A criticism of the LDS Church that I have heard occasionally over the years is that Mormonism really has more kinship to Islam than it does Christianity. Recently, that assertion has popped up several times in various publications, enough so that it probably is worth addressing.
My initial reaction is to note that the two religions are very similar in at least one respect: The people inclined to say most about them usually know the least. Because of what I do professionally, I have had the good fortune of getting to know a number of Muslims quite well, and I have found myself saying about them what others have said about me: ”You aren’t anything like I was told you would be.” The Muslims I have known generally have been peaceful and loving, dedicated to their faith but in no way hostile to mine. They are frustrated and saddened by the stereotypes that surround them and feel powerless to change the negative perceptions that dog them wherever they go. They are no more represented by the extremists that blow up buildings than Christians are represented by the zealots who protest the funerals of U.S. soldiers.
So, at least to the extent that people like to tell us what to believe, Mormons and Muslims have plenty in common. Outside of that, most of the similarities are purely superficial.
Those that would like to align the two religions–apparently with the intent of supporting the notion that both are enemies to Christianity–point to a handful of characteristics that at first glance might support their assertion. But when you dig even slightly below the surface the comparisons don’t hold up. It’s rather like aligning Abraham Lincoln with Humphrey Bogart on the basis that they both wore hats. The supposed similarities include:
Belief in Prophets After Jesus Christ
Mormons and Muslims both believe in prophets subsequent to the coming of Christ. However, the role of those prophets is entirely different. Distinct from Islam, Mormons recognize the supremacy of Jesus Christ in all things. Those we identify as prophets are also apostles, or “special witnesses” of Christ. Christ remains at the center of all that we teach, and we place no one on equal or higher ground with Him. Joseph Smith openly endorsed the definition of prophecy found in Revelation: The testimony of Christ. In addition, Mormons believe in a regular succession of prophets continuing into the present day, which also is distinct from Islam.
Both Mormonism and Islam have scripture other than the Bible. Because few people outside those religions have read these religious texts, it is easy to assume or assert that they perform essentially the same function in these faiths. That simply isn’t accurate. The Book of Mormon is Christ-centered. It stands as another witness of the divinity of Christ and deals with the anticipation, actuality, and aftermath of His visit to the Americas following His resurrection. Mormons recognize the Bible as Holy Scripture and it plays a central role in our theology and instruction.
If Mormons and Muslims get together to discuss their faith, it likely won’t be over a beer. Both religions follow dietary restrictions, and in the case of both those restrictions include intoxicants. Beyond that, there really is no similarity. Islam prohibits the consumption of pork and blood in restrictions that bear more similarity to the Jewish dietary restrictions than Mormon. The LDS Church follows the Word of Wisdom, a revelation given to the prophet Joseph Smith that restricts the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. (The Word of Wisdom is addressed in another article in this blog).
Some folks have tried to compare the clothing practices of some Muslims with the temple garments worn by Mormons. That’s a comparison that makes little sense to me, other than perhaps the underlying notion that people should dress modestly. Muslim clothing practices can vary significantly, and much of what non-Muslims view as religious garb is actually cultural. The Mormon temple garment is worn by those who have been through the temple ceremony–men and women–and it is symbolic of covenants made by those people to worship God and follow His commandments. While the garment certainly has the effect of encouraging modesty in dress, because we believe it should be covered by other clothing, that is not its primary role.
As recently as last week I read an article that claimed that both Islam and Mormonism permit you to have four wives (which puts me three under my quota). The author offered no support for this assertion as, indeed, it is unsupportable. The LDS Church permitted polygamy for a relatively short time (a little over 50 years). The practice has since been abandoned by the Church, and anyone practicing polygamy would be excommunicated from the Church. As I understand it, polygamy still is permitted by Islam, although a very small percentage of Muslims practice it, particularly given the fact that it is illegal in most of the world. On the issue of polygamy, both Jews and Christians are stuck with defending its past practice as well, because both accept that many of God’s prophets in the Old Testament engaged in the practice with the express approval–and sometimes at the instruction of–God.
Similar superficial comparisons between Islam and Mormonism have been made that can’t hold up under honest scrutiny. Typically the intended effect is to unfairly color both religions as alien and dangerous. In my experience, there are any number of real similarities between Mormons and Muslims, but those similarities run to countless other religions as well. My Muslim friends and I have found common ground in our devotion to God, our reliance upon prayer, our love of our families, and our desire to make good choices and treat other people with love and respect. Truth be known, I believe that many of my Muslim friends are better people than I am, and because of that I consider comparison to them a compliment rather than a criticism.
That said, Mormonism is centrally focused on the divine nature of Christ, the truthfulness of His teachings, the redemptive power of His sacrifice for us, the reality of His resurrection, and His continuing guidance and direction to the world. With respect to these most fundamental and important doctrines, Mormonism and Islam stand on very different roads.