Bernie Sanders condemns Trump's call to close mosques

Bernie SandersReuters

Bernie Sanders made a stand against religious intolerance on Wednesday, meeting with representatives from Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities to discuss rising religious tensions in America.

The Democratic presidential candidate sat with leaders of the different faiths around a table at Masjid Muhammad mosque in Washington in response to the mass shooting in San Bernardino and the subsequent call by Donald Trump for a ban on Muslims migrating to America.

"Do we come together? Or do we allow demagogues to divide us up?" Sanders said. "That is the issue of the moment."

His comments appear to be part of Sanders' increased efforts to counter Islamophobia by engaging with Muslims and promoting religious tolerance.

"They want us to believe that the average Muslim is a terrorist," he said. "Unbelievably, in defiance of the basic tenants of our Constitution, there are some who are talking about shutting down mosques like the ones we are in."

Around the table he recalled the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda and the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, holding them up as a warning of the atrocities that can result from bigotry.

Although he rarely speaks about his personal faith, he acknowledged his personal connection to genocide. Many relatives of Sanders' father – a polish Jew – were killed under Nazi rule.

"We must never forget what happened under the racist ideology of the Nazis, which led to the deaths of millions and millions of people, including family members of mine," he said.

Sanders was quick to denounce Trump's plan to ban Muslim immigration and his first Twitter post during the Republican debate on Tuesday dealt directly with the issue and was retweeted over 12,000 times.

Although his message was one of warning, Sanders also spoke of hope and progress, declaring that "we are going forward and as a people we are going to address the very serious problems that we face, and we are not going to allow them to divide us up."

His efforts to reach out and engage with the Muslim community have been echoed by other democratic presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton met with Muslim leaders in Minneapolis on Tuesday and Martin O'Malley visited a mosque in northern Virginia last week.