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In our opinion: Support for Salt Lake mosque

FILE: Congressman Jason Chaffetz talks with Islamic community members at the Khadija Mosque in West Valley City Monday, Dec. 14, 2015.
FILE: Congressman Jason Chaffetz talks with Islamic community members at the Khadija Mosque in West Valley City Monday, Dec. 14, 2015.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake has received permission to move ahead with an impressive expansion of a historic mosque near downtown Salt Lake City, a planning decision that is itself impressive because of a notable lack of controversy. In other parts of the country, there are disturbing stories of vandalism targeted at Muslim places of worship, while some communities have even acted deliberately to block construction of new mosques.

We are grateful the malevolent grasp of xenophobia afflicting other places has little presence here. It is heartening evidence that Utah remains a place respectful of diversity and religious freedom, where cultures are encouraged and enabled to assimilate. It is particularly reassuring at a time when anti-Muslim sentiment has led to a sharp increase in hate crimes and in more subtle forms of prejudice and marginalization.

Research by California State University indicates anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased three-fold in the wake of violent attacks linked to Islamic extremism last year in Paris and in San Bernardino, California. Now, in the aftermath of the bombings in Brussels, Islamic leaders are bracing for a wave of new offensives. Aside from criminal acts both petty and felonious, the American Civil Liberties Union has documented efforts by local governments to block permits for construction or expansion of mosques and similar facilities.

In Utah, the Salt Lake City Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a $2 million expansion of Masjid Al Noor — Utah’s first mosque. The building has served Muslims from throughout the valley since the 1980s, but has since become too small to serve a growing congregation. The facelift will endow the building with an architectural prominence that will enhance the surrounding Trolley Square neighborhood, where there is no record of any significant resistance or complaint about the expansion.

In fact, the planning permits were granted in routine fashion, with no hint of the kinds of prejudice that have sadly infected other communities. We see more and more evidence of irrationality linking fears of Islamic extremism to the broad swath of the population that peacefully practices the Muslim faith. Some political candidates have played on those fears by calling for a ban on Muslims, or police patrols of “Muslim neighborhoods.”

In Salt Lake City, a neighborhood that has long accommodated a place of worship for the Muslim faithful has acted to open its doors even wider, validating a tradition of prizing inclusion over intolerance.