Muslims feel comfortable in Utah, America


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SALT LAKE CITY -- The attacks of 9/11, carried out in the name of Muslim extremism, made life uncomfortable for many Muslim Americans.

A new national survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that Americans are still struggling with what it means to be American and how to resolve religious differences.

The survey sample was evenly divided over whether the values of Islam are at odds with American values. What about Muslims in Utah? Do they experience discrimination?

Three-year-old Nourudeen enjoys the playground at his apartment complex. He and his parents Mohanad and Nichole Mossalam and his aunt, Mona, feel accepted in Utah, have not experienced discrimination. Mohanad is studying for a doctorate at the University of Utah, doing cancer research. Some people understand that all Muslims are not terrorists, he said, but misunderstandings persist even with people of this own faith.

"They don't see the average American. I have friends who call me and say, 'why are you in the U.S.? They hate us. These people want to kill Muslims.' They do not understand that this is not the case for the majority of Americans. There are people who are loud and they only hear those voices," Mohanad said.

Nichole converted several years after September 11th. A friend at work explained the faith to her. A former Catholic, she had never heard of Islam. Her family was not initially supportive, but her parents and siblings see that she is happy. Nichole believes people of faith have much in common.


They don't see the average American. I have friends who call me and say, 'why are you in the U.S.? They hate us. These people want to kill Muslims.' They do not understand that this is not the case for the majority of Americans. There are people who are loud and they only hear those voices.

–- Mohanad Mossalam


"We have rich family values. What I love here in Utah is the family system. for Muslims, you know, family is everything. You always take care of your family," Nichole said. "The Koran says if you take even one life, if you take even one life unjustly, it's as if you killed all of humanity. But if you save just one life, even just one life, it's as if you saved all of humanity."

"My hope for (Nourudeen) would be to live in a world of peace --in a world where there is no hate," Mohanad said.

Noor ul Hasan, a long-time member of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, also credits Utahns for being more open. But she worries about Muslim young people and how they are perceived.

"If they, in any way look different, with a little beard, which is sometimes a fashion even, but it's part of our faith for our young men to have beards," Hasan said. "They are looked at as being some sort of radical and it's a little harder for them to make their way, to get jobs, to show that they can assimilate with society here just like everybody else and still practice their faith."

"The girls, if they wear headscarves, I mean, I, myself, have thought about going to get jobs and realize those who don't know me and know that I'm very business-oriented, can communicate very well," she said. "A scarf is just a headscarf, like a hat for somebody... so I even have that fear, I'm a grown adult, been here for 40 years."

During one of the afternoon services on their holy day, Friday, Imam Muhammed Mehtar offered a special prayer of remembrance for all who lost their lives on September 11th, their families and our country. He believes Muslims must reach out more to be good neighbors.

"Although individuals discriminate, sometimes Muslims themselves have to wonder what are they contributing towards having people discriminate towards or against them," he said. "Muslims themselves have to do a better job with getting themselves better into the culture by letting people understand who they are, what they are about and how to produce or create a situation that will reduce this type of adverse situation."

What the future brings, each one says, depends on all of us. Do we want to understand one another, do we go beyond tolerance - can we, as Americans, as Utahns, offer and receive acceptance?

Email:cmikita@ksl.com

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