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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mohamed Elsayed (left) participates in prayers at Curry Fried Chicken, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. ElSayed is part of a group of Muslims contributing to a fund for Palestinians.
Outsiders in their own faith, some Utah Muslims turn to one another

“Going to the mosque is kind of like going to the school cafeteria and not being one of the cool kids,” says one believer.

First Published Jul 28 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Jul 28 2014 01:23 pm

They regularly declare their faith in Allah as God and Muhammad as his prophet. They pray five times a day. They give to the poor. They travel at least once in their lives to Mecca.

And, like more than a billion Muslims worldwide, they have been fasting from sunup to sundown for a monthlong religious obligation known as Ramadan.

At a glance

Five pillars of Islam

Acknowledge that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad was his prophet.

Pray five times a day, with prescribed prayers at prescribed hours.

Observe the holy month of Ramadan.

Give alms to the poor.

Make a pilgrimage to Mecca during the hajj at least once in a lifetime.

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But these Utah believers — as converts, women, Americans or gays — sometimes feel like outsiders in their own faith.

"We pray alone, fast alone and worship alone," says Chiloh Harville. "Going to the mosque is kind of like going to the school cafeteria and not being one of the cool kids. People tend to separate along cultural or ethnic lines — and leave us out."

She chose the faith, says Harville, an American convert, not the culture of Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Bosnia or any other Arab, African or Asian nation.

"The five pillars of Islam are what make you Muslim," she says. "Everything else is window dressing."

So now Harville and others have formed an open and inclusive Muslim group to provide social support to one another — and they are looking for a place to hold regular meetings.

At first, they considered joining a national organization, Muslims for Progressive Values, but that group was "too out there," says Angela ElSayed, also a convert but married to a lifelong Muslim, Mohamed ElSayed. "We wanted to stay closer to Islam."

Then they weighed starting their own mosque, but found such an undertaking too arduous. So they settled on a social connection and a lively Facebook page under the temporary name "Al-Farah Muslims," with nearly 100 participants.

Their purpose, they wrote on their page, is to be open to "all individuals that identify themselves as Muslims regardless of gender, lifestyle, economic or educational background, sexual orientation, race, nationality or affiliation with any sector subgroup of Islam," and "to conduct activities in a way that is in keeping with Islamic principles of mercy, justice, charity and intellectual achievement."

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Angela ElSayed wears her hijab, or head covering, only during worship at the mosque, rather than all the time, which has opened her up to criticism from more religiously observant women. And she doesn’t like men and women being separated by a wall or in a different spaces during prayers.

"In the Prophet Mohammad’s time, women prayed behind the men," she says, "not behind a barrier."

Until three months ago, Shareen Kayyali, a Palestinian Muslim, hadn’t been to a mosque since she moved to Utah in 2007.

"I feel judged at a regular mosque, because I don’t wear hijab," says Kayyali, who studies international relations at the University of Utah. "But I don’t feel any less religious without it [head covering]."

That’s why Kayyali has embraced this new group.

"There should be a space for anyone who wants to come and worship with us," she says. "What we do should be between us and God. Islam is about what is in your heart, not what you are wearing."

Christine Hadlocke believed she had lost her identity when she married a Kurdish man.

"I agree with the need for modesty, but he wouldn’t even let our four daughters go swimming, not even in our backyard," Hadlocke says. "He insisted that I come home before dark and all our friends were his friends. I was not allowed any of my own. I was under his thumb."

Shortly after the two wed, her husband’s mother moved in and took over, picking furniture for the house and deciding everything that went on.

"His mother did everything for him," Hadlocke says. "He said it was the Kurdish way."

She divorced her husband three years ago, but continues to follow Islam and rear her daughters in the faith.

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