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Muslims feeling welcome in Utah

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Imam Shuaib-Ud Din stands in the prayer hall of the Khadeeja Mosque in West Valley City before it opened in 2002. The mosque is the largest in the Western states.

Imam Shuaib-Ud Din stands in the prayer hall of the Khadeeja Mosque in West Valley City before it opened in 2002. The mosque is the largest in the Western states.

Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News

Nadeem Ahmed used to be more in the minority.

As an immigrant from Pakistan and follower of the Islamic faith, he was outside what most would consider mainstream in Utah.

However, the Islamic population in Utah has been steadily growing over the past few years, increasing by about 40 percent. This is partially because of the migration of Somalians and Bosnians, but the demographic also includes Arabs and Pakistanis, said Ahmed, the newly elected president of the Greater Islamic Society of Salt Lake City.

The following boasts 25,000 members statewide, as well as three mosques. The Khadeeja Mosque, located in West Valley City, is not only the largest in Utah but also in the Western states.

Ahmed has felt that the religion has been well-received thus far.

"Overall, we don't have any complaints about anybody," he said. "We feel very blessed. We also feel a special thanks to the LDS Church. We have a very good relationship with them." Ahmed also said Muslims haven't felt tension with other Christian churches in the community.

Last summer, when Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun from West Jordan, a practicing Muslim, was thought to be captured in Iraq, an outpouring of care and concern was poured out upon his family — and light was placed upon the Muslim community.

The increased awareness of the community may help Ahmed fulfill his vision of integrating the faith more into Utah.

"We would like to be integrated into the fabric of Utah. We are already involved in interfaith activities," he said.

Last week Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and first lady Mary Kaye Huntsman visited the Khadeeja Mosque in West Valley City in the governor's efforts to build understanding among different faiths. Huntsman was the keynote speaker for the mosque's annual Sunday School graduation. Around 500-600 people attended the event, Ahmed said.

"We have very close contact with the mayors, the governor and all agencies in the government. It's good to have a good, open relationship, so they can know how to meet our needs better," he said.

This was the governor's first visit to the mosque. Imam Shuaib-Ud Din, spiritual leader of the Muslim community, feels his visit reflects positively on the Muslim community in Utah. He hopes it may also help the Muslims relate better to other religious communities and vice versa.

"We are trying to show ourselves in the community as part and parcel of the Salt Lake community," Imam Din said. He expressed concern over the mosque's location. "We don't want to be isolated. We want people to know what we're doing, even though we're tucked away in one corner of West Valley City."

Interfaith relations have been continually increasing since Sept. 11, Imam Din said. The different denominations are heading toward greater cooperation with other religions to the extent that religious tolerance doesn't cut it anymore.

"People look down on religious tolerance," he said. "It's not enough. There's been a distinction made between tolerance and appreciation, so you don't see tolerance anymore — you see appreciation.

"Not all people are involved and not all support greater interfaith relations, but if the people who do keep on striving, hopefully others will join aboard," Imam Din said.

E-mail: twalquist@desnews.com