Muslims attending BYU focus on similarities between Islam, LDS tenets

Published: Monday, Dec. 21 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Sameer Ahmad is a Muslim from Pakistan who is attending classes at BYU and adjusting to living in Provo.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

PROVO — He's been to LDS general conference and sacrament meeting, given a family home evening lesson and shared his beliefs during fast and testimony meeting.

But the one thing that still puzzles Talha Siddiqui, 19, a Muslim from Islamabad, Pakistan, is why Latter-day Saint students at Brigham Young University are so anxious to get married.

"It's kind of funny how to an outsider … everyone is talking about getting married," he said. "How can you all think about the same thing? That kind of felt a little weird for me. Other than that, things have been great."

Siddiqui is one of 10 Pakistani students studying at BYU, where he says he's been warmly welcomed.

"If I tell (someone) I'm not a Mormon, I'm Muslim from Pakistan, they generally have some questions to ask," he said. "Initially, they're surprised to hear that I've come totally from the other side of the world. But I don't think anyone has been mean to me."

Both Siddiqui and Sameer Ahmad, 20, who is originally from Lahore, Pakistan, came to BYU on the advice of friends and family members who had attended or visited.

They were impressed with the Marriott School of Management, the low tuition and the high moral standards.

But the unique Provo/Mormon culture has been a bit of an adjustment, even though Ahmad grew up in New York City.

"Back in New York City if you say 'hi' to someone, they assume you're selling them drugs," Ahmad said. "Over here, every other person (says hi). You have to get used to that. It's unusual in a nice way."

When Ahmad learned Siddiqui was coming to BYU, he contacted him, figuring "he might need some help."

"Two years ago I was in the same shoes," Ahmad said. "Utah is a really different place."

But since being here, they both said they're impressed with the similarities between the two cultures and religions.

As Muslims, Siddiqui and Ahmad shun alcohol, illicit drugs and pre-marital sex — the same values promoted in the BYU Honor Code.

The men also pray several times a day, focus on the family and stress the importance of religious study and repentance.

"Whenever I'm talking about the religions, I try to bring up similarities," Siddiqui said. "I think that's a good way of talking about religion."

And both men are happy to share their beliefs.

This semester, Siddiqui taught his friends and roommates about Islam during family home evening.

Last November, Ahmad won the BYU Religious Education Student Symposium with a paper he'd written during his Book of Mormon class comparing Mormonism and Islam.

"We emphasize the same teachings, the same set of beliefs, even though the way of participating (is different)," Ahmad said. "We're essentially asking for the same thing, asking God for guidance and for repentance. As long as we keep respecting those (common values) … it builds mutual trust and is helpful in the long run."

Andrew Moulton, 19, Siddiqui's friend and roommate from Oregon, said this semester has been enlightening for him.

"I didn't know that our cultures were so similar," Moulton said. "As Americans we are taught to believe that Islam is a violent culture and stuff like that, but it's not. I think that was my initial surprise, (to learn) what wonderful people Muslims are."

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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