Since early January we have hosted two students from Saudi Arabia in our home. Badr was the first student that stayed with us and currently Feras lives in our home. It has been a lovely and enriching cultural experience. Both are here engaged in language intensive courses to prepare for university education in the United States.
Our family has learned much about Saudi Arabia and we have had the pleasure of eating Saudi food with its rich aromas and pungent tastes. We have learned about customs significantly different from U.S. customs and ways. We have discussed the many similarities and points of contact between Islamic and Mormon belief.
Both young men are respectful and helpful. They are eager to learn about America and to teach us about Saudi Arabia. When Badr left it was like saying goodbye to a short-term adopted son. It will be the same with Feras.
Family life is at the core of Saudi Arabian society. It is not unusual, in many respects customary, that sons, when they marry, remain in the patriarchal family home and bring their wife into that home. Feras explained that his family, nuclear and extended, eats meals together three times a day. As parents and grandparents age, they are not placed in extended care facilities but cared for in the family home. Both Feras and Badr are from large families and have close ties to grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters and cousins.
Both young men are Muslims and in Islamic theology, Jesus Christ and many Old Testament prophets are seen as prophets in a long line leading up to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims pray five times a day. Chastity is a tenet of their faith, modesty is valued, and alcohol is forbidden. In separate conversations both explained that one of the reasons they are studying in Utah is because many of their values accord with beliefs and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Education is important in Saudi Arabia and many young men and women come to America to secure undergraduate and graduate degrees. With skills learned they return to Saudi Arabia to marry, start families and be contributing members of society.
We share some practices and some differ. In Utah, we hunt with rifles and we hunt deer. In Saudi Arabia, they drive deep into the desert, up to three days, 500 miles from the nearest town. They take everything they need, including water and food and hunt rabbits and gazelles with falcons and greyhounds. Badr’s family has a farm one hour outside Riyadh where camels are raised.
In America, we diffuse our sports loyalties and obsessions between myriad sports, among them basketball, football and baseball. Soccer rules in Saudi Arabia although, since coming to the states, we have turned Feras into a basketball fanatic.
These young men have become part of our family and close friends to our son Matthew, who is in high school son. They have enriched our lives and hopefully we have enriched theirs. We admire their devotion to their faith and they admire ours. They are considerate when we offer prayers and have, on occasion, sat respectfully as we conducted family scripture study. In turn, tenets of their faith include prayer, studying the Koran, giving alms to the poor and fasting.
When asked to encapsulate the basic tenets of the LDS faith, the Prophet Joseph Smith, in what is known as the Wentworth letter, penned The Articles of Faith. The eleventh Article states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” Richard Anderson, writing on Joseph Smith added, “The year before his martyrdom, Joseph Smith spiritedly defended religious liberty for ‘any other denomination’ and then became personal: ‘ love of liberty was diffused into my soul by my grandfathers while they dandled me on their knees'" (see "Journal of Joseph Smith," kept by Willard Richards, July 9, 1843; also "Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (Salt Lake City, 1909), vol. 5, p. 498).
We have enjoyed having these young men in our home and appreciate their devotion to their faith. They, in turn, have extended respect to our religious beliefs.
In a world where attacks on religious faith are becoming more pronounced and where, in places, the world is racked by religious dissension and animosity, it behooves each of us to respect others, to enshrine religious liberty and to encourage fellow mortals to do likewise.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World."