Muslim BYU student feels at home in a mostly Christian university

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A small group of Muslim BYU students gathers in a conference room on the third floor of the Wilkinson Student Center each Friday afternoon.

A Muslim leader called an imam leads the group of students in prayer on the sacred day Al-Jumah.

Omar Boudiaf is one of these faithful Muslims. Boudiaf said he feels at home at BYU despite practicing a different religion than the majority of students.

According to BYU Media Relations Manager Todd Hollingshead, there are about 45 Muslim students enrolled at BYU this year. More than 98% of students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there are students of more than 30 faiths at the university.

Boudiaf said Islam and the Church have much in common. “Honestly, I feel like religion, in most cases, gives more values and morals,” he said. “I feel like at BYU, even though people have different beliefs, our values are very similar. I don’t feel rejected. I don’t feel like an outsider.”

Currently a senior studying finance, Boudiaf came to BYU after spending two years studying at Mt. San Jacinto College in California. Someday he hopes to start an investment firm in his home country of Algeria.

Omar Boudiaf is a senior studying finance at BYU. He came from his home in Algeria to California before deciding to come to BYU. (Sydnee Gonzalez)

Although Boudiaf initially chose BYU because of its value for money, he now feels more at home here than he did in California. It’s very easy to make friends, he said.

“I feel like everyone here at BYU is very welcoming and trying to learn more about me,” Boudiaf said. “People are very friendly.”

He said members of the Church have values like honesty, trust and love in common with Islam, and both religions share a belief in God, which is the most important thing.

“By believing in God, we love God and we fear God, so we don’t do bad stuff to people or to ourselves,” Boudiaf said. “We don’t hurt ourselves by doing unhealthy things like alcohol, drugs or being in relationships that lead to dangerous things.”

Adam Wride, business management and pre-med major from Highland, Utah, went to a Friday prayer meeting with Boudiaf. Wride is a member of the Church and met Boudiaf when they sat next to each other in a finance class at BYU. Wride said he and Boudiaf have often discussed the similarities between their religions.

“I wanted to go to his prayer service on Friday and he wanted to come to church with me on Sunday,” Wride said. “We had a lot of fun times just talking about our different religions and having really open conversations about the similarities between our morals and our standards.”

Boudiaf can’t go home to Algeria very often due to long traveling hours, so he went to Wride’s family Thanksgiving dinner in 2019. Wride explained how Boudiaf was willing to talk to everyone at dinner and answer questions that could have been awkward for him. Wride said he was impressed with how at ease his friend seemed around so many new people.

“He’s an amazing guy,” Wride said of Boudiaf. “I admire him.”

Muslim BYU student Omar Boudiaf says he feels at home at the university despite practicing a different religion than the majority of students. (Sydnee Gonzalez)

BYU freshman Salma Shakhshir became friends with Boudiaf at the Friday prayers and described him as an “older brother” to her. Like Boudiaf, Shakhshir said she chose BYU because of the religious values students uphold. She is a practicing Muslim, yet found the environment at BYU similar to that of her home country Palestine.

“When I was applying to college in the United States, my parents really weren’t OK with other colleges,” Shakhshir said. “When they saw BYU cares so much about values and standards, they liked it. They liked the idea of sending me to BYU. If it was another college, I don’t think they would have approved.”

Shakhshir agreed that members of the Church at BYU are very accepting of Islam, despite not knowing many details about the religion. She said the beautiful thing about members of the Church is they do not hate others because they have been hated before.

Shakhshir’s Christian friends have come to Muslim prayers on campus, and she has gone to their church meetings. Though she said she always felt respected by members of other religions on campus, she also said it was important for her to reach out and find a group of people who shared her religion.

“I like to have a good relationship with my religion,” Shakhshir said. “But if I didn’t find a place for it with other Muslims, it wouldn’t have been the same. I would have still had a relationship with my religion, but since there are other people who are in the same boat with me, I feel like we can relate to each other.”

Both Boudiaf and Shakhshir said their BYU experiences have been very positive. They have made friends both within the Muslim community and outside it.

When asked what BYU students could do better to be accepting of other religions, Boudiaf said all the people he has met at the university have been respectful, helpful and kind.

“The only thing I would say is thank you,” he said.

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