Mormons Serve Muslims to Break the Ramadan Fast
Washington, D.C., metro area members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked side by side with Muslims to prepare a meal, called Iftar, to break the Muslims’ fast on two separate evenings during Ramadan. Latter-day Saint women from the Potomac Ward (a congregation) in Maryland helped with food preparation June 17 at the Islamic Education Center in Potomac, Maryland.
A Latter-day Saint Perspective on Muhammad
Viewing Muhammad from the understanding of the restored gospel provides greater knowledge of Heavenly Father’s love for His children in all nations…
What is an appropriate Latter-day Saint attitude toward other religions’ claims of divinely inspired prophets, scriptures, visions, and miracles? The following may be helpful and is based on gospel insights I have gained over the years while studying and living in Muslim societies. Seeing Muhammad’s role in religious history from the perspective of the restored gospel provides great understanding of one of history’s most influential spiritual leaders, helps us appreciate Heavenly Father’s love for His children of all nations, and gives principles to guide us in building positive relations with friends and neighbors of other faiths.
Thoughts on Interfaith Relations
The Book of Mormon teaches that Heavenly Father “is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; … and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37; see also 1 Ne. 1:14). Because of this love for His children of all nations, the Lord has provided spiritual light to guide and enrich their lives. Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855–1931) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed that God “is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves.”
Elder B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) of the Seventy also spoke on this doctrine: “While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith often expounded on this theme of the universality of God’s love and the related need to remain open to all available sources of divine light and knowledge. “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism,’” he said, “is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”4 The Prophet exhorted Church members to “gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them.”
Church leaders continually have encouraged members to foster amicable relations with people of other faiths by acknowledging the spiritual truth they possess, emphasizing the similarities in belief and lifestyle, and teaching us to disagree agreeably. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on this theme to members and nonmembers during an area conference in Tahiti: “Keep all the truth and all the good that you have. Do not abandon any sound or proper principle. Do not forsake any standard of the past which is good, righteous, and true. Every truth found in every church in all the world we believe. But we also say this to all men—Come and take the added light and truth that God has restored in our day. The more truth we have, the greater is our joy here and now; the more truth we receive, the greater is our reward in eternity.”
Latter-day Saint Interest in Muhammad
One of the noteworthy examples of the Latter-day Saint commitment to treasure up true principles and cultivate affirmative gratitude is the admiration that Church leaders have expressed over the years for the spiritual contributions of Muhammad.
As early as 1855, at a time when Christian literature generally ridiculed Muhammad as the Antichrist and the archenemy of Western civilization, Elders George A. Smith (1817–75) and Parley P. Pratt (1807–57) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered lengthy sermons demonstrating an accurate and balanced understanding of Islamic history and speaking highly of Muhammad’s leadership. Elder Smith observed that Muhammad was “descended from Abraham and was no doubt raised up by God on purpose” to preach against idolatry. He sympathized with the plight of Muslims, who, like Latter-day Saints, found it difficult “to get an honest history” written about them. Speaking next, Elder Pratt went on to express his admiration for Muhammad’s teachings, asserting that “upon the whole, … [Muslims] have better morals and better institutions than many Christian nations.”
Latter-day Saint appreciation of Muhammad’s role in history can also be found in the 1978 First Presidency statement regarding God’s love for all mankind. This declaration specifically mentions Muhammad as one of “the great religious leaders of the world” who received “a portion of God’s light” and affirms that “moral truths were given to [these leaders] by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”
In recent years, respect for the spiritual legacy of Muhammad and for the religious values of the Islamic community has led to increasing contact and cooperation between Latter-day Saints and Muslims around the world. This is due in part to the presence of Latter-day Saint congregations in areas such as the Levant, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Southeast Asia. The Church has sought to respect Islamic laws and traditions that prohibit conversion of Muslims to other faiths by adopting a policy of nonproselyting in Islamic countries of the Middle East. Yet examples of dialogue and cooperation abound, including visits of Muslim dignitaries at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City; Muslim use of Church canning facilities to produce halal (ritually clean) food products; Church humanitarian aid and disaster relief sent to predominantly Muslim areas including Jordan, Kosovo, and Turkey; academic agreements between Brigham Young University and various educational and governmental institutions in the Islamic world; the existence of the Muslim Student Association at BYU; and expanding collaboration between the Church and Islamic organizations to safeguard traditional family values worldwide.
A cabinet minister in Egypt, aware of the common ground shared by Muslims and Latter-day Saints, once remarked to Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that “if a bridge is ever built between Christianity and Islam it must be built by the Mormon Church.”
The Teachings of Muhammad
Islamic life revolves around five basic principles that are outlined in general terms in the Qur’an and expounded in the teachings and customs (Arabic, sunna) of Muhammad. These five pillars are the witness of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Some examples of Muhammad’s teachings on charitable giving and fasting will illustrate his manner of teaching and his central role in Muslim life.
The principle of almsgiving is designed to care for the poor and to foster empathy in the community of believers. The Qur’an states that charity and compassion, not mechanical observance of rituals, define one’s worthiness in God’s sight (2:177). Muhammad’s sayings clearly teach the practice of charity:
“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
“Each person’s every joint must perform a charity every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it is a charity; a good word is a charity; every step you take to prayers is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is charity.”
“Charity extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire.”
“Smiling to another person is an act of charity.”
“He who sleeps with a full stomach knowing that his neighbor is hungry [is not a believer].”
Muslims view fasting as having a dual purpose: to bring about a state of humility and surrender of one’s soul to God, and to foster compassion and care for the poor in the community. Thus, fasting and almsgiving go hand in hand: denying of oneself cannot be complete without giving of oneself.
A Latter-day Saint Perspective
How, then, might Latter-day Saints regard the Muslim community? The most helpful approach is to recognize the truths and values we share with our Muslim brothers and sisters, even while politely acknowledging that theological differences exist. Certainly Latter-day Saints do not agree with Islamic teachings that deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, the need for modern prophets, or the principle of eternal progression. But by being humble and open to spiritual light wherever it may be found, we benefit from the religious insights of Muslims and affirm similarities in belief such as faith, prayer, fasting, repentance, compassion, modesty, and strong families as cornerstones of individual spirituality and community life.
In a meeting with Muslim dignitaries, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles focused on the common spiritual heritage of Mormons and Muslims. After quoting a verse from the Qur’an, he observed:
“God is the source of light in heaven and on earth. We share the belief with you. We resist the secular world. We believe with you that life has meaning and purpose. … We revere the institution of the family. … We salute you for your concern for the institution of the family. … Mutual respect, friendship, and love are precious things in today’s world. We feel those emotions for our Islamic brothers and sisters. Love never needs a visa. It crosses over all borders and links generations and cultures.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith, in one of his most eloquent pronouncements on tolerance and compassion, encouraged the Saints to expand their vision of the human family, to view people of other faiths and cultures as our Heavenly Father does and not according to the “narrow, contracted notions of men.” He taught that the Father will take complex personal, political, and social circumstances into account at the last day and render final judgment based on a divine, merciful perspective that surpasses our limited human understanding:
“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 all the earth has done right.”