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Islam

by Arnold H. Green

Interest in the Church's associations with Islam has appeared in literary comparisons, within LDS teachings, and through historical contacts. The initial comparison was perhaps made in 1834, when the anti-Mormon Pastor E. D. Howe suggested that Joseph Smith matched Muhammad's "ignorance and stupidity," thereby coining an analogy that experienced polemical and "scientific" phases. The polemical phase entailed American Protestants vilifying the Church and its prophet by likening them to Islam and Muhammad, long presumed fraudulent by Christians. This disputative tactic had been used against Protestants during the Counter-Reformation, and emphasized such allegations as sensuality, violence, and deception. These polemics yielded a literary corpus—for example, "The Yankee Mahomet" and books by Joseph Willing and Bruce Kinney. The scientific phase began when the explorer and Arabist Richard Francis Burton visited Utah in 1860 and rephrased in academic discourse the analogy, subsequently elaborated by David Margoliouth, Eduard Meyer, Hans Thimme, and Georges Bousquet. These Orientalists and sociologists of religion apparently felt they could study fully documented Mormonism as a proxy for underdocumented Islam.

The Church's doctrinal posture toward Islam has also gone through phases. Islam is not mentioned in either the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants. Yet articles in Times and Seasons suggest that some LDS spokesmen initially echoed medieval Christian views of Islam as fanatical heresy (Editorial, 3 [15 Apr. 1842]; "Last Hour of the False Prophet," 5 [Apr. 1, 1844]; "Mahometanism," 6 [Jan. 15, 1845]). But speeches by apostles George A. Smith and Parley P. Pratt in 1855 evoked more positive traditional interpretations: that Islam, fulfilling biblical promises made to Ishmael (Gen. 21), was divinely instigated to "scourge" apostate Christianity and to curb idolatry. Perhaps unknowingly paraphrasing Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792), George A. Smith applied historical judgment to Islam's experience: "As they abode in the teachings which Mahomet gave them,…they were united and prospered; but when they ceased to do this, they lost their power and influence" (pp. 34-35). More recently, perhaps in the context of the Church's growth to global dimensions, Muslim cultures have figured prominently in dicta—such as those by President Spencer W. Kimball and Elders Howard W. Hunter, Bruce R. McConkie, and Carlos E. Asay—stressing that God is no respecter of persons on grounds of race or color. In the "Easter Message" of February 15, 1978, the LDS First Presidency wrote that Muhammad and other nonbiblical religious leaders and philosophers "received a portion of God's light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations." On balance, Mormon teachings thus seem to have cast Islam in a positive historical role.

Latter-day Saints' historical contacts with Islam include missions in countries with Muslim populations. Some LDS proselytizers have expressed sentiments articulated earlier by such Catholic and Protestant missionaries as Cardinal Lavigerie and Samuel Zwemer: that Islam's own doctrinal claims (e.g., God is one not three; Jesus was a prophet, not God's son; apostates from Islam merit death), Islamic society's holistic character, and the sad legacy of Muslim-Christian relations make difficult the converting of Muslims to Christianity. Since World War II many LDS professionals have lived in Muslim communities. Some have chronicled their experience in terms that are human (Marion Miller) or historical - theological (Arthur Wallace). At least one has engaged in radical syncretism (Ibn Yusuf/Lloyd Miller; see Green, 1983). Governments of Islamic countries, most of which ban proselytizing, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have allowed discreet worship by LDS families. In 1989 Jordan permitted the establishment of an LDS cultural center in Amman.

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Bibliography

For general reviews of the literature, see A. H. Green, "Joseph Smith as an American Muhammad," Dialogue 6 (Spring 1971):46-58; and "The Muhammad-Joseph Smith Comparison: Subjective Metaphor or a Sociology of Prophethood," in Mormons and Muslims, ed. Spencer J. Palmer, Provo, Utah, 1983. This latter volume constitutes a collection of essays on the subject. For recent authoritative LDS statements, see Spencer W. Kimball, "The Uttermost Parts of the Earth," Ensign 9 (July 1979):2-9; and Howard W. Hunter, "All Are Alike Unto God," BYU Devotional Speeches, Provo, Utah, 1979, pp. 32-36.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 4, World Religions

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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