SANDY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Utah Muslims felt the shock of the horrific attack on a New Zealand mosque Friday; midday prayers took on a more somber tone at Utah Islamic Center.
Imam Shuaib Din warned congregants to be vigilant amid fears of rising anti-Muslim sentiment.
“If you see someone who is acting suspicious in the parking lot you should let us know,” he told the men and boys praying Friday.
“Generally, we feel pretty safe,” he told ABC4 News. “But the number of crazies in the world seems to be on the rise.”
In 2017, the FBI recorded 15 religion-related hate crime incidents in Utah. The Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Criminal Identification reported 35 hate crime victims in 2017, two of which experienced Islamophobic vandalism and simple assault. The difference in those numbers could highlight the issues the state faces when it comes to reporting hate crimes.
The attack in New Zealand came just days after the Utah Legislature approved a bill that would allow judges to stiffen penalties for hate crime perpetrators. DPS’ 2017 report showed six anti-Hispanic and anti-black crimes, but the Bureau of Criminal Identification does not keep data related to crimes against those of Arab descent, many of whom practice Islam. The FBI’s stats are not broken down by offender bias against specific races, ethnicities or religions.
The Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake estimated there were between 15-20,000 Muslims in the state of Utah.
The Utah Islamic Center released this statement following Friday’s attack:
“To God we belong, and to Him is our return.” We mourn the heartbreaking killings of men, women and children gathered for prayer in their houses of worship and urge leaders in our nation and worldwide to speak out forcefully against the growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate that appears to have motivated these white supremacist terrorists. In the wake of this tragedy, we urge mosques, Islamic schools and other community institutions in the United States and around the world to take stepped-up security precautions, particularly during times of communal prayer.”
“We’ve been pretty fortunate – knock on wood – Utah is the only state in the United States where a mosque has not been vandalized,” said Din.
While Dept. of Public Safety officials compile data from all law enforcement agencies on hate crimes, Sgt. Nick Street said not all reporting systems in the state may be sophisticated enough to categorize a crime as a hate crime, which is why numbers of reported hate crimes may not always be accurate.
The new Utah Islamic Center, which is set to be completed in 2020, will feature code-key access entrances to keep out intruders, Din said Friday. Meanwhile, devout Muslims in Utah said they were praying all would remain peacemakers.
“Quran says to forgive,” said Din. “When a church burns a Muslim should cry…and when a mosque is burned a Christian should cry.”