I wrote the following for The Nevada Beehive almost four years ago. It’s still one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and I hope putting it back online will do some good.
The only thing more ironic than being a Mormon in Las Vegas is being a Muslim in Las Vegas. The Los Angeles Timesthought so; they ran a five-day feature about Las Vegas Muslims in August. Much of what they wrote about Muslims also applies to Mormons: this surreal situation of a strict people who stick out like a sore thumb in America’s most decadent city.
Both religions, to a degree, have endured misunderstanding. For Latter-day Saints, much of that intolerance is in the past, but for American Muslims, it is very much a thing of the present.
But our two faiths share far more than that. Much of Islam’s origin would sound familiar to a Latter-day Saint: an earnest, uneducated man quickly produces a long book that boldly declares a new understanding of God to the world. The book’s chief value is that it is the exact word of God, without the problems of being translated and mishandled over years. The book becomes the basis of a religion that often finds itself in conflict as it spreads, but which still grows miraculously and becomes distinguished for its contributions to the world.
In the case of Islam, the prophet is Muhammad and the book is the Qur’an (or Koran). Though the Qur’an can be compared to the Book of Mormon, it’s much more like the Doctrine and Covenants: not a single narrative, but a collected series of revelations, often addressing practical needs of people at the time, that the prophet delivered to his people as he received them from God.
There is one thing the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon do have in common, though. Look at the tirades on various web sites, listen to the heated discussions of people who are long on drama and short on information, and you’ll see the pattern. Critics dig into the most obscure corners of the text, ignoring the vast majority of the work, finding a few difficult nuggets that can be taken out of context, and then present the distorted excerpts to the world as proof that the book is secretly a hateful tract that prompts its brainwashed devotees to seek world domination. The clean, cheerful life the book produces, we’re told, is just a mask.
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah, Director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, expects questions, has probably answered them a thousand times in the last three years. “The Qur’an does not condone, but condemns violence.” He explains that certain passages must be understood as a response to a specific time and place where persecution was intense and the people were allowed to defend themselves. More deja vu.
Dr. Abdullah extends an invitation to a banquet held at the Jama Masjid mosque on east Desert Inn Road on September 19th. Leaders from the education, law enforcement, political, and religious communities attend.
Walking through the door instantly feels comfortable. All around are polite, intelligent people, whose broad smiles radiate their excitement at meeting new people to introduce themselves to, to introduce their beliefs to.
It’s like one of our open houses. The large meeting hall is decorated neatly but simply. Heartfelt speeches sprinkled with humor are offered, many hands are shaken, literature is given as a gift (available online at http://www.islam-guide.com/, and pictured), and plenty of food is shared.
Dr. Hisham Hito extends a hand, and when he hears the name of our church he fondly recalls touring the Las Vegas Temple when it opened. Apparently a long-time resident, he laments with a laugh that there are too many houses out there now to see it well.
Muslims have been stereotyped as repressing women, as have Mormons. It doesn’t seem to be any more true of them than it is of us. Just like in a Relief Society meeting, the Muslim women at the banquet were assertive, confident, and actively involved.
But there is a somber quality to some of the talk. The Islamic Society of Nevada has a serious mission. They’re not able to simply share a casual discussion of faith. They’re combating an image that is forced onto the news with such constant, zealous simplicity that even local Muslims sound apologetic for atrocities that are obviously foreign to the peaceful, cultured lives of devotion that were reaching out to Las Vegas that night.
“Nationalistic groups use religion to serve an agenda,” observes Dr. Abdullah. He quotes from the Qur’an to show that God cares for and blesses all people: “We have bestowed blessings on Adam’s children and guided them” (Qur’an 17:70). Or, as we quote from our scripture, “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
Still, the speakers at the banquet each explain that terrorist violence goes against everything Islam stands for, and even more convincing than their sincerity is the mild weariness in their voices. The weariness says, I shouldn’t have to explain this. Just look at us, look at our whole religion–it’s not our fault.
Recognition dawns again. The polite defense that they should not have to offer is the same polite defense that Latter-day Saints should not have to offer when someone mentions polygamous cults or Mark Hacking or Elizabeth Smart. But we feel only a fraction of a Muslim’s anxiety. Strangers aren’t looking at Mormons wondering who’s the next Mark Hacking.
Dr. Abdullah says that jihad means struggle, not “holy war.” He explains that while it can refer to a physical contest of self-defense, it is most properly used to convey “an inner effort to develop self-purification.” This makes perfect sense. It sounds exactly like the Apostle Paul, who “fought the good fight and kept the faith,” who counseled us to put on “the armor of God” because “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against…the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12). This concept, like so much of what we all believe, is universal.
What else would Dr. Abdullah like us to understand about our Muslim neighbors? “Muslim life is the same as in any Christian community…and we open our doors to any who would like to know us.”
THE QUR’AN AND LDS SCRIPTURE
There are some remarkable similarities between the Qur’an and Latter-day scripture:
“If you doubt what We have revealed to Our servant, produce one chapter comparable to it.” Qur’an 2:23, compare D&C 64:7-9
“’We believe in what was revealed to us.’ But they deny what has since been revealed, although it is the truth, corroborating their own scriptures.” Qur’an 2:91, compare 2 Nephi 29:1-14
“There shall be no compulsion in religion.” Qur’an 2:256, compare D&C 121:34-46
“He that disobeys the Apostle after Our guidance has been revealed to him and follows a path other than that of the faithful, shall be given what he has chosen.” Qur’an 4:115, compare 2 Nephi 10:23
“They have tampered with words out of their context and forgotten much of what they were enjoined.” Qur’an 5:13, compare 1 Nephi 13:26-28
“This Qur’an has been revealed to me that I may thereby warn you and all whom it may reach.” Qur’an 6:18, compare D&C 1:1-4
“Whenever We sent a prophet to a city We afflicted its people with calamities and misfortunes so that they might abase themselves. Then We changed adversity to good fortunes, so that when they had multiplied they said: ‘Our fathers also had their sorrows and their joys.’ And in their heedlessness We suddenly smote them.” Qur’an 7:94-95, compare Helaman 3:24-4:15
“It was He that gave the sun his brightness and the moon her light, ordaining her phases that you may learn to compute the seasons and the years. God created them only to manifest the Truth.” Qur’an 10:6, compare Alma 30:44
“We have decked the earth with all manner of ornaments to test mankind and to see who would acquit himself best.” Qur’an 18:7, compare Abraham 3:24-25
“God has endeared the Faith to you and beautified it in your hearts, making unbelief, wrongdoing, and disobedience abhorrent to you.” Qur’an 49:8, compare Mosiah 5:2
WISDOM FROM THE QUR’AN
The Qur’an is available online here. It would be impossible to list all the beautiful wisdom in the Qur’an. Here are just ten quotes, all taken from the same chapter:
“Those that accept My guidance shall have nothing to fear or to regret.” Qur’an 2:38
“Believers, Jews, Christians, Sabaens—whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does what is right—shall be rewarded by their Lord.” Qur’an 2:62
“Wherever you be, emulate one another in good works.” Qur’an 2:148
“Fear Me, so that I may perfect my favor to you and that you may be rightly guided.” Qur’an 2:151
“Believers, fortify yourselves with patience and prayer. God is with those that are patient.” Qur’an 2:154
“Such are those that barter guidance for error and forgiveness for punishment.” Qur’an 2:175
“Righteousness does not consist in whether you face towards the East or the West. The righteous man is he who believes in God and the Last Day, in the angels and the Book and the prophets; who, though he loves it dearly, gives away wealth to kinsfolk, to orphans, to the destitute, to the traveler in need and to beggars, and for the redemption of captives.” Qur’an 2:176-177
“He will take you to task for that which is intended in your hearts.” Qur’an 2:226
“God makes known to you His revelations that you may grow in understanding.” Qur’an 2:242
“But those that give away their wealth from a desire to please God and to reassure their own souls are like a garden on a hill-side: if a shower falls upon it, it yields up twice its normal produce.” Qur’an 2:265
Even after the continued problems the Middle East and the West have faced in the four years since I wrote that, and even though I am strongly a foe of all the violence–both physical and verbal–employed by ideologues against the West, I am proud to have met Dr. Abdullah, and I know that Islam and Muslims in general are good.
In fact, long after the above article appeared, Dr. Abdullah wrote this editorial for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Anyone who doubts the charitable, patriotic integrity of Muslims needs to read it.