Global Muslim leader brings push for peace and tolerance to meeting with top LDS leaders, other Utah officials

(Courtesy of Muslim World League) LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson greets Mohammad Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, at the church’s headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Every time there has been a terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims anywhere since 9-11, many Americans demand to know why Islamic moderates don’t condemn such killings by fellow believers.

Of course, Muslim leaders in Utah, across the United States and in other countries repeatedly do decry these acts, but they can’t represent the 1.8 billion adherents on the planet.

Now there’s the Muslim World League, a pan-Muslim organization committed to moderation and nonviolence. It opposes all forms of extremism and the so-called “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West, and works to build bridges with other nations.

The league’s secretary-general, Mohammad Al-Issa, was in Utah this week, meeting with religious leaders, including the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After his conversation with top Latter-day Saint officials, Al-Issa visited with apostle David A. Bedner and then headed to the church’s Welfare Square west of downtown Salt Lake City.

“What I’ve seen here is a great example of the true meaning of mercy and love to humanity,” the Muslim said in a church news release. “We, all around the world, need to follow this humanitarian [approach] exactly. Also, the whole world needs to get exposed to and learn from these efforts and projects.”

The goal, Al-Issa said in an interview at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, was to “work on the common objectives until peace and harmony will prevail among humanity.”

Though the Muslim World League is supported in part by the Saudi government and headquartered in Mecca (“because lots of people go there for pilgrimage”), Al-Issa said, its message is “global,” aimed at Islamic believers as well as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and anyone who will listen.

His interfaith efforts “include a 2017 meeting with his holiness Pope Francis and a first-of-its-kind agreement between [the Muslim World League] and the Vatican,” according to Al-Issa’s biography. “He also toured the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with senior Jewish leaders and announced in May 2019 that he would become the most senior Islamic leader ever to visit Auschwitz when he leads an interfaith delegation there in January 2020.”

In recent weeks, Al-Issa “finalized a cooperation agreement with the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow,” the biography said, and also met with Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders in Sri Lanka “to promote healing and integration in the wake of the country’s deadly Easter attacks.”

In May, the Muslim World League assembled Islamic scholars from nearly 30 Islamic sects to produce a set of principles, which were unanimously supported by the entire group.

Known as the “Makkah Charter,” its statements included these:

  • “Differences among people in their beliefs, cultures and natures are part of God’s will and wisdom.

  • “Religious and cultural diversity never justifies conflict.

  • “Civilized cultural dialogue is the most effective way to achieve tolerance and understanding.

  • “Religions and philosophies are exonerated from the sins committed by their adherents and claimants.

  • “The pollution and destruction of our natural resources are both a violation of our own rights as well as the rights of generations to come.

  • “An attack on a site of worship is a criminal act.”

All Muslim groups are welcome to join, except those that have been deemed “extremist,” including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Issa said. “No extremists are allowed except those who want dialogue.”

The Saudi sheikh met Monday with seven diverse representatives from the Utah Muslim Civic League.

They “apprised him of the civic engagement initiatives being undertaken by the group in order to increase Muslim participation,” they wrote in a statement. “We also shared personal experiences highlighting our personal journeys in Utah.”

Many shared “positive experiences as immigrants and refugees with the LDS Church,” the statement said. The Muslim World League’s “message of interfaith harmony and moderation resonated with us.”

They told the international visitor that they have been “condemning violence and investing in building bridges within and outside our communities, investing in charitable projects and participating in civic discourse to build more inclusive spaces for all of us.”