The world at large doesn’t understand that here, in the United States of America, it is perfectly acceptable to have an opinion about a religion, and perfectly acceptable to express that opinion publicly.
Our founding fathers protected many God-given rights in our Constitution. One of the very first rights enumerated in the first amendment to the Constitution concerns freedom of speech:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (1st Amendment, US Constitution)
I think the inclusion of freedom of speech in an amendment that protects religion is significant. Citizens of the United States are allowed to discuss religion. Even if there are disagreements between individuals, that conversation is, and must be, protected. It may be rude and disrespectful to disparage another religion, but the right to be rude and disparaging is protected.
And that means that if someone who is a follower of Islam gets offended by something said here in the States, then so be it. They can choose to be offended. But they CANNOT curtail that speech. If the offended party is a citizen of the United States, they have just as much right to say something rude and disparaging about somebody else’s religion as the next guy. Muslims can hate Christians and Jews, and they can stand up on a street corner and yell it to the world if they wish. That’s just the way it is here. And I pray to God that it never changes.
I should probably warn you now: This is a very long post…
Mormons and the Free Exercise of Religion
The Mormon church, or officially, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, got its start in the early 1800s. From the very moment that it burst upon the religious scene of western New York State, the church was ridiculed and harassed. Searching for peace and freedom from oppression, the church moved from state to state, where in most cases they were welcome at first. But in time, they were chased out by those who disagreed with the teachings of Mormonism. The church eventually had to leave the United States and go into the Utah Territory.
In every single case, those who opposed the Mormons had the right to say what they wanted to. But where they crossed the line was when they used violence and intimidation to chase the Mormons out. Those actions were unconstitutional. And those actions should have been stopped and punished by the courts.
Let me emphasize again . . . opponents to Mormonism had the right to say what they wanted to. But violence against any religion or religious speech is not acceptable in the United States.
Islam in the World Today
Compare the experience of Mormons to what we hear from Islam today. In the eyes of Islam, you cannot talk negatively about Mohammed, or Islam, in any way. To do so is blasphemy. To do so is punishable, in some cases by death, depending on where you live in the world. There is no concept of freedom of speech in Muslim countries.
In the United States, curtailing the free speech of those who speak against Islam is completely at odds with our Constitution. Our guaranteed freedom of speech is simply not compatible with the desires of any Islamic country to force Americans to keep their opinions to themselves, no matter how much those leaders may wish it. To grant their wish, our Constitution would have to be amended to remove free speech and the free exercise of religion. Perhaps Islam needs to amend their belief system to allow dissidents and apostates to speak out? There is no other way to bring Islam to the table of discussion and debate in a free society like America.
Exercising My Free Speech
With this in mind, I am going to express a few views that I have of Islam. Please note, I am not an expert in Islamic tradition, doctrine, or history. I am just now learning. I don’t know much. In fact, some of what I may point out about the religion may be completely wrong. If so, I accept my error. I am teachable.
But what I say here, is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. I can say it. I can write it. I can post it on the internet. There is nothing that the U. S. government can legally do to stop it. If they attempt to do so, then they are in violation of the very constitution that they have sworn to uphold.
Observations About the Beginnings of Islam
I have read several different written accounts of Mohammed’s experiences when he had, what some have called, his first revelation with the angel Gabriel.
In most cases the account goes like this: Mohammed goes to a cave. The angel Gabriel appears to him and commands him to recite or read. Mohammed hesitates (he could not read), and the angel Gabriel seizes him and presses him to the point of death. In other accounts, it says that Mohammed was actually choked and thrown to the ground. After experiencing this three times, Mohammed runs home in fear.
The first time I read these accounts, I immediately saw red flags pop up. These accounts of Mohammed and angels do not sound like the angelic visitations that I am familiar with. Let’s talk about some of the problems I see with Mohammed’s claim.
Here are some examples of angelic visitation in the Bible:
“And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision. So he came near where I stood: and when he came, I was afraid, and fell upon my face: but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision. Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright. And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be.” (Daniel 8:15-19, emphasis added)
Note that in this experience that Daniel had with the angel Gabriel, Daniel collapsed to the ground, afraid. But the angel Gabriel picked him up, and told him that he would make Daniel to know, or to understand, the vision that Daniel had received. No choking. And Gabriel helped Daniel up, off the ground.
“And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.” (Luke 1:11-14, emphasis added)
In this experience with Gabriel, Zacharias was afraid, just like Daniel had been. But Gabriel told him, “Fear not,” and then proceeded to share glad tidings with Gabriel. Zacharias doubted. He asked, “Whereby shall I know this?” (verse 18). Gabriel responded:
“And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.” (Luke 1:19-20, emphasis added)
Granted, Zacharias was struck dumb. But there was no altercation. Zacharias was not thrown to the ground. He was not choked. Gabriel simply declared it. When John was born, the temporary cursing was removed, and it became a sign and witness to all who were present on the day of John’s naming that John was the prophesied forerunner of the Savior. (see Luke 1:57-80)
A few months later, great signs were given in the heavens, and angels again spoke to mankind:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” (Luke 2:8-15, emphasis added)
Make note of the joyous occasion here. Again, the angel told the shepherds to not fear.
The initial reaction of the men to seeing the angels was fear. But in every case, the men were told to fear not. And the angels still delivered their important messages. Joy replaced fear.
But what if an angel is not really an angel of light? What if the devil himself were to pose as an angel, or pretend to be something he is not? In the book of Moses (LDS scripture, in the volume called the Pearl of Great Price), we have this experience where Moses talked with God, and then Satan came, tempting him:
“But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him. And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee? For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him. But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely? Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God; for God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve. Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten. And he also gave me commandments when he called unto me out of the burning bush, saying: Call upon God in the name of mine Only Begotten, and worship me. And again Moses said: I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him: for his glory has been upon me, wherefore I can judge between him and thee. Depart hence, Satan. And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory. And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan. And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not. ” (Moses 1: 11-22, emphasis added)
Do you see the difference here? When Satan is present on the scene, there is fear. There is no comfort from his presence. In fact, in this case, Satan threw a temper tantrum, making Moses fear even more. The only way for the fear to subside is for Satan to be driven away.
Joseph Smith Jr., the first prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tells of his own experience with an unseen enemy who was chased away by a heavenly vision. Joseph had retired to the woods to ask God which church he should join:
“After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History, verses 15-17, emphasis added)
Compare Moses’ experience, and Joseph Smith’s experience, to that of Mohammed. What is similar? What do you see? When did Moses fear? When was Joseph “seized” and “choked”? When did the fearful feelings leave?
In both cases, fear was present when Satan was present. And until he left, the feeling remained.
The Great Satan
Muslims have been calling the United States and Israel “The Great Satan” and “The Little Satan” for a long time. Their rhetoric has frequently turned violent. They have promised to destroy Israel and America. In their words: “To wipe them from the face of the earth”. They take serious offense when anyone talks badly about their religion. In fact, I am sure that if any Muslim reads this, they are going to want my head on a spit because I just insinuated that Mohammed was actually visited by Satan, not Gabriel as they claim.
That is my whole point. People criticize Mormonism all the time. You don’t see Mormons burning flags, and promising to destroy states or communities or churches or countries. And yet, Muslims around the world do that very thing.
I didn’t write this to be a declaration against Islam. There are surely good Muslims as there are good Christians and good Jews. But there are bad Christians and bad Jews too. And from my perspective as a Mormon who knows what religious freedoms are all about, I would fight to preserve the rights of a Muslim here in the states, just as I would fight to preserve the rights of Christians or Jews or Sikhs or Buddhists or Hindus or Atheists.
But I’ll tell you what, when somebody out there says that I can’t have a discussion about their religion, or that I can’t say things that might put their religion in a bad light, because it might be blasphemy and it might be punishable by death . . .
I say, HOGWASH.
And that HOG declaration just might offend them too.
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