Jesus, Muslims, Mormons. And Missouri.

Some years back, George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney whether his Mormon beliefs about the end times would create tensions with the Muslim world. That’s because—though it’s apparently a matter of some debate—Mormons believe Jesus will return to Missouri from where he’ll usher in a 1,000-year reign of peace. Headquartered out of the United States.

This comes to us through a video that’s resurfaced, between candidate Romney, from way back during the previous presidential election, and a conservative radio show host. (Sarah Posner breaks down the issues at work, and the significance of the questions.) What interests me is Stephanopoulos’ question—namely, about Jesus, the U.S., and the Muslim world.

Does Stephanopoulos know that Jesus is the Muslim Messiah? Would that make a difference for his line of questioning?

Probably it should. There are a lot of misunderstandings about Islam and its relationship to “Judeo-Christianity,” as we’ve come to experience it. The first of these relates to prophecy—for Muslims, prophecy begins with Adam and runs through a number of persons, and concludes with Muhammad. Twenty-five of these persons are named by the Qur’an, although Muslim tradition holds that there were tens of thousands of Prophets, left nameless to us.

Of those named, most are familiar to us from the Old Testament: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Job, and so on and so forth. Islam demands a recognition and acceptance of all of them, an interesting counterpoint to vice-presidential candidate Ryan’s insistence on “those Judeo-Christian, Western-civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place.”

I assume by this reference to Judeo-Christian, Ryan is distancing himself, and the “real America” he purports to represent, from the vaguely Muslim, nebulously multicultural, secretly socialist and metaphysically European America Obama represents (see Shalom Goldman’s essay for more on this). Of course, what Ryan would make of the Qur’an’s alignment with a good chunk of that tradition would be interesting to know, although probably we never will hear his take:

We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them.. (2:136)

In the Muslim view, prophecy is something that all peoples have, at some point, received. For Muslims, there is no original sin; if one thing characterizes humanity, it’s forgetfulness, a spiritual condition that describes our tendency to miss the forest for the trees. God reminds us of our purpose in the world—to worship God, and to return back to Him—through prophets who address this characteristic of humankind. 

And while Muhammad is the last Prophet, he is not the Messiah. For Muslims, Jesus, the son of Mary, is the word of God, the spirit of God, and the Messiah. He did not die, but was raised up to heaven, and will return at the end times. There’s disagreement on what this return means, and the specifics of the end-times aren’t generally a major concern for the majority of Muslims. The Qur’an’s concern with apocalypse is largely a concern for what happens after we die.

As in any other faith tradition, Muslims disagree, and sometimes strongly, on what will happen at the end times, and what importance these events hold is up for debate, too. But still, there are similarities—the figure of Jesus is one that Christians and Muslims share, although he is one over whom Christians and Muslims of course disagree. (Islam does not recognize the Trinity.)

This is a much more inclusive way of looking at the world; in fact, Governor Romney’s much earlier remarks, which stress the common themes between different faiths, were sadly missing from his more recent statements. Most recently, speaking on the Muslim world, we had Romney describe an abstracted “world of Islam,” which suggests that for him Islam is something like a theme park gone horribly wrong. 

What Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan say on these matters is of interest, if only because our relationships with the Muslim world matter, though perhaps not as much as our relationships to our fellow Americans—those we include, or exclude, when we reference “Judeo-Christian, Western-civilization values,” which often means little more than Ayn Rand with a dusting of theology, probably only to assuage the corporate guilt.

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