Peace on Earth
Most people remember where they were on 9-11-2001 when they heard the news. I had traveled to Ras Al Khaimah, a city in the Emirates some 225 kilometers away from my home in Al Ain on that Tuesday in order to teach a distance learning class. I was in a hotel restaurant ordering dinner when the waitress asked if I had heard the terrible news. She said an American plane had hit the trade tower and it was being covered by CNN on the satellite television channel. I thought she meant the World Trade Tower in Dubai and was imagining a huge international incident taking place right there in the Emirates while being televised around the world. It wasn’t until later when I saw the familiar skyline of Manhattan on the television screen that I realized it was something of even more import. I will always remember watching that moment, from half way around the world, when the towers fell and all our lives changed.
The tragedy of 9-11 has left a lasting impact on all of us that the future has yet to unfold in totality. Within the month that followed the incident, people were quickly polarized into the camps of sorrow and revenge. While many were grieving for the loved ones, friends and acquaintances who were directly affected by the attacks, most of America was itching for an immediate and absolute response through retaliation. We were the innocent victims, the sufferers, and we had justice on our side.
Some people chose to strike out at any who gave the appearance of belonging to the race or being affiliated with the general religious beliefs of the terrorists, whether proven or not. Hate crimes against other innocent Americans broke out all over the US as Muslims, Arabs, and even other non-related religious and ethnic groups were targeted for abusive crimes in an effort by some to release their desires for vengeance closer to home.
Mosques were vandalized and threats on life became common among these groups of people who themselves were suffering along with everyone else in the wake of the tragedy. Their grief became mixed with fear for their own safety and many chose not to go outside their homes or to mingle with other people due to the real possibility of attack on their families or communities. World governmental and church leaders tried to speak out in support of these innocent victims of prejudice, but this did not stop the ignorant and unjust from actuating further crimes of abuse and spiteful retaliation based solely on ethnic background or religious affiliation.
The First Presidency of the LDS Church issued the following statement on 21 September, 2001: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has enjoyed a long and mutually respectful relationship with many of the leaders and followers of Islam. We recognize that those responsible for the reprehensible actions of September 11 in no way represent the views of millions of Muslims throughout the world. We are grieved to hear of instances where innocent members of this and other faiths have been singled out for acts of retribution. We condemn such acts as wrong and immoral. The church urges its members and people everywhere to extend kindness and love to all sons and daughters of God.”
Unfortunately, the attitude of racial and religious retribution continued for several months as the media reported many new instances. The very sad thing that these new antagonists did not realize was that their behavior and thinking was exactly the same as the terrorists who caused the original tragedy. By retaliating on innocent citizens who had nothing to do with the attack, they were becoming terrorists themselves in an unrighteous cycle of vengeance- the cycle which has no beginning and no end as each act is viewed as justifiable retaliation for a perceived wrong from before. Stark justice without the redeeming qualities of mercy, forgiveness, humility or charity, dispenses a need for further responses of the same eye for an eye mentality. Compounded by generational hatred passed from parents to children, the resulting circle spirals ever forward through time causing only further grief, sorrow, death and feelings of revenge. We see this evident in many countries in our world today where there is strife and war, particularly those of the Middle East.
This is not what our Heavenly Father desires for His children while on their earthly sojourn. He did not allow for the creation of diversity of religions and races so that His children would use these differences as justification to kill each other. Almost every religion or creed on this earth teaches that we all should be at peace with one another. Treating our neighbor as ourselves is a fundamental requirement for anyone with a moral conscience. It necessitates a certain degree of open-mindedness, tolerance and understanding. We are not asked to accept everyone else’s opinions and beliefs as our own as we all have the gift of agency to choose what we will think. However, we are required to allow others the same choice without threat of force or compulsion.
LDS Scriptures teach this doctrine under the auspices of agency, or freedom of choice. It is a recurring theme that almost every prophet in the Book of Mormon addresses. For example, Alma admonished his son Corianton that, “…whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.” (BM Alma 42:27) Jacob, the brother of Nephi also spoke about this to his brethren. “…and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves- to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.” (BM 2 Nephi 10:23) Some generations later, Samuel the Lamanite instructed, “And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves…” (BM Helaman 14:30)
Freedom to choose and practice individual religion is a gift bestowed by God to all of His children. In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 134, it states “that religion is instituted of God; and that all men are amenable to Him, and to Him only, for the exercise of it…” (D&C 134:4) It is a common and unfortunate misconception that Islam teaches the use of force, violence or aggressive acts to gain converts or annihilate non-Muslims who do not conform to their ideology. This fallacy is primarily due to what Islamic extremists have openly promoted as part of their political agenda, but mainstream Islam does not condone force or intolerance when dealing with opposing religious points of view.
To the contrary, the Quran contains many injunctions for maintaining an attitude of acceptance and non-confrontation when associating with people of other faiths. The Quran states that had God chosen, He could have made just one religion for all of us, but he did not. The same chapter explains that through unrighteousness, men divided religions and teachings, but it does not state that people should give up their beliefs and be forced to join Islam. Rather it tells the Muslim to not be contentious in conversations with those of other faiths. “…but say: I believe in all the scriptures that Allah has revealed. I am commanded to exercise justice among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. We have our own works and you have yours; let there be no argument between us. Allah will bring us together, for to Him we shall return.” (Surah 42:15) Notice that exercising justice here is linked with acceptance and no disputation of differing beliefs.
Additionally, the Quran states that “there shall be no compulsion in religion.” (Surah 2:256) All men have their agency to choose their beliefs. “Had your Lord pleased, all the people of the earth would have believed in Him. Would you then force faith upon men?” (Surah 10:99) “You shall not use force with them. Admonish with this Quran whoever fears My warning.” (Surah 50:45) “He that seeks guidance shall be guided to his own advantage, but he that errs shall err at his own peril. No soul shall bear another’s burden.” (Surah 17:15)
A further revelation is directed toward dealing specifically with Christians, or People of the Book, as referred to throughout the Quran. “And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except it be in the best way, unless it be with those of them who do wrong but say, ‘We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we submit.” The commentary on this passage of scripture from the King Fahed Quran translation states, “That is, the religion of all true and sincere men of Faith is, or should be, one; and that is the ideal of Islam.”
Another passage in the Quran speaks about the other religions at that time and the disputes between them all. “Believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans - whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is righteous shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear or to regret… The Jews say the Christians are misguided, and the Christians say it is the Jews who are misguided. Yet they both read the scriptures. And the pagans say the same of both. Allah will judge their disputes on the Day of Resurrection.” (Surah 2:62, 113)
Contention about differing religious beliefs or practices has always been a point of reproval in the scriptures. Any time the gospel has been commanded to be preached, it is always with the enjoinment to do so with meekness and persuasion, long suffering and patience, brotherly kindness, charity and humility. Contention in any form is of the adversary and will not bring about any result except enmity and alienation.
In visiting the Nephites as recorded in the Book of Mormon, the Savior told them, “…and there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (BM 3 Nephi 11: 28-30)
Christ will judge between any discrepancy of belief and according to the works of men at the Day of Judgement. LDS scriptures teach that it is our responsibility is to be tolerant and forgiving of any with whom we have had disagreements or feel have wronged us while in this life. The Lord has said that He will forgive whom He will forgive, but it is required of us to forgive all men. We must say in our hearts to let God ultimately judge between us. Additionally, Mormons are commanded to increase our understanding of other cultures, to learn of other nations and countries, histories and languages and the learning that is found in all good books. Muslims are also given this charge to emulate the good works found in all sects and to appreciate the righteous goals which each has. “Those to whom the scriptures were given know this to be the truth from their Lord. Allah is watching over all their actions. But even if you gave them every proof they would not accept your qiblah (direction of prayer), nor would you accept theirs; nor would any of their sects accept the qiblah of the other… Each one has a goal towards which he turns. But wherever you be emulate one another in good works. Allah will bring you all before Him.” (Surah 2: 144,145, 148)
The good works of every faith will be accorded as righteousness before God, whether a Muslim, Mormon or any sect. “Your religion is but one religion, and I am Your only Lord. Therefore serve Me. Men have divided themselves into schisms, but to Us they shall all return. He that does good works in the fulness of his faith, his endeavors shall not be lost: We record them all.” (Surah 21:92-94)
Regarding the good works done by the righteous of any faith, there are also passages in the Quran that teach that some Christians are upright in the practice of their beliefs. “Yet they are not all alike. There are among the People of the Book some upright men who all night long recite the revelations of Allah and worship Him; who believe in Allah and the Last Day; who enjoin justice and forbid evil and vie with each other in good works. These are righteous men: whatever good they do, its reward shall not be denied them. Allah knows the righteous…Some there are among the People of the Book who truly believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to you and to them. They humble themselves before Him and do not sell His revelations for a trifling price. These shall be rewarded by their Lord. Swift is Allah’s reckoning.” (Surah 3: 113-115, 199)
Islam also accepts the teaching contained in the original gospel and the Torah as true revelations from God. If the Christians will follow those teachings, they will be worthy of paradise. “If the People of the Book accept the true faith and keep from evil, We will pardon them from their sins and admit them to the gardens of delight. If they observe the Torah and the Gospel, and what is revealed to them from Allah, they shall be given abundance from above and from beneath. There is from among them a party on the right course.” (Surah 5: 65,66, King Fahed Translation 5:66)
All of our Heavenly Father’s children who are righteous in this life will be able to abide in at least a terrestrial glory. Mormons believe that when Christ returns to the earth to reign during the millennium, there will be many honest and good people from many faiths living on the earth together and He will unite us all as the head of our government and religion. The earth will finally be a place of peace for all cultures, religions and races. It will be a true paradise for those who have been faithful in their testimonies of truth, regardless of the prophet, time, language, or place through which that truth was revealed.
Regarding the final paradise where all the righteous will dwell together, the Quran describes it as a place where this voice of peace will be present. Additionally, the gospel of Peace among all men is mentioned in the Quran in several places. It is linked to charity and kindness and even a solution to fighting ones enemies rather than resorting to war. “There is no virtue in much of their counsels: only in his who enjoins charity, kindness and peace among men. He that does this to please Allah shall be richly rewarded.” (Surah 4:114) “If they incline to peace, make peace with them, and put your trust in Allah. He hears and knows all.” (Surah 8:61)
Both the words “Muslim” and “Islam” share the same root in Arabic that translates literally to mean peace. Even the greeting of Muslims to each other and to others whom they meet is one of peace. The words most commonly used, salaam aleykum, translate into English as peace upon you.
Unfortunately, our world is not a paradise of peace yet. Too many of us are power hungry and exercise unrighteous dominion upon each other. Some use their religion as a rationale for acts of aggression based on instances detailed in the scriptures concerning defense of the faith. As with all scriptures given through various prophets to different peoples, God’s laws and words can be twisted and interpreted by individuals seeking justification for all kinds of unrighteous acts. But it is another great misconception about Islam to think that all Muslims believe in violent acts on innocent people as a part of defending their faith.
Regarding the principle of defense and fighting for the cause of truth, many times in the Bible and Book of Mormon, God has commanded specific groups of armies and prophets to wipe out the unrighteous through wars, executions and even assassinations. The waging of Holy War is not new or confined just to Islam. Even in Joseph Smith’s time, the saints were taught to defend the faith at the price of their lives. If they died in the cause, they were promised an eternal reward for their sacrifices. “And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal. Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.” (D&C 98: 13,14) Those who die for God do so with a sweet death. “And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them.” (D&C 42: 46) That is not to say that any who die for a perceived religious cause will be blessed, but only those whom God has specifically commanded through His prophets. But it is easy to see how passages like these, when taken out of context, can act as the basis for misguided interpretations that lead to aggressive acts and suicide martyrdoms from the standpoint of all the overzealous extremists of any faith.
The Quran contains numerous revelations on fighting for the cause of God, defending righteousness and that he who loses his life in such an exploit will be entitled to Paradise for his sacrifice. Many of these references are directed toward specific battles that were happening at the time of the revelations to Muhammad and his followers. Like the early saints of our church who faced persecution and expulsion, the early Muslims were fighting for their lives in defense of their beliefs and needed the words of comfort from God to aid them in their battles. But even if taken outside the historical context, the principles of righteous defense and self-sacrifice are clearly distinguishable from aggressive unwanton acts of terrorism on innocent people.
Those who do die through battle while fighting for the cause of Allah will be admitted into Paradise. “…As for those who are slain in the cause of Allah, He will not allow their works to perish. He will vouchsafe them guidance and ennoble their state; He will admit them to the Paradise He has made known to them.” (Surah 47:4-6) This passage comes immediately following a description of how to kill one’s enemy on the battlefield. The revelation refers to this kind of killing as a test for both sides as God could punish the unrighteous if He chose. “Had Allah willed, He could Himself have punished them; but He has ordained it thus that He might test you, the one by the other.” (Surah 47:4)
Of course, Islam teaches the basic commandment of thou shalt not kill. The taking of life is never taught as an acceptable solution for religious differences and even if the person believes that their actions are right, it will not excuse them in the final judgement. “Say: ‘Shall we tell you who will lose most through their labours? Those whose endeavours in this world are misguided and who yet think that what they do is right… On the Day of Resurrection We shall not honour them. Hell is their reward…” (Surah 18:103-106, compare BM 2 Nephi 15: 20-23)
The Quran states that all three major religions have similar revelations given about fighting for the cause of God. “Allah has purchased of the faithful their lives and worldly goods and in return has promised them the Garden. They will fight for His cause, slay and be slain. Such is the true pledge which He has made them in the Torah, the Gospel and the Quran.” (Surah 9: 111) This cause is defined further in other revelations as defense only- not aggression. “Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah does not love the aggressors.” (Surah 2: 190) This passage goes on to explain in very strict detail how and where life may be taken while allowing for forgiveness and repentance by the enemy at any time.
In the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord also gives very specific laws regarding how and when to fight and includes a forgiveness clause as well. “And again, this is the law that I gave unto my ancients, that they should not go out unto battle against any nation, kindred, tongue or people, save I, the Lord, commanded them. And if any nation, kindred, tongue, or people should proclaim war against them, they should first lift a standard of peace unto that people, nation, or tongue; And if that people did not accept the offering of peace, neither the second nor the third time, they should bring these testimonies before the Lord. Then, I, the Lord, would give unto them a commandment, and justify them in going out unto battle against that nation, tongue, or people. And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children’s battles and their children’s children’s, until they had avenged themselves on all their enemies, to the third and fourth generation. Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me. And again, verily I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thy enemy.” (D&C 98:33-39)
Concerning the use of offense versus defense in fighting for a just cause, the Book of Mormon has many examples that contain very specific counsel. As Helaman recorded about the wars of the Nephites in his time in 73 B.C., “Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were to preserve their lives.” (BM Alma 48:14).
In dealing with their own terrorists of the times, the Gadianton robbers, who worked in secret doing all manner of vile acts, the Nephites were again commanded not to take the offense in destroying them, but to take a defensive posture. They were told if they took the initiative to seek the robbers out and fight them, they would be delivered into the robbers’ hands instead. Rather, they were commanded to wait until attacked so that God could deliver the robbers into their hands. Of course, the best solution for ultimately managing the robbers came through converting them rather than destroying them. “And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.” (BM Helaman 6: 37)
Perhaps one of the reasons that Heavenly Father allows such forces to combine against the righteous is to see exactly how His people will handle themselves. Fighting the wicked in battle is a straightforward means of rooting out evil. Preaching the gospel to them would be a much greater test of endurance, tolerance and charity. The laws of justice, retaliation, vengeance, forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation are continually used throughout the scriptures as various means in handling conflicts between opposing forces.
What seems to be important is the attitude that is taken while fighting for the just cause. Vengeance is never acceptable as a means of executing justice, however, there is a law of retaliation as mentioned in the Old Testament that is part of the lower Law of Moses. This closely follows the same law as given in the Book of Mormon and in the Quran. “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, stripe for stripe.” (KJV Exodus 21: 23-25) “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death…And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him.” (KJV Leviticus 24: 17, 19)
The Book of Mormon states that the murderer shall give up his own life while the Quran speaks of retaliation as a means of safeguarding life. If the punishment for taking a life is to give your own, it will act as a deterrent for the act in the first place. “Believers, retaliation is decreed for you in bloodshed: a free man for a free man, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female. ..Men of understanding! In retaliation you have a safe-guard for your lives; perchance you will guard yourselves against evil.” (Surah 2: 178, 179)
The law of retaliation is not to be carried out solely to satisfy any lingering feelings of revenge. Vengeance is the sole prerogative of God and is carried out by Him through His judgment. “Behold what the scripture says- man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay.” (BM Mormon 8: 20) If men seek revenge in order to satisfy their feelings of hatred, it might result in the sword of justice cutting off their own heads as well. The Quran talks about the consequence of carrying vengeance too far. “You shall not kill any man whom Allah has forbidden you to kill, except for a just cause. If a man is slain unjustly, his heir is entitled to satisfaction. But let him not carry his vengeance too far, for his victim will in turn be assisted and avenged.” (Surah 17:33)
Of course, Christ modified these lower laws of just retaliation when he added to them the higher laws of mercy. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn unto him the other also.” (KJV Matt 5: 38,39) The attitude of Christian mercy teaches forgiveness when justice would demand repayment in kind otherwise.
It is another prevalent misconception that Islam teaches only the strict lower laws without mercy. While many Middle Eastern countries today base their forms of capital punishment and limb mutilation on the Quranic doctrines of strict retaliation, there are also passages that teach a higher law of forgiveness and forbearance. “In the Torah We decreed for them a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and a wound for a wound. But if a man charitably forbears from retaliation, his remission shall atone for him.” (Surah 5:45) “Let evil be rewarded with like evil. But he that forgives and seeks reconcilement shall be rewarded by Allah… To endure with fortitude and to forgive is a duty incumbent on all.” (Surah 42: 40, 43)
There is even the doctrine of loving your enemy and doing good to them that hate you while returning good for evil against you. “Good and evil deeds are not alike. Requite evil with good, and he who is your enemy will become your dearest friend. But none will attain this save those who endure with fortitude and are greatly favoured by Allah.” (Surah 41:34, 35) This follows closely on the heels of the scripture in Romans which advises to “Recompense to no man evil for evil… If it be possible, as much as lieth with you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (KJV Rom 12: 17-21)
The teachings of Islam, along with those of every major religion, promote the Gospel of Peace. We all worship the same God of heaven, the Father of us all. And He has given us His words to guide us back to Him, whether we believe in the Bible, Book of Mormon, Torah or Quran, Jesus as the Son of God, or Muhammad or Joseph Smith as a prophet. If we will live according to the higher laws of forgiveness, mercy, love and tolerance, we will be able to bridge these cultural and doctrinal differences and live in peace with one another in our chaotic world.
We must seek to understand and be compassionate with each other. We must be willing to be open-minded toward differing ethnic, theological and cultural backgrounds that may be very foreign to our own. We should look for the positive aspects of each other’s beliefs that help support our own faith rather than seek to deride or destroy another’s value system. We must put aside stale misconceptions based on the exceptions of the few and instead open our hearts and minds to the righteous truths shared by the many.
We must “sue for peace, not only to the people who have smitten you, but also to all people; And lift up the ensign of peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth.” (D&C 105: 38,39) “O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (Not that ye may despise each other). Indeed, the most noble among you is the most God-fearing” (King Fahed Translation, Surah 49: 13)
As Elder Russell M. Nelson stated, “Because of the long history of hostility upon the earth, many feel that peace is beyond hope. I disagree. Peace is possible. We can learn to love our fellow human beings throughout the world. Whether they be Jewish, Islamic, or fellow Christians, whether Hindu Buddhist, or other, we can live together with mutual admiration and respect, without forsaking our religious convictions. Things we have in common are greater than our differences. Peace is a prime priority that pleads for our pursuit.”
May we all be united as brothers and sisters under the one God who created us all and seek to walk in His paths.
 Surah 42:8
 Quran, King Fahed Translation, Surah 29:46
 Ibid, p.1165
 D&C 4:5, 121:41
 D&C 64:10, 11
 D&C 88:78-80, 93:53, 90:15
 D&C 76
 Surah 19: 60-63
 D&C 121
 KJV 1 Kings 18:40, BM 1 Nephi 4:10-18
 See also D&C 103:27,28
 Surah 4:29,30
 Surah 2: 191-193
 Surah 2: 191-193
 BM 2 Ne 9: 35, BM Alma 34:12
 Nelson, Russell, M. “Blessed are the Peacemakers”, Ensign, November 2002, See http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-315-13,00.html