Friday, February 29, 2008

Muhammad: Prophet of God

Daniel C Peterson is a Mormon scholar in ancient near-eastern studies at BYU. He gives an inspired lecture series on the prophet Muhammad entitled "Understanding Islam: An LDS Perspective" in addition to his book "Muhammad: Prophet of God." This lecture and book give a wonderful LDS prospective on the Muslim faith in contrast to the current negative stereotypes perpetuated in the mainstream media.

Dr. Peterson references several early LDS church leaders starting with Joseph Smith who were complimentary of the teachings of Muhammad and categorized him with other inspired servants of God throughout history such as Martin Luther.

The Book and lectures provide a clear and concise description of the events surrounding the birth of the Muslim religion and then review the events that bring the religion to the present day. Muhammad was an honest man who recognized that the pagan religion of his day did not inspire sufficient virtue from the Arab people. Dr. Peterson recounts a secondary story of Muhammad's calling as prophet where he hears the voice of God three times and looks up after the third time into heaven and beholds a glorified anthropomorphic God sitting upon his thrown. It is then that Muhammad starts to receive the revelations that make up the Qur'an. LDS members will recognize the parallel of Muhammad's calling with the experience of the Nephites before the visitation of Jesus Christ in the New World.

The Second lecture by Dr. Peterson focuses on Islam today. Islam was at it's peak during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Islamic scholars were the source of all the great advances in mathematics, art, and philosophy during the middle ages. But, their mistake was to ignore the infidels of Western Europe. Vasco da Gama's bypassing the Middle Eastern Trade Routes by sailing from Europe to India via Africa marked the end of the Ottoman Empire's power. Islam has struggled to return to its prior greatness ever since.

Dr. Peterson asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of the Muslim people. Imagine if the LDS church was loosing membership. There are 4 major directions we could decide to take. We could do as the secularists do and say, "well I guess the LDS faith is wrong" and turn completely away from our faith. We could send our students to study with other successful groups and learn the skills and strategies that have made them successful. Or we could conclude that we need to recommit ourselves to the fundamental principles of our faith. Finally, we could do nothing and instead blame others for our failure. Today, we see all four of these directions being taken by some of the Arab and Muslim peoples.

Dr. Peterson summarizes the beliefs of Islam by referring to what are known as the 6 pillars of the Islamic Faith. He compares these to the LDS 13 Articles of Faith. The 6 pillars of Islam are: 1. Testimony 2. Prayer 3. Fasting 4. Charity (Zakat) 5. Pilgrimage (Hajj) 6. Enduring or Striving to the End (Jihad = internal struggle).

The 2 points that made an impact on me were #1 that the Qur'an teaches "There is no coersion in religion." When the Ottoman's conquered North Africa and Persia they did not force conversions at the point of the sword. Conversions happened slowly over decades and centuries. #2 Jihad more has to with the internal stuggle to follow the will of Allah and enduring or striving to the end and dying in the path or service of Allah then having to do with physical, literal holy war.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An Assurance of Eternal Family Relationships

My younger brother Stephen passed away last Monday of complications of pneumonia. Although unexpected, he had been sick for a long time, so his passing was not a total surprise. I am convinced of life after death and the continuation of family relationships in the next life. Stephen had had a near-death experience in the past while clinging to life on a ventilator. During that experience (typical of many other NDEs), he met and spoke with people on the other side who had died who he knew to be family and friends. Although, not his time then, I am confident that his time to pass into the next life had come at last. Stephen died quietly and painlessly in his sleep yet I believe that our relationship will live on forever.

It is interesting how many NDEs involve already deceased family and friends. It seem this would confirm by direct observation that familial relationships continue into the next life. It is unfortunate that other Christian religions have contrived doctrines contrary to this self-evident truth. Family relationships are a treasure which we can lay up in store where thieves cannot break in and steal and where moth and rust cannot corrupt.

The assurance of Eternal Families results in LDS funerals which are different than funerals the world over. LDS funerals are reverent and mournful, but never grief- or despair-filled. There is always a bright spirit of hope, peace, comfort and faith that the deceased who has keep the faith is in a better place awaiting a literal resurrection and our future reunion.