BEN OLSEN | Scroll Illustration

The insiders’ view of the Middle East

BEN OLSEN | Scroll Illustration

BEN OLSEN | Scroll Illustration

Thousands of miles separate BYU-Idaho from countries in the Middle East. Both areas have a predominant religion that turns heads when it makes the news: Mormonism and Islam.

Individuals who have lived among both cultures and religions recognize similarities and obvious differences between them.

Jeff Andersen, a professor in the Department of Humanities and Philosophy, said Islam’s founder, Muhammad, shares similarities with Joseph Smith because they both were unhappy with the status quo and brought about a new religion.

Islam began in a time of religious diversity. Muhammad was concerned that his people did not have scripture like the Jewish and Christian peoples. As Muhammad meditated, an angel appeared to him, taught him and called him to teach of God, heaven and hell, Andersen said.

The six basic beliefs of Islam are belief in God, belief in angels, belief in the books of God, belief in prophets or messengers of God, belief in Judgment Day and belief in divine decree, or destiny, according to PBS.

The Quran contains the revelations Muhammad received, Andersen said.

Brandon Motiuk, a freshman studying biology whose family moved to the Middle East when he was four, said the Quran reads like scriptures from the Bible and is sold in supermarkets where his family lives in Abu Dhabi. Copies of the book are kept in a special case with a sign that says to hold them carefully.

He said it is illegal to drop the holy book on the ground.

Motiuk believes Islam is very close to Christianity.

“They still believe Jesus Christ was a holy prophet,” he said. “They don’t believe he was the Messiah.”

John Mhando, a junior studying biology, who was Muslim for four years during his childhood in Tanzania, said Muslims believe in one God, who cannot be compared to anyone or anything.

Andersen, who lived in Saudi Arabia for two years teaching English to young Islamic men, said Muslims and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are similar in their beliefs in prophecy and abstinence from things like premarital sex and alcohol.

“Some shopping markets have a special room for pork,” Motiuk said. “They have a sign that says ‘Non-Muslims only,’ and this is where all pork products or pork anything is.”

JEFF ANDERSEN | Courtesy Photo

JEFF ANDERSEN | Courtesy Photo

The Quran forbids adherents of Islam from eating pork, according to the Why Islam website.

Motiuk said some ice creams and even Pop-Tarts can have pork products in them, so they are put into this room.

Andersen said family is very important to Muslims. It is not uncommon for extended families to share a large living complex with separate areas for each family.

Andersen said he knew a Muslim man who worked three jobs in order to support his younger sister, widowed mother and another sister whose husband had been injured.

People in the U.S. do not feel the same financial obligation toward their extended family, he said.

“But in that culture, the whole family will contribute support so that somebody can succeed, somebody can go to school or somebody can start a business,” Andersen said.

Arranged marriages often still take place in Islamic culture, Andersen said.

“What’s good for the family is more important than what’s good for individuals,” Andersen said. “And so marriage is arranged by people who have experience and know your personality.”

He said this might be a positive thing for establishing solid families.

Motiuk said that where his family lives, Muslim men will sometimes have more than one wife.

“I see all the wives going out shopping and going out to see movies together with the husband,” Motiuk said.

He has heard stories about all of them treating each other well, he said.

While people outside of the Middle East might perceive that women in Islamic culture are oppressed, Andersen said that was not what he witnessed. He said Islam teaches respect for mothers.

“Islam teaches that women are important and that they have an important role in the family,” he said.

Motiuk said that when a man practices polygamy, he has to treat each of his wives equally.

“If you see four of the same houses right next to each other, you know the man has multiple wives,” he said.

Andersen said women in Islamic culture are raised to believe they perform a certain role in life within the family, but women are not forbidden to participate in business.

Many women who are interested in roles outside of the home have traveled or studied abroad, Andersen said.

Andersen said Muslims have mixed feelings about Western culture.

He said he believes they recognize the individual freedom Westerners have is good.

But that some are offended by the gambling, the pornography and the immodesty and sexual exploitation of women that they see.

Andersen said that while strong family ties in Islamic culture are a blessing, they can also be a curse because of how they might limit individual freedom.

He said if a father wants his son to pursue a career, the son feels obligated to pursue it, even if it does not interest him.

Andersen said Muslims also disapprove of American materialism — not so much of the wealth itself but as how it is used.

“We in the West obtain our wealth for our own personal satisfaction,” Andersen said. “Islam teaches that you have an obligation to share your wealth.” He said Muslims believe in using money to build the community through organizations like schools and orphanages.

Mhando said Islam has a very strict code of conduct.

Motiuk said that when Muslims go to a mosque, or place of worship, men have to wear pants and women have to cover their hair.

He said Muslims are very modest, which he thinks is a good thing.

When you throw out food, they would say a prayer saying sorry to God for wasting food,” Motiuk said.

He said at first, he thought this was strange, but eventually he came to respect it.

Mhando said people can learn from Muslims’ dedication to God.

He said they are willing to do anything — even die — for God.

“I think nothing is as good as being ready to die for your God,” he said.

Christians who would be willing to do anything for Jesus would be doing a great thing, he said.

Andersen said Sharia is known for being similar to the law of Moses because of its strong corporal punishments for sins.

Sharia is Islam’s legal system. It is also a code of conduct by which Muslims should live their lives and includes fasting and donations to the poor, according to BBC.

Andersen said most Muslim countries do not practice Sharia as the law of the land, but those that do, like Saudi Arabia, perform public punishments. If someone commits murder, he or she is publicly beheaded by sword.

“Things like for grand theft, the punishment is the amputation of the person’s left hand, Andersen said. “For adultery, it’s stoning. For fornication, it’s flogging or being whipped.

Andersen said a Muslim can even be flogged for drinking alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam.

“So needless to say, there’s not a lot of crime in Saudi Arabia,” Andersen said.

Motiuk said that Saudi Arabia does not allow members of the Church to meet for worship, Abu Dhabi allowed the first LDS meetinghouse to be built in the Middle East.

Before then, Motiuk and other members of the Church met in houses.

Muslims do not participate in public displays of affection, Motiuk said. Westerners who live in Abu Dhabi are limited as well.

“You can hold hands if you’re married, but you’re not supposed to show more than just holding hands,” Motiuk said. “Anything after that is super frowned upon.”

Andersen said Muslims are often singled out, just like Mormons are.

“Muslims are people, and they’re trying to do the best they can to be happy and to live productive lives and to do what God wants them to do,” Andersen said. “And it may be different from the way that we do it, but people are people, and there are good people and there are bad people in every group.”

Motiuk said Muslim people believe strongly in treating others like they are your family.

“I think Muslims and Mormons are super close because Mormons are always giving and caring,” he said. “And I think Muslims are the same.”

JEFF ANDERSEN | Courtesy Photo

JEFF ANDERSEN | Courtesy Photo

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