Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thoughts on September 11

September 11 brings me memories and mixed feelings. I find myself pondering good and evil, life and death, love and hate, suffering and heroism, tragedy and redemption. I also find myself distressed by the anti-Muslim feelings that rise among many on this day—feelings that are unfortunate and unfair in so many ways and that I believe are especially out of place on 9/11. Why?

(1) Muslims as a whole did not perpetrate the terrorist acts that took place on this day.

(2) Most Muslims condemn such terrorist acts.

(3) Muslims were among those killed on 9/11.

(4) Islam is one of the great religious traditions and has helped inspire much goodness and some of the world’s greatest cultural achievements. It is the foundation of the lives of millions of good people.

(5) While Christians naturally disagree with Muslims on many issues (as they also disagree with Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others, as well as with many of their fellow Christians), true Christianity—in my view—requires respect for others, including respect for the freedom of others to believe and live differently. We can discuss our differences, but should do so with civility, charity, and humility.

(6) Latter-day Saints in particular should extend respect and understanding toward Muslims because we have been misunderstood and persecuted in much the same way they have. Furthermore, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have worked to build good relationships with Muslims and have stated that there is much that is good, true, even inspired in their religion.

(7) Above all, to make 9/11 an occasion for antagonism and hatred toward Muslims is to partake, in some degree, of the same spirit that motivated the terrorists on that day.

The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas dedicated one of his books (Otherwise than Being) to those he was closest to among the victims of the Nazi terror—but also to “the millions on millions of all confessions and all nations, victims of the same hatred of the other man, the same anti-semitism.”  (Emphasis added.) Any hatred of others is evil in essentially the same way, whoever the others are that we choose to hate and whatever excuse we make for ourselves. Hatred has always tried to justify itself.

But any hatred of others damages the very foundation of our spiritual and moral existence: hatred refuses to heed the call to goodness—and service and respect and responsibility—that issues from the face of every other human being. As Jesus put it, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one”—which clearly means any one—“of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

When two of Jesus’ disciples wanted him to call fire down on a village that had rejected them, he responded: “You know not what spirit you are of. For the Son of Man has come not to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:54). Would he say the same to Christians who want to burn Qurans or whose hearts in any other way are bent on destruction or disrespect?

Every major religion and ethnic group has had members guilty of horrific acts; none of us wants to be, or should be, judged by acts committed by our co-religionists that we object to. And none of us wants to be told there is something wrong with our religion (supposedly revealed by such acts) when our own understanding of our religion in no way justifies the acts. That is exactly the situation in which most Muslims find themselves.

My own experience—and the experience of others I trust—confirms that most Muslims are good people and that their religion is part of their goodness.

Latter-day Saint attitudes toward Muslims and their religion

As noted above, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have called for respect and understanding among those of various religions, including Islam.

Within the past few days the Church released a statement in response to the threat made by some Americans to burn the Koran on September 11: “A key tenet of our faith is to accord everyone the freedom to worship as they choose. It is regrettable that anyone would regard the burning of any scriptural text as a legitimate form of protest or disagreement.” (Source:

The same attitude is expressed in earlier statements. The First Presidency of the Church made a statement on February 15, 1978, "regarding God's Love for All Mankind," that includes, among other things, the following:

"The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God's light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.

"We believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation."(quoted by James E. Faust, "Communion with the Holy Spirit," Ensign, May 1980, 12)

As mayor of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith—first prophet and president of the Church—issued the following statement:

“Be it ordained by the city council [of] Nauvoo that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopalians, Universalists, Unitarians, Mohammedans, and all other religious sects and denominations, whatever, shall have free toleration and equal privileges in this city.”

Joseph Smith taught that God’s love for his children is universal:

“The Mussulman [Muslim] condemns the heathen, the Jew, and the Christian, and the whole world of mankind that reject his Koran, as infidels, and consigns the whole of them to perdition. The Jew believes that the whole world that rejects his faith and are not circumcised, are Gentile dogs, and will be damned. The heathen is equally as tenacious about his principles, and the Christian consigns all to perdition who cannot bow to his creed, and submit to his ipse dixit.

“But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, "not according to what they have not, but according to what they have," those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.” (From Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith pages 217-18.)

Recent Church members and leaders have worked to establish positive relationships with people of other faiths, including Jews and Muslims. The Church has partnered with Muslims to provide disaster relief and to engage in scholarly work. [See the comment below with links to an article about some of this work.]

Another example: President Boyd K. Packer has become friends with Dr. Alwi Shihab, a Muslim and an important figure in the government of Indonesia. Invited by President Packer, Dr. Shihab gave an address at Brigham Young University on October 10, 2006.

You can read the introduction by Pres. Packer and the address by Dr. Shihab at the following site:

Here are some excerpts from Pres. Packer's introduction:
Ahead of us, indeed already all around us, is the world of Islam. Christianity and Islam will clasp hands in cooperation and understanding or clench fists in confrontation and prejudice.

. . . We have witnessed two watershed events: September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center terrorist attack brought Christians and Muslims into confrontation. The December 27, 2004, tsunami opened opportunity for Christians and Muslims to cooperate. The first was a wake-up call; the other pushed us out of bed.

. . . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expresses ‘special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.’

. . . Knit together by world history and by Old Testament history and doctrine, the Church and the Islamic world can see each other as People of the Book, indeed Family of the Book.

Church members and Muslims share similar high standards of decency, temperance, and morality. We have so much in common. As societal morality and behavior decline in an increasingly permissive world, the Church and many within Islam increasingly share natural affinities.

Muslim scholars point out that the Quran does not restrict Paradise to Muslims. The Quran rewards all those of faith who perform righteousness and believe in the after-life. The Book calls Jesus Christ Messiah, Son of Mary, and by the names Messenger, Prophet, Servant, Word, and Spirit of God.

It is important that we in the West understand there is a battle for the heart, soul, and direction of Islam and that not all Islam espouses violent jihad, as some Western media portray.

It is as well important that friends in the Islamic world understand there is a battle for the heart, soul, and direction of the Western world and that not all the West is morally decadent, as some Islamic media portray.

. . . Alwi, a devout Muslim of Arabic ancestry, and I, a Christian and devout Mormon, have agreed to symbolically walk arm in arm into the future. Together we hope to build a bridge. Except what that symbolizes is accomplished, all of us face a very dark and very dangerous future.

Now I introduce Dr. Alwi Shihab with a title which I borrow from another venerable Islamic leader and cleric (whom we both know and love), Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia—Gus Dur. I apply that title to you, Alwi. You know that by interpretation it means ‘Dear Friend.’
Some closing thoughts

Now to add a few more words about my own experience: For several years, I have taught excerpts from the Quran (or Koran) in courses at Brigham Young University. I’ve found much in it that is inspired and good. In my view, it might be described in much the same way the Apocrypha is described in section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants: “There are many things contained therein that are true, . . .; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. . . . Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited” (verses 1-6).

Even more significant is the goodness I have found in the individual Muslims I have met. Whatever our differences in outlook and custom, we are brothers and sisters, children of a common Father. September 11 is a day to reaffirm that bond and pledge ourselves to work against hatred and in favor of respect, compassion, and goodwill. It is the wrong day (as if any days were right for this!) to promote fear, anger, and contention.

For more on Islam from a Latter-day Saint point of view, I recommend the following:

James A. Toronto, “A Latter-day Saint Perspective on Muhammad,” Ensign, Aug 2000, 51

James B. Mayfield, “Ishmael, Our Brother,” Ensign, Jun 1979, 24

Orin D. Parker, “A Life among Muslims,” Ensign, Mar 2002, 50

Joseph B. Platt, “Our Oasis of Faith,” Ensign, Apr 1988, 39