The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met Tuesday morning with His Excellency Dr. Mohammad Abdulkarim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL) and president of the International Organization for Muslim Scholars, based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Dr. Al-Issa was joined by Abdulwahab Al-Shehri, MWL’s director of media affairs, and Raad Fanary, an interpreter.
The First Presidency gave Dr. Al-Issa a medallion and a copy of “The Niche of Lights,” an ancient text by 11th century Islamic thinker Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali. The book is part of the Islamic Translation Series published by Brigham Young University Press.
After his conversation with the First Presidency, Dr. Al-Issa visited with Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and toured Welfare Square.
“What I’ve seen here is a great example of the true meaning of mercy and love to humanity,” Dr. Al-Issa said after visiting Welfare Square. “We all around the world need to follow this humanitarian [approach] exactly. Also, the whole world needs to get exposed to and learn from these efforts and projects. We can convey the message to the Islamic world and tell them there are people in some parts of the world where they [dedicate] their lives especially to serve their brothers and sisters and humanity. I do want to congratulate you. I am really surprised to see that level of work you are offering here. You are inspiring to others.”
Dr. Al-Issa is known for advancing a moderate interpretation of Islam and promoting peace, tolerance and love. The MWL itself seeks to “clarify the true message of Islam.” In an op-ed published Sunday in the Deseret News, he said interreligious dialogue is crucial to combating extremism in faith and in life. “We can chart a course toward peaceful coexistence,” he wrote, also tying extremism to the tragic attacks on Muslims, Christians, and Jews that descended on Christchurch, Sri Lanka, and Pittsburgh, respectively, over the past year.
Dr. Al-Issa’s op-ed admiringly notes Joseph Smith’s tolerance of other faiths, quoting Joseph Smith’s comment the year before his death that he was “ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination.” He also noted Joseph Smith’s encouragement to early Latter-day Saints to embrace others in their communities — especially when Latter-day Saints make up most of the population. In a similar vein, Dr. Al-Issa wrote, “Islam compels Muslims to love our fellow brothers and sisters of all faiths, races, ethnicities and creeds.”
The Muslim leader identified several other significant areas of common ground shared by Church members and followers of Islam. “[We] each place great importance on daily prayer, on the spiritual power of fasting, and on the belief that faith alone does not secure salvation,” he wrote. “We must translate our beliefs into good deeds for the betterment of our world as well.
“For each of us, family is the foundation of religious and cultural life. No priority supersedes the education of our future generations. And charity, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is equally emphasized by both our faiths. Just as the MWL provides millions of dollars in lifesaving relief to Christians in need from Ghana to Burundi, we deeply respect the Church of Jesus Christ’s generous support for predominantly Muslim communities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”