FAITH

First-ever Muslim youth conference held at University of Utah

Mar 30, 2022, 8:30 AM | Updated: Apr 29, 2022, 11:20 am
Muslim youth conference...
Muslim youth and young adults gather at the Union Ballroom at the University of Utah during the first-ever Muslim Youth Conference. Photo Credit: Jacob Rueda

SALT LAKE CITY — The Emerald Project, a non-profit aimed at combatting the misrepresentation of Islam, held its first-ever Muslim youth conference this week. It was held in the Union Ballroom on the campus of the University of Utah.

The conference is intended to help post 9/11 youth acknowledge their identity said Executive Director Satin Tashnizi.

“They grew up seeing their identity demonized on television,” she said. “And they go back into their communities, their Muslim communities, which is limited here.”

Negative public perceptions can also lead Muslim youth to shut themselves out of their heritage and their faith, according to Tashnizi.

Muslim Youth Conference

The conference was supposed to take place last year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the conference was held in the Union Ballroom at the U. It featured workshops and discussion, lunch, and keynote speaker Ahmad Kareh, a communication professor at BYU and Salt Lake Community College. He is also the owner of Twistlab Marketing

Kareh said he believes prejudice and discrimination is still a problem for Muslims in Utah.

“I don’t know that we’re seeing success in that,” he said. “I feel like we’re the new target in many ways.” 

The corporate world has not been kind to Kareh, who criticized the effectiveness inclusivity training.

“I don’t see any true, actionable impact as a result,” he said. “I personally have reported things to HR that inclusivity training would say are fireable offenses and nothing happened at large organizations here in Utah.”

In the end, he said it’s not about what a company can do for someone, but what they can do for themselves.

The Emerald Project itself was started five years ago as a reaction to former President Trump’s Muslim travel ban, according to Tashnizi.

“We held [events] so that people in the community, and Muslims particularly, would feel safe to ask questions that they otherwise wouldn’t,” she said.

Those who attended

Students in junior high all the way up to university students attended the conference. Sarah Kamran, a health anthropology student at the University of Utah, said she got a lot out of the conference.

“I think they’ve been really giving us the keys to success on how to engage with more Muslim youth and how to make a difference in our community and make sure that our voices are heard,” she said. 

Emerald Project ambassador Nour Bilal said growing up Muslim was different for her as opposed to some of the students who attended the conference.

“I felt very lonely in the beginning where I couldn’t share my language, I couldn’t share my culture,” she said. “I couldn’t even share the way we do things like how we celebrate holidays or how we even dress up when we’re going to events.”

Bilal grew up in Syria, which she believes set her apart from other young Muslims in Utah.

Tashnizi said people from outside of the United States heard about the conference and were willing to travel to Utah to attend. She said she had to turn them away because the conference was meant for locals only. 

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First-ever Muslim youth conference held at University of Utah