The Other Major Spiritual Tradition from Middle East

I am going to discuss different spiritual traditions. First of all, it is good to get the idea across, that for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it’s an article of faith that:

  1. “…we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (Articles of Faith 9)
  2. “… [i]f there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” (AoF 13, click the above link)

What those two Articles of Faith mean seems not to be fully clear to many LDS folks. First of all, the above quotes are just little pieces of the whole (so you’d better read the whole thing), but the general meaning doesn’t change.

Amid all of that “the only true and living Church” rhetoric there’s an underlying call for humility. First of all, we don’t know everything. Shocking, huh? We actually are supposed to admit that we are expecting new revelation. New revelation, as in the Prophet, or actually the First Presidency (FP for short) and the Quorum of the Twelve (Q12), coming out with new statements like the Manifesto I and II (the “Official Declarations”) or what’s called the Family Proclamation in shorthand.

Not only admitting the possibility, but actually expecting it.

For me, that’s a given, but I’ve met surprisingly many, who say that we actually already have all the answers. But our God is a living Father in Heaven, and he will keep giving new inspiration to the Church. Without it, we would not be the living Church. I’m reiterating this because this is so important.

Also, AoF 13 means what Brigham Young also said, which, as I cannot find it in JoD right now, I can only quote from memory as “we can accept Truth from any source” because “all truth is Mormonism”. So, Mormonism is not all the truth, but the other way around. The “all truth is Mormonism” can sound a bit arrogant, but it’s actually a humble attitude, admitting of imperfection in our teachings. We have enough to help us along, but not all of it.

Why I like it so much is that we can be enlightened so much by listening to others in addition to teaching our beliefs and principles to them. There’s some specific advise on the subject in the Preach My Gospel, the official missionary training manual for full- and part-time missionaries (available at http://lds.org if you’re interested–just search for it).

I’ve tried to be open about the actual teachings of other traditions, and I feel greatly enriched by them. It’s convenient in a way to just shut your eyes and ears to anything not officially LDS, but it’s also very narrow-minded. I’ve been guilty of that, too, and probably do sometimes get stuck with that despite my best intentions.

There is the temptation to rely on the “argument from authority” when we want to “prove” our point. One of the more popular such argument style starts with “the Bible says…” and then whatever we wish to have the Book teach.

I don’t mean this in a disparaging way. I just put it a little bluntly to underline an important principle. Naturally there is some value in appealing to Authority. For example, if we have a clear teaching like the obvious nonviolent principle that Jesus taught in the Bible (here I go again! 😉 ), one would be wise to base a change to that on something more than just “because so and so said so! do you question the words of the Prophet of the Lord?”

But enough with that. What I actually want to say is it’s not wrong to read the sacred texts of other traditions than our own. For example, if we think that Islam is all about Jihad and stuff, we are off the mark. One way to find out is to actually read the Qur’an itself. The other is to read the teachings of some Imams that don’t make the tabloid headlines. I’ve read the Qur’an, although not in Arabic, but that was quite some time ago, so I went to http://quran.com to look around.

“And those who take as protectors others besides Him,- Allah doth watch over them; and thou art not the disposer of their affairs … [i]f Allah had so willed, He could have made them a single people; but He admits whom He will to His Mercy…” (Surah 42:6, 7 transl. by Yusuf Ali — I thought a translation by someone called Joseph is appropriate for us LDS folks 😉 )

I don’t want to start prooftexting from a scripture I know as vaguely as I do the Qur’an, but let’s just say that I decided to go random and just pick one Surah. (I’m not sure if I use the correct English spelling for the Surah.) In this one, some things stand out to me:

  • The Prophet here is being told, that if people look for guidance from someone else, Allah (Elohim — God in Arabic) still watches over them, and Muhamed is not their manager. This is quite a different thing than the “death to the infidels” thing we’re used to hearing from headlines. That stuff can also be found, if we look for it, but if we do the same with the Bible, we’ll find the commandment to “utterly destroy” Amalek (and, conveniently, some fundamentalist Jewish people are calling Palestinians “Amalek”).
  • Allah is saying he admits whom he will to his mercy — “I the Lord will forgive whom I will…”. This can be read like the Calvinist tradition, and say that we can not do anything for our own salvation, and on the other hand, if you read verse 8 from the same Surah, he warns that the wrongdoers (those who knowingly go against God’s commandments and rely on a “free” mercy, one which lays no responsibility to individual) have no protector. Souns familiar to me.
  • Allah uses the first person plural (“we”) of himself. Also, Elohim in Jewish scripture is a plural form used both as a name for God and–in a different phrase–for the “gods” of the idolaters in plural. Just file that in the back of your mind for future reference…

If we search further and read around, we’ll find out that instead of preaching by the edge of the sword, the Prophet is being told that nobody should be intimidated or pressured into accepting Islam.

The very definition of “Islam” goes against the violent traditions of some Muslims. According to Wikipedia,

the word Islam means ‘submission to God’, ‘peace’, and ‘way to peace’ (Wikipedia: Islam),

and a follower of Islam is called a Muslim. The Wikipedia gives these sources. I’ve checked and referred the first one, but I couldn’t find the text of Omar available for reference. What I did find supports the Wikipedia definition.

The strongest argument against Qur’an is actually the fact that it denies the divinity of Jesus; he’s “just” a Prophet, although a very special one, and also the Messiah, and he will come back to set things to right at the end of the World. But it’s Messiah, not the Son of God. If I go by Mormon’s guidance, that may or may not be the “silver bullet” (pardon my silliness 😉 ). Here’s the text of Moroni 7:16-17:

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. (Emphasis added.)

One could easily be inundated by arguments about what’s actually good, and what’s not; also, the things missing from Qur’an are the divinity and crucifixion of Christ (see the Wikipedia about Jesus in Islam, but check the sources, because this might be subject to edit wars); they’re actually denied.

But the exhortation to believe in Jesus’ message and follow it (to believe Jesus) is very strong and clear.

You’ll have to decide for yourself. Myself, I am edified by all the good things, especially the messages of peaceful coexistence and nonviolence (and the exhortation to live a decent, profitable life). But there is no single “final word” argument to make, as far as I can see. Both the Qur’an and the Bible can be interpreted for many purposes, and if I don’t hold the Bible responsible for every violent act committed in its name, I can’t feel honest if I hold other sacred texts responsible for their violent interpretations.

Remember, you have the personal, private “hot line” to God in the Holy Spirit; just “ask and you shall receive”–you won’t be left in the dark. And please forgive me for making this is so long. Because of the potential explosiveness of the subject, I am also tightening the commenting options for this article. Comments are still open, but I want to keep the explosive stuff out, so no threats, offending language or such, please.

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Posted in Islam, Mormonism, Religion
One comment on “The Other Major Spiritual Tradition from Middle East
  1. Velska says:

    It should go without saying, but I’m responsible for any misquotations or other mistakes in here!

Comments are closed.

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