Saudi Arabian delegates visit BYU to understand interfaith relations

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Camille Baker
Chaplain Linda Walton from the Utah Valley Interfaith Association welcomes the delegates from Saudi Arabia on Sept. 12, 2017. The delegates attended the the interfaith conference to learn how to build interfaith relationships. (Camille Baker)

The Utah Valley Interfaith Association hosted a group of Saudi Arabian delegates at the Hinckley Center for the first time at this month’s meeting on Sept. 12, according to Interfaith Director and Chaplain Linda Walton.

Working in connection with the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, Walton said the Saudi Arabian delegates wanted to connect with BYU and the interfaith association in an effort to learn how to strengthen interfaith relations.

The Utah Valley Interfaith Association holds monthly meetings where members from 40 different faith groups come together to discuss ways to increase religious awareness and freedoms, as well as encourage more community service.

According to Walton, people from areas such as Saudi Arabia don’t have much experience with positive interfaith relations.

“I think some of them find it hard to believe that we could have 40 different religions in the same room and not have weapons drawn,” Walton said.

The event began with the regular monthly interfaith association meeting topics and then opened for discussion. Many of the delegates from Saudi Arabia were interested in the initiative to encourage more community service at BYU.

BYU Community Relations Manager Julie Hatchett is the event organizer for interfaith activities on campus. At the conference, she shared a short explanation about BYU’s mission that encourages students to give back through service. 

“The BYU motto is ‘Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.’ We have an entire department dedicated to service-learning,” Hatchett said.

The Saudi Arabian delegates were also interested in the Utah Valley Interfaith Association and BYU, since both organizations focus on building interfaith ties, Walton said.

LDS Public Affairs representative Blake Boatright said BYU stands out to the Saudi Arabian delegates because of its reputation.

“BYU is really well-known because they see us as a moral campus. The number-one stone-cold sober school in the United States is of interest to them,” Boatright said.

The interfaith association and BYU have collaborated on many things over the last almost 25 years, according to Walton. The event on Sept. 12 provided the Saudi Arabian delegates an opportunity to ask questions and see how BYU and the community work together to promote community service and positive interfaith relationships.

“They want to do what we are doing, but they don’t have a clue how to do it,” Walton said. “That is why they wanted to get with us and see what we are doing.”

Walton said the goal is to reach not just Utah County, but Salt Lake, the rest of the state, the rest of the nation and even international areas.