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Utah's religious community comes together in the Tabernacle on Temple Square to celebrate diversity

SALT LAKE CITY — With her hair pulled back under a hijab, an Islamic headdress, Sonya Cherifi sat on a pew in the Tabernacle on Temple Square beside her Mormon parents watching members of many religious groups perform dance and song significant to their faith.

"I want my parents to understand Islam is not all the media puts it out to be," Cherifi said, explaining why she invited her parents to the first interfaith event she's attended. "They feel more at home being on their grounds."

Her German mother, Inga Lang, said she lived through World War II because of misunderstandings and discord between faiths.

"It's wonderful that we could be together," she said. "I wish we could always be like that. It's sad that (people of different faiths) don’t understand each other."

Sunday evening's Tabernacle concert culminated a month of events themed "Many Faiths One Family" that celebrated Utah's religious diversity and promoted unity.

The annual Interfaith Music Tribute originated the Sunday evening before the 2002 Olympics. The Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable designated the evening as a time of prayerful reflection in preparation to welcoming the world to Utah.

Declared as "Interfaith Month" by the governor of Utah, February is intended to keep alive the legacy and spirit of global harmony and understanding inspired by the Olympics.

One of the performing groups, the Jewish Kol Ami creative dance group, performed an interpretive dance of a message shared over 30 times in the Jewish Tora: strangers should be treated with love and kindness because Jews were once strangers.

"And a stranger shalt thou not mock, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt," quoted one of the dancers, before she linked hands with the other performers and spun in a circle.

A variety of events at synagogues, chapels, Hindu temples and other locations preceded Sunday's concert to showcase the traditions, practices and strengths of Utah's religious community.

Hindus shared details of their cultural history and religion; Jews taught people how to make Challah bread and Cholent Stew, Jewish Sabbath foods; the Human Rights Education Center talked about bridging religious divides; the Mormon church gave a tour of a Farmington chapel designed to be environmentally friendly and energy efficient and many other faiths participated.

"Each faith here today has a share of infinity," said Interfaith Chair, Alan Scott Bachman during the closing remarks of Sunday's concert. "We are all here as equals."

E-mail: sgarn@desnews.com