OREM — What began as a show of support became a learning opportunity Friday at Al Sahaba Mosque, as worshippers greeted well-wishers with an invitation to join their prayer service and receive free copies of the Quran.
"Go and read my scripture. Don't listen to Fox News. Don't listen to CNN," said Imam Tala'at Al-Shuqairat, president of the mosque. "Read it and try to be fair."
Too often, misunderstandings about Islam lead to violence, as they did Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand, he said. At least 49 Muslims are dead after shooters entered two mosques and opened fire.
"Pray for those families and for those victims," Imam Al-Shuqairat said then showed the non-Muslims in the room how to do it the Muslim way.
The silver lining of tragedy is that it breaks down barriers, said Charles Turner, president of University of Utah's Muslim Students Association. The mosque attacks caused mixed emotions for Utah Muslims: fear and anxiety about future attacks and gratitude for non-Muslim neighbors.
"These things have an element of encouragement to them," he said, noting that he received two messages of support from the University of Utah's Jewish community first thing Friday morning.
Tanner Ainge, who serves as vice chairman of the Utah County Commission, was one of many non-Muslim Utahns who sprang into action after learning about the New Zealand attacks. He tweeted asking people to join him at Al Sahaba Mosque Friday afternoon to surround Muslims there "with love and solidarity."
Around 50 people heeded the call, bringing flowers and posters with messages like, "We love our Muslim neighbors."
"I thought it was important that I actively got out and physically showed my support," said Bailey Roberts, who was carrying her toddler son, Dean, and a red carnation.
Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox was in the crowd. Near the end of the prayer service, he offered his condolences and shared why Utahns, in particular, should be outraged by attacks on houses of worship.
The state was founded by people facing religious persecution, he said, noting that his own ancestors moved here after their home was burned down.
"We must provide a safe space for everyone," Cox said.
Part of providing a safe space is defending Islam against claims that it encourages violence, as Imam Al-Shuqairat noted. When you spend time with members of the Muslim community, you realize how similar their values are to your own, said Josie Stone, chairwoman of Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.
"There's nothing secretive about their faith or how they practice it. They want to share it," she said.
The "white supremacist ideology" that leads to mosque shootings is disgusting, said Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert in a statement released Friday.
"I was heartbroken to hear of the hateful and vile attack on innocent worshippers in New Zealand," he said. "During this time of pain and mourning, I hope all Utahns will reach out in love to our Muslim neighbors. Let's extend a comforting hand to those who may feel vulnerable and afraid."
The Pacific Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also offered their condolences and support to "our Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the world."
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of so many lives," they said. "Our prayers are with the families of the deceased, the injured and all others impacted by this tragedy."
Friday's attacks were "beyond belief," wrote Utah Rep. Ben McAdams on his Facebook page.
"Islamaphobia and hate of any kind have no place in our human family," he said.
Attacks like Friday's aren't soon forgotten, said Luna Banuri, a member of the Utah Muslim Civic League. Already, many Muslims enter their houses of worship feeling like something bad could happen at any time.
"When we go to our mosques on Fridays, it's as if we are subconsciously trained, even as we put our heads down (in prayer), to be ready to run away if something happens," she said.20 comments on this story
Despite this anxiety, Muslims must not give up hope for a peaceful world, said Imam Al-Shuqairat during Friday's gathering. He encouraged those present to pray for the victims of violence as well as the perpetrators.
"Don't let hatred build in your heart," he said.
That becomes easier when you're surrounded by the love and support of your community, said Shurouq Alkhatib, the imam's wife.
"We love being here with you and sharing with you our sadness," she said to those gathered in her mosque's gravel driveway.