Diplomats from around the world gathered at the United Nations in New York Thursday night to celebrate Brigham Young University's English translation of two Islamic classics.
Leather-bound copies of "The Niche of Lights" by al-Ghazali and "The Philosophy of Illumination" by Suhrawardi were given to about 50 diplomats, including ambassadors to the United Nations. A similar reception was held last year to unveil the first book in the Islamic Translation Series, sponsored by the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts at BYU and distributed by the University of Chicago Press."Between Mormons and Muslims, there are many touching points, and we would like to see the touching points become bridges of understanding," said Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
Maxwell told the New York City gathering that the Muslim world and the LDS Church share beliefs such as the importance of the family, the existence of a God in heaven and "that faith and knowledge are not hostile but sequential."
Thursday night's event was hosted by BYU and the LDS Church's New York Public Affairs International Program. At a reception preceding the program, guests were greeted by BYU President Merrill J. Bateman, Elder Maxwell and Daniel C. Peterson, a BYU professor of Asian and Near Eastern languages who is directing the translation work.
"These publications will fill a major gap in the Western knowledge of the Middle East and the world of Islam," Peterson said. "Up until now, these classics were accessible only to scholars
who had devoted years to mastering the languages required to read them."
In a letter read to the gathering, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan congratulated scholars for an outreach effort to gain better understanding of the Islamic world. Ambassadors were "very vocal in expressing their appreciation and expressed amazement that a Western university would reach out to a world that is so often misunderstood," said Scott Trotter, manager of the LDS Church's New York Office of Public Affairs.
The first book in the series was al-Ghazali's "The Incoherence of the Philosophers." Others are in various stages of preparation, and a fourth volume is scheduled to be released this spring.
Elder Maxwell said the series would bring together Muslims and Latter-day Saints, both of whom "know what it is to be stereotyped."
"Because we live in a world in which people use bumper stickers to communicate, we would like to revive the notion that we can communicate well through books when we take that time," he said.
Peterson serves as managing editor of the translation project, while Parviz Morewedge, a senior research fellow at the State University of New York, is editor-in-chief. The pair coordinate translation of the texts by scholars at schools such as the University of Toronto, UCLA, University of Maryland, Georgetown, Harvard, Indiana and the University of Tokyo.