Kudos to David Haldane, a staff writer with the LA Times! In a recent article he celebrated the relationship between Muslims and Mormons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the proper name of the Mormon Church), is open to all people. We love all people, regardless of race, creed, or color. So it is not surprising that such comparisons and interpersonal connections are being made.
The article begins:
“We are very aware of the history of Mormons as a group that was chastised in America,” says Maher Hathout, a senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. “They can be a good model for any group that feels alienated.”
Which perhaps explains an open-mosque day held last fall at the Islamic Center of Irvine. More than half the guests were Mormons.
“A Mormon living in an Islamic society would be very comfortable,” said Steve Young, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attending the event.
The sentiment is echoed by Muslims. “When I go to a Mormon church I feel at ease,” said Haitham Bundakji, former chairman of the Islamic Society of Orange County. “When I heard the president [of LDS] speak a few years ago, if I’d closed my eyes I’d have thought he was an imam.” (U.S. Muslims and Mormons share deepening ties)
Despite being different denominations (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christian) obvious comparisons can be made. The founding prophet Joseph Smith mirrors the first Muslim Mohamed, The Book of Mormon and other scriptures parallel the Koran in certain aspects, and the dietary and modesty standards associated with both religions are a behavioral bond between faiths.
But the relationship is closer. The article points out that The Church of Jesus Christ has donated $20 million to Islamic Relief. This amounts to 20% of the charity’s budget. This is Christianity in action.
BYU is very open to Muslims. Several attend the university—probably due to its stone cold sober reputation. And there are classes in Arabic, and Mid-East History. Also, the religion department has a class in world religions. I took this class as an undergraduate, and we had a segment on the life of Mohamed and the Koran. It was refreshing to study the man and the faith in this environment.
The article also tells about specific outreach activities:
In Southern California, the relationship between the two religions became closer after the Los Angeles riots in 1992, when the Mormon Church, hoping to promote diversity, invited several ethnic and religious groups to attend the opening of its new temple in San Diego. Muslims responded in higher numbers and with greater enthusiasm than most others.
The church later feted prominent Muslims in Salt Lake City.
“We were treated as dignitaries,” said Shabbir Mansuri, founding director of the Muslim-based Institute on Religion and Civic Values in Fountain Valley, which encourages tolerance through research and education. “I met with the president of LDS and the governor of Utah. We were sitting in the front row of the Tabernacle. Mormons would give their right arms to be there.”
The relationship deepened on Sept. 11, 2001. The first call Mansuri received that day came from Elder [Dallin H.] Oaks. “He was concerned and wanted to send us a very clear message that we were in their prayers,” Mansuri recalls. “It was like having someone who loves and cares for you; not so much a Mormon reaching out to me as a fellow believer reaching out.”
I’m glad this going on. In high school I had a Muslim friend, Miriam, who was from Afghanistan. While on my mission to Portugal, I had the opportunity to talk with several Muslims. We both agreed on the importance of prophets. And two years ago I read a translation of the Koran. There is outreach on both the institutional and the individual level. Certainly, I am better for it. And I hope Muslims feel likewise.
As I said, members of the Church of Jesus Christ embrace Muslims as brothers under God. This theology is not new. It traces itself back to the teachings of Joseph Smith, the first prophet. In a revelation recorded in 1843, it says that the descendants of Abraham through Ishmael are a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham that his seed would be as the stars in heaven (Genesis 15:5).
The revelation reads:
“God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. … and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.” (D&C 132:34)
Don’t misunderstand. Latter-day Saints accept the Biblical chain of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We believe it was Isaac who was offered up as a symbol of Christ. But we also believe that in his own way, Ishmael fulfilled the promises of God.
Howard W. Hunter, the fourteenth president of the Church, expanded upon this idea:
As members of the Lord’s church, we need to lift our vision beyond personal prejudices. We need to discover the supreme truth that indeed our Father is no respecter of persons. Sometimes we unduly offend brothers and sisters of other nations by assigning exclusiveness to one nationality of people over another.
Let me cite, as an example of exclusiveness, the present problem in the Middle East—the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. We do not need to apologize nor mitigate any of the prophecies concerning the Holy Land. We believe them and declare them to be true. But this does not give us justification to dogmatically pronounce that others of our Father’s children are not children of promise.
We have members of the Church in the Muslim world. These are wonderful Saints, good members of the Church. They live in Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Sometimes they are offended by members of the Church who give the impression that we favor only the aims of the Jews. The Church has an interest in all of Abraham’s descendants, and we should remember that the history of the Arabs goes back to Abraham through his son Ishmael.
Imagine a father with many sons, each having different temperaments, aptitudes, and spiritual traits. Does he love one son less than another? Perhaps the son who is least spiritually inclined has the father’s attention, prayers, and pleadings more than the others. Does that mean he loves the others less? Do you imagine our Heavenly Father loving one nationality of his offspring more exclusively than others? As members of the Church, we need to be reminded of Nephi’s challenging question: “Know ye not that there are more nations than one?” (2 Ne. 29:7).
At the present time we are engaged in a project of beautifying the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem by a garden, in memory of Orson Hyde, an early apostle of the Church, and the dedicatory prayer he offered on that site. It is not because we favor one people over another. Jerusalem is sacred to the Jews, but it is also sacred to the Arabs.
A cabinet minister of Egypt once told me that if a bridge is ever built between Christianity and Islam it must be built by the Mormon Church. In making inquiry as to the reason for his statement I was impressed by his recitation of the similarities and the common bonds of brotherhood.
Both the Jews and the Arabs are children of our Father. They are both children of promise, and as a church we do not take sides. We have love for and an interest in each. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bring about love, unity, and brotherhood of the highest order. Like Nephi of old, may we be able to say, “I have charity for the Jew. … I also have charity for the Gentiles.” (2 Ne. 33:8–9.)
To our friends of Judah, we say: We are your brethren of the house of Joseph—we feel a close relationship to you. We are messengers of the true covenant and bear a message that God has spoken in this day and time.
To our kinsmen of Abraham, we say: We are your brethren—we look upon no nation or nationality as second-class citizens. We invite all men to investigate our message and to receive our fellowship.
To our brothers and sisters of all nationalities: We bear solemn witness and testify that God has spoken in our day and time, that heavenly messengers have been sent, that God has revealed his mind and will to a prophet, Joseph Smith. And, as Andrew beckoned his brother, Simon Peter, to come and hear the Messiah, we say to one and all: “Come and see.” (See John 1:35–42.)
As our Father loves all his children, we must love all people—of every race, culture, and nationality—and teach them the principles of the gospel that they might embrace it and come to a knowledge of the divinity of the Savior. Only they are favored who keep his commandments.
(Howard W. Hunter, “‘All Are Alike unto God’,” Ensign, Jun 1979, 72–74)
This is one of the reasons why I love being a Latter-day Saint. Our church is big enough for all people, be they gentile, Jew or Muslim. I would not have it any other way.