REXBURG, Idaho (AP) — Like many students at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Schada Alkamari felt spiritually drawn to the religious university.
But the Moroccan citizen didn’t enroll to immerse herself in the Mormon faith. She came to BYU-Idaho, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to reaffirm her own religious beliefs.
Alkamari is a devout Muslim, the only one enrolled at the university.
“I feel like I’m testing my own religion by getting to know the LDS religion,” Alkamari said.
Keeping her faith is important to the 21-year-old. There are no mosques in eastern Idaho, but Alkamari maintains her faith by studying the Quran, fasting during Ramadan and kneeling facedown to pray toward Mecca several times each day.
Alkamari also explores her spirituality through Mormon doctrine. She attends LDS church meetings, takes BYU-Idaho religion classes and has read the Book of Mormon twice.
She disagrees with the central premises of Mormonism, namely the belief that Jesus Christ is a deity. Islamic beliefs teach Christ was an ancient prophet.
“The foundation of the (Mormon) religion just doesn’t convince me,” Alkamari said. “It actually convinces me more to stay with Islam, because I can look at Islam more objectively knowing the LDS faith.”
Still, she finds many parallels between the two religions such as fasting, tithing, chastity, modesty and an emphasis on family.
“I feel so comfortable with Mormons because their principles and values really match my own,” she said.
Alkamari’s opinion of Mormonism is not abnormal among Muslims, said David Peck, a doctor of Middle Eastern studies at BYU-Idaho.
“Many Islamic parents want their children to get a solid, high-quality education at an American university, but in an environment that reinforces values and is respectful and safe,” Peck said. “Church universities are attractive because they emphasize ... going to church and being engaged daily in religion.”
Alkamari’s relationship with Mormons began as a high school exchange student in Virginia.
“(My host family) told me they were LDS and I was very curious, that was why I had come to the United States in the first place,” Alkamari said. “So I got a skirt, I went to church and I loved it.”
She discovered church-owned universities and felt drawn to attend.
But her experience at BYU-Idaho hasn’t been without trials. She said she has endured some religious discrimination and ridicule by students.
“I got some hurtful comments, like ‘you guys bombed the World Trade Centers’ or ‘you guys all look like each other,”’ Alkamari said. “It is hard because when you are (the) odd (person) in a huge society — a negative comment can make you feel like one against everybody.”
Alkamari didn’t feel the incidents warranted reporting to the university, although discrimination of any kind is expressly forbidden by the BYU-Idaho Honor Code.
Dating also is challenging because Mormon doctrine discourages marrying outside the faith. Alkamari feels many Mormon men lose interest once they learn she is Muslim.
Alkamari takes most hardships in stride, fellow student Kristian Workinger said.
“Schada has a great deal of respect for Mormons ... and she is so understanding even when she gets negative feedback,” Workinger said. “She has a good sense of humor and is able to laugh through her trials with a smile on her face.”
Alkamari plans to finish her degree in international studies at BYU-Idaho and eventually work for the United Nations. She plans to continue living in North America.
“I think this experience will allow me to be a better person no matter what I decide to do,” Alkamari said. “Being here is the right path for me.”