A look of horror hit the faces of a couple of my friends when I
told them I was preparing a column comparing Muslims to Mormons.
“You’re a brave man,” one friend told me. “Mormons are like
Muslims?” my other friend asked. “You’ve gotta be kidding! They’re
like total opposites.”
A look of horror hit the faces of a couple of my friends when I told them I was preparing a column comparing Muslims to Mormons. “You’re a brave man,” one friend told me. “Mormons are like Muslims?” my other friend asked. “You’ve gotta be kidding! They’re like total opposites.”
It turns out that if you take an honest look at these two religious groups – especially how they began and how they have both been unfairly vilified – you can’t help but see that Mormons and Muslims have much more in common than simply being seven-letter words starting with “M.”
My interest in comparing the two started last month when an online poll by the Morgan Hill Times posed the question: “Should the South Valley Islamic Community be allowed to build a mosque and community center in San Martin?” My first reaction was that this insulting question ignores our basic American legacy of an individual’s freedom of worship. By constitutional mandate and federal law, all Americans have a right to personal religious expression. Imagine the uproar if the poll had asked if Jews or Christians have a right to build a synagogue or church in San Martin. Even more disturbing to see was that 38 percent of the responders said no to “allowing” Muslims to build a mosque in the South Valley for their community to worship in.
Soon after this South Valley poll closed, a Public Religion Research Institute poll released last week revealed that more than 40 percent of Americans would feel uncomfortable with a Mormon president. Many American voters would not consider voting for Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, two Republican presidential nomination candidates, simply because these two leaders are Latter-Day Saints.
Muslims and Mormons in America face harsh stereotype perceptions by mainstream Americans. The same has happened to Jews, Catholics, Baptists and other religious groups throughout our nation’s history.
Islamic history started in the Arabian Peninsula with the Prophet Mohammed’s quest to find spiritual truth. Mormon history started in New York with a young Joseph Smith imploring God to help him discover the true faith. Islam teaches that Mohammed received a revelation from the angel Gabriel in 610 that led to the writing of the Qur’an. The LDS Church teaches that Smith received divine instruction from the angel Moroni, who appeared to him in a vision. This led Smith to discover golden plates containing sacred text that he translated and first published in 1830 as The Book of Mormon.
Both Mohammed and Smith shared their revelations first with family members. The growing faiths spread their respective messages to the people in their communities. Both prophets and their followers faced violent opposition from neighbors in the early stages of their respective faiths.
In 1838, Mormons in Missouri faced the wrath of non-Mormons who tried to prevent them from voting in public elections, leading to a bloody confrontation. In response to this conflict, Gov. Lilburn Boggs ordered that all Mormons be either driven out of Missouri or exterminated. On Oct. 30, 1838, three days after Boggs’s “extermination order” was signed, the Missouri state militia killed 17 Mormon men and boys in what is now known as the Haun’s Mill Massacre.
Like the Islamic faith, the LDS Church has also had its share of extremist followers who have deviated tragically from the message of God’s peace provided by the Prophet Smith. The Mormon’s own “9/11” moment is the Mountain Meadows Massacre of Sept. 11, 1857. That day, zealot Mormon men ruthlessly attacked and killed between 100 and 140 men, women and children in the Baker-Fancher wagon train heading through Utah Territory on its way to California. This band of fanatical Mormons was seeking religious revenge on the travelers for the deaths of their prophet by non-Mormons. Media coverage following this terrorist act unfairly tainted public perception of the Mormon faith. Mark Twain wrote unflatteringly about this massacre in “Roughing It.” In 1872, the LDS Church excommunicated some of its members who had participated in the attack.
Today, Mormons and Muslims give value to America, working as school teachers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, business entrepreneurs and in elected political offices including Congress. Last Sunday, I attended an open house presented by members of the South Valley Islamic Community at the Lion’s Hall in San Martin. Muslim speakers openly answered questions on issues including the proposed mosque, Sharia law and how women are treated.
Like the Mormons have faced in their past, the growing number of Muslims in America must deal with hate crimes and civil rights violations by those who are ignorant or believe misconceptions of their faith presented in the media. But the great thing about Americans is that we evolve. Perhaps someday, we’ll even see Muslims as viable candidates for U.S. president.