By ERIN CONLEY
BYU students can take a religion course that will teach them about Islam and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the same time.
The Islam and the Gospel class, offered through the Church History and Doctrine Department of Religious Education, aims to help students understand Islam, the second largest religion in the world.
Bradley Cook, the course instructor, said the main aspect of the class is to help people understand Islam better — to demystify it.
“It needs to be understood. It is one of the world’s greatest traditions but also one of the least understood in the West,” Cook said.
Islam and the Gospel is offered through religious education because it compares and contrasts the history and theology of the LDS Church and Islam, and thus falls within the department’s mission of teaching comparative religions, Cook said.
“The (students who take the class) get a lot of benefit and receive a lot of good information that increases their understanding of Islam,” said Abdu Al-ahwal, 23, a recent graduate from Yemen who majored in manufacturing engineering.
“We need greater understanding worldwide or we will never have peace,” he said.
Al-ahwal is former vice president of the Muslim Student Association at BYU and took the class when he was a student.
Kent White, a junior from Provo majoring in near eastern studies, took the class last winter and said he gained a lot of respect for Islam.
“It’s a very godly and moral religion,” White said.
On Feb. 15, 1978 the First Presidency of the LDS Church issued a statement regarding God’s Love for All Mankind, which addresses the role of leaders such as Islam’s prophet, Mohammed.
The statement says: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the great Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals … ”
White said one of the greatest things students can gain in this class is an appreciation for God’s light that is in Muslims.
Cook said the one credit class, which he is teaching this summer, will talk about the birth and spread of Islam, Islamic belief and practice and the Islamic holy book, the Quran.
It will also cover Islamic mysticism, culture, family and modern interpretations of Islam, Cook said.
He also said there are many parallels between the LDS Church and Islam.
Some of the most interesting comparisons are those between Joseph Smith and Mohammed — both in the ways they received revelation and in the roles they played in bringing a new religion to an area, Cook said. Islam also puts great value on the family and rituals like prayer.
“Muslims believe in moral (living) more than Western people do,” White said, citing the lack of promiscuity, drinking and crime in Muslim cultures.
Cook, White and Al-ahwal all said they think students at BYU are largely ignorant about Islam.
“One of the major problems, not just at BYU or in Utah, but in the whole West, is that people have a very bad image of Islam and there are very bad stereotypes about Muslims,” Al-ahwal said.
People in the West stereotype Muslims as Arabs, but in truth it is a worldwide religion, Cook said.
Although Arabic is the language of the Quran and Muslim prayers, not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs.
White said he thinks too many BYU students see Muslims as militant radicals. He said after taking the class he felt a greater understanding toward Islam and would be quicker to defend it.