Emerald Project looks to build understanding of Islam with more Afghan refugees arriving in Utah

Oct 18, 2021, 6:00 AM
Emerald Project Executive Director Satin Tashnizi speaks at the second annual "Slam Islamophobia" p...
Emerald Project Executive Director Satin Tashnizi speaks at the second annual "Slam Islamophobia" poetry event at the Gateway in Salt Lake City, UT on October 15, 2021 (Nick Wyatt, KSL Newsradio)
(Nick Wyatt, KSL Newsradio)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Emerald Project, a non-profit group, is working with Muslim youth to give them a voice and help build an understanding of Islam in the community. The group held its second annual “Slam Islamaphobia” poetry event at the Gateway Mall on Friday. 

Slam Islamaphobia 

The “Slam Islamaphobia” event featured poetry readings and art performances by local Muslim artists. The goal of the event was to empower Muslim youth in Utah by giving them a venue to talk about their religion, culture, and lifestyle. Muslims and non-muslims alike were welcome to attend the free gathering. 

Emerald Project Executive Director Satin Tashnizi, 26, said their goal is to give an accurate representation of Islam.

“The root of Islamophobia is that people are afraid of what they don’t know,” Tashnizi said. “We want to provide an opportunity for the Salt Lake valley community to get to know their neighbors…their cultures and their backgrounds.” 

The group was originally formed as a reaction to travel restrictions for people from Muslim-majority countries entering the U.S by the Trump administration. Today, the focus is on community and spreading awareness. 

“We have developed into an organization that fights to provide a safe space for young Muslims to come and navigate their identity…and also make it easier for Muslims to practice their religion in the Salt Lake valley,” she said.

Tashnizi said anti-Islam sentiment also comes from misinformation. While the religion is sometimes associated with terrorism or violence, she said that is nowhere to be found in their doctrine. 

Building understanding

With more Afghan refugees making their way to Utah, the Emerald Project sees it as more important than ever to create compassion and empathy within the state. 

Emerald Project Ambassador Nour Bilal has lived in the U.S. for seven years now. She was only 14 when her family moved from Syria to the Beehive State. She said the culture shock was overwhelming. 

“I’ve learned and overcome a lot. Of course, I struggled. Of course, I had a lot of obstacles that I had to face. Meeting great people…has shown me the good side of being here, that I’m not alone,” she said. 

Tashnizi, an Iranian-American, was born in the U.S. But she believes it’s difficult for some young people living in Western countries while still following the tenets of their faith. 

“At school, everyone is doing this that contradicts what I’m supposed to do. School dances, the way that you dress, dating,” she gave as examples. 

Both women agree living in an area where the majority are of a different faith is tough, but they say that won’t deter them. 

What we have in common 

The two members of the Emerald Project organization say getting to know the Muslim community takes courage and vulnerability. To the people who are curious about their neighbors, the women say ‘just ask.’ 

“I think they should just take a step up and actually meet people from the religion or from the culture, and just check it out,” Bilal said. 

Acknowledging that there might be hesitancy, Tasnizi says you don’t need to worry about the possibility of doing something wrong. 

“I think a lot of people feel like they have to tiptoe around people that they don’t understand because they’re afraid they’re going to offend someone or they’re going to say the wrong thing….It’s ok to ask, it’s ok to make a mistake, it’s ok to misunderstand,” Tashnizi said.

Bilal says actually meeting people face-to-face is usually the best ice breaker. Her experience is that people from different cultures and backgrounds often find more in common than they expect. 

“It’s so different and I get to enjoy the body language, the communication. Everything is different and then we can bond really well together,” she said. “Start talking about food. Food and music are the two best things that bring people together.” 

For more information about Islam or the Emerald Project, visit their website

Read more

More Afghan refugees will be in Salt Lake County by week’s end

American Fork company looks to hire Afghan refugees

Refugee service providers request compassion for Afghans coming to Utah

Long, complicated process awaits Afghan refugees in Utah

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Emerald Project looks to build understanding of Islam with more Afghan refugees arriving in Utah