mosques than ever before


Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks after meeting with interfaith leaders at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles on March 23. PHOTO/Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

The day before he appeared onstage at Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee visited the Islamic Center of Detroit to discuss the concerns of Muslim Americans.

The roundtable, attended by imams, activists, nonprofit leaders and other community members, lasted about an hour. The group discussed Inslee’s promise to dismantle the Muslim ban, his climate change agenda, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Inslee, who was the first governor to condemn President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from several majority-Muslim countries and challenge it in court, told HuffPost he visited the mosque to recognize “the real fear and anxiety” endured by Muslims under Trump administration.

“We have a very dangerous person in the White House,” he said, calling Trump someone who tries “to inflame anger and fear and hatred in the United States against the Muslim community.”

Inslee is not the only candidate courting the Muslim vote. He joins a number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who have campaigned in Muslim communities around the country.

Prior to the 2020 election, presidential candidates rarely ? if ever ? visited a mosque on the campaign trail.

In the past, and especially in the post-9/11 era, candidates feared a backlash if they did. Both as a candidate and then as president, Barack Obama had to grapple with rumors of being Muslim ? as if that were a bad thing. In addition, Muslims have been a small slice of the electorate, even now making up just 1% of the U.S. population.

Before 2016, Muslim voter turnout also tended to be low, with minimal overall civic engagement between Muslims and elected officials. But after the rise of Trump and the election of the most diverse congressional class ever in 2018, including the nation’s first two Muslim congresswomen, Democrats have pivoted to embracing marginalized communities in a more formal way.

Candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont have hired Muslims for high-level positions, while others like Inslee have constantly reminded voters of the discrimination enshrined in Islamophobic policies like the Muslim ban. At Wednesday night’s debate, Inslee was the first candidate to bring up the ban, calling the president a white nationalist.

Shahed Amanullah, a former adviser in the Obama administration who worked under both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, described the Democratic relationship with Muslims as a constant “push and pull.”

“Either Muslims were the avatar to be demonized and be used to drum up votes on the other side,” or, Amanullah said, “Muslims were the symbol of resistance, the canary in the coal mine.”

“It’s weird to be part of a demographic group that is a presidential campaign issue. But that’s the world we live in now,” he added.

Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton visited a mosque during the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008. Obama didn’t visit a mosque until his eighth and final year in the White House, when he spoke to Muslims at the Islamic Society of Baltimore in 2016. During the last Democratic primary, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley visited a mosque in Sterling, Virginia, in 2015.

Although Trump has not visited any mosques as a candidate or as president, other Republicans have in the past. In 2001, President George W. Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington a few days after the 9/11 attacks in an attempt to discourage the sudden wave of hate crimes against Muslims. More recently, in 2015, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona visited a mosque in an attempt to repair the GOP’s relationship with Muslims after then-candidate Trump called for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S.

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