I share the following with the caveat that I have but superficial knowledge of what I write, and therefore write it against my better judgment. On the other hand, I find the subjects fascinating, and if perhaps I can capture the interest of someone more prepared than I, it may be that we all benefit from that person’s wisdom on the matter.
In particular, I wonder if there is, or was at one point, a legitimate dispensation of the gospel at the heart of Islam. The movement, in both its doctrine and its history, should strike Mormons as something strangely familiar. Muhammed gathered those who believed in his revelations into the “Ummah,” or community, which was meant to be a civilization of peace while the rest of the world destroyed itself in war. Not only does it correspond extremely well to the Mormon concept of “Zion,” but it appears to have been about as successful as the Latter-day Saints have been at establishing Zion. Islam teaches that the Jews and the Christians had been given the word of God, but that wicked men had corrupted the scriptures, necessitating the provision of a new revelation – the Koran – to restore the truth that had been lost. Here then, is the Joseph Smith story over a millennium before the birth of Joseph Smith.
The events immediately following the death of Muhammed should look strangely familiar to careful students of Latter-day Saint history. The Ummah was led by Caliphs; much like Brigham Young called himself a “yankee guesser” rather than a “prophet,” and stated that the Latter-day Saints should only trust him insofar as he is right, the Caliphs affirmed that they were only to preserve and interpret the revelations received by Muhammed, and the community should only accept their decisions to the degree that they were correct, which, coincidentally, was always. God would not allow a Caliph to lead his people astray.
Muhammed taught that Islam was not compulsory; persuasion was the only acceptable tool to bring people into the religion. Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, faced with the practical necessity of keeping together a community going in a hundred different directions after the death of the prophet, made apostasy punishable by death. Muhammad’s teaching about non-compulsion was interpreted in light of practical necessity to apply only to initial conversion to Islam.
Abu Bakr and Omar, the first two Caliphs, set about to collect Muhammed’s revelations into an official compilation – the Koran. In doing so, they often discarded copies of the revelations that had been written down at the time the revelation was received, in favor of what their trusted companions remembered the revelations as containing. It was taught that the memorized versions were more reliable than the written versions. There were some concerns that the official version of the Koran was arranged and edited to suit the Caliphs’ interests rather than to preserve the revelations exactly as received by Muhammed. However, modern orthodox Islamic doctrine is that, by the grace of God, the Koran has been perfectly preserved to this day. On the other hand, anyone who picks up a copy of the reproduced manuscripts in the Joseph Smith Papers can immediately see that LDS scripture has been modified to suit the interests of the early LDS leaders.
I provide only a brief overview of similarities. Even in minor points of doctrine some striking comparisons can be made. For example, the Koran teaches that God perfected the seven heavens (2:30); Joseph Smith stated that he visited the seventh heaven. I suspect that Mormons would benefit from a thorough study of Islam.
This doesn’t apply only to Islam, however. Zoroastrianism reveres Ahura Mazda as the supreme God. The name includes a masculine and a feminine word. The masculine word “Ahura” means “Lord,” and according to Zoroaster it referred to God as the creator. The feminine word “Mazda” means wise, and thus according to Zoroaster God is also the “wise one.” The different genders show that God’s nature is all-encompassing. Mormons believe that God is a Divine father and mother, and at least one branch of Mormonism includes the teaching that the father represents the creative power, and the mother represents wisdom.
Joseph Smith taught that Mormonism is intended to include all truth. He spoke of digging up the ancient records and bringing them all together in one place. My own brief glance at a couple of religions suggests that other religions may indeed have something to bring to Mormonism, if we will only take them seriously. I am surprised that I didn’t have to dig far at all before treasures started appearing. What rich treasures of knowledge await us if we make some small effort to uncover them? Here I am, a nobody in the extreme southwest corner of the United States, mostly disconnected from the covenant community and more concerned about stumbling over the practical needs of day-to-day life than the things of God; how much more could we obtain if someone smarter, more diligent, or more inspired than me – that is, anyone in the covenant community – were to look into one of these religions and dig up and share with the community the hidden knowledge that it contains? Shoot, if all of us did it, I imagine that the remainder of the Book of Mormon might as well be unsealed by the next conference, such would be the knowledge poured out upon the covenant people.
But I may be getting carried away. Finding a little knowledge, after all, is an exciting thing.