Family values help drive Utah's diversity of faith

Published: Thursday, June 12 2014 6:35 p.m. MDT

Imam Muhammad Shoayb Mehtar works Tuesday, June 10, 2014 with a group of children in studying the Quran, at the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Non-Christian faiths are beginning to make footholds in counties throughout Utah and the United States.

Buddhism is the second-largest faith in the state behind Christianity, and in Weber and Box Elder Counties, each with 1,250 adherents, as well as in Davis County, with 1,467 combined adherents between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions.

Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism are the second-largest religious traditions behind Christianity in eight of Utah's 29 counties.

The statistics and maps are drawn from the 2010 Religion Census sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, which shows majority religions in the nation covering impressive swaths of the country.

The regional majorities include adherents to the Southern Baptist Convention, Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The study also indicates the next-largest tradition by county, with results that are surprising to some leaders in Utah.

Many in Utah are drawn to the Buddhist faith because of the unconditional compassion it communicates, according to Rev. Jerry Hirano, who is over Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temples in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Honeyville.

He credits the presence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for providing an environment of spirituality that causes people to think about their beliefs.

"It's created this type of atmosphere where people are aware of their personal beliefs," Hirano said.

Islam is second to Christianity in Salt Lake County with 4,540 adherents estimated in about six congregations. The leader of one mosque said he is not concerned with growth in membership, but rather focuses on the condition of each member's heart.

"People like me, we never look at the numbers game. We look at the quality of individuals that are part of a … faith," said Imam Muhammed Shoayb Mehtar, of the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley.

A welcoming attitude, strong family values and the curiosity of residents are some of the traits that are appealing to those of other faiths in Utah.

Family values

Islam was the second-fastest growing religion in the United States between 2000 and 2010 according to the Religious Congregations and Membership Survey, adding one million members to its ranks. Membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew by two million people in the same decade.

The association's survey was conducted by asking participating religions to provide the number of congregations, attendees and adherents, along with their methods of collecting data. The association reached out to churches used in prior studies, looked for missing churches in the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches and solicited input from experts in American religions and the study's advisory board.

Utah's "very accommodating refugee program" brings Muslims to Utah, Mehtar said, in addition to the state's universities and family friendly environment. Other attributes of the state and its residents are what help them want to stay.

Muslims, whose teachings advocate abstinence from alcohol and modest dress, appreciate that Utah is a place where they feel supported in living their religion, according to Iqbal Hossain, chairman of the board of directors at the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake.

Schools and universities in the area often send their students to the mosque. The students are positive, curious and politically correct in how they pose their questions, Imam Mehtar said.

Curiosity of locals

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