Carlos E. Asay, “God’s Love for Mankind,” in Mormons and Muslims: Spiritual Foundations and Modern Manifestations, ed. Spencer J. Palmer (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University 2002), 51–61.
God’s Love for Mankind
Elder Carlos E. Asay
Elder Carlos E. Asay, now deceased, was at the time of the symposium a member of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A graduate of the University of Utah in social science, he received his M.A. from Long Beach State College and his Ed.D. from the University of Utah in educational administration. Elder Asay served as an administrator in the Granite School District and the Jordan School District of Utah, was professor of education at Brigham Young University, and was chairman of its Secondary Education Department in 1969. He also served on the BYU-Hawaii faculty. Elder Asay by training and experience maintained a close interest and involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, initiated by his missionary service for the Church in Syria from 1947 to 1950.
A few years ago my wife and I purchased in Beirut a gold plaque with the Arabic inscription, Marhaba biikum, meaning “Welcome.” Upon our return to the United States, we placed the plaque on the front door of our home, and it has been there ever since. We love this work of art for many reasons: it is very beautiful, it provokes many inquiries and produces many interesting conversations, it reminds us of some marvelous memories gleaned through travels in the Middle East, but, most important, it inspires us to extend welcome to all who grace our premises after the inimitable manner of the Islamic people.
Added to all the other greetings which have been given you in this conference, I add one more, Marhaba biikum. I do so in behalf of the leadership of the LDS Church. I also desire to express to those from countries abroad a very special shukran. This thanks is extended through you to all who have befriended members of our faith as they have traveled, lived, and worked among you and your peoples over the years.
The word thanks seems most anemic as I acknowledge all of the goodness shared with me by members of the Islamic faith during the time I lived in Lebanon and Syria. I served a mission for my church in that part of the world from the fall of 1947 to the spring of 1950. I choose to refer to that experience in the Middle East as my two-and-one-half-year hajj. I use this expression with deep respect, even reverence. For my Church pilgrimage into a part of the Islamic world had a sanctifying influence upon my life, and I regard it as something most sacred. Though I cannot claim the real honors of a real hajj, I feel that I completed in the Arab world a journey of faith, love, and sacrifice. And in the process of that journey, I experienced a spiritual renewal which has directed the course of my life and made all the difference.
During my stay in Lebanon, I was invited to participate as a member of the National Lebanese Basketball Team. I wore proudly the colors of that nation in international competition. (If I weren’t so modest, I would add that we won more than our share of the victories.) My final games with the Lebanese team were played in a tournament in Istanbul. When the tournament was over and the day before I was scheduled to leave Istanbul, the leader of the Sports Federation requested that I go with him to the suq (a covered marketplace) to purchase a Turkish rug for his wife. While shopping for this rug, my friend casually and cleverly solicited my advice on color, design, size, etc., as dozens of pieces were displayed before us. I singled out one that was especially beautiful. I was certain that that carpet would please my friend’s wife. The next day as I boarded my plane for Athens, the first leg of my travel home, my friends—my Muslim friends—presented to me a baggage claim slip. This slip informed me that the beautiful Turkish rug—the one of my own selection—had been checked in my name.
I assure you that the rug given me is one of my most treasured possessions. Each time I look at it, sweet memories flood into my mind. The rug symbolizes the generosity and gift-giving tendency found among Muslim people. As the rug seems to take on added vividness of color through wear, my feelings of gratitude and thanks toward my friends become deeper and keener with each passing year. The word shukran, or thanks, falls short in conveying the love I feel for those who shared with me a special hajj.
I commend all of you for choosing to participate in this symposium. Whether you learn through speaking or listening or both, I am certain that much has and will yet be gained from this exchange of ideas.
In 1855, in an address delivered in the Bowery at Salt Lake City, Elder Parley P. Pratt, an early leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said: “We would do well to look into the bearings of the history of nations, and the dealings of God with them, as impartially as we can, at all times, and cull out all the good there has been, is, or may be, and acknowledge the hand of God in all things, in His dealings with the nations as well as in other things” (Journal of Discourses, 3:42).
Elder Pratt’s thoughts echo the teachings of some ancient American prophets. Permit me to quote from the Book of Mormon:
And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue. (Mosiah 3:13; emphasis added)
For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have. (Alma 29:8; emphasis added)
Thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. . . . I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth . . .For I command all men . . .that they shall write the words which I speak unto them. . . . I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it. (2 Nephi 28:30; 29:7, 11, 12; emphasis added)
How very fortunate for mankind that God’s word was given in diverse ways to the people of India, of Persia, of Babylon, of Arabia, of China, of Greece, of Rome, and of America. Each spark of inspiration, each revealed law, and each guideline for living was an expression of God’s limitless love for the family of Adam. It mattered not whether the word came in high or low places or whether it was conveyed in loud or in muted voices. Some of God’s light was reflected through a religious leader in ancient Arabia; additional light was received by an American religious leader in the nineteenth century. What mattered was that saving truth was received by man from God-the divine fountain of eternal truth. And what mattered even more was whether those who received such truths had sufficient reciprocating love and faith to live accordingly.
On 15 February 1978, the First Presidency of the LDS Church issued a statement to the world regarding God’s love for all mankind. I desire to read portions of that statement. As I do so, you will note that thoughts previously mentioned are amplified.
Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.
The great religious leaders of the world such as Muhammad, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals . . .
Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come . . .
Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.
This profound and inspired statement is pregnant with eternal truths. It speaks of the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, revelation, prophets, knowledge, salvation, love, and other concepts worthy of our study. As one studies these concepts in the LDS public notice and compares them with concepts found in Islam, a number of similarities emerge. Though you have already reviewed some of these similarities, I would like to mention again two or three which I feel are most significant:
1. Prophets and Revelation. We read in the Qur’an: “We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto him we have surrendered” (Qur’an 2:136). I do not know how much meaning is lost in translating these words from the Arabic language to the English tongue. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful and very profound statement.
In the Latter-day Saint or Mormon faith, a comparable message about revelation is found: We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God (ninth article of faith).
2. Golden Rule. Another similarity from the Qur’an is “Offer to men what thou desirest should be offered to thee; avoid doing to men what thou dost not wish to be done to thee.” Our LDS version of the Golden Rule from the Book of Mormon reads “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets” (3 Nephi 14:12).
3. Obedience and Works. One of my favorite teachings taken from the Qur’an deals with obedience and works:
Righteousness does not consist in whether you face towards the east or the west. The righteous man is he who believes in Allah and the last day, in the angels and the scriptures and the prophets; who for the love of Allah gives his wealth to his kinsfolk, to the orphans, to the needy, to the wayfarers and to the beggars, and for the redemption of captives; who attends to his prayers and pays the alms-tax; who is true to his promises and steadfast in trial and adversity and in times of war. Such are the true believers; such are the Godfearing.” (Qur’an 2:177)
This teaching is similar in intent and content to two of the LDS Articles of Faith:
We believe that. . . . all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel (third article of faith).
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. (thirteenth article of faith)
I need not say more about the similarities between LDS beliefs and Islam. Most of you are far more knowledgeable on this subject than I. It is apparent, however, that Muslims and Mormons have much in common as their basic tenets of faith are compared. Quite obviously, God’s love for both peoples has been expressed abundantly through the revealed word. Both peoples have been blessed to drink living waters from the divine fountain of eternal truth.
In my view, and my view may be somewhat limited, one of the greatest services extended by Muhammad was to purge his world of idolatry and center worship in one God. Perhaps the greatest service extended by the Prophet Joseph Smith was to reveal the nature of that true and living God. Together, the followers of Muhammad and those who accept Joseph Smith as the prophet of another restoration are expected to fulfill certain services for mankind. Is it not written that where much is given, much is expected? Is it not reasonable to expect those who have been blessed with light and knowledge to share it with others? Do not those who have been designated as receivers of truth have guardian responsibilities?
Permit me to suggest three duties to perform or challenges to be met by those who are standard-bearers for the true and living God. These selected challenges are not presented as being all-inclusive, yet I feel that they carry a sense of urgency and apply to both Islamic and Mormon peoples.
1. Look to God—the fountain of truth. We who are privileged to know God are obligated to introduce him to others so that they too might worship Him in spirit and in truth. We must declare Him to the world and invite men and women everywhere to look to Him. Materialism abounds in this modern world, and materialism, with all its evils, seems to breed false worship or no worship at all. In the Book of Mormon we read of a people who were not watchful in their worship; consequently, they were led by evil influences to pervert their worship (see Alma 31:8–36).
The New Testament includes reference to a people who worshiped an unknown God. This misdirected worship, we are told, was done in ignorance and “God winked at” it. The account concludes: “But now [God] commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). Not only must we engage in true worship, but we must assist others to do the same. We must help our brothers and sisters look to God and live.
2. Share living waters. As with the first, the second challenge applies to both the Muslim and Mormon peoples. It has to do with sharing the living waters or living truths which flow from the fountain of truth—God. Such sharing should be attended to with great earnestness or urgency.
I can best illustrate the urgency of sharing by telling you of an incident which occurred in Tasmania. Until recently, Hobart, a large, beautiful city in Tasmania, was divided. Half of the city’s population was located on one side of a river channel and the other half of the population lived on the opposite side of the river. A few years ago, the city fathers determined that they had to do something to unite people. At great expense, they constructed a bridge which spanned the river and provided citizens with ready access to businesses and homes situated on both sides. All was fine with the bridge in place and the people were happy with the arrangement. However, late one night a ship much too large for the channel sailed up the river and collided with the bridge. This collision came without warning. The bridge was severed, traffic was interrupted, and many people were drowned. The following report of this terrible accident appeared in a local newspaper the next day:
Hobart.—A man and his wife told today of their seconds of terror in a car hanging half over the collapsed span of the Tasman Bridge with a 50-metre drop to the water below.
Mr. Frank Manley, 44, of Cambridge, his wife Sylvia, daughter Sharon, 16, and brother-in-law John Fitzgerald, 33, were driving along the mile-long bridge last night when suddenly there was no more roadway.
Today, Mr. Manley, still shaking, told how his wife screamed: “Quick, there’s no bridge.”
Mr. Manley said: “That was it. It was too late. We were partly over the bridge—almost half the car was hanging.
“Sylvia scrambled out and told Sharon and John in the back seat to get out quickly.
“It’s a two-door car and when I opened my door there was nothing—just a sheer drop.
“I scrambled out with my back pressed hard against the pillar of the car and eased myself back on to the crumbling roadway,” Mr. Manley said.
Mrs. Manley said: “As soon as I got out I ran down the road to tell people to stop.
“I just ran. I didn’t look back. I tried to stop this bloke in a yellow car. He was going too fast. He nearly ran me down.
“I screamed at him and he slammed into the back of a car beside us and pushed him over the edge so that car was hanging like ours.
“Then came a bus. I waved. He turned his wheel and just missed a car.”
The man in the other car left teetering over the brink is Mr. Murray Ling, of Bellerive.
He, his wife and two children were crossing the bridge when the lights went out.
“I stopped three feet from the gap—I think.
“I got out and started waving and a car came through fast in another lane.
“He thumped into another car, flew past and dropped over the edge.”
I ask the question, What prompts women like Mrs. Manley and men like Mr. Ling to throw all caution aside and place their lives in the balance in situations like this? Were not their actions prompted by the feelings of brotherhood which seem to reside within all of us? Instinctively, it seems, men and women display a kinship of spirit when extreme crises arise and lives hang in the balance.
We occupy positions in this modern life much like those occupied by Mrs. Manley and Mr. Ling on a broken bridge. We too possess knowledge that will save. We too are in a position to warn and to share precious knowledge. For you see, we are familiar with the fountain of truth and we have tasted of living waters. We know what fate awaits those who race forward in life without faith, without purpose, and without morality. Unless we step forward and sound the signal, many will travel on dangerous paths, persist in reckless living, miss turns and bridges, and place their souls in jeopardy.
Much of Muhammad’s and Christ’s and Joseph Smith’s teachings were in the form of warnings. Their warnings, particularly to the unbelievers, need continued voicing, perhaps more so today than at any time in history. Let us not forget that our lives are intertwined with the lives of others, and we can do few things of greater import than to share truth, even living waters, with others.
3. Keep the waters pure. We are guardians of truth and caretakers of the waters of life. Allow me to share with you another Mideast experience which gives insight into the task of keeping the waters of life pure.
While serving in the Middle East, I established a choice friendship with a prominent Arab official. He offered my companion and me the courtesies of his home and more. That is, he shared with us his profound wisdom and insights about religion gathered over a lifetime of living and serving. On one occasion, he expressed high regard for LDS teachings and practices. Among other things, he complimented the Church for its simplicity, the apparent purity of its doctrine, its service orientation, and the extreme devotion shown by its members. Then he questioned, “Can your faith survive the test of time?” He explained, “I would like to be around in another generation to observe your Church when it is established worldwide and broadly recognized, it is less persecuted and generally accepted, it can boast of meeting places and other evidence of affluence, and it has members of mixed backgrounds and races. If under conditions of public acceptance and prosperity you can preserve your purity of doctrine and integrity,” he added, “the truthfulness of your claims will be verified.”
I have pondered the words of my Muslim friend many times over the years. A generation has come and gone since he made his profound observation, and conditions have changed. I feel that my faith has weathered the storm and passed successfully the test of time. Yet I’m concerned about the continuing need to exercise care and to keep the waters pure. As the standards of men in the world deteriorate, we must be watchful in making certain that our attention to the standards of God does not lessen. While man’s tendency to flaunt commandments seems to increase, our allegiance to holy laws must become stronger. When men seek to pervert or contaminate the wells of living water, we must guard the springs and guarantee their purity.
In conclusion, may I cite one more similarity between the Islamic and LDS faiths. First, I shall read from the Qur’an: “Have you thought of him that denies the Last Judgment? . . .It is he who turns away the orphan and does not urge others to feed the poor. Woe to those who pray but are heedless in their prayer; who make a show of piety and give no alms to the destitute” (Qur’an 107:1, 7). What a pointed statement pertaining to the need for works to support admissions of faith!
Now, let us turn to some modern scriptures and receive corresponding instructions:
If ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men. (Alma 34:28–29)
These two sacred statements remind us all of the need not only to hear and believe but to do. What good is achieved if we fail to translate instructions received in churches and mosques into righteous living? Why pray if the words spoken while on our knees are betrayed by the actions taken while on our feet? Of what value is a symposium like this if the added understanding between Muslims and Mormons does not strengthen intercultural and interfaith relationships?
It is my humble and sincere prayer that through this sharing experience the relationships between members of the Islamic and LDS faiths will be strengthened. I pray that what I have said and what other speakers have said will foster respect, correct misunderstandings, bridge differences, and heal divisions (if there are any) between both religions. I also pray that the proceedings of the conference will intensify the faith of all concerned.
Above all else, I hope you return home with a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s love for all mankind—a love that has been demonstrated throughout the ages as honest men have sought divine direction. May we bask in that holy love and invite others to do the same. Let us do all that is within our power to cause others to look to God so that they might live a fullness of life. May we share liberally the living waters and living truths, and may we strive individually and collectively to safeguard truth and keep the waters pure. This I ask in His holy name, amen.