Muslim community finds home in Utah

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By Chris Mumford, Staff Writer

Although they trace their roots to some of the world’s most exotic and troubled regions from the Middle East to Africa, many Muslim students call the U home and have at least one thing in common8212;feeling comfortable and happy here.

Shukri Harbi, a freshman in political science, fled Somalia with her family for the peace and safety of Utah at the height of the African nation’s civil war in 1993.

People at the U and in Utah generally have been respectful and tolerant, she said, but she gets a lot of questions about her faith and attracts some stares because of the headscarf she wears. Because members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints share certain moral values with Islam and have a history of dealing with religious discrimination, Harbi said she feels that her status as a minority is treated with greater sensitivity than it might be elsewhere.

Likewise, Anwar Arafat, who graduated from the U in film studies last year, said life in Utah has been free from negativity and stereotyping ever since he moved here from the Gaza Strip in 2002.

Arafat delivered a sermon Friday at the Muslim Student Association of the University of Utah’s weekly Muslim prayer meeting in the Union Den about the need to improve the community and to worship with truth and sincerity to combat negative perceptions of Islam.

“Islam is being attacked all over the world,” he said. “Even here.”

Harbi said the media’s coverage of the Fort Hood shootings, in which an Army psychiatrist is charged with killing 13 people and wounding many others, has been dominated by speculation about the gunman’s links to Islamic radicalism and has consequently fed negative stereotypes about Muslims in general.

“In this day and age, it’s an ongoing battle being a Muslim and having to defend your religion,” Harbi said.

Najib Amiri, a senior in biology and head of the MSAUU, said he agrees that coverage of the Fort Hood tragedy has focused on linking Islam with violence but that he believes such perceptions can be changed through efforts to do good.

“As a Muslim, it motivates me to do more in the community,” Amiri said.

Both Harbi and Amiri said they appreciated a statement released by Sen. Orrin Hatch in the wake of the shootings, in which he sent condolences and signaled his support to members of Utah’s Muslim community. They said the remarks reflect the generally positive treatment they receive in Utah.

However, Amiri said an online news story about Hatch’s remarks prompted some nasty anti-Islamic comments from online users, revealing that, despite the general public’s sensitivity toward Muslims in Utah, negative undercurrents do exist.

“You could see the other side of people (in the comments),” Amiri said. “It was shocking to read some of those comments.”

For now, Muslim students at the U say they get the impression that these negative sentiments are largely confined to the online sphere where users can post under total anonymity.

Arslan Majid, a junior in electrical engineering who grew up in Murray, said neither he nor his friends had encountered negativity toward them or their faith.

Amiri said having healthy dialogue with other religious organizations on campus and doing volunteer work play a role in the good experience that he and fellow Muslims have had at the U.

“It’s always been a positive relationship,” he said.

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Thein Sok/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Muslim students pray during their weekly prayer gathering in the Union. The meeting is held every Friday,