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LDS apostles encourage church members to understand followers of Islam

By Genelle Pugmire - | Oct 20, 2021

Elder David Bednar and Elder Gerrit Gong discuss the relationship between Latter-day Saints and Muslims. (Courtesy Intellectual Reserve)

Elders David A. Bednar and Gerrit W. Gong, apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke at the conclusion of a two-day conference at Brigham Young University on “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives.”

The two men encouraged followers of the church to better understand the similarities and differences they have with the 1.8 billion followers of Islam around the world.

“The two faiths are different in many of our core doctrines, but many of our values, and the ways in which we practice our respective faiths, are similar and reflect our love of God and of our fellow man,” Bednar said.

Gong said that understanding should be sought openly and honestly, “with appreciation that we are brothers and sisters with a common humanity.”

He added that Latter-day Saints should learn more about their Muslim neighbors because such knowledge “will help us be more kind and more accurate in what we say and feel about each other.”

A copy of the forthcoming pamphlet called “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Beliefs, Values and Lifestyles.” (Courtesy Intellectual Reserve)

Bednar repudiated any disparaging remarks and generalized statements Latter-day Saints have made about followers of Islam. Such comments, he said, are wrong and offensive.

“Such biases cause those who feel that way to overlook the kindness and goodness of the overwhelming majority of all Muslims,” Bednar said. “To suggest that all Muslims are tied to grievous crimes here in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world is … inaccurate and offensive to Muslims. Muslims disavow any such actions, just as Latter-day Saints do. Every major religion has extremists who misinterpret the teachings of their own religion or who seek to do wrong in the name of religion.”

The apostles emphasized the church’s joint efforts with Muslims to defend religious freedom and engage in humanitarian work. They also pointed to resources that strengthen mutual understanding and highlighted several common beliefs the two faith communities share.

“As we meet with Muslim leaders across the world,” Gong said, “we talk about defending religious freedom. People of faith need to stand together for tolerance and dignity of people of all religious beliefs.”

Church leaders have met with leaders of the Muslim faith several times. Gong met with a Sunni Muslim leader while visiting Asia and Oceania in 2019, Bednar met in the past two years with leaders from Sudan in their country and at Temple Square and Elder Ronald A. Rasband is becoming acquainted with several Muslim leaders at the 2021 G20 Interfaith Forum in Italy.

Elder David Bednar and Elder Gerrit Gong discuss the relationship between Latter-day Saints and Muslims. (Courtesy Intellectual Reserve)

Gong read from an 1841 Nauvoo City ordinance that shows religious tolerance during the beginning of the Latter-day Saint movement. “Be it ordained by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo,” the text reads, “that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, [Muslims], and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration, and equal privileges in this city.”

Bednar said the church feels, “very strongly about religious freedom not just for ourselves, but for all. Like some Muslims in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, members of our church have felt the effects of persecution and profiling and we join with good people everywhere in condemning such actions.”

Elder Bednar shared some of the comments on religious freedom he made at the virtual G20 Interfaith Forum last year, which was hosted by Saudi Arabia. At that forum, he called for solutions to COVID-19 that do not cut people off from worship experiences.

Both Apostles visited Indonesia — the country with the most Muslim citizens in the world — soon after a devastating tsunami in December 2004 that killed around 225,000 people. Bednar had just been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Gong was working for BYU.

Gong said they met with the former president of Indonesia, visited Jakarta’s largest mosque, visited the heart of the devastation and donated needed medical and humanitarian supplies. Latter-day Saint Charities worked with Islamic Relief and the Indonesian government to provide millions of dollars of needed relief.

Bednar said the post-tsunami aid from both organizations lasted for years as they stayed to rebuild communities.

“This is just one of many examples of how Latter-day Saints have worked together with our Muslim brothers and sisters to assist in alleviating suffering and ensuring that all of humankind are treated with kindness, compassion, and respect,” Bednar said.

More recent humanitarian outreach by the church to the Muslim community includes a donation in May 2019 to help rebuild two mosques attacked in Christchurch, New Zealand. Gong and President Russell M. Nelson visited Muslim leaders there and presented a check.

“I was very grateful to stand together with our church president in love and solidarity with our Muslim friends,” Gong said. “We reached out to individuals who had been injured in the mosque attacks. I was glad we could provide practical help in the face of tragedy and pain and pledge to work together to increase understanding.”

Gong noted three resources BYU has made available to help Muslims and Latter-day Saints better understand each other:

  • BYU’s Islamic Translation Series is a 14-book collection of some of Islam’s best-known classical philosophical and scholastic contributions.
  • The 2012 “Beauty and Belief” Islamic art exhibit, hosted by BYU.
  • BYU’s conferences on Islam are academic exchanges among scholars of Islam are one of the university’s longstanding traditions.

Of the final item, Gong noted, one scholar of Islam said that “here [at BYU] among religious believers I feel I share a spiritual oasis amidst the modern secular wasteland.”

Both Apostles read from a forthcoming resource — a new pamphlet called “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Beliefs, Values and Lifestyles.” This will be published in the Gospel Library app. Elder Bednar said the document is the fruit of years of work, including collaboration with Muslim imams.

The document outlines areas of common ground and notes key differences of belief. These include the following:

  • Faith in an omniscient and omnipotent God is a foundational belief.
  • The vital role of prophets to provide guidance from God.
  • Revelation from God given through messengers as scripture is the foundation for learning God’s will, keeping commitments, and participating in faithful worship.
  • Human beings must communicate with God through daily prayer.
  • God delights in purity and chastity.
  • Both value women and their essential role in society and in the home.
  • Family is the fundamental unit of society and an essential source of joy.
  • Jesus Christ plays an important, though different, role for both groups.

“Jesus Christ teaches the two great commandments are to love God and to love one another more,” Gong said. “Greater understanding of one another helps us love one another. May we learn to share and understand openly and accurately, so we can meet with extended hands of respect and goodwill, not clenched fists of ignorance or antagonism.”

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