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Leading Jordanian Muslim and Christian leaders praise Utah, BYU, LDS Church while spreading message of interfaith peace

SHARE Leading Jordanian Muslim and Christian leaders praise Utah, BYU, LDS Church while spreading message of interfaith peace

PROVO, Utah — A Muslim and a Christian got on a plane together in the Middle East and traveled the 7,000 miles to Utah to deliver a message of peace this week to leaders from around the world.

Before their presentation, the two good-humored friends first visited a mosque in West Valley City, celebrated a Catholic Mass and attended the Sunday morning session of the worldwide LDS general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The actions of the grand mufti and the Melkite Catholic priest matched their message, delivered Tuesday to representatives of 40 nations at Brigham Young University's 22nd annual International Law and Religion Symposium: That the true nature of Islam calls for tolerance, moderation and the rejection of extremism and terrorism and provides a basis for interfaith unity and peaceful coexistence.

"Our message is that if we as Muslims and Christians in Jordan are able to live amicably and in fraternity, why can't others do that where they are?" said Father Nabil Haddad, dean of the Saints Peter and Paul Old Cathedral in Amman, Jordan.

The fraternity exhibited by Father Haddad and Maj. Gen. Yahya Al-Btoush, the grand mufti of the Jordanian Armed Forces, is formalized in the Amman Message, a pluralistic 2004 statement by Jordan's King Abdullah that has become a consensus, landmark document that seeks to counter the roots of terrorism and guide interfaith relations.

The two friends travel internationally to share the message.

"Jordan is a small country with a loud voice in the Middle East," Al-Btoush said. "Jordan is trying to be a light by calling for reason in the area. There is a lot of darkness around it. We are working diligently to keep the candle lighted. Even though the neighboring countries try to put it out, we know we'll be able to keep it lighted."

This week, they carried the Amman Message to Utah and BYU and made new friends with Latter-day Saint leaders, meeting Wednesday with President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency as well as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

"I believe we did not come to visit," Father Haddad said. "I believe we made a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a visit to do something sacred. I believe when we set out from Amman, we started that pilgrimage as brothers and neighbors and we have been touched by the spirit of fraternity and friendliness here."

"I admire the smiling faces in Utah. I admire the sacredness of the family in (LDS) life. I always love Sundays, but now I'm learning from you to respect Mondays."

For 100 years, Mormons have traditionally reserved Mondays for family home evenings. Al-Btoush said he will start holding family nights with his family.

"I learned during this pilgrimage," said Father Haddad, founder and CEO of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, "that this institution (BYU), with its renowned reputation, could be a tool to build understanding. I saw this. It was very evident that the devotion for service and love of all is here. We are your partners, we are your friends and we are part of one human family. We'd be more than happy to work with you."

Jordan is under pressure because of the rise of the Islamic State even as King Abdullah has made the Amman Message part of Jordanian diplomacy. The country is taking in refugees from countries throughout the region.

The grand mufti (or great expounder) spreads the message in his work as a chaplain.

"We're making sure that the imams and chaplains in Jordan are spreading the same vision among all the ranks, so that we can be united," he said. "Because of that, our army is a moderate army."

BYU's symposium brings together scholars and civic and religious leaders to discuss multiple topics surrounding law and religion.

"I very much appreciate the interfaith and interreligious component of the symposium," said Elizabeta Kitanovic, executive secretary of the Conference of European Churches. "Usually religions gather after a conflict situation. They don't sit together in times of peace to try to improve relations. I appreciate gathering here in a time of peace."

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com