Utah Muslims gather at the state Capitol to encourage civic engagement

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students from Iqra Academy of Utah share a laugh during the Utah Muslim Civic League inaugural Muslim Day on the Hill, Feb. 25, 2020 at the Capitol.

Over 100 members of the Utah Muslim Civic League visited committee meetings at the Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for bills that impact the faith and refugee communities in the first annual Muslim day on the hill.

Executive Director for the League, Luna Banuri, said the main goal was to provide the Muslim community access to the Legislature and to show lawmakers faces of their Muslim constituents.

The event also aimed to teach Muslims in Utah how to exercise their civic rights. Banuri explained that Muslims have the least engagement with their elected officials out of any faith community, with only 17% engagement nationally.

“When we live in communities that are as diverse as Utah is becoming, it is important to have everybody’s perspective heard and understood for the officials to be able to represent their communities,” said Banuri, who has dedicated the last 4-5 years to building a narrative around civic engagement.

She said Utah is leading the way with resources for refugees but there are other issues lawmakers are not thinking of. The group raised awareness for several bills on Tuesdaym including HB160, sponsored by Sen. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. This bill would establish a program to help refugees who no longer qualify for traditional high school and are between the ages of 18-23 earn a diploma. The program would also provide career pathway planning.

The group supported HB176 by Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, which reduces vehicle emissions by encouraging the purchase of cleaner cars in Utah for lower income people. The League also advocated for HB131, a bill to repeal a provision preventing cities, counties and towns to enact rent control measures to meet the needs of individual communities.

Banuri said the event helps to break down stereotypes many Americans have about Muslims.

“About 42% of the country has not had any interaction with Muslims and that drives the negative stereotype. There’s also research to show that … negative Muslim portrayal gets 82% more coverage and is almost equal to subjects like cocaine and cancer.”

Local restaurant owner Mohamed Baayd echoed this sentiment.

“We want people to understand that the word Muslim is not a label that you attend a mosque, that you worship, a word Muslim is just culturally speaking something you grew up with — you learn values.

Tuesday was also Jewish day at the Capitol. Jewish members of the community came to lobby the Legislature to support Sen. Jacob Anderegg’s SB39, a bill that would appropriate $35 million towards affordable housing, and cleared the Senate Tuesday on a narrow 15-11 vote. They also supported Rep. Patrice Arent’s HCR12 promoting Holocaust and genocide education in Utah schools.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Iqra Academy of Utah students Khairdon Mohamed, Aysha Rufaidha, Mohamed Hassoun and Ansharah Khan react to learning the age of the Capitol building during their first tour. Members of the Muslim community, students from Iqra Academy of Utah and members of the Utah Muslim Civic League tour the Capitol during the inaugural Muslim Day on the Hill, Feb. 25, 2020.