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Muslim Festival attracts crowds

Event emphasizes multi-ethnic diversity, mutual tolerance

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Rachel Robinson sat on a folding chair beneath a white canopy with a few dozen others, listening, in the broiling afternoon, to performers at Library Square.

"I think it's great that people can be so open," said Robinson, who recently moved from Alabama to American Fork. At the event, the annual Salt Lake American Muslim Cultural Festival, she added, people could "share their culture with each other."

In the acoustic bowl near that library's glass wall, Maryam Muhammad, who came from Georgia, was singing to the guitar music of her husband, Jose Bonilla.

"Peace on earth, love for all the world to see! As-Salaam-Alaikum," sang Muhammad, wrapping up a number.

The pair, who make up the group Royal Heritage Ensemble, was among more than a dozen performers representing worldwide cultures. They included Chinese, the Bien Flamenco music and dancing troupe, dancers from India, Pakistanis, child violinists taught in the Suzuki method, Bosnian performers and others.

According to organizers, several hundred people were attracted to the event. An e-mail says the festival was intended to emphasize "multi-ethnic diversity, mutual understanding and tolerance."

About 30 canopies were scattered across the square's pavement and on the lawn next to the former library, the location for The Leonardo science and cultural center. A sampling of their causes:

A group called Earthwards Network was presenting something called peace trees.

The Muslim Girl Scouts of Utah, Troop 496, was offering henna tattoos for $3 to $5. The designs are drawn on the skin by expert Sscouts or leaders.

"These last for about two weeks, and then they come off themselves," said a co-leader of the troop, Jawaria Khan, originally from Pakistan, now a resident of Kaysville. The troop of senior girls has nine members, but other Muslim Girl Scouts in Utah, including other age groups, boost the total to 35. People seem to be getting into the temporary tattoos, she said.

Ten Thousand Villages offered handicrafts from third world countries.

Green Party of Utah sported a poster, "Bring Our Sons Home!"

Utah Wilderness Alliance urged "Protect Wild Utah."

Catholic Community Services was promoting "immigrants and refugees resettlement."

"Israeli Water Apartheid" was the theme of the booth by "Utahns for a Just Peace in the Holy Land." It featured posters with photographs of a wall being constructed by Israel.

A block of text read, "Illegal Olive Tree Industry. One result of the construction of the apartheid wall is an illegal olive tree industry, which has sprung up in Israel. When clearing Palestinian olive groves for the wall, the outer branches of the tough olive trees are sawed off, then American Caterpillar equipment scoops up the trees, roots and all. The trees are transported to Israel and sold at high prices. Palestinians are not paid any compensation for tees (or for their loss of land, homes, livelihood, other crops, etc.)."

"Sisters Who Shine," a group dedicated to helping those who need services like housecleaning and those who provide such services.

The Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake.

Bobby Darvish, president of the Muslim Forum of Utah, sat behind stacks of books whose covers were a filigree of gold ink, as a small wooden incense burner wafted sweet smoke into the air. The books' title was, "The Noble Qur'an: English Translation of the Meaning and Commentary."

"It's actually going very well," he said of the festival. As the sun sank, and the day cooled, more people would come, he hoped. Dedicated to improving the image and condition of Muslims in Utah, the forum does projects such as working for civil rights and helping with a soup kitchen for the homeless.

Why are so many cultures present at the festival? "One of the biggest Muslim philosophies is straight from the Quran. . . . " he began, and searched on a computer for a quotation from the religion's holy book. But his computer would not immediately connect, so he paraphrased: "All races being equal."

The tradition involves different peoples learning from each other, Darvish added, like the American ideal of the cultural melting pot.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com