Monday, October 21, 2013

When Mormons and Muslims Get Together

A few months ago a lovely couple moved in next door. They have been friendly from the beginning and the second time we saw them, they brought over gifts for our little girls to celebrate their holiday. They also gave us a huge TV and a BluRay player when they got new ones. We've only had short encounters with them until Saturday night when my husband realized that the dutch oven casserole he made could feed a small army. So he headed next door and asked them over for dinner. They initially declined because our food had pork in it, which is against halal, but they brought their own food and came over to eat with us.

We let our girls stay up way too late so that we could sit and talk with them. It was one of the most interesting conversations I've ever been in as Mormons and Muslims sat together and shared our respective religions' origin stories, our beliefs, and the why of what we do and how we live. I'm a fairly well-read person and 95% of the time I listen to NPR, so I wasn't completely ignorant about their customs and beliefs, but hearing why they do what they do from someone who lives it (she grew up Muslim, he converted after attending and learning about many other churches) was entirely different. Here's some of what I learned.

Islam refers to the religion, Muslim refers to the people. Just as our religion is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and we refer to ourselves as a people as Saints. (This is one of the things I did know--go me.)

Halal means permissible and can apply to many things, but most often refers to what they eat. They don't eat any pork and any meat they do eat has to be slaughtered in a certain way. They can eat meat that is designated as either Halal or Kosher because they have the same requirements. But Halal seems much easier than what I know of strict Kosher eating. Meat is really the only thing, so at work potlucks, he just tells people that he eats vegetarian--something that people understand. So it wouldn't be all that hard for me to cook a dinner they could eat because I know how to cook for vegetarians.

Hijab is not just the head covering, it refers to the whole outfit that keeps them modest. Women only show their faces and hands to people outside their families (the women you see who only have eye slits showing is more a cultural thing from a certain area, not something that Islam requires). Men have a hijab requirement too, which sound similar to our Mormon modesty standards. Covering to the knees, no low necklines, covering the shoulders. Even though we understood each other's reasons for modesty, even in a blazing hot place like Florida, I can't imagine covering up as much as she does. Just as I realized later how odd it must seem to her that we adhere to modesty standards that are altered when we go to the beach or the pool because we wear swimsuits there.

They have five set prayers a day. They say them at certain times of day, say them facing Mecca, and have set words. All this is a sign of unity with all the Muslims of the world. And when you see them praying together in the mosques and they are so close together it makes me claustrophobic just to look at, it is to show they are all equal--rich and poor and all races stand together shoulder to shoulder as equals before God.  (They can also say what I would consider personal prayers at any time they want, so not all their prayers are scripted.)

They believe in many of the same prophets as we do--Abraham, Noah, Moses. And believe in Jesus as a prophet, but not as a Savior or son of God. They believe that the scriptures these prophets brought are true, but that they were for the people of that time, so they really don't study them. She knew that Jesus had brought some scripture, but didn't know what it was well enough to know what it corresponded to with the scriptures we know and study. They believe that Mohammed was the last prophet and the Koran is the word of God brought forth through him. Part of what we as Mormons, who believe in living prophets and continuing revelation, couldn't understand about their religion is that to be Muslim you must believe and declare that Mohammed is the last prophet.

There are obviously many differences between our two religions. But in a secular world, we have more in common that you might first think. Our religion is something we live every day, not just on Sunday (or Friday). We have modesty dressing standards. We don't drink alcohol and have other dietary standards that other people don't understand (theirs is meat, ours is coffee). In a world where religious beliefs and standards are often mocked and looked down upon, it was refreshing to sit down with people who live high standards. And fascinating to hear what they believe. And a mix of terror and hilarity and pride listening to my husband give the first discussion to some Muslims sitting at our kitchen table.

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