Column: Holy envy

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The Fall 2018 BYU Jerusalem Center class.

“Well, this is not Idaho anymore!” I thought to myself as I gazed up and beheld a massive poster hanging on the side of a building of Abdullah II — king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

My gaze shifted elsewhere as I noticed the group I was with began to progress toward our destination.

“Mormons! Mormons!” is all we heard as we walked past a sea of vendors selling oily baklava, figurines of Saint Mary carved from olive wood and patterned keffiyehs.

Middle Eastern pastries at a Jewish outdoor market.
Middle Eastern pastries at a Jewish outdoor market.

“Only 5 dinar!” a vendor shouted. “Only 5 dinar for the Mormons!”

Vendors became so excited when the Latter-day Saint kids from the BYU Jerusalem Center came around — perhaps it was our naivety, and they could overcharge without us noticing.

We weaved through the city streets in Amman, Jordan, until we found ourselves at our desired destination — the King Abdullah I Mosque.

Part of the curriculum at the BYU Jerusalem Center is learning about other religions and cultures by immersing ourselves in them. Visiting the King Abdullah I Mosque would be eye-opening, as none of the 60 plus students in our group had been inside a mosque before.

According to learnreligions.com, “Visitors are welcome in most mosques throughout the year. … Non-Muslim visitors may wish to attend an official function, meet Muslim community members, observe or learn about our way of worship, or simply admire the Islamic architecture of the building.”

Before entering the mosque, each woman in our group was given a black robe and a colorful headscarf, and we all removed our shoes to show respect for God and the traditions of the Muslim faith.

We entered a large, circular room with an impressive, well-cushioned red carpet and an equally impressive light fixture.

We made our way to the middle of the room, where we sat on the floor and listened to a member of the mosque explain the history of the building and facts about Islam.

BYU Jerusalem Students' visit to the King Abdullah I Mosque. Fall 2018.
BYU Jerusalem Students’ visit to the King Abdullah I Mosque. Fall 2018.

As the lecture continued, movement in the corner of my eye started to pull my attention; it was a Muslim man praying in the mosque. The room was so large that few people in our group noticed him, but I couldn’t help but watch him.

I gathered that he was probably in his early 70s and was worshiping in the mosque unaccompanied.

I watched him slowly get on his knees, adjust his garb and submissively bring his forehead to the cushiony floor beneath him. He stretched the tips of his fingers far out in front of him and remained in that position for the next 20 minutes or so, with only a few short breaks in between. I felt privileged to watch someone pray with such fervor.

At the Dome of the Rock, women are asked to show respect by covering their heads, legs and arms. The Dome of the Rock stands on the temple mount, making it highly significant to members of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
At the Dome of the Rock, women are asked to show respect by covering their heads, legs and arms.
The Dome of the Rock stands on the temple mount, making it highly significant to members of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

I don’t remember much history about the mosque. I can’t recall any facts that I heard that day, but I can recall, with much clarity, the Muslim man I saw practicing his faith with such humility, devotion and sincerity. This image will stay with me forever.

It has been a few years since my experience in the Holy Land, but I have continued to think about the man in the mosque as well as the other Jewish, Muslim and fellow Christian believers I saw.

A Jewish woman praying at the Western Wall. The Western Wall is the west side of the temple mount and is significant to Jews since it is the closest you can get to where the Holy of Holies once was in the ancient temple.
A Jewish woman praying at the Western Wall.
The Western Wall is the west side of the temple mount and is significant to Jews since it is the closest you can get to where the Holy of Holies once was in the ancient temple.

Do I have that much passion and devotion in my life?

Am I constantly rediscovering my testimony and love of God like the people I saw over there?

What can I learn from those of other faiths?

President John Taylor said the following in regards to this holy envy: “I was going to say I am not a Universalist, but I am, and I am also a Presbyterian, and a Roman Catholic, and a Methodist, in short, I believe in every true principle that is imbibed by any person or sect, and reject the false. If there is any truth in heaven, earth, or hell, I want to embrace it, I care not what shape it comes in to me, who brings it, or who believes in it, whether it is popular or unpopular.”

In front of the Garden Tomb.
In front of the Garden Tomb.

It would be closed-minded — and not to mention somewhat foolish — for us to assume that we have a monopoly on all truth and enlightenment as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We must have a sense of holy envy of the positive qualities we see in other faiths.

According to Mauro Properzi, “There is much that we Latter-day Saints can learn from (other faiths). For example, the lives and spiritual experiences of many devotees from most religious traditions can be a source of inspiration as they reveal much that may be worthy of emulation.”

The evening before we all left the Jerusalem Center to head back to the U.S., I noticed something in my suitcase that gave me a little chuckle but ended up totally enlightening me. I saw my copy of the New Testament, a kippah I had purchased with the Star of David on it and a copy of the Quran translated into English. It suddenly hit me that all religions have aspects of truth and are worthy of our admiration, emulation and holy envy.

A New Testament, kippah and Quran.
A New Testament, kippah and Quran.

One doesn’t have to go all the way to the Holy Land to learn and appreciate other faiths. We must look around and ask what we can learn from other faiths and not what we can teach them.