Fatimah (not her real name) is a friend of mine. She, like many British-born children of immigrants to the UK, is a recovering Muslim. As much as I whinge about what my family will do when I leave the LDS Church, it’s nothing to what she faces if she is outed as an atheist. One of her relatives has been murdered in an honour killing back home in Pakistan. Fatimah successfully resisted an attempt by her father to marry her to a first cousin before she went to University by leaving home for good. Her younger sisters were taken from school early and have been married off to cousins or men significantly older. Her brothers, who did not gain an education, call her a whore for living on her own, dating whomever she likes, refusing to wear the hijab, and supporting herself with a good job. She has very little contact with her family, except for calls to her mother and secret e-mails to her sisters. I’ve asked her to summarise what she observes to be the similarities between Islam and Mormonism. This is the first time she has felt comfortable saying anything about religion online. For this reason, I will be enacting stricter moderation than usual in the comment section.
When “Molly” told me her handle on this site, I asked her why she chose it. She explained that “Molly Mormon” is an ideal stereotype of a Mormon Girl. For this reason I’ll be known as “Fatimah,” the closest approximation a Mormon girl could have. Fatimah (pronounced “FUT-ee-muh”) was the daughter of Muhammad, founder of Islam. She is thought of as an ideal example for Muslimahs (Muslim women) to look to.
I have been asked to list what I observe to be similarities between Mormonism and Islam. I must admit she helped with a bit of editing in writing this, as I am no writer. Here are the five best examples I can think of. I did not include things like a strong patriarchal culture. I do not feel that patriarchy is unique enough to Islam or Mormonism.
Veneration of the prophet
This seems to be the most direct similarity to me. Mormons refer to Joseph Smith by his first name and all the rest of their prophets as “President.” When I saw Mormons referring to “The Prophet Joseph” or “The Boy Joseph” or “Brother Joseph” I saw the same sort of veneration as when a Muslim says “God’s Messenger Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)”. Like Muhammad, Joseph Smith seems to be looked at as a saviour of humanity and is spoken of as if he were a perfect figure.
A difference in the treatment of the prophets is that Mormons seem to add the honorific for extra emphasis and formality, but many Muslims feel “PBUH” is mandatory, and they mutter it repeatedly and write it even when mentioning Muhammad online. Also, Mormons will not become violent if someone slanders the name of Joseph Smith. They will probably invite you to tea and smile at you in an infuriating manner. They will not burn an embassy, riot in the street, or kill people at the mere rumour of offence to The Prophet. Even among Muslims who would not cross the line to doing violence themselves, it is common for them to verbally express support for the killing of kuffar, which is a dirty word for non-believers. My own parents would frequently say things such as “God willing, that person will die for . . .” and then follow with whatever supposed crime against God had been committed. Molly explained briefly about Danites and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, but we both agreed that Mormons have been entirely non-violent for over a century. There are many incidents of Muslims becoming violent over even the rumour of blasphemy against the Koran or Muhammad.
Veneration of scripture
Mormons and Muslims are both obsessed with proclaiming that their book is the pure and sacred word of God. Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book” in the world. (When I read that quotation I must admit I laughed.) Muslims also believe the Koran to be the pure and unerring word of Allah.
However, Muslims take their book even more seriously than Mormons. Mormons do not venerate the text of the Book of Mormon as much as Muslims do the Koran because they are happy to translate it into as many languages as possible. Most Muslims believe that once the Koran has been translated, it is no longer the word of God. This contributes to a Arab-centric racism within Islam. Arabs occupy a higher status and non-Arab Muslims frequently try to imitate Arabs in language and dress. Mormons seem more accepting of diversity, and do not believe that the Book of Mormon must be read in English in order to be the word of God. It does seem that only white men are in charge of the Mormon church, though, so perhaps my impression of Mormonism as being less racist is wrong.
Mormons also do not venerate the printed copies of the Book of Mormon as much as Muslims. The Koran sometimes has its own little room in the house. Muslims often kiss it or keep it wrapped in silk. At the mere rumour of a Koran being desecrated or burned, riots can happen in some Muslim areas. Molly showed me her Book of Mormon. It was covered in pencil markings with writing in the margins. I found this very funny. But then, it seems much more logical to me to treat a book as just that: a book. The message is what matters, not ink on paper. Mormons would probably consider the veneration of the Koran itself to be a form of blasphemy.
Mormonism and Islam share many taboos. In art, Muslims do not depict human faces. Likewise, Mormons shun the cross. Open discussion of sex is not socially permitted. Mormons and Muslims seem very uncomfortable with their own bodies. They are not permitted to drink alcohol or masturbate. Molly and I found much in common among young Muslim and Mormon married couples unable to enjoy themselves because they have gone their entire lives being told that sex is a dirty thing. Muslims have more taboos than Mormons. Mormons seem very enthusiastic about music, theatre, and literature. All three are heavily restricted in most Muslim cultures.
A goal of taking over the world
This may sound sinister, but that depends on your perspective. Phrases like “the gospel will roll out through all the earth” or “temples will dot the globe” sound very much like what Muslims think of as the eventual Islamisation of the world. Molly told me that Mormons believe that eventually there will be a Mormon communist theocracy. I understood her to mean a secular and religious government fused during The Millennium. This sounds very much like Islam’s goal to unite all of mankind as one Ummah, or Islamic community. Most Muslims and Mormons speak about the Mormonisation or Islamisation of the world as something people will be happy about once they see the truthfulness of Elohim’s/Allah’s true path.
A large difference is that in all places where Islam is dominant, forced conversion is accepted. It is not difficult to find examples of this, for example the abduction, forced conversion, and forced marriage of Coptic Christian girls to Muslim men in Egypt. I do not believe Mormons would ever be in favour of forced conversion, as Mormonism emerged in a culture affected by the European Enlightenment and not in a nomadic culture of raiders as Islam was. Mormonism is also much more tolerant of other faith systems. The state of Utah seems to be run by mostly Mormons. Yet I could find no evidence of efforts to prevent other faiths from entering there. Not far from BYU, Molly told me, there is a large Hindu temple, and many BYU students attend its holy events. In Muslim-majority states, the rights of non-Muslims are severely restricted, and my experience as a British Muslim has been that Muslims here have begun to attempt to force the native population to conform to their standards, such as demanding halal food from non-Muslim shops and encouraging gender segregation at public schools.
Mormons seem comfortable with applying social pressure and using the law to enact their values on society, but while both religions have the goal of conquering the earth, I do not believe Mormonism would be comfortable using force to spread the faith. Islam openly encourages spreading the religion by force.
A dress code used as a measure of personal virtue
Mormons look down on people who do not wear garments. Molly showed me hers, long forgotten in a bottom drawer, and I was surprised to see that there was a Western religion that had something as ugly as hijab. I hated wearing hijab. But I knew if I took it off, my brothers would call me a whore, as they do now. My mother neglected to force hijab on me until I was beginning to look like a woman, and at first I fought against her, saying that my mates at school already knew my hair was black. I didn’t want to look different from the other kids. It’s easy enough to follow Islamic dress as a child without being bullied too badly. England is so cold most of the year that thick jumpers and long coats don’t look out of place. But once I had hijab placed on me, I knew people would think of me as a religious nutter, or some kind of beaten down girl.
Hijab was supposed to make me invisible to the world, but in reality it made people take note of me more often. When I got to school I would run to the loo and remove it. My mates would help me keep a lookout for my brothers, who would get angry if they caught me without it. I was so happy when they left school early and got jobs. It meant that I could let my hair down and look like an ordinary girl. Other Muslimahs at my school would do the same thing. This struggle is very common for British-born Muslim girls, who can see that Western culture offers them much more than the culture of their parents. They don’t want to marry a first cousin back in Pakistan in an arranged marriage. They don’t want to cover their bodies with uncomfortable and restrictive layers of cloth. I think many Mormon girls must feel the same way about the ugly and old-fashioned knickers they are forced to wear.
Mormonism and Islam appear to be very similar in nature, but the environment in which they were nurtured had an enormous part to play. As Wafa Sultan has written, Islam was born in a culture of desert raiders. It seems to me that Mormonism was born in a setting of Christian mystics trying to rediscover the ancient true path. In my opinion, Mormonism is a sweet baby sister, and Islam is an angry older brother. Mormons talk rubbish about women who dress immodestly. Muslims whip them. Mormons excommunicate adulterers. Muslims stone them to death. Mormons shun apostates. Muslim scripture says they must die. These are cruel truths. Unfortunately the political situation is so tense that Westerners will rarely speak them, and we have to rely on people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali to remind us of them.
I don’t wish to diminish the personal difficulties of people who struggle with their Mormon backgrounds, but instead offer this as encouragement: at least nobody will kill you for what you do not believe. However, psychological abuse can do as much damage as being beaten or whipped, so perhaps my comparison is not fair. In either case, I believe the world will be better off when fewer people adhere to both Mormonism and Islam, along with most other forms of religion.