Bridges of Faith
In recent years, many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) have come into more frequent contact with Muslims (followers of Islam) throughout the world. In the six Middle Eastern and Islamic majority countries where I have lived during the past several decades, there have been many branches and wards of our Church present with many hundreds of members living among their Muslim neighbors. Those of us who have had this enriching opportunity to be in these and other predominately Muslim countries have been able to see and understand what Islam really is, what it teaches and how the people live their daily lives. We have been able to share this unique perspective with family and friends when we go back home to our own cultures and countries.
Unfortunately, the tragic events of 11 September 2001 and the continuing media reports about the activities of such current organizations as Al-Qaida and ISIS have resulted in creating fears that have done little to promote a positive image of Islam or increase an understanding of its true precepts among those who are less informed. Focusing only on the propaganda promoted by extremist groups, many people mistakenly assume that the majority of Islam is solely a radical ideology full of intolerant brainwashed disciples who would willing die in suicide attacks against innocent victims to further their cause. This media-driven stereotype could not be further from the truth.
Today, approximately one fifth of the world’s population are members of the Islamic faith. These one and a half billion people are found in every country in the world, speak every language and come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. While most people connote Islam with Arab countries and culture, in reality, the majority of Muslims are non-Arab with over one billion adherents in South and Southeast Asia with the highest populations being found in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In the United States alone, there are over 5 million, as is evident by the growing number of mosques found in most major cities.
Islam is a global faith and has the highest rate of membership growth of all the major world religions. Because of its large numbers, there are of course off-shoot groups of dissidents that have withdrawn themselves away from the mainstream in order to follow their own stylized fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic teachings. Unfortunately, it is these factions that receive the highest public exposure due to their wanton acts of terrorism through which they profess their radical misuse of Islamic doctrines to achieve political aims of their own. But to assume that all Islam follows and condones these beliefs and actions is akin to believing in the oft-publicized fallacious views that the Mormon LDS Church is racist against blacks, upholds polygamy today and that everyone from Utah has at least two wives.
Neither of these gross generalizations based on the actions of schismatic groups from our two religions are representative of even the original revealed doctrines that engendered them. It is a source of great frustration to all religions to be judged by what their splinter groups do. The fact that these groups are so far from the base-line truths is the very thing that draws public attention to them in the first place because their actions usually cause dramatic problems within society that monopolize the headlines in the day-to-day media. And unfortunately, it is much easier on the part of the naïve public to believe some rash generalization for such aberrant acts than to take the time to study the truth out for themselves.
The resulting attitudes and behavior toward Muslims and Mormons caused by these stereotypes creates intolerance and suspicion at the very least and more commonly outright persecution or prejudice against us. One of the saddest things in this world is when people falsely judge and condemn other religious beliefs than their own because they do not bother to look past such things as media reports or cultural and linguistic barriers to see the similarities that exist among all faiths. Many of our world’s current “holy wars” could be eradicated if people would adopt an attitude of respect and open-mindedness toward the similar God-given principles by which most of us live.
By lowering our blinders and seeking to find the commonalities of belief between us, we can build bridges of faith rather than barriers of dispute. Far too many books have been written and articles published that delineate the canonical battle lines even further in the name of comparative analysis. By definition, the meaning of comparison is to look at two subjects to consider their similarities, not to focus on their differences which would come under the heading of contrastive research instead.
Obviously, there are variants on many doctrinal points and interpretations of sacred writings. If not, there would be no need to divide into different religions to begin with. The important point to recognize in our individual search for religious truth is that from God’s standpoint, we are all equal. His view and love for all of us as His children allows for every variance of belief, every cultural expression and every lingual tone that a human being may employ to find their way to Him. We are not in any position to judge the path of belief or faith of another. But it is incumbent upon all of us to live in this world together in peace, regardless of any ideological differences that may exist between us.
The Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of the contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, ‘not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,’ those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of the earth has done right.”
As brothers and sisters belonging to this whole human family and offspring of God, we cannot allow ourselves to act in the role of judge or jury toward each other either by word or deed. That is God’s privilege alone. The First Presidency of the LDS Church has called upon “all people everywhere to re-commit themselves to the time-honored ideals of tolerance and mutual respect. We sincerely believe that as we acknowledge one another with consideration and compassion we will discover that we can all peacefully coexist despite our deepest differences.” One of our senior apostles recently stated, “No one should be criticized, persecuted, or attacked by individuals, or governments either, for what he or she believes about God…. The eleventh article of faith declares, ‘We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.’”
As members of the Church, we are further enjoined to “seek to bring all truth together. We seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all peoples of the earth. Thus we strive to establish peace and happiness, not only within Christianity but among all mankind.” A former prophet and president of the Church, Gordon B. Hinkley, has added that by looking for the strengths and virtues in other faiths that are similar to our own individual beliefs, we can increase in an “affirmative spirit of gratitude.” By recognizing these common righteous precepts, we can add further spiritual dimensions to our own life. We should “Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.”
Biblical scriptures speak of a similar attitude of acceptance needed among the early Christian saints who were converted from disparate religious and cultural backgrounds. In the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul counsels to let these past differences go that previously caused separation and dispute between the followers. “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” (KJV Colossians 3: 11-14)
The Holy Quran, which is regarded as scripture to Muslims, also counsels to “not split up your religion into sects, each exulting in its own beliefs.” (Surah 30: 32) “Whatever the subject of your disputes, the final word belongs to Allah (God)… Yet men divided themselves through their own wickedness only after knowledge had been given them.” (Surah 42: 10,14)
It is this “exulting” attitude of religious superiority that is so poisonous to the struggling relationships of interfaith associations. Each group believing that their truth is the only truth that God will acknowledge at the last day. Joseph Smith stated that “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may." He further encouraged the saints to “gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them.”
Islam also upholds the same point as found in a saying of the Prophet Muhammad that “Wisdom is the lost treasure of the believer and he/she has the first right to it wherever it is found.” When all of us take the time to study these “good and true principles” that are found in each other’s religions, we not only further our own knowledge and understanding of that teaching, but more importantly, we gain a healthy respect and increase in charity towards those who also believe in these truths through a different avenue of faith.
For LDS members, we can in turn share with others our testimonies of the truth of the same principles that have been revealed through our modern day prophets and those of the Book of Mormon. Whether the commandment to “have no other Gods before me” is recorded in the Bible, Book of Mormon or Quran, it is still the same eternal truth. It does not make any of the commandments or revelations of God less true for anyone to read them in another book of scripture. In fact, it can only strengthen all our testimonies through the realization that these additional witnesses have recorded the same truths from God in another time through other religious messengers.
Professor James Mayfield, in a 1979 Ensign article on Islam, addressed this point of the mutual sharing of our common beliefs specifically with Muslims. He suggested “that a careful reading of the Koran may in fact provide insights and clues, even specific references from their scriptures, in how best to communicate our message. An understanding of Islamic theology will provide a common language for sharing insights and spiritual values… There will be increasing contacts between Arabs and Latter-Day Saints; but the growth of mutual understanding and respect will be discouragingly slow until we recognize the beauty and religious foundation upon which Arab civilization is built, that the concepts of justice, purity, and human progress are an integral part of both Islam and the gospel, and that an awareness of the similarities- and not just the differences- is the key to an acceptance and appreciation of what we have to offer.”
It is toward this end of encouraging mutual respect and acceptance between our two faiths that the following chapters are offered. Some who read this book may see it as an attempt to compromise the separate beliefs to the point of saying that Mormonism and Islam are one in the same faith, that the differences between us are so small as to make us just sister sects of the same religion. There might also be criticism from the Mormon side that this book is too pro-Islam and not enough of our distinct doctrinal views are brought forward, or from the Muslim side that there is not enough context given for their point of view.
The intent is neither to convert one side into the total acceptance of the other’s faith as their own nor to illuminate or denounce the differences that do most certainly exist between us. Happily, each of us has the God-given right to believe that our religion teaches the truest and most correct principles on the face of this earth. Rather, it is hoped that by reading and learning of our common truths, there can be a bridge of understanding built between Mormons and Muslims that allows for positive interactions, dialogues, and discussions between us in the future and that there will be a healthy respect germinated out of these shared righteous principles that can dissipate the clouds of stereotype against which all religions fight.
In February 2000, diplomats from many Arab countries gathered at the United Nations in New York to be presented with copies of Brigham Young University’s newly translated English editions of two Islamic literary classics. One of our twelve Apostles, Elder Neal A. Maxwell, in representing the LDS Church expressed this exact view that “Between Mormons and Muslims, there are many touching points, and we would like to see the touching points become bridges of understanding.”
This analogy of bridge-building was used some twenty years earlier in a talk given by another apostle, Elder Howard W. Hunter, to the students at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Elder Hunter stated that “As members of the Lord’s church, we need to lift our vision beyond personal prejudices. We need to discover that indeed our Heavenly Father is no respecter of persons… 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… A cabinet member of Egypt once told me that if a bridge is ever to be 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 common bonds of brotherhood.”
Only by looking for and understanding these common bonds can any bridges be raised between us. In our world today, we do not need to find further reasons to reject and fight each other. The Adversary (shaytan) will make sure that the spirit of enmity will always have a prominent place in our societies. Instead, we should focus on the areas that will build a unity of righteous deeds and faith between us “that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (KJV I Corinthians 1:10)
In turn, we will also gain a more tolerant and accepting viewpoint of cultural differences that are not all that significant when looked upon with a spiritual outlook toward the millennial reign to come when we will all be living together side by side in peace. If we are to live as one during Christ’s future reign, we must be able to overcome any attitudes or aversions that would separate us and cause friction or dissention. We must be able to live as the Nephites in the Book of Mormon did after Jesus Christ’s visit among them. They put aside all their differences, contentions, and disputations and had all things common among them “because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (BM 4 Nephi: 2,3,15) This can only be possible if we will truly open our hearts beyond our own judgements, opinions or cultural attitudes and let charity dwell within us toward all men. Only then we will be clothed “with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.” (D&C 88:125)
 Smith, Joseph Fielding. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1976, p. 218
 The First Presidency is the leadership of the LDS Church composing of the current prophet and two counselors.
 Nelson, Russell M. “Teach us Tolerance and Love”, The Ensign, May 1994, p. 71. The Ensign is a monthly magazine publication of the LDS Church. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1994/04/teach-us-tolerance-and-love?lang=hrv&clang=eng
 Hales, Robert D. “Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom”, The Ensign, May 2015. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/preserving-agency-protecting-religious-freedom?lang=eng
 Hunter, Howard W. “The Gospel- A Global Faith”, The Ensign, November 1991, p.18. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1991/10/the-gospel-a-global-faith?lang=eng
 Dew, Sheri L. Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinkley, Deseret Book, SLC, Utah, 1996, pp. 536, 576.
 Smith, pp. 313,316.
 Hadith, Sunan At-Tirmidhi, Book of Knowledge, Number 2687, Da’if
 Compare KJV Exodus 20:3, Surah 17:22, BM Mosiah 12:35.
 Mayfield, James. “Ishmael, Our Brother”, Ensign, June 1979, pp. 30, 32. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/06/ishmael-our-brother?lang=eng
 Deseret News, 11 Feb 2000, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/743209/Diplomats-hail-Ys-Islamic-translations.html?pg=all
 Hunter, Howard W. “All are Alike Unto God”, Ensign, June 1979. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/06/all-are-alike-unto-god?lang=eng
 The Nephites were a group of people who traveled from Jerusalem to the Americas in 600 BCE and are believed to be the ancestors of differing groups of the American Indians. The account of their journey begins the Book of Mormon. Also included later in the book is the account of Jesus Christ’s visit to them in 34 CE after his ascension to heaven.
 D&C 121:45