Mormons & Muslims Relations Plus Presidential Politics
Mitt Romney, a Mormon by religion, is a Republican candidate for president and may be our next President .I thought it may be appropriate to look at the relations between Muslims and Mormons and its political implications. Mormons play a very active role socially, economically and politically in the USA. As per Akbar Ahmed, author of Journey into America,” Mormonism is the fastest growing religion in the Western Hemisphere and surpassing Episcopalians or Presbyterians in the USA. Mormonism seems likely to become a major world religion, the first to emerge since Islam, according to some scholars.”
Relations between Muslims and Mormons are much more cordial than Muslims relations with other religions. Even after 9/11 these relations remain strong. Mormons have very favorable opinion of Muslims. The Muslims living among Mormon communities speak very highly of them. Although there are fundamental differences between the two religions, but there are some similarities. The Late Mormon Scholar Stephen J. Palmer writes in ‘Mormons and Muslims, “Without the least exaggeration, we may designate the Mormons as Mohammadans of the New World according to their origins and manner of thinking”. Mormons professors have prepared handouts for their students at Brigham Young University (BYU) outlining similar practices and rituals in Mormonism and Islam.
Brief History of Mormonism. In Palmyra, New York, in 1820, Joseph Smith claimed that God and his son, Jesus, revealed themselves to him and was led by the Angel Moroni to the ‘Golden Plates,’ which had ancient writings of old prophets and were buried at Hill Cumorah. Joseph Smith was seventeen year old at the time. He translated these golden plates into English and that became the “Book of Mormon”. The golden plates were returned to Angel Moroni after translation. According to Mormon faith, people of Western Hemisphere arrived here from Middle East 600 years before Christ and Moroni was their last prophet. The Church of Mormons is called” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. According to their holy text, a man can be elevated beyond prophet hood and become a God. Mormons believe they are restoring the true faith of Christianity. Some compare this to Muslim’s belief of restoring the true faith of Abraham.
Mormons faced extreme hardship and discrimination and moved from place to place in search of protection and shelter. They were allowed to settle in Illinois by a sympathetic Governor. They grew stronger in Illinois and in 1844, Joseph Smith declared himself as a candidate for the President of USA. Five months later he was killed by a mob, at the age of thirty eight. He was followed by Brigham Young, a very charismatic leader, but there was a split as some followers believed the hierarchy should run through blood line and Joseph Smith’s son should lead the Church. Some compare this split to Shia’s split in Islam.
In 1846, Young decided to move out of USA and led his followers to Utah, part of Mexico at the time. The Mormons progressed and created equivalent of a nation in Utah. In 1848, when Mexico ceded Utah to United States, the federal government gave autonomy to Mormons and appointed Brigham Young as the Governor of Utah. The Latter-Day Saints (LDS) became essentially a state within a state and were allowed to practice their religion according to their belief. Mormons call their migration to Utah, the Hijra and Salt Lake City is referred to as Mormon Mecca. Both are compared to Islamic history of Hijra and Holy city of Mecca. Young took fifty-seven wives, but polygamy was banned by the LDS Church in 1890, before Utah was allowed to enter the Union. In spite of the ban, polygamy is still practiced by some Mormons. Polygamy is allowed in Islam, but Muslims do not practice polygamy in USA, by respecting the local laws. Shortly after the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, New York Herald referred to him as “Modern Mehmet”. He was also referred to as “Yankee Mehmet” by his critics as a derogatory name, by scholars as a neutral reference and by some followers as a complement. In 1853 speech, Brigham Young compared Joseph Smith to the Prophet Mohammad. Thomas Monson is the current Prophet of Mormons. Muslims believe Muhammad was the last prophet, while Mormons believe in succession of prophets extending from Prophet Joseph Smith.
Some commonality between both beliefs include religion is a complete way of life, fasting during specified period of time, ablution before certain rituals, emphasis upon chastity and modesty in dress, prohibition on drinking and gambling and strong emphasis on family as a unit and source of transmission of religious and family values. Professor Arnold Green, history professor at BYU, wrote in 2001 essay that Mormonism’s posture toward Islam has became more positive, today the two faiths have become associated in several ways, including Mormonism’s being called the” Islam of America ”.
Despite fundamental differences between the two religions, both sides want to emphasize on the commonalities especially family values and moral character. Salt Lake City has six Mosques. Muslims living in this city believe it is the best place to raise a family and is the ‘best kept secret”. The Mormon Church has donated $ 25,000 to the Mosque and other places of worship. According to a survey by Mr. Akbar Ahmed, 98 % of Mormon said they will vote for a Muslim for a public office, 96 % of Mormons and 85 % of the Muslims give Religion as first priority. When asked what is biggest threat to America? They said ‘ourselves’, followed by ‘immorality’, then economy and breakdown of family values. While describing American or Western values, Mormons use the term ‘Judeo-Christian-Muslim “instead of “Judeo-Christian”. Mormons has much more knowledge of Islam as compared to other Americans. During the survey one of the Mormon student referred to Prophet Mohammad as one of her hero. Muslims living in southern California in Mormon communities also express similar sentiments. Some Muslim charity organizations are working closely with Mormon charity organizations and Mormon Church has contributed money to Muslim Charities. This warm relationship and collaboration between the two groups has raised some eye brows among the critics of both, especially extreme right wing groups.
Politics trumps all other priorities and these relationships may come under strain and criticism due to presidential politics. Mr. Farid Senzai, Research Director of ISPU, writes in one of his article, Muslim Swing Vote, “While an anti-Muslim strategy may have worked in the past, it is risky because many agree that the outcome of 2012 election will probably be determined in no more than twelve states. Although it is true American Muslims constitute small percentage of the national population, they are concentrated in key swing states of such as Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida. Republicans who found the Muslim community an easy target in the Primaries may find themselves in trouble in the states that may determine the winner of the election.” In Florida, a tossup state, in 2000 Bush won election only by few hundred votes, and 60,000 Muslims voted for Bush. In 2004 and 2008 the election margin was less than 2%. There are 124,000 registered Muslim voters in Florida and this number will be increased by 2012 Election Day. More than 60% of Muslims vote in block. Although Mr. Romney has aligned himself with the extreme right wing, but he has avoided hurling the toxic and hateful remarks upon the Muslims as Mr. Gingrich did. He has to do more and denounce forcefully Islamophobia and violations of civil liberties of Muslims in order to get critical Muslim votes in key swing states. Mr. Romney can take advantage of good feelings of Muslims towards Mormons and by addressing the genuine concerns of Muslims.
Muslim vote is not going to be automatic for Mr. Obama this time. Many Muslims feel betrayed by him by further imposing restriction on their civil liberties and keeping Gautama Bay open. Mr. Obama has not spoken forcefully against Islamophobia; he has not visited a Mosque since his election and is giving in to fear mongering. Muslims feel much more under siege under Obama administration than they felt under Mr. Bush. He has to address and remedy these issues in order to receive Muslims vote this time.
Muslim organizations and Islamic Centers should organize voter registrations in all states especially in swing States in order to make a difference and have Muslims’ voices heard. Muslim Organizations should send volunteers to critical swing states to maximize voter registration.
Fayyaz A. Sheikh