Utah Muslims discuss discrimination, acceptance in current political climate

Posted at 10:33 PM, May 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-22 00:33:22-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has spoken about plans to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

FOX 13 News talked to some Utah Muslims to get their take on Trump and what many pundits call Trump's penchant for playing on people's fears.

A call to prayer beckons millions of Muslims to mosques around the world up to five times each day, including a mosque on Fort Union Boulevard in Cottonwood Heights.

Imam Anwar Arafat traveled from Tennessee to deliver a sermon at the mosque, and later a talk at the University of Utah.

"I was born in Utah,” Arafat said.

He said that Muslim Americans are like any other American whose family traveled here at some point. As far as politics go, his advice is "voter beware."

“Don't buy everything that a presidential candidate says, will they lie?  Of course they will, this has been happening throughout, and it's not only an American phenomenon, this is everywhere,” Arafat said.

The Imam says that before 9/11, Muslims were just another part of society. But, since then, they've been on the forefront of American politics. He also said the brutal actions of ISIS have given rise to new fears and questions.

"Unfortunately, Muslims get asked that question all the time: Do you agree with ISIS? Of course I don't agree with ISIS,” Arafat said.

Arafat said the best way to understand Muslims is to have a Muslim friend.

“Only 25 percent of Americans, generally speaking, know or have a Muslim friend, and if they did have that Muslim friend, they were almost unlikely to have any negative things to say about Muslims,” Arafat said.

The Muslim community center holds activities in the level below the mosque. Mazen Hassoun is the director of the board. He said the best way to understand Muslims is to meet one.

"Don't be afraid to approach them, don't be afraid to just go to them and just talk like you do with any other minority that you'd see,” he said.

Hassoun said there are a few things that would make being a Muslim in Utah easier, like giving employees an hour and a half for lunch on Fridays so they can attend the mosque on the Muslim holy day.

But, he said, for the most part, Muslims say Utah is a great place.

“The family values that are carried by the majority, the Mormons, in the state helps a lot because Muslims, for example, we don't drink, we don't smoke,” Massoun said.

Along with providing a place to pray, the Muslim community center is also a place for children to play. It’s also a place to house events like a monthly potluck dinner.

"I brought a Bosnian dessert, it's called rolat, and what I have in there is bananas and strawberries,” said Mirzana Habul, a Utahn originally from Bosnia. “It's a pretty traditional dessert in Bosnia."

Habul fled Bosnia with her family during the war with Serbia. After a stint in a refugee camp, she traveled to Washington state, and then to Utah.

She said she thinks the biggest misunderstanding about Muslims is how women are treated.

"They say that women are oppressed because of the hijab, and they have to cover part of themselves, but if only they knew that women are, they're held like a drop of water on a palm, I mean, they are queens in Islam,” she said.

Doctor Fuad Shihab has lived in Utah for 24 years. He’s the director of the kidney and pancreas transplant programs at the University of Utah.

Shihab said the perception of Muslims has changed, especially since 9/11 and the rise of ISIS.

"It's terrible, because I feel that I am an American,” Shihab said.

Shihab has been involved in some 2,500 kidney and pancreas transplants, saving many lives.

“I've served this community for a number of years, I feel part of this community, and to be, in a sense, singled out as being different, that bothers me,” he said.

But, for the most part, the Muslims who spoke with FOX 13 are happy in Utah.

"I think it's unique, I do, because there are a lot of Mormons here, they understand that, you know, they respect the faith, and they respect the religion,” Habul said.

Shihab also expressed his love for the Beehive State.

"I really love it, I mean, Utah is a great state and the people of Utah are superb,” he said.

“We are here, we are part of this fabric of this nation, this state,” Hassoun adds.