In August of 1859, Apostle Orson Pratt called on Latter-day Saints to welcome Muslims into the Territory of Deseret. "Is it the privilege of the Mahometan to come here," he asked? "It ought to be," was the forceful reply. Nor did Pratt speak alone. Months earlier, Brigham Young made it clear that the Saints would defend the religious rights of any Muslim who desired to make Zion their home.He goes on to discuss other statements that were purportedly in favor of Muslim immigration, then concludes:
Whereas our forbearers only imagined themselves defending Muslim rights, we have been given the opportunity to actively stand up for the religious liberties of refugees seeking to enter our country. Anything less dishonors the spiritual struggles of those who came before.That the Church in the 1800's supported Muslim immigration to the United States was new to me, so I decided to try and track down some of the quotes cited by the author to see whether had accurately captured the ideas or taken them out of context. I found that, in their context, they were not calls for free and open immigration as much as argument against laws banning polygamy.
For instance, the Orson P. Pratt quote above, in context:
We calculate to maintain the Government of the United States and the principles of the Constitution. They were given indirectly by the voice of inspiration to our ancestors: they were given to maintain inviolate the principles of civil and religious liberty to all people under heaven. Can the idolater come here and build a temple to worship idols in? Yes. Go into California and you will find one erected by the Chinese: they are worshipping dumb idols there. The people undertook to punish them by law; but judgment was given that inasmuch as they did not infringe upon the rights of others, they had a right to worship idols. Is it the privilege of the idolater to worship here? Is it the privilege of the Mahometan to come here with his many wives? It ought to be; but so far as the local State laws are concerned, they have deviated from the Constitution. These State laws make the Mahometan divorce all his wives but one, or else they will confine him in prison for years. These State laws will break up his [p. 226a]family and make him disown and turn out his children upon the wide world, fatherless and unprotected. They say to the Mahometan, You can live here in Missouri, or in any other State, if you will only do this.
What wonderful liberty! Shame on the State which will thus pass laws in open violation of the Constitution. I would see them all in heaven or somewhere else, before I would thank them for offering me liberty on conditions of breaking up my family.
Where can you put your finger on a law passed by the American Congress which deprives a man of the rights guaranteed to him relative to the government of his family, no matter whether he takes one wife or many? Undertake to deprive the people of this one domestic institution, and you can, upon the same principle, deprive them of all others.
Imprison the polygamist for having more than one wife, and you have the same right to imprison a man for having more than one child, or to punish the slaveholder for having more than one slave. The same Constitution that protects the latter also protects the former. It is just as much the right of the people to have twelve wives as to have twelve children. What would you think of a State law that would undertake to deprive you of the privilege of having only one child? This would be no more barefacedly unjust than the State laws against polygamy.
The Mahometan can come to Utah with his wives; anybody can come here, without having his family broken up, his wives torn from his bosom, and his children cast out to the world. We say to all the world, Come to Utah; and so long as we have the power to elect wise legislators, we will protect you in your domestic rights, according to the national Constitution.So, in context, we can see that the quote had nothing to do with Muslim immigration into the United States, but, instead, was an attack on the state laws prohibiting the exercise of polygamy in contravention to the First Amendment and principles of religious freedom.
The reference to Brigham Young's statement was too vague in order to allow me to track it down.
Later, the author cites to an 1882 speech given by Apostle Erastus Snow that supported allowing Muslim immigrants. I found the transcript of that speech, and, in it, Snow is recorded as saying:
... God spoke by the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, in a sermon delivered by the Prophet at Nauvoo a short time before his death, on the powers and policy of this government of the United States and the freedom and liberty secured in the American Constitution, that it was broad and ample in its provisions, extending human freedom to every soul of man and protecting them in every natural right; and he classed among others the Jew, the Muhammadan, and the oppressed of every nation who desired to find an asylum under the broad folds of the Constitution. Yes, the Patriarchs, as well as the Muhammadans, and their descendants who may believe in plural marriage, may come with their three or four wives, as the case may be, and enjoy freedom and liberty dear to all. Referring at the same time to those narrow, contracted, bigoted, sectarian laws of some of the States against plural marriage, he said they were not in harmony with the Constitution nor the purposes of heaven; that God had caused our fathers to establish this Constitution, to maintain the liberty of all people of every creed, and it will become the duty of all lovers of freedom throughout the land to maintain those principles of human freedom; but, says one, are we not between the upper and nether millstone; shall we not be ground into fine powder? Just wait and see. As for myself, I feel as calm as a summer's morning; ....Again, the focus is not on immigration per se, but on the illegality of anti-polygamy laws.
I understand that the Church's position toward Islam is one of respect and live-and-let-live:
While we do not compromise revealed eternal truths of the restored gospel, we never espouse an adversarial relationship with other faiths. Rather, in accordance with modern prophetic counsel, we seek to treasure up that which is virtuous and praiseworthy in other faiths and to cultivate an attitude of “affirmative gratitude” toward them. As Latter-day Saints, we believe that it is vital to respect and benefit from the spiritual light found in other religions, while seeking humbly to share the additional measure of eternal truth provided by latter-day revelation.But I also believe it is disingenuous to cite to 150 year old speeches about polygamy and seeking political allies in trying to preserve polygamy and somehow turn it into a claim that opposing Islamic immigration is against our heritage.
Perhaps most obviously, the Church forswore polygamy in 1890; it is now an excommunicable offense. The usefulness and need for polygamy is long over and, in fact, we can now understand that, outside of special circumstances, polygamy is largely inimical to civilization and peaceful social order. Thus, we no longer have any kinship with Islam (if such ever existed) because of a shared practice of polygamy.
Equally significant is that we have a history to guide us that Pratt and Snow did not have. We do not have to rely on a theory or ideal of a common humanity to predict the impact of importing large number of Muslims: we have actual, real examples that show that it is disastrous wherever it has occurred. In a similar vein, modern Islam is in thrall with Wahhabism, a Muslim movement or branch that barely existed in the days of Pratt and Snow, but which has now infected nearly the whole of Islam. The rise of Wahhabism and "radical Islam" is the Muslim equivalent to the Protestant reformation--a quest to return to the true roots of Islam--and behind most of the violence endemic in the Middle-East and northern Africa, as well as the terrorism in the West. It is not a religion of "live-and-let-live."
As L.P. Hartley famously observed: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." We live in a different world from that of the early Church leaders. Not only did Pratt and Snow and other early Church leaders have no conception of Wahhabism and, probably, little, if any, understanding of Muslim history and Middle-Eastern tribal culture, but they lived in a United States that was sparsely populated, utterly lacking in social welfare programs, and not bedeviled with "political correctness" and a rapidly expanding war against Christianity and Western civilization. Cultural Marxism had not been invented, let alone made its march through the institutions. The nation did not face an invasion of third world immigrants.
I would also note that the Church of the 19th Century was supportive of open immigration generally because, at that time, the Church followed a policy of gathering the Saints from other nations to Utah and other areas of high Mormon concentration. That era, too, has passed. Now Church members are encouraged to gather to the stakes of Zion in their own nations.
Advocating for Muslim immigration is not a principle of our religion. It isn't in the 13 Articles of Faith, nor in any scripture I've read. Given the violence that we see in Europe, Lebanon, and other areas where Islam has spread, supporting Islamic immigration appears, instead, to contradict the second great commandment: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
It is, though, an insult to our intelligence to suggest that supporting a Muslim ban is somehow contrary to our Mormon heritage. Instead, importing a totalitarian creed such as Islam should be antithetical to our belief in free will and moral responsibility. Just as we did not welcome Nazis to the United States during World War II, so too we need not welcome Muslims to the United States during this period of the clash of civilizations.