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Utah County mosque helps bring community together

Muslims are grateful for nearby place to worship

Bashar Sader, left, Zak Gular and Usama Baioumy pray in Orem mosque.
Bashar Sader, left, Zak Gular and Usama Baioumy pray in Orem mosque.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

OREM — Utah County isn't exactly lacking in church buildings — chapels frequented by members of the LDS Church can be found on practically every corner.

Until recently, however, Lindon resident Usama Baioumy had to travel to a Salt Lake mosque to practice his faith, Islam.

Baioumy talked about the lack of a mosque when he was interviewed for a newspaper story about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and a man came forward to offer him a space to rent.

Thus was born the first and only mosque in Utah County.

For four weeks in October and November, Baioumy and other Utah County Muslims gathered in the mosque at 1105 S. Orem Blvd. to offer prayer during Ramadan, the monthlong religious holiday observed by millions of Muslims around the world.

The mosque may be a simple room, but it is a gathering place for some 50 Muslims who live in 360,000-resident Utah County. Nearly all of them are students at Brigham Young University or Utah Valley State College.

Baioumy is a rarity — he's a permanent Utah County resident and a practicing Muslim. A few other nonstudent Muslims live in the county temporarily, working here as physicians.

Baioumy sees it as his responsibility to help meet the spiritual needs of the small community.

"I am almost the only (permanent Muslim resident) here, so I take the responsibility to maintain the mosque for the community," he said.

Bashar Sader, a Palestinian and one of the Muslim students who attend BYU, said he's grateful to have a more convenient place to worship.

"Before we had the mosque in Orem, it was very difficult to go on a daily basis, or even a weekly basis," he said. "But now, I go to mosque almost on a daily basis, and our Friday prayers we hold at BYU, in a room that the school provides. Even those who don't go to the mosque on a daily basis, it's just nice to have the feeling that you have a place to go to when you feel like you need a spiritual feast."

Baioumy tries to make Muslim students feel more at home during Ramadan.

"We try to invite the students as much as we can, because they are lonely without their families," he said. "Ramadan in Egypt, everything changes around you. When you walk out in the street, none of the restaurants are open in the morning. Here, we try to do it with our friends, on the weekends, and do a potluck kind of thing."

Sader said he gets a lot of questions from non-Muslim students while he is observing Ramadan.

"They want to learn why I'm fasting, how long I fast, what kind of food I eat when I break the fast — they want to learn more about my culture and my tradition," he said.

Muslims pray five times a day: before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and at night. On Fridays, Muslims try to gather together to pray. For Utah County Muslims, that prayer is held in a room at BYU's Wilkinson Center so the students can attend easily, though Muslims gather at the mosque for prayer on other days, as well.

"It is recommended to gather every day, but on Fridays it's obligatory," Baioumy said. "In our small mosque in Orem, we try to do the last prayer and the early morning prayer, because this is a time we can gather. During the day, it's hard."

When Baioumy cannot get to the mosque, he prays in his office.

Baioumy, who moved to Lindon from Egypt 11 years ago to work for Novell, said he was worried when he first came to the United States.

"I was worried, because the culture is completely different, the way of thinking," he said. "When I came here to Utah I was surprised: this is not the U.S. I know. The impression I got about the U.S. was from the movies. But when you live with the people, it's different."

Baioumy said he likes the LDS culture in Utah County because it's closer to Islamic culture than other parts of the United States. Baioumy said he has strong relationships with his mostly LDS neighbors.

"I love all of my neighbors here, and I have a very good relationship with every one of them," he said. "We always have activities together, even the LDS Church activities, the ward activities, I am part of it, because we are neighbors. Even if we are different religions, it doesn't matter because we are neighbors together."

Baioumy said while Islam and the LDS Church are very different, they have many similarities, including discouraging the use of tobacco and alcohol and dressing modestly.

"There is a huge difference, but we like to focus on the similarity more," he said.