Muhammad, Judah, and Joseph Smith:
A Sharp Stick in the Eye

Review of C. Reynolds Mackay. Muhammad, Judah, and Joseph Smith. Springville, Utah: Bonneville Books, 2002. xiii + 153 pp., with index. $12.95.

Muhammad, Judah, and Joseph Smith: A Sharp Stick in the Eye

Reviewed by Stephen D. Ricks

I don’t think any good book is based on factual experience. Bad
books are about things the writer already knew before he wrote them.1

When I was much younger and something bad happened to me, my dad often tried
to remind me that things could be worse by saying, “Well, it’s better
than a sharp stick in the eye.” After reading Muhammad, Judah, and Joseph
I firmly believe this book is a sharp stick in the eye. I am saying this
as a human being who is offended by a very one-sided and inaccurate viewpoint
of fellow human beings. Preceding its large-print title is what looks like,
but is not, a series title (or subtitle) that reads Ideologies in Conflict.
I am not exactly sure what this subtitle means, but from the contents of the
book, it appears that it refers to two ideological conflicts: Muslims against
everyone else and Mormonism above (and better than) everyone else. However,
I have enough faith to believe, perhaps somewhat naively, that most will see
through this unorganized, uneven, distorted, prejudicial, and, I think, extremely
untrue image of Islam. Furthermore, I believe most will see through the author’s
polemical attacks against Islam (and sometimes Judaism) done in the name of
the restored gospel.

If all you needed to know about this book is that it is a bad book then you
do not really need to read any further. But if you want to understand why it
is a bad book and perhaps even learn something about Islam in the process, then
read on.

The first major defect of the book is its tendency to overgeneralize and oversimplify
complex and multifaceted teachings and practices in Islam. Throughout its short,
large-print, and unprofessional-looking chapters, sweeping and unsupported statements
are made about Islam that lead one to believe that the book presents a common,
everyday Islam. Here are a few examples of actual claims about Islam found in
a handy, two-columned chapter entitled “Islam vs. Mormonism”: “Polygamy
is acceptable” (“Common among Muslims today,” p. 86),
“Women are inferior to men,” “Abortion allowed” (Mackay
cites pre-Islamic infanticide as equivalent of late-term abortion, pp. 72—73),
“Make war in the name of God,” “Divorce is by a statement,”
“Islam by force,” “America is Satanic.”

Of course, the other column lists the virtues of Mormonism. For instance, the
Islam column reads: “Polygamy is acceptable,” whereas the Latter-day
Saint column professes: “Polygamy was acceptable only for a brief period.
It is an abomination by God and is no longer permitted.” Islam column:
“Women are inferior to men,” LDS column: “Women are equal
to men. They are to be loved, educated, cared for, and exalted.” Taken
as a whole, one could (and probably should, according to the author) likely
conclude that the claims in the Islam column are bad and the corresponding claims
in the LDS column are good.

I do grant that the statements in the Islam column do point out negative aspects
that one can find in Islam. Mackay’s interpretations are believed and
practiced by some Muslims to one degree or another; however, this book does
not even attempt to show that such practices as divorce, polygamy, and abortion
(practically nonexistent) are extremely rare. Nor does it discuss any of the
debates taking place within Islam about these issues, particularly about hot
topics such as the status of women, jihad, pluralism, or Muslim relations with
the United States. All the book manages to do is bring together all that is
negative, bad, sensational, and controversial in Islam in order to create an
unreal picture of Islam that resembles nothing so much as a giant Stay Puft
Marshmallow Man rampaging through the streets of our cities, terrorizing and
threatening our destruction if we do not submit to Islam. And the only solution,
according to this book, is to employ Islambusters (Christianity, of course),
who will triumph over Islam through converting the evil Muslims.

To me the overall message of this book is quite clear: the author knows just
enough about Islam to be extremely dangerous. My fear is that this book will
find its way into our church meetings, especially high priest group meetings,
to be held up as the source for information about Islam. Even worse, I shudder
to think how a Muslim would respond to this book, particularly since it comes
from a Latter-day Saint. Wouldn’t most Muslims likely wonder, “Is
this what Mormons think of us?”

Muhammad, Judah, and Joseph Smith makes another major mistake at the outset
that is anathema to anyone who knows something about Islam. While the author
refers to adherents of Islam as Muslims, he also, and sometimes on the same
page (p. 2), frequently calls Muslims “Islams.” When I alerted
Daniel Peterson to this crass flaw in the book, he declared, “I wish all
of us Mormonisms could learn how to properly refer to the Islams and their religion.
The same goes for Judaisms and Catholicisms, too.”2 With this statement
I think Dan nailed the problem so that anyone can understand how offensive it
would be to Muslims to call them Islams. I am surprised I did not see a statement
in the book that “all Islams are A-rabs.” Along these lines, we
also do not refer to Muslims as “Muhammadans,” since Muslims do
not worship Muhammad. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
of all people, should be sensitive to this kind of labeling since we too have
been accused of being Joseph Smith worshipers.

I believe Mackay incorrectly interprets some Qur’anic passages and some hadith
statements (sayings of Muhammad or his Companions) to argue that Muhammad
started a military holy war during his lifetime to convert all people to Islam
and that this armed holy war continues today. Mackay refers to this war as the
“Oily Jihad” (pp. 10—11), using the pun, “Oil is
fuelling [sic] the continuing Jihad against the West,” which implies that
the principal motivation behind the current military holy war, if one actually
exists, rests on the Muslim possession and use of oil. This blatant oversimplification
can only create more animosity in Latter-day Saints toward Muslims. Certainly
oil is a factor in the international geopolitical arena, but outside of the
oil-producing Muslim countries, such as in Indonesia or Pakistan, oil is not
the main issue. From characterizations such as this, I think the author’s
biggest fan club will likely come from the minority of people who follow the
Usama bin Ladens of this world, rather than the majority of the 1.2 billion
Muslims, a majority that is, by the way, much more moderate in their views and
certainly do not believe they are in a holy war (i.e., armed struggle) against
the West.

To set the record straight, the term jihad means “struggle” or “striving,”
and most Muslims see jihad in two important ways: the greater jihad and the
lesser jihad. According to one Islamic tradition, after the famous Muslim victory
at the Battle of Badr, Muhammad is said to have declared, “You have returned
from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.” When asked what the greater
jihad was, Muhammad responded, “It is the jihad against your passionate
souls.”3 Armed struggle in the Quran and in the traditional teachings
of Muhammad is not to be lightly entered into—certainly not in an offensive
posture and only in self-defense when in imminent physical danger. This is why
terrorist leaders work very hard to carefully persuade their followers that
they have been put in a position of self-defense. In general, Muslims divide
the world into two camps: the Dar al-Harb (the abode of war) and the Dar al-Islam
(the abode of peace); however, the abode of war, in most cases, is not interpreted
as a military, armed war. It is the war against such things as materialism,
immorality, exploitation of women, and anything that can tempt a Muslim to forget
his God. Therefore, the real holy war for a Muslim is the personal struggle
to be the best Muslim possible, to be diligent in practices such as saying prayers,
giving alms, and fasting, all of which helps the Muslim to remember his God
through his active participation in his religion.

What really irks me about this book is comparing the worst of Islam—using
every negative, biased, twisted fact—to the best of Mormonism, pointing
out all that is right, good, and true. I often tell my students in classes on
Islam and the gospel and on world religions that Islam is not a monolithic religion.
It is a multicultural, multifaceted, multidimensional religion. It embraces
many races, languages, and geographical areas. The largest population of Muslims
is not even in the Middle East, but in Indonesia. Most Arabs are, of course,
Muslim, although many Arabs are Christian too, but most Muslims are not Arab.
One really cannot pigeonhole Islam any more than one can pigeonhole any religion
that has been around for a reasonably long period of time. Islam, like any other
religion, has violent extremists. It probably has more than most other religions
since Muslims number one-fifth of the world’s population. However, the
majority of Muslims are peace-loving, law-abiding people who go to school, work,
and care deeply about their families. I tell my students that the Muslims I
know are very offended at the extreme behavior of a few loud, violent radicals
who put forth their views as orthodox, common Islam.

Most Muslims do not want Islam to be defined by an Usama bin Laden any more
than most Christians would want Christianity defined by a David Koresh, or any
more than a Latter-day Saint would want Mormonism defined by a Tom Green or
a Mark Hofmann. Unfortunately, this book focuses heavily on extremist viewpoints
such as are available in a tabloid but does not give any explanation or analysis
to the majority moderate view in Islam. In my opinion, this fatal flaw propels
the book into an irredeemable abyss.

I will offer a few more excerpts of actual quotations and phrases from the book
(some accompanied by my commentary) that I think should ward off the serious-minded
inquirer after the truth.

“Islam has always shown hatred of atheists, pagans, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians,
Jews, Buddhists, and Christians, despite some parts of the Koran which plead
for tolerance
” (p. xii, emphasis in original). This overgeneralized
statement is simply not true. Islamic history attests that Muslims have at many
times lived alongside people of other faiths in peace. Between the eighth and
the tenth centuries, for example, when the Muslim empire stretched from Spain
to India, not only did Muslims and non-Muslims from many cultures live together,
but major Islamic contributions were made in fields such as science, mathematics,
literature, philosophy, and linguistics. From the period of Muhammad, Muslims
are also under Qur’anic injunction to view and treat Jews and Christians
as kindred spirits, or “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitab), because
they had been caretakers of the scriptures up to the time of the revelation
of the Quran.

“Most American Muslims love the United States’ economy, and they
try to enjoy the American Dream. Their religion doesn’t prevent them from
doing all they can to acquire vast wealth, much like the Sikhs in Arabia”
(p. xiii). How is this characterization of American Muslims as money-grubbers
any different from the anti-Semitism exhibited during the Middle Ages in Europe
against the Jews? Modern history has recorded the sad end of such blatantly
ignorant and prejudicial views. And since when did the Sikhs move from
the Punjab in northwest India to Arabia? I somehow missed that one.

You may also be interested to know that Muhammad “acquired a Harem of
a dozen wives and concubines” (p. 1) and is billed (the author refers
to John Keegan for this but does not provide a citation) as a “man of
violence. He bore arms, was wounded in battle, and preached holy war, or Jihad,
against those who defied the will of God as revealed to him, Muhammad. He said,
‘The sword is the key to heaven and hell.’ This is the opposite
of Christ’s admonition, who said, ‘He who lives by the sword shall
die by the sword'” (p. 3). I was not aware that Muhammad had
so many wives (I think he had seven or eight) and that this was called a harem,
a term not used until the ninth or tenth century. Mackay’s description
of Muhammad’s character harks back to the polemical eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries when Muhammad was also proffered as an evil charlatan subject to epileptic
fits and hallucinations. Recent scholarship has seen through the polemics and
has since produced much more balanced studies on the life of Muhammad; most
have concluded that Muhammad was, at least in part, a product of his times and
sincere in his efforts to spread his message.

“In addition to praying three times a day in a prostrate position, the
religion of Islam governs many aspects of living” (p. 8). Wrong again!
Muslims pray five times a day. Yes, Muslims do bow and prostrate themselves
before God to indicate humility and submission. Prayer is basic to the religion
and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam (not even mentioned in the book), which
are considered mandatory for all Muslims, along with the Shahada, or witness
(to become a Muslim the following is recited: “There is no god but God
and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”), fasting (month of Ramadan), alms,
and the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca. It is too bad these Five Pillars didn’t
receive any attention. This omission is only one example of a number of many
basic things the author could have explored and discussed. Truly this book would
have been much improved had it dealt with the basic history, beliefs, and practices
of Muslims instead of its constant harping on the extremists’ points of

“Muslims believe the Koran to be the word of God as given to Muhammad.
Jews believe the Torah to be the word of God. Mormons believe the Bible is the
word of God as long as it is translated correctly” (p. 28). Here
is another unfortunate oversimplification, especially since the author says
virtually nothing else about the Qur’an outside of the quotations used to
emphasize his points throughout the book (except in the chapter with columns,
mentioned earlier, which reads, “The Koran is incongruous and full of
fallacies” [p. 134]). Of course, any first-year student of Islam
knows you really cannot lump the Qur’an, Torah, and Bible together without
creating some major misconceptions and misunderstandings. It should be understood
first and foremost that the Qur’an is to the Muslims as Jesus is to the Christians.
That is, Muslims consider the Qur’an to be the Word of God and the literal
words of God. Muslims do not believe the Qur’an was translated, compiled,
or edited. It was revealed to Muhammad in Arabic as if the words came directly
from God’s mouth. This is why Muslims love to hear the Qur’an recited
in Arabic and why Muslims do not, properly speaking, view it as the Qur’an
when it has been translated into any other language. Hence, many Muslims in
non-Arabic speaking areas learn how to pronounce the Arabic in the Qur’an
using transliterated characters from their own tongue. For example, for an English-speaking
Muslim to say the bismallah (a phrase at the beginning of all but one chapter
of the Qur’an), it could be transliterated in English to read (and say) bismallah
al-rahman al-rahim
(“In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate”).
In this way the English-speaking Muslim could pronounce the actual words of
God without even knowing Arabic.

Alongside the appallingly inaccurate portrayal of Islam, the author seeks to
extol the virtues of Mormonism by citing all sorts of bizarre comparisons and
other topics that seem to have little or nothing to do with anything. What follows
are some examples of chapter titles (in quotation marks) and subtitles (in italics):
“Homosexuality and Immorality,” AIDS and Immorality, “Food
and Fantasies,” Masturbation, Slavery and Equality, “Creation
and Evolution,” Abraham and the Urim and Thummim, and Jews Don’t
Believe in Unisex.
Many quotations throughout the text are from the Quran
or the Torah or are outdated or extreme views of lesser-known scholars, with
little explanation or synthesis. For instance, the section titled Jews Don’t
Believe in Unisex
features Deuteronomy 22:5 with absolutely no discussion of
what it really means within the context of the message of the chapter. Yet the
discussions on points of Mormonism fill many more pages. And the underlying
message of the sections on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is
that Mormonism is better than all other religions, especially Islam.

Mackay’s use, or nonuse, of sources contained in the bibliography is very
disappointing. Unfortunately, the author never gives a page reference to his
secondary sources. He even includes a few noted scholars (W. Montgomery Watt,
Gustave von Grunebaum, Alfred Guillaume, etc.) in his bibliography but does
not cite or use their work in the book, which indicates that he either did not
read them or purposely left them out because they do not square with his views
of Islam. He also lists Daniel Peterson’s Abraham Divided and Spencer
Palmer’s Mormons and Muslims in the bibliography, but again he does not
refer to them in the book.

For the serious Latter-day Saint who wants to know more about Islam and perhaps
even compare Islam with Mormonism, this book is definitely not the source. Instead,
I would suggest the following: James A.Toronto, “Islam,” in Religions
of the World
;4 the articles in Spencer Palmer’s updated Mormons and Muslims;5
and Daniel Peterson’s Abraham Divided.6 More recently an entire issue
of BYU Studies was devoted to the study of Islam.7 The Ensign as well has published
several good articles on Islam or Islamic topics.8 A very good non-Latter-day
Saint text used for the class on Islam and the gospel at Brigham Young University
is Fred Denny’s An Introduction to Islam.9 Anyone who takes a look at
any of these publications will quickly identify appropriate ways in which to
discuss Islam or any other religion, for that matter. Even the worst of these
publications is better than Muhammad, Judah, and Joseph Smith, a sharp stick
in the eye.


  1. Carlos Fuentes (b. 1928), Mexican novelist, short story writer, quoted
    in International Herald Tribune, Paris, 5 November 1991.
  2. Daniel Peterson, e-mail correspondence to the author, 7 November 2002.
  3. As found in Seyyid Hossein Nasr, The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for
    (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), 260, emphasis in original.

  4. Spencer J. Palmer, Roger R. Keller, Dong Sull Choi, and James A. Toronto,
    Religions of the World: A Latter-day Saint View, rev. and enl. ed. (Provo, Utah:
    Brigham Young University Press, 1997), 213–41.

  5. Spencer J. Palmer, ed., Mormons and Muslims: Spiritual Foundations and Modern
    updated and rev. (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center,

  6. Daniel C. Peterson, Abraham Divided: An LDS Perspective on the Middle East,
    rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1995).

  7. BYU Studies 40/4 (2001).
  8. See James B. Mayfield, “Ishmael, Our Brother,” Ensign, June 1979,
    24–32; Joseph B. Platt, “Our Oasis of Faith,” Ensign, April
    1988, 39-41; James A. Toronto, “A Latter-day Saint Perspective on
    Muhammad,” Ensign, August 2000, 50–58; Orin D. Parker, “A
    Life among Muslims,” Ensign, March 2002, 50–52.

  9. Frederick M. Denny, An Introduction to Islam, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan,