The Religious Freedom Institute gathered Latter-day Saints (LDS) and Muslim youth to work on a project for the common good in their community. This event was the third of a four-part initiative made possible by Islamic Relief USA that seeks to bring together representatives of different faith groups in conversation and common projects. During the event, a leading member from each community collaborated to bring this project to fruition. This article accompanies a previous post that featured reflections on the project from two participants, one from each faith tradition.
Salt Lake City is known for its LDS heritage. What is lesser known is the community of Bosnian Muslims who also call the Beehive State their home. Many in this community, named the Islamic Society of Bosniaks in Utah, which includes the Maryam Mosque, fled their homeland, some as children, due to the genocide in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s. Recognizing each faith community’s historical experience of persecution and search for refuge, RFI and IRUSA partnered with the Islamic Society of Bosniaks in Utah and the LDS Church’s Bishop’s Storehouse in Salt Lake City to create an opportunity for young people of both faiths to come together to serve the common good.
This project became an opportunity for both communities to host one another and contribute to the joint effort. Working with Sheldon Mortensen of the Bishop’s Storehouse, the group of Muslim and Mormon teenagers created disaster kits. Consisting of buckets full of bleach, sponges, dish-soap, and other necessary cleaning supplies, these kits are sent to disaster areas in the United States. They provide critical aid for families trying to rebuild after the devastation of a fire, hurricane, or other natural disaster.
On the day of the project, the teens excitedly got to work, filling the buckets, passing them down the assembly line, and in the midst of that, sparking conversations with one another about faith and daily life. Topics ranged from favorite sports teams to common difficulties in high school. As they passed buckets along, a unique interfaith fellowship opportunity emerged, with the teens discussing common difficulties of living their faith publicly, responding graciously and courageously to opposition, finding a career path that aligns with their calling, and many other topics.
After the service project, the group reconvened at the Maryam Mosque for a dinner coordinated by Jasna Zahirovic, Imam Amir Salihovic, and President Alen Ramovic. Jasna, Imam Amir, and Alen gave a tour and history of this community. The Maryam Mosque is adorned with beautiful and intricate wood-carvings, a testament to the way this community has invested their time and talent into making a home in Salt Lake City. None of the LDS teenagers had been to a mosque before, so this gathering ended up being an opportunity to learn about a different faith and experience gracious hospitality in the process.
At dinner, the conversation turned from the LDS Mission Year Experience to the Bosnian Muslim Community resettlement in Salt Lake City. Members of both communities raised questions and were very open about their personal experiences over a delicious meal. These youth found common ground through their dedication to service, their community, and their faith, in the midst of their deep religious differences.
Both groups expressed a desire to come together again and to get to know one another better. RFI’s partners, Jasna and Sheldon (read their commentary here), discussed the importance of bringing these groups together to engage with young people struggling to live their faith in a world in which people are too often prone to prejudices toward those who are different or not well understood.
This event was successful not only because of the common ground our partners found in expressing their faith in common service, but also because of a common commitment to the place they call home, Salt Lake City. Our hope is that this service project imparts to the young participants a sense that they can make positive, important, and distinctive contributions in society because of their religious faith, not in spite of it. Their places of worship and religious charities provide opportunities to engage thoughtfully and compassionately with their local communities, for the good of those communities. Such religious institutions are needed in our country today more than ever.