BYU conference: Elder Bednar, Elder Gong invite mutual understanding, respect among Latter-day Saints and Muslims

Two Apostles encouraged members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Tuesday, Oct. 19, to better understand the similarities and differences they have with the globe’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam.

“The two faiths are different in many of our core doctrines, but many of our values and the ways in which we practice our respective faith are similar and reflect our love of God and of our fellow man,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said this should be done openly and honestly, “with appreciation that we are brothers and sisters with a common humanity.” 

Elder Bednar and Elder Gong spoke together on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, during the final session of the free two-day conference “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” Newsroom reported.

Elder Gong said Latter-day Saints should learn more about their Muslim neighbors because such knowledge “will help us be more kind and more accurate in what we say and feel about each other.”

Elder Bednar repudiated any disparaging remarks and generalized statements Latter-day Saints have made about followers of Islam. Such comments, he said, are wrong and offensive.

“Such biases cause those who feel that way to overlook the kindness and goodness of the overwhelming majority of all Muslims,” Elder Bednar said. “To suggest that all Muslims are tied to grievous crimes here in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world is … inaccurate and offensive to Muslims. Muslims disavow any such actions, just as Latter-day Saints do. Every major religion has extremists who misinterpret the teachings of their own religion or who seek to do wrong in the name of religion.”

The Apostles emphasized the Church’s joint efforts with Muslims to defend religious freedom and engage in humanitarian work. They also pointed to resources that strengthen mutual understanding and highlighted several common beliefs the two faith communities share.

Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at the final session of the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021. The session was held in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building.
Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at the final session of the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021. The session was held in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Religious freedom

“As we meet with Muslim leaders across the world,” Elder Gong said, “we talk about defending religious freedom. People of faith need to stand together for tolerance and dignity of people of all religious beliefs.”

Just a few examples of Church leaders associating with Muslim leaders in recent years include Elder Gong meeting with a Sunni Muslim leader while in Asia and Oceania in 2019; Elder Bednar gathering in the past year with leaders from Sudan in their country and on Temple Square; and Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becoming acquainted with several Muslim leaders at the 2021 G20 Interfaith Forum in Italy.

At the BYU conference, Elder Gong read an 1841 Nauvoo city ordinance that shows religious tolerance at the roots of the Latter-day Saint movement. “Be it ordained by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo,” the text reads, “that the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, [Muslims], and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration, and equal privileges in this city.”

Elder Bednar shared some of the comments on religious freedom he made at the virtual G20 Interfaith Forum last year, hosted by Saudi Arabia. At that forum, he called for solutions to COVID-19 that don’t cut people off from worship experiences.

“[We feel] very strongly about religious freedom not just for ourselves, but for all,” Elder Bednar said. “Like some Muslims in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, members of our Church have felt the effects of persecution and profiling and we join with good people everywhere in condemning such actions.”

Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at the final session of the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021. The session was held in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building.
Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at the final session of the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021. The session was held in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Humanitarian work

Both Apostles visited Indonesia — the country with the most Muslims — after a December 2004 tsunami killed some 225,000 people. Elder Bednar had just been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Gong was working for BYU.

Elder Gong said they met with the president of Indonesia, visited Jakarta’s largest mosque, donated needed medical and humanitarian supplies and visited the heart of the devastation. Latter-day Saint Charities worked with Islamic Relief and the Indonesian government to provide millions of dollars of needed relief. 

Elder Bednar said the post-tsunami aid from both organizations lasted for years as they stayed to rebuild communities. 

“This is just one example — of many — of how Latter-day Saints have worked together with our Muslim brothers and sisters to assist in alleviating suffering and ensuring that all of humankind are treated with kindness, compassion and respect,” Elder Bednar said. 

“I am grateful our Church’s global humanitarian relief extends to people in some 200 countries and territories, without regard to race, religion or ethnicity,” Elder Gong added.

More recent humanitarian outreach by the Church to the Muslim community includes a $100,000 donation in May 2019 to help rebuild two mosques attacked in Christchurch, New Zealand. Elder Gong and President Russell M. Nelson visited Muslim leaders there and presented a check.

“I was grateful to stand together with our Church President in love and solidarity with our Muslim friends,” Elder Gong said. “We reached out to individuals who had been injured in the mosque attacks. I was glad we could provide practical help in the face of tragedy and pain, and pledge to work together to increase understanding.”

Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at the final session of the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021. The session was held in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building.
Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at the final session of the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021. The session was held in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Resources to increase mutual understanding

Elder Gong pointed to three sources BYU has made available to help Muslims and Latter-day Saints better understand each other:

  1. BYU’s Islamic Translation Series. This is a collection of 14 of Islam’s best known classical philosophical and scholastic contributions.
  2. The 2012 “Beauty and Belief” Islamic art exhibit, hosted by BYU.
  3. BYU’s conferences on Islam. These academic exchanges among scholars of Islam are one of the university’s longstanding traditions.

Of the final item, Elder Gong said, one scholar of Islam told him that “here [at BYU] among religious believers I feel I can leave, however temporarily, the modern secular wasteland.”

Both Apostles read from a forthcoming resource — a new pamphlet called “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Beliefs, Values and Lifestyles.” This will be published in the Gospel Library app in January 2022. Elder Bednar said the document is the fruit of years of work, including collaboration with Muslim imams. 

The document outlines areas of common ground and notes key differences of belief. These include the following:

  • Faith in an omniscient and omnipotent God is foundational.
  • Prophets provide guidance from God.
  • Revelation from God given through messengers as scripture is the foundation for learning God’s will, keeping commitments and participating in faithful worship.
  • Human beings must communicate with God through daily prayer.
  • God delights in purity and chastity.
  • Women are essential in society and in the home.
  • Family is the fundamental unit of society and an essential source of joy.
  • Jesus Christ plays an important, though different, role for both groups.

“Jesus Christ teaches the two great commandments are to love God and to love one another,” Elder Gong said. “Greater understanding of one another helps us love one another. May we learn to share and understand openly and accurately, so we can meet with extended hands of respect and goodwill, not clenched fists of ignorance or antagonism.”

To Muslim friends present Tuesday night, Elder Bednar expressed the Church’s sincere desire “to join with you in doing good.” He prayed that “the God of Abraham — the God of us all — will watch over and bless each of us in this important and essential endeavor.”

Participants listen during the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021.
Participants listen during the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Connecting with Muslim neighbors

The 2021 Islamic World Today Conference offered the Church-owned school a timely opportunity to explore one of the world’s more influential religious traditions.

“As the Muslim population continues to grow and expand worldwide in the 21st century, it is more important than ever that we understand our Muslim neighbors and their faith,” noted Grant Underwood, head of the school’s Richard L. Evans chair of religious understanding, in his welcome to conference participants. 

“To that end, this BYU-sponsored conference [provides] an intensive yet accessible introduction to key aspects of Islam and will make clear why such information is relevant, even essential, for informed citizenship today.”

Along with Elder Bednar and Elder Gong, the free two-day conference Oct. 18-19 brought together a rich collection of scholars from a variety of disciplines and universities in the United States. More than half of the presenting scholars were women.

They addressed their audience — gathered in person at BYU’s Hinckley Center and virtually worldwide — “in the same engaging way that TED Talks do,” added Underwood.

Topics explored during the conference included contemporary Islamic politics, perceptions of Islam in the West, women and gender in the Islamic world, probing Islamic diversity, and the historical origins of the Quran.

Globally, Muslims make up the second largest religious group. Almost a quarter of the world’s population is Muslim.