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Ghulam Hasnain doesn't understand why Muslims have such a "lousy and terrible image" across the country.

Long before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he says, it was already a challenge to be Muslim and it has only gotten worse since then. Hasnain, 59, wonders if Christians know Muslims also believe in the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the Bible. If so, he asks, why would there be news reports of people wanting to blow up U.S. mosques or throwing the Quran, Islam's holiest book, in the toilet?

"I'm confused about their attitudes," the Sandy resident says about non-Muslims. "These people are blindly hating my religion."

In hopes of educating people about Islam and the religion's followers, Hasnain is organizing the third annual Salt Lake American Muslim Cultural Festival, which includes a public forum with journalists Saturday and ends with an outdoor event Sunday.

Hasnain, who moved to the United States to attend college almost 40 years ago, says the festival gives him and other Muslims a chance to explain their faith. By getting Muslims and non-Muslims to discuss each other's beliefs, he hopes the event serves as a small step toward world peace, starting with the Wasatch Front.

"We have so many misconceptions of people and religions," says Hasnain, an information systems manager. "We need to fix that so we can have a better Salt Lake City, state and world. . . . I want there to be greater mutual understanding and tolerance."

Not only does he hope the festival connects the Muslim and non-Muslim communities, but organizers say the event also is an opportunity to unite U.S. Muslims. The two denominations of Islam are the Shias and Sunnis, who are the majority worldwide.

When Hasnain moved to Utah in 1996, there wasn't a place where he could worship as a Shia. Within two years, he helped start the Alrasool Islamic Center, 470 E. 3180 South, which includes a masjid, or mosque. About 50 people usually worship there on Thursday evenings, he says.

In Salt Lake County, there are three Muslim places of worship, including the Islamic center, Hasnain says. There are roughly 25,000 Muslims statewide.

About three years ago, Hasnain says he started the American-Muslim cultural organization in an effort to plan a festival and create a newsletter. The group, which includes people from different religions, also organizes community picnics and food drives throughout the year, Hasnain says.

"It's not just about being Muslims, we wanted to emphasize that we are American, too," he says.

For Katherine St. John, a Mormon and event organizer, the festival is a way for her to get involved in a culture she's grown to love.

St. John, an international dance instructor who speaks Persian, teaches a class called "music and dance of the Islamic world" at Brigham Young University. Sometimes, she says, non-Muslims are uncomfortable around Muslims because they don't know much about them.

"This will be helpful because religion plays a big daily role in our lives," she says. "We need to keep learning about each other."


l When: Noon-2 p.m.

l Where: Salt Lake City Main Library downtown, 210 E. 400 South.

l What: Media Public Forum, a discussion with U.S. Muslim and Utah journalists.

l Cost: Free.


l When: 2:30 p.m.

l Where: Salt Lake City Main Library downtown.

l What: Film showing, "The Message."

l Cost: Free.


l When: Noon-9 p.m.

l Where: Salt Lake City Main Library downtown square.

l Cost: Free.

l What: Food booths and performances, including Tibetan Roof of the World Dance, Bien Flamenco and Lost Boys of Sudan.

lFor information about the festival, contact Ghulam Hasnain at 671-6709 or

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