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Mormons and Muslims

Abstract and Keywords

For reasons good and bad, Mormonism has been linked with Islam from its earliest days. This chapter examines and evaluates some of the reasons behind that linkage, giving special attention to the polygamy associated with both, their shared belief in postbiblical scripture, their rejection of a Trinitarian understanding of God, and their very different understandings of the nature and role of Jesus. This chapter also surveys the sympathetic attitude of Mormon leaders toward Islam—already discernible in their first generation, when such sympathy was distinctly unusual in the West—and suggests a Mormon-theological explanation for that attitude. After a discussion of contemporary Latter-day Saint policy regarding proselytizing among Muslims, there is a brief description and history of Brigham Young University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, which was largely founded to fulfill the desire of Mormon scholars and ecclesiastical leaders to build good relations between the Mormon Church and the Islamic world.

Keywords: Islam, polygamy, scripture, Trinitarianism, proselytizing

Throughout its history, especially in the nineteenth century but continuing even today, Mormonism, as taught and practiced within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been compared by Western commentators to Islam—most enthusiastically by those with an agenda hostile to both. Books bearing titles like The Mormon Prophet and His Harem (1868) and Mormonism: The Islam of America (1912) have sought to discredit Mormonism by linking it with Christendom’s traditional geopolitical and ideological archrival. As the eminent British Islamicist H. A. R. Gibb once observed, Muhammad has been labeled a “proto-Mormon.”1

More respectably, the prominent American sociologist Rodney Stark, who is not a Latter-day Saint, has argued that Mormonism represents “that incredibly rare event: the rise of a new world religion”; the Latter-day Saints, he asserts, “stand on the threshold of becoming the first major faith to appear on earth since the Prophet Mohammed rode out of the desert.”2

For this very reason, the famous Berlin historian of religions Eduard Meyer undertook the serious comparative effort that resulted in his Ursprung und Geschichte der Mormonen (1912). “Mormonism,” wrote Meyer, “is not just another of countless sects, but a new revealed religion. What in the study of other revealed religions can only be surmised after painful research is here directly accessible in reliable witnesses. Hence the origin and history of Mormonism possess great and unusual value for the student of religious history.”3 And, indeed, Islam and Mormonism do manifest common theological features, most of which they also share with their Abrahamic religious cousins generally (that is, with Judaism, and with other Christian sects): They believe, for example, in a personal God who purposefully created the universe and intervenes in its history, which proceeds in a linear fashion toward a cosmic consummation wherein all will be physically resurrected and brought to judgment.

Both believe in prophets, and those prophets are, with only two major and a few minor exceptions, held in common. For both Islam and Mormonism, Adam and Eve were created by God and placed in the Garden of Eden. Noah and his family were saved from a punitive flood in order to preserve a righteous remnant of the human race. Abraham (p. 637) was chosen by God to become “the father of the faithful” and the ancestor of prophets. Moses confronted Pharaoh, received the law at Sinai, and led the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Jesus, too, is venerated by both Islam and Mormonism, although, as will be discussed briefly below, in different ways.

Both Islam and Mormonism rely upon a canon of authoritative scriptural texts. They are, both, accordingly, religions strongly oriented toward textual interpretation, and are “people of the Book” (Arabic ahl al-kitab).

Moreover, the so-called Five Pillars of Islam—testimony (shahada), prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm) during the holy month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage (hajj)—find varying degrees of analogy in Mormon emphasis on vocal professions of faith, daily prayer, tithes and offerings and welfare contributions, regular monthly twenty-four-hour fasts, and temple attendance. (Latter-day Saint temples, like modern Mecca, are closed to those outside the faith, and both temple worshippers and pilgrims to Mecca dress in white.)

Historically and sociologically, too, parallels definitely exist. Perhaps the most striking is the division that occurred in both communities following the death of their founding prophets, with Islam’s Sunni–Shi’i split echoed in the rift between those who followed Brigham Young to the Great Basin, by far the largest group, and those who remained behind in the Midwest (most notably, but not limited to, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now known as the Community of Christ). In both cases, disagreement centered on the question of succession. Shi’ites and “Reorganites” insisted that the right to lead the community rested with the founder’s nearest male relative, while their respective opponents, much more numerous, deemphasized that hereditary principle if they didn’t altogether reject it. But it isn’t altogether clear that even the surprisingly specific historical resemblance of the schism between Sunni and Shi’i Islam to that between Utah Mormonism and its much smaller Midwestern sibling represents anything more than coincidence; other indisputably poor and superficial comparisons have also been adduced.

The polygamy practiced by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and many other nineteenth-century Mormons, for example, is and has always been an obvious- seeming similarity, and, for transparent reasons, has drawn a great deal of titillated attention. Indeed, it’s almost certainly what first inspired the comparison. But the parallels here are, in many respects, far more apparent than real. For instance, whereas polygamy in Islam continued a commonly accepted practice of Arabian society, Mormon plural marriage was a dramatic and highly controversial innovation in America and the West. Moreover, while marriage is a contract in Islam, and marriage and families are encouraged, marriage doesn’t play the central role in Islamic doctrine that it plays in Mormonism, where it is essential for the highest degree of blessing in the hereafter. “He it is,” says the Qur’an, addressing humanity and speaking of God, “who made you from a single soul and made from it its mate that he might dwell in tranquility with her” (Qur’an 7:190). “And,” the Qur’an declares, “we placed in the hearts of those who followed [Jesus] compassion and mercy and monasticism, which was their innovation. We did not prescribe it for them” (Qur’an 57:27). These (p. 638) are affirmative statements, but they do not approach the centrality of marriage as it figures in the Mormon scriptural canon:

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, … Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths … and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.

(Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 132:4, 19–21)

Many observers, and not merely those of the Victorian period, have found it irresistible to compare the Mormon concept of eternal marriage, linked with a plurality of wives, with Muslim notions of the houris, the paradisiacal virgins who will wait upon the blest.4 Further, the tangibility of the Muslim and Mormon conceptions of heaven—or, to use a more loaded word, their sensuousness—has often been adduced as a similarity between the two faiths. But, once again, the comparison is superficial. In the Qur’an, the houris (whose origin is unclear) represent the pleasures of paradise for the saved. The Qur’an depicts heaven as a garden beneath which rivers flow, a glorious place where the saved relax after their mortal trials. They will dwell in “gardens of Eden whose portals are open to them. Therein they will recline, calling for abundant fruit and drink” (Qur’an 38:50–51). “They will recline upon carpets whose interior is of brocade, and the fruit of the gardens will be near at hand” (Qur’an 55:54). “For them there is a foreknown provision of fruits while they are honored in gracious gardens, seated opposite one another upon thrones. A cup will be passed around to them, crystalline, from a spring fountain, delicious to those who partake. Free from bad effect, they will not be intoxicated by it” (Qur’an 37:41–47).

The Mormon concept of eternal marriage, by contrast, promises righteous husbands and wives and children a continuation of their mortal kinship beyond death, along with the possibility, at some unspecified future point, of yet more spiritual children (“a continuation of the seeds forever and ever”). “That same sociality which exists among us here,” taught Joseph Smith, “will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2). There is no emphasis on pleasure nor even on relaxation, but rather on furthering the salvific work of God.5 (p. 639) On the other hand, as illustrated in the lengthy quotation above from Doctrine and Covenants 132 (“then shall they be gods”), there is, in Mormonism, a strong association of temple marriage with the doctrine of exaltation or human deification. While this is plainly redolent of the ancient Christian teaching of theosis, and while it has some parallels in teachings on the margin of Muslim thought, such a doctrine is utterly foreign to mainstream Islam.

Another point of frequent comparison is the claim by both Muhammad and Joseph Smith to be postbiblical prophets. Usually enough to satisfy those making the comparison—and, for many Evangelical Protestant critics, enough to damn both men—this parallel can actually be pursued further. Both Islam and Mormonism seem to take what might be termed a “dispensational” view of human history, which is seen as a repeating cycle of prophetic revelations followed by periods of apostasy. They differ, however, in that Muhammad is seen as the “seal of the prophets” (khatim al-nabiyyin), which is typically taken to mean that he is the last of them (Qur’an 33:40). “No prophet or apostle will come after me,” Muhammad is reputed to have declared in his so-called Farewell Sermon, whereas Latter-day Saints regard Joseph Smith as the founder of a new and continuing line of modern prophets.6

As postbiblical prophets, both Muhammad and Joseph Smith produced new books of purported scripture—respectively, the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon (and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price). Both the Book of Mormon and the Qur’an provide a sacred history for an area largely or even altogether ignored by the Bible. But the two books are quite different in various ways, as well. Whereas, for instance, the former claims to be the narrative history of several ancient peoples (with some sermons and letters included), the Qur’an is a collection of discrete revelations received at different points during Muhammad’s life. Short narratives play, at most, an occasional and subordinate role.7 Moreover, while, for Islam as for Judaism and mainstream Christianity, the scriptural canon is closed, in Mormonism the canon remains open.

Muslims and Mormons are both often said to deny the doctrine of the Trinity. But this alleged similarity masks enormous differences. Islam emphasizes the unity of God (tawhid), and denies the deity of Christ. Moreover, since at least the earliest decades after the death of Muhammad, mainstream Muslim thought has come to espouse the view of God sometimes called “classical theism,” affirming divine incorporeality, impassability, omnipotence, and omniscience. Mormonism, which insists upon the divinity of Christ, worships a “Godhead”—some Mormon authorities have even used the word Trinity—of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But Mormonism rejects Nicene ontological Trinitarianism in favor of a “social” model of the Trinity in which, while the three persons are perfectly united in love and will, they are otherwise distinct (see Chapter 17, this volume). Two members of the Mormon Godhead—the Father and the Son—are corporeal, with tangible bodies of flesh and bone, whereas the Holy Ghost has a spiritual body of determinate form. For that reason, Mormonism is often accused by its critics of “tritheism.”

The one absolutely crucial difference between Islam and Mormonism, already alluded to immediately above but worthy of special emphasis, is that the Qur’an denies (p. 640) the deity of Christ and ascribes no redemptive role to either Jesus or Muhammad. By contrast, Mormonism teaches that “Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”8 “There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God,” says the Book of Mormon, “save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). We can be saved only by “relying alone upon the merits of Christ” (Moroni 6:4), for “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17).

Despite these and other fundamental theological differences, Mormons have historically manifested a markedly sympathetic attitude toward Islam and Muslims. The unjust persecutions of his followers led Joseph Smith, for example, to become a passionate advocate of religious tolerance, even—explicitly—for Muslims (though in antebellum America tolerance toward Islam was largely a matter of abstract theory since there were, as yet, virtually no Muslims on the continent).9 In the late 1830s and early 1840s, he had an opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of his commitment to religious freedom when he and his followers established Nauvoo, which would eventually become the second largest city in the state of Illinois. “We wish it … to be distinctly understood,” he remarked,

that we claim no privilege but what we feel cheerfully disposed to share with our fellow citizens of every denomination, and every sentiment of religion; and therefore say, that so far from being restricted to our own faith, let all those who desire to locate themselves in this place, or the vicinity, come, and we will hail them as citizens and friends, and shall feel it not only a duty, but a privilege, to reciprocate the kindness we have received from the benevolent and kind-hearted citizens of the state of Illinois.10

And those sentiments were embodied in the city’s legal system.

William Law, a leader of the church at the time, reported that “As to the city ordinances we have passed all such as we deemed necessary for the peace, welfare and happiness of the inhabitants, whether Jew or Greek, Mohammedan, Roman Catholic, Latter-day Saint or any other; that they all worship God according to their own conscience, and enjoy the rights of American freemen.”11 Mormon theology provided a sturdy basis for such tolerance. “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy,” Joseph Smith taught,

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 those 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 (p. 641) 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.12

In his famous Farewell Sermon, the Prophet Muhammad advised Muslims that “all mankind is from Adam and Eve—an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab,” unless it be by “piety and good action.”13 A strikingly similar concept appears in the Book of Mormon: “Behold,” said the prophet Nephi, “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God” (1 Nephi 17:35). Accordingly, Mormon teaching has historically advocated not only tolerance but appreciation for sincere adherents of other faiths, expressly including Muslims.

In September 1855, Jules Rémy, a French newspaper correspondent, attended services in the Bowery, forerunner to the Salt Lake Tabernacle, during which two speakers addressed the audience positively, “from the sacred pulpit,” about Islam. Incredulous, Rémy asked “who could have seen a person educated in Protestantism become the apologist of Mohammadanism in the 19th century?”14 The speakers were almost certainly the Mormon apostles George A. Smith, a cousin to the slain prophet Joseph Smith, and Parley Pratt, whose comments about Islam and Muhammad were strikingly favorable by Christian standards of the day.

Speaking on September 23, 1855, Smith, who had been reading Islamic history, said of Muhammad that “there was nothing in his religion to license iniquity or corruption; he preached the moral doctrines which the Savior taught; viz., to do as they would be done by; and not to do violence to any man, nor to render evil for evil; and to worship one God.”15 Continuing, he declared that “this man descended from Abraham and was no doubt raised up by God on purpose to scourge the world for their idolatry.” Then, expanding his focus to the Arabs and Muslims as a whole, he observed that, “just as long as they abode in the teachings which Mahomet [that is, Muhammad] gave them, and walked in strict accordance with them, they were united, and prospered; but when they ceased to do this, they lost their power and influence, to a very great extent.”

His sympathy is unmistakable, and very many serious Muslims would strongly agree with his moral diagnosis of their historical decline. “It is a difficult matter,” Smith went on, no doubt thinking of his own cobelievers as well as of Muslims, “to get an honest history of Mahometanism translated into any of the Christian languages. … It is a hard matter … to get an honest history of any nation or people by their enemies.”

Embarrassed at having given the congregation essentially a classroom lecture, Smith confessed that “history is a natural theme with me.” But Parley Pratt was so enthused at Smith’s remarks that he immediately jumped up to continue the topic:

My brother, George A. Smith, has wished us to excuse his Mahometan narration, but I would feel more like giving a vote of thanks to the Almighty and to His servant for so highly entertaining and instructing us.

… We may think that: Mahometanism, compared with Christianity as it exists in the world, is a kind of heathenism, or something dreadful, and the other we look upon as something very pretty, only a little crippled; and for my part, I hardly know (p. 642) which to call the idolatrous side of the question, unless we consider Mahometanism Christianity, in one sense, and that which has been called Christianity, heathenism.

Mahometanism included the doctrine that there was one God—that He was great, even the creator of all things, and that the people by right should worship Him. History abundantly shows the followers of Mahomet did not take the sword, either to enforce their religion or to defend themselves, until compelled to do so by the persecutions of their enemies, and then it was the only alternative that presented itself, to take up the sword and put down idolatry, and establish the worship of the one God.

Once again, the sympathy is striking, and especially so given Pratt’s place and time. “I should rather incline, of the two,” he continued,

to the side of Mahomet, for on this point he is on the side of truth, and the Christian world on the side of idolatry and heathenism. …

Mahometan history and Mahometan doctrine was a standard raised against the most corrupt and abominable idolatry that ever perverted our earth, found in the creeds and worship of Christians, falsely so named. … I am inclined to think, upon the whole, leaving out the corruptions of men in high places among them, that they have better morals and better institutions than many Christian nations. … I think they have exceeded in righteousness and truthfulness of religion, the idolatrous and corrupt church that has borne the name of Christianity.

The remarkably liberal character of these comments can perhaps best be put in perspective by comparing them to the famous May 1840 public lecture given in Edinburgh by Thomas Carlyle, one of the premier English-speaking intellectuals of the mid-nineteenth century, regarding Muhammad and Islam.16 “Here for the first time in a prominent way,” observes the eminent twentieth-century historian of Islam W. Montgomery Watt, “was it asserted that Muhammad was sincere and the religion of Islam basically true.”17 Just fifteen years later, though, from a pulpit in the isolated and only recently settled Great Basin desert of the United States, a pair of high-ranking Mormon leaders, drawn not from the intellectual elite but from the American frontier working class, were saying something rather far along similar lines.18

Undoubtedly the most significant expression of Mormon attitudes toward Islam came on February 15, 1978, when Spencer W. Kimball—sustained by faithful Latter-day Saints as a “prophet, seer, and revelator”—and his counselors in the First Presidency of the church issued an official statement regarding the church’s position toward other religions generally. The statement reads:

Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father. The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of (p. 643) understanding to individuals. The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel. Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all people sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.19

With this attitude, Mormons have found it congenial to live and work with Muslims. The official Latter-day Saint Charities organization, for instance, has cooperated on numerous occasions with Islamic Relief Services in disasters and humanitarian crises, including the tragic December 26, 2004, tsunami in the Indian Ocean (in the aftermath of which, among other things, Latter-day Saints distributed copies of the Qur’an to stricken Muslims who requested them). Brigham Young University’s former World Family Policy Center, previously known as NGO Family Voice but now off campus and independent, has collaborated with representatives of Islam and of the Vatican in promoting and defending certain principles related to families at the United Nations and elsewhere. Moreover, because of many shared moral values, prominent Muslim families in the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim regions, wanting American educations for their children but fearing the moral climate (as they see it) prevalent on American college campuses, have felt comfortable sending their sons and daughters to study at Brigham Young University in surprisingly large numbers.

Significantly, though, for a group as notoriously missionary-minded as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is, out of deference to Muslim concerns about (and rules against) conversion, no Mormon proselytizing program that directly targets Muslims. While Muslim conversions have occurred, such conversions are not actively sought by the church and, in many cases, are actively discouraged. Most predominantly Islamic countries are altogether off limits for Latter-day Saint missionaries, and even where such missionaries are permitted, they have commonly focused their efforts on Christians and other non-Muslims.20

Latter-day Saints typically regard missionary efforts as urgently important, but they do not believe that those who do not hear and accept their message in this world will be damned. Believing, as they do, in postmortem evangelization, they can afford to be optimistic about the eternal prospects for their non-Mormon neighbors.

Interestingly, there is support in the Qur’an for a similarly serene attitude toward non-Muslims, in verses that tend to resonate with Latter-day Saints:

Those who believe, and those who follow Judaism and those who follow Christianity and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and in the Last Day and does works of righteousness—they have their reward with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they mourn. …

And they say “None shall enter Paradise except he be a Jew or a Christian.” … But, no, whoever submits his face to God and does good, he has his reward with his Lord. No fear shall come upon them, neither shall they mourn.

The Jews say “The Christians base their faith on nothing,” and the Christians say “The Jews base their faith on nothing,” while they’re both studying the scriptures. (p. 644) They speak as people who don’t know. But God will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concern that on which they used to differ.

To each [community] there is a direction that it follows, so vie with one another in good deeds.

(Qur’an 2:62, 111–13, 148)

If God had willed, he would have made you one people. But, in order to test you in what he gave you [he did not]. So compete with one another in doing good. You will all return to God, and he will inform you concerning the things in which you differ.

(Qur’an 5:48)

These verses make it almost impossible not to think of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 1779 German Enlightenment play Nathan der Weise. The centerpiece of the work is the Ring Parable (Ringparabel), narrated by Nathan when asked by the great leader of the Muslim Countercrusades, Saladin, which religion is true. An heirloom ring with the magical ability to render its owner pleasing before God and humankind had been passed for many generations from each successive father to the son he loved most. But when it came to a father of three sons whom he loved equally, he had promised it (in “pious weakness”) to each of them. Later, desperately seeking a way to keep his promise, he had ordered two replicas to be made that were indistinguishable from the original, and, on his deathbed, he gave a ring to each of them.

The brothers quarreled, of course, over who owned the real ring. However, a wise judge admonished them that it was impossible to tell at that time which one was real, that it couldn’t even be ruled out that all three rings were replicas, the original one having been lost at some point in the past. He told them that to find out whether one of them had the real ring it was up to them to live in such a way that their ring’s powers could prove true, to live a life pleasing in the eyes of God and humankind rather than expecting the ring’s miraculous powers to take care of everything.

Absent missionary efforts, one important manifestation of Mormon outreach to the Muslim world is Brigham Young University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI), which publishes dual-language editions of important writings from the classical period of Islam. Impelled by a perceived both academic and general need for such translations and, in a time of tension between the West and the Islamic world, by a desire to send a Latter-day Saint message of respect for Islam and Muslims, METI issued its first volumes in the late 1990s. At the time of writing, roughly twenty-five volumes have appeared, published by Brigham Young University Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press. A few of the volumes represent eastern Christian authors, and a subseries focuses on the medical works of the great Arabic-writing rabbi, jurist, and philosopher Moses Maimonides, but far and away most of METI’s attention has been devoted to Muslim authors, including such illustrious names as al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), and Ibn Rushd (Averroës), as well as such relatively lesser known but important authors as Suhrawardi, Qadi ‘Abd al-Jabbar, and Mulla Sadra.

Writing already in 2006, in his Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy, the prominent Irano-American intellectual historian Seyyed Hossein Nasr remarked that “what is needed for Islamic philosophy (p. 645) is something like the Loeb Library for Greek and Latin texts where the text in the original appears on one side of the page and the English translation on the opposite page. Fortunately during the last few years Brigham Young University has embarked upon such a series.”21 The standard foreword appearing in each Islam-related METI book reads as follows:

Islamic civilization represents nearly fourteen centuries of intense intellectual activity, and believers in Islam number in the hundreds of millions. The texts that appear in [the Islamic Translation Series] are among the treasures of this great culture. But they are more than that. They are properly the inheritance of all the peoples of the world. As an institution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young University is honored to assist in making these texts available to many for the first time. In doing so, we hope to serve our fellow human beings, of all creeds and cultures. We also follow the admonition of our own tradition, to “seek … out of the best books words of wisdom,” believing, indeed, that “the glory of God is intelligence.”

Meticulously produced and deliberately priced relatively low, the METI volumes are intended not merely for academic researchers but for classroom use and, perhaps, even wider distribution, with the goal of enhanced understanding and better relationships between people of different faiths and cultures.

In the early days of Islam, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars worked side by side to render the great texts of ancient Greek science, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy into Arabic, an effort that contributed mightily to the rise of classical Islamic civilization and that is often referred to in historical treatments under the term bayt al-hikma, “The House of Wisdom.” Today, in front of the building that houses METI’s personnel and operations, an upright stone bears the name of Brigham Young University and, in Arabic, bayt al-hikma. While at first glance a rather grandiose title, it’s perhaps not wholly inappropriate, as, this time, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars are cooperating to translate the great texts of the classical Islamic period into English.

It is not an unfitting symbol for the way in which Muslims and Latter-day Saints, building upon common ground despite differences, are increasingly able to work together.


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                                              Watt, W. Montgomery. What Is Islam? New York: Longman’s Green, 1968. (p. 648) Find this resource:


                                                (3.) Meyer, Ursprung und Geschichte der Mormonen, 2. (This and all other translations in this chapter are mine.) For a critical evaluation of Meyer’s work on the Latter-day Saints, see Lyon, “Mormonism and Islam through the Eyes of a ‘Universal Historian,’” 221–36. Nibley, “Islam and Mormonism,” 55–64, draws on Meyer’s analysis.

                                                (4.) On the houris, see, for example, see Qur’an 37:48–49; 38:52; 52:20; 55:56; 56:22–23, 35–38.

                                                (5.) Visiting Salt Lake City in 1860, the great Victorian explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who knew “oriental” polygamy well (and was fascinated by it), was struck, and probably disappointed, by the distinct lack of sensuality apparent in Mormon Utah. See his City of the Saints.

                                                (7.) The Qur’an is actually more appropriately compared to the Doctrine and Covenants, which, along with certain letters and other documents, contains revelations received by Joseph Smith (as well as, in a few cases, by his successors in the presidency of the church).

                                                (8.) The specific phrase comes from the title page of the Book of Mormon, but the doctrine is a principal theme throughout the book and the rest of the Latter-day Saint canon.

                                                (9.) For a fuller treatment of this subject, with references, see the transcribed lecture by Peterson, “Mormonism, Islam, and the Question of Other Religions.”

                                                (15.) George A. Smith’s and Parley Pratt’s remarks occur in Journal of Discourses 3: 31–41. Two much later but still notably favorable treatments of Islam, published in the official magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are Mayfield, “Ishmael, Our Brother,” and Toronto, “A Latter-day Saint Perspective on Muhammad.” (Nibley, “Islam and Mormonism” is rather less positive.)

                                                (18.) Peterson, Muhammad, is a sympathetic modern biography by a Latter-day Saint scholar.

                                                (20.) Latter-day Saint proselytizing missionaries currently serve in parts of Africa, in Indonesia and Malaysia, and in a few other largely Muslim areas. In the latter part of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, Mormons sought converts in Turkey and Palestine, and a small mission functioned in Iran until the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79.