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Students of different religions drawn to BYU

Photos by Jamison Metzger, Adam Grimshaw and J.J. Despain.

 Each week in a quiet room of the Wilkinson Student Center, a group of students gather to teach one another and pray. The students are not attending sacrament meeting and they differ from most BYU students because they are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are Muslim.

Students of other faiths have various reasons for coming to BYU, but all agree their experience is something they would never trade.

“Before I came here, I [understood] they have a prayer room,” said Marjan Javadi, a Muslim and Ph.D. student from Tehran, Iran, studying chemical engineering.

“We should pray two times a day and for sure one in the middle of the day around noon. I was thinking if there is no place in the school, how should I pray?”

Javadi said BYU shows great respect for other religions by accommodating their beliefs. She and other Muslim students have the opportunity to pray whenever needed in a Wilkinson Center room set apart for that very purpose. The room is also used by Muslim students and faculty to hold a weekly Friday noon prayer meeting.


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“BYU is a whole different set of ideas; a whole different culture,” said Omer Malik, a Muslim student from Lahore, Pakistan, studying business management.

“I think it is very important for a person to be a part of this culture because it is so independent in ways and so religiously tolerant.”

Malik has been at BYU since his freshman year and thinks religion classes like Introduction to the LDS Church have been important in helping him understand the culture.

According to, 1.5 percent of daytime enrolled students at BYU are not Latter-day Saints. More than 25 religions are represented in this unique population. Many students of other faiths come to BYU because of the standards set by the Honor Code, but others come because of the influence of their LDS friends.

“Everyone I have come in contact with at the university has treated me just like a regular person,” said Maggie Stephenson, a Catholic student from Pickering, Ohio, majoring in special education.

Stephenson transferred to BYU from a small college in Ohio. Her decision to come to Provo was largely based on the welcoming atmosphere she felt when visiting a friend. Even with the friendly people, she said the culture takes time to get used to.

“The social scene is a little overwhelming,” she said. “I think that could be true to say for even members out here.”

Stephenson is a member of the women’s softball team and thinks her experience has been dramatically different from previous teams she had been on.

“Being on BYU’s team has provided me with the collegiate experience I have been looking for,” she said. “It’s full of [upstanding] coaches, teammates that want to play for each other and not just themselves and more importantly, what the university and what the team stand for. ”

Even though Stephenson is not a member of the church, she felt welcomed by members and the bishopric of the ward she lives in.

“Having Mormon friends and being in a community where everyone is Mormon, people talk about this stuff,” said Reem Naouri, a junior from Amman, Jordan, majoring in human resources. “When you’re here, you have to know it.”

Naouri’s mother attends the Orthodox Church and her father the Catholic Church. Because of this, she considers herself a member of both religions. 

“People are very helpful here and very nice,” she said. “That’s one of the top [things] at BYU; everyone is nice and no one is mean.”

Some students, like Sarah Taylor, came to BYU to learn more about the LDS Church.

“I was really fascinated with Mormonism and I’ve always loved learning about other faiths,” said Taylor, an evangelical and a recent philosophy graduate from Dodge Center, Minn. 

Taylor met weekly with other evangelical students for an unofficial Bible study where they would talk about their beliefs. She, like many other non-LDS students, enjoyed the required religion classes because of the knowledge it provided her about her surroundings.