What do Mormons and Muslims have in common? A lot more than you might think. And a popular sitcom about Muslims living in a small Canadian prairie town offers Mormons good suggestions about how best to handle being misunderstood and sometimes mistreated by the “outside world”.
People have been comparing Mormons to Muslims since the days of Joseph Smith, who was derided as an “American Muhammad.” Some even have referred to Mormonism as the “Islam of America.” Consider just a few of the remarkable similarities between Muslims and Mormons:
- Both accept the Bible as scripture as well as an additional post-Biblical book of scripture (Koran & Book of Mormon) brought forth by the prophet-founder of their faith (Muhammad & Joseph Smith).
- Both religions’ book of post-Biblical scripture (Koran & Book of Mormon) was intended, in part, to correct corruptions in the Biblical text.
- The two major factions in both religions split over the issue of succession, i.e., whether the prophet-founder’s family had divine authority to succeed the prophet-founder after his death (Sunni & Shia in Islam; LDS & [former] RLDS in Mormonism).
- The faction that does not believe in lineal succession in each religion (Sunni & LDS) is larger than the faction that does believe in lineal succession (Shia & [former] RLDS).
- Both believe in a pre-existence.
- Both have a health code that proscribes alcohol.
- Both have patriarchal orders of church government.
- Both struggle to overcome guilt-by-association-type negative publicity created by individuals considered by the majority/mainstream to be fanatics that fall “outside the fold” (e.g., Osama bin Laden & Warren Jeffs).
- Both groups receive significantly lower favorability ratings in public opinion surveys compared to other religious groups like Catholics and Jews.
- Both religions have recently been cited as reasons not to vote for a U.S. Presidential candidate (Mitt Romney’s Mormonism & Barack Hussein Obama’s contact with Islam in his youth).
- The words “Muslim” and “Mormon” both begin with an “M” and have six letters (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Interestingly, a Muslim co-worker told me that the first time someone told her that he was “Mormon,” she thought he was saying “momin,” which means “good” in Arabic.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times recently, Muslims and Mormons have been forging closer ties, facilitated in part by their common bond of being oft-misunderstood and sometimes mistreated by the rest of society. When Muslims and Mormons meet, it is easy for them to relate to one another. Consider these statements by a Mormon and a Muslim who were interviewed at a recent open-mosque day in my city of Irvine, California, at which over half those in attendance were Mormons:
“A Mormon living in an Islamic society would be very comfortable,” said Steve Young, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attending the event.
“When I go to a Mormon church I feel at ease,” said Haitham Bundakji, former chairman of the Islamic Society of Orange County. “When I heard the president [of LDS] speak a few years ago, if I’d closed my eyes I’d have thought he was an imam.”
Muslims’ struggle to overcome negative stereotypes and to persuade others that they are good, normal, family-centered people is something Mormons can relate to. And that is the central theme of a popular Canadian sitcom, Little Mosque in the Prairie, which is set in the fictional small prairie town of Mercy, Saskatchewan. In this clip from the first episode, a young man who is to be the new Imam (priest) in Mercy has been detained at the airport as a suspected terrorist.
This comedy series, which is available on YouTube for free viewing, is a fine example for Mormons of how best to deal with being misunderstood and sometimes mistreated by others: Laugh about it!
But in addition to having a therapeutic effect on its Muslim viewers, the show also serves as an invaluable PR tool for Muslims and Middle-Easterners in general. Nowadays, the most common visual images of Muslims and Middle-Easterners that North Americans see are people like Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, or a swarm of hooded men doing a rigorous monkey bar circuit at an elite terrorist training camp. None of these would be embraced by most Muslims as good representatives of Islam.
The cast of Little Mosque on the Prairie provide North American viewers with friendly Muslim faces to put in their place. After watching a few episodes, the show’s hilarious cast of characters will come to mind whenever you hear the word “Muslim,” rather than one of the many angry, finger-wagging clerics you see on the nightly news. Moreover, the fact that the Muslim writers and actors of Little Mosque in the Prairie can poke fun at themselves and at the awkward and ridiculous social situations in which they sometimes find themselves exhibits an admirable self-confidence and is an effective way of defusing (no pun intended) any unnecessary social tensions that exist between Muslims and non-Muslims living in North America. Little Mosque on the Prairie demonstrates that when it comes to erasing prejudice and creating familiarity and goodwill, laughter is once again the best medicine.
So my question for you is: Is there, or has there ever been, a Mormon equivalent to Little Mosque on the Prairie? Have creators of Mormon media succeeded yet in producing works with mass appeal that provide accurate and endearing portrayals of Mormons? If so, what are those works? And if not, why hasn’t it been done yet?