One of the noteworthy examples of the Latter-day Saint commitment to treasure up true principles and cultivate affirmative gratitude is the admiration that Church leaders have expressed over the years for the spiritual contributions of Muhammad.
As early as 1855, at a time when Christian literature generally ridiculed Muhammad as the Antichrist and the archenemy of Western civilization, Elders George A. Smith (1817–75) and Parley P. Pratt (1807–57) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered lengthy sermons demonstrating an accurate and balanced understanding of Islamic history and speaking highly of Muhammad’s leadership. Elder Smith observed that Muhammad was “descended from Abraham and was no doubt raised up by God on purpose” to preach against idolatry. He sympathized with the plight of Muslims, who, like Latter-day Saints, found it difficult “to get an honest history” written about them. Speaking next, Elder Pratt went on to express his admiration for Muhammad’s teachings, asserting that “upon the whole, … [Muslims] have better morals and better institutions than many Christian nations.” 9
Latter-day Saint appreciation of Muhammad’s role in history can also be found in the 1978 First Presidency statement regarding God’s love for all mankind. This declaration specifically mentions Muhammad as one of “the great religious leaders of the world” who received “a portion of God’s light” and affirms that “moral truths were given to [these leaders] by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” 10
In recent years, respect for the spiritual legacy of Muhammad and for the religious values of the Islamic community has led to increasing contact and cooperation between Latter-day Saints and Muslims around the world. This is due in part to the presence of Latter-day Saint congregations in areas such as the Levant, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Southeast Asia. The Church has sought to respect Islamic laws and traditions that prohibit conversion of Muslims to other faiths by adopting a policy of nonproselyting in Islamic countries of the Middle East. Yet examples of dialogue and cooperation abound, including visits of Muslim dignitaries at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City; Muslim use of Church canning facilities to produce halal (ritually clean) food products; Church humanitarian aid and disaster relief sent to predominantly Muslim areas including Jordan, Kosovo, and Turkey; academic agreements between Brigham Young University and various educational and governmental institutions in the Islamic world; the existence of the Muslim Student Association at BYU; and expanding collaboration between the Church and Islamic organizations to safeguard traditional family values worldwide. 11 The recent initiation of the Islamic Translation Series, cosponsored by BYU and the Church, has resulted in several significant exchanges between Muslim officials and Latter-day Saint Church leaders. A Muslim ambassador to the United Nations predicted that this translation series “will play a positive role in the West’s quest for a better understanding of Islam.” 12
A cabinet minister in Egypt, aware of the common ground shared by Muslims and Latter-day Saints, once remarked to Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that “if a bridge is ever built between Christianity and Islam it must be built by the Mormon Church.” 13 The examples of Latter-day Saint–Muslim interaction mentioned above, together with the Church’s establishment in 1989 of two major centers for educational and cultural exchange in the Middle East (Jerusalem and Amman), reflect the traditional attitude of respect for Islam that Church leaders have exhibited from earliest times. These activities represent tangible evidence of Latter-day Saint commitment to promote greater understanding of the Muslim world and witness an emerging role for the Church in helping to bridge the gap that has existed historically between Muslims and Christians.