The Pew Research Center has documented a sharp rise in assaults in the U.S. against Muslims in the past year, reaching or surpassing levels measured just after the 9/11 terrorists attacks. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported an increase in acts of anti-Muslim harassment following the Nov. 8 elections, attributed to campaign rhetoric that served to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment and suspicions about minority groups.
These reports are highly disturbing. They point to the prevalence of attitudes of intolerance that have prompted high levels of anxiety among people of minority backgrounds. There are numerous reports of Muslim-Americans shunning traditional forms of dress in order to mask their chosen faith and avoid confrontation. Fortunately in Utah, there have been only a few reports of such activity, and leaders in the Muslim community are pushing forward with pride in ways that offer an encouraging counterpoint to incidents of harassment and intimidation.
In mid-December, a celebration was held to mark the opening of newly renovated Islamic place of worship on Salt Lake City’s west side. The Islamic Society of Bosniaks mosque will serve a community of about 7,000 immigrants from Bosnia who now call Utah home. Similarly, work continues on a landmark new mosque under construction near Trolley Square that will replace the Masjid Al Noor mosque built on the same site in the 1980s — the first mosque built in Utah. Another mosque, the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City also reopened a few years ago after major renovations.
These places of worship grace our community and offer testament to the devotion of our population. The Islamic Society of Utah estimates the Muslim population here numbers about 40,000 people from 130 different countries. In spite of isolated cases of antagonism, they have been warmly welcomed by the community as a whole, and will continue to be. The history of the founding of our state by those seeking refuge from attacks on their faith grants Utah an acute awareness and respect for people of all faiths who find their way here.
Reports of harassment against Muslims in the wake of the election prompted a large group of local attorneys to form the Refugee Justice League of Utah, pledging to defend the civil and religious rights of refugees and immigrants discriminated against because of their faiths or backgrounds. That kind of forceful mobilization of support for people of minority status offers an impressive statement about the values of our community.
The opening of a new place of worship for local Muslims is indeed cause to celebrate. The wellbeing of Utah Muslims, as with people of all faiths, is vital to the overall welfare of a Beehive State that prides itself on community and compassion.