Friday, April 04, 2008

Pew Forum Religion News: U.S. Mormons and Muslims Share Deepening Ties

The current email newsletter for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life includes an interesting article that notes a growing relationship between U.S. Mormons and Muslims. Pew points to a story from the Los Angeles Times titled "U.S. Mormons and Muslims share deepening ties," with a byline that states, "This connection is based not on theology, but on shared values and a sense of isolation from mainstream America." The article goes on to note that:

The Mormon Church has to be among the most outgoing on earth; in recent years its leaders have reached out to, among others, Latinos, Koreans, Catholics and Jews.

One of the most enthusiastic responses, however, has come from what some might consider a surprising source: U.S. Muslims.

"We are very aware of the history of Mormons as a group that was chastised in America," says Maher Hathout, a senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. "They can be a good model for any group that feels alienated."

Which perhaps explains an open-mosque day held last fall at the Islamic Center of Irvine. More than half the guests were Mormons.


What binds them has little to do with theology: Mormons venerate Jesus as interpreted by founder Joseph Smith, while Muslims view Muhammad as god's prophet. Based on shared values and a sense of isolation from mainstream America, the connection was intensified by 9/11 and cemented by the Southeast Asia tsunami. It is especially evident in Southern California, with large Mormons and Muslim populations.

The entire article can be accessed here.

1 comment:

Seth R. said...

When I attended BYU in the mid to late 90s, there were quite a few international Muslim students around, and they were, on the whole, very positive about their experience at BYU.

The main thing they cited was LDS standards on modesty and other moral conduct. I also heard several instances of parents claiming that BYU was one of only a couple American universities that they would feel comfortable sending their children to.

Mormon students also tend to "get" the idea of symbolic clothing pretty quickly, so the whole headscarf thing is really a non-issue for us.

There were also a lot of professors I knew who were making concerted efforts to reach out to counterparts in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

On this topic, you might be slightly interested in the book "A Sacred Duty" by Ester Rasband and Richard Wilkins. It's published by Bookcraft - and LDS publisher and probably has generated almost zero interest outside of LDS bookstores (if it even got much notice there). It was recommended to me by an elderly friend of my family who was concerned to learn I was studying "International Relations" (with all that insidious UN stuff and all...).

It's a story about how BYU law professor Richard Wilkins went as a delegate to UN "Habitat II" conference in Istanbul in 1996. He ended up in the middle of a bitter lobbying fight between well-organized and and shockingly radicalized feminist groups, such as the Women's Caucus on one side and Catholic and beleaguered Islamic delegations on the other side. His firm Mormon stance on family immediately put him in the company of the Islamic delegation.

At one point, a group of Muslims asked him why he was there and why he was doing this - was it politics or faith. He answered both and gave some sociological reasons for why he felt family was important. "But ultimately" he said, "I'm doing it because I believe it is what my God wants me to do."

The book continues:

"There were smiles all around, and Richard realized that he had passed a sort of test. Prior to that moment the Islamic Conference was pleased for the help Richard had given - especially coming as it did from a citizen of a Western nation - but they had not yet begun to really trust him. That day, that answer to their question, was the beginning of a faithful friendship between Richard and the Islamic delegates."

One of the main points of the book is that the Islamic world has really felt increasingly under attack by Western demands of secularization and calls for weakening of traditional family roles. The official LDS "Proclamation on the Family" has been very warmly received in those quarters.

Just a bit of speculation on my part, but... It really does seem to me that the Muslim world is (compared to the Christian world anyway) singularly unimpressed with concerns of theology or orthodoxy. They seem an awful lot more concerned about your life than your beliefs. And that's where Mormons and Muslims connect.

Metaphysical monotheism and prophetic status just don't seem to be even on the radar. They care about modesty standards, preserving the place of father and mother in the household and right living. Doctrine almost seems to be beside the point.