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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Muslims spent Monday speaking with lawmakers and other state leaders about different bills and policies impacting their community in the second annual Muslim Day on the Hill, all through Zoom.
The event was hosted by the Utah Muslim Civic League, a nonprofit aimed at civically empowering Muslims in the state. Gov. Spencer Cox delivered the keynote address and several state lawmakers joined the meeting to discuss different bills in this session.
"We are interested in investing in policies that create a culture of anti-racism and (anti-)bias and serve the greater cause of social justice in our communities," said Luna Banuri, executive director of UMCL.
The group commended Cox's effort to visit local mosques in the area and connect with the community — something the governor, in turn, said he took seriously.
"It is so important to have your voice on the hill during this legislative session. We need your views on a range of issues," Cox said.
There is a population of about 60,000 Muslims in Utah, with only one serving in an elected position in the state — Mohamed Baayd, who serves on the Salt Lake City Board Education and represents Precinct 5.
And there are even fewer Muslims serving in the state Legislature, at exactly zero.
"The reason this is important is when we don't see people like us making decisions for us, the engagement is lowered," Banuri said. "So, we as the Utah Muslim Civic League take pride that we are trying to build a pipeline of young individuals who will engage not only to run for office but in other service areas."
About 34% of Utah Muslims in Utah are registered as Republicans, compared to just 11% nationally, according to Banuri.
"So when we say we are different in Utah, we are," she said.
Only 17% are registered in the Beehive State as Democrats and the rest, with a majority of 42%, are independents.
"The Muslim vote has to be earned," Banuri explained. "We are an issue-based community."
And what are the two top issues for the community? The economy/jobs and institutionalized racism, according to Banuri. Muslims are a historically targeted community when it comes to experiencing discrimination, which is something Banuri and the group hope to see change.
According to Cox, combating bigotry is an important issue for his administration as well. Cox, along with several other key state leaders, signed a compact pledging they are committed to racial equity, diversity and inclusion.
"This is more than just aspirational," he said.
"Increasing equity and opportunity is one of the top priorities of my administration's first 500 days," Cox continued. "We are committed to increasing leadership opportunities for women and people of color. Providing new upscaling of resources for those who have been historically underrepresented in STEM and other areas. And ensuring equity in educational funding and ensuring Utah's children have access to health care coverage."
Several state legislators of both political parties later joined the call to have a conversation about bills they are proposing and discuss the impact for Muslims in the state.
The similarities between the diverse groups of Utah outweigh the differences and the differences enhance opportunities for working together, Cox told the group.
"When we learn about each other, about different cultures and communities and needs, we can truly find common ground and improve the quality of life for all of us and create one Utah," he said.
As this year's legislative session wraps up in the coming weeks, both those on the hill and the nonprofit group said they hope to work together toward similar goals. And for everything that doesn't get done this year, there's no reason to worry.
The Utah Muslim Civic League will return again next February to host the third annual Muslim Day on the Hill, Banuri assured, before adding that Cox and other leaders should mark their calendars now.