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Students, faculty and alumna contemplate the divinity and truths of other faiths

Muslims circle around the Kaa'ba in Mecca, Saudia Arabia.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe their faith is the true restoration of Jesus Christ’s Church. With their belief in the divinity of their own faith, BYU–Hawaii students and faculty added that truth and spirituality exist in many other world religions and should be respected, no matter the difference.

The one true Church

A foundational belief of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Paula Putong, a senior from the Philippines majoring in accounting, is that the Church is the one true Church on the earth with all the necessary priesthood keys, as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. “Our God is not a God of confusion,” she said. “We have the one authorized Church with all the priesthood power as it once was when Christ established it on the earth.

“In the Philippines, many people are Christians, Catholic, Protestant or a part of my faith. Though they might go on different paths than my faith, they are headed towards the same goal.”

Though she believes she is part of the restored Church, Putong said it was essential to respect the religious beliefs and traditions of others. “They are good people. They want to follow the Savior, but they may not have the fullness of the gospel.

“I think there’s a lot I can learn from other religions. In Islam, they have rules against eating certain meat, and they have rules against drinking and smoking. They also pray five times a day. I respect how disciplined and devout they are.”

Students and faculty who were raised in and had experiences with other faiths also voiced their thoughts about respecting the sanctity of other religions.

Hinduism

Vinodh Chellapilli, a freshman from India majoring in applied mathematics, explained how members of the Hindu faith connect with the divine. In Hinduism, there is not a very rigid structure of gods to believe in, and many gods and goddesses can be worshiped.

His family, in particular, worshiped 11 deities, including Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. As a priest in Hinduism, Chellapilli would practice the puja, a prayer of worship to the deities, and an offering of food, light, flowers or water to the divine to show his devotion.

“In my family, we had 12 priests, including me, and three main heads of the priests. Every year, in December, these 15 people came to every home to collect money to finance the festival to honor the gods and ancestors.”

Chellapilli drew parallels between the 12 priests and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explaining that despite his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he still has a deep respect for the Hindu faith.

“I respect Hindus and Muslims and other faiths because I believe we all are children of God, no matter our religion. I was once of another faith, but I was always a child of God. When I was Hindu, the missionaries loved me regardless of my religion. The gospel is not just for me, but for everyone. Christ himself told the apostles to proclaim the gospel to everyone.

“God himself said everyone has their own agency. We should respect them because they are just doing their best to understand God in the way they know how. Hindus are doing the right things for their beliefs. They do service, good activities, and ponder the afterlife.”

Buddhism

Venerable Fred, a Buddhist monk at the Sacred Falls International Meditation Center and the Wat Lao Sithammaram Temple at Ewa Beach, said, “We should respect others’ beliefs or practices even if they may seem ‘weird.’ There are different ways or paths to the same goal that we share, depending on our culture, education or character. It’s not one size fits all.”

As a part of the Theravada branch of Buddhism, he warned about the potential for looking at another religion’s practices as “strange,” “weird,” or mislabeling them as “cultish.” Fred said in his eyes, religious rituals, ceremonies, and ordinances are sacred to those practicing them, even if they appear odd to those outside the faith.

“We should honor this diversity. Their way is as legitimate as ours, and if we are curious and open enough to try to understand others’ faith or religious practices, we may discover in them some elements that may help us progress on our own path towards our own goals. Be it becoming a better human being, becoming closer to God, reach enlightenment, or whatever we may call it.”

Katsushiro Kajiyama, an assistant professor of the Faculty of Culture in Language & Performing Arts, explained how famous Japanese writer, Kenji Miyazawa, said in the Buddhist faith, nature and humans are universally connected. “One needs to sacrifice his life for others to be saved, enlightened and to be with God.”

Humility

While Putong believes she is a part of Jesus Christ’s restored Church, she said there existed a potential danger of feeling superior to others. “If we try to feel superior to others because we believe our faith is the right one, it’s really the wrong mindset to go in with.

“We have the truth, and know this is the true Church, but that doesn’t make us superior to them. It gives us a greater opportunity to serve them.”

Shintoism

In the words of Kajiyama, Shintoism is an innate belief in Japan that man must do good, then he becomes God. “Every household displays a home altar and visits shrines to pray for safety, good health, happy family, marriage and success in school and business. Shinto is a part of their life even today when practicing religion is in decline.”

Roger Keller, professor emeritus of BYU and a co-author of “Religions of the World: A Latter-day Saint View,” wrote a passage about Shinto, stating, “We in the West could learn something from those of the Shinto faith about reverence for the land and water and our responsibility for them.”

According to Kajiyama, Shinto does not have a founder, official scriptures, or preachers because Shinto is deeply rooted in Japanese traditions.

“Shinto Gods are called kami. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kami. The kami of extraordinary people are even enshrined at some shrines. The Sun Goddess Amaterasu is considered Shinto’s most important kami.

“The Kojiki is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan written by Ō no Yasumaro. [It is a] compilation of origin myths of the four main islands of Japan and the kami, the spirits that are worshiped in the religion of Shinto.”

Kajiyama said the Kojiki contains stories describing the creation of Japan, similarly to how Genesis represents the creation of the earth. “The Kojiki is part of the inspiration behind many practices in Japan and is deeply ingrained in the culture and way of life of the Japanese people.”

Islam

Ace Baikirewa, an alumna from Fiji, said she grew up in a community with a high population of Muslims. In her school, she was able to take a subject called Islamiat, a study of Islam.

“It’s like Seminary, but it’s also a subject that is included in the exam. It surprised me at how very similar they are with Christianity, except they believe in the Prophet Mohammad and his teachings. They know of Jesus, but only that He was one of the prophets.”

At the same time she attended the Islamiat, Baikirewa was also attending her Seminary and said she was able to see the similarities between Islam and her own faith.

“Muslims pray every morning, lunchtime and evenings, which is very strict. Their prayer rooms would be more like our homes, and their mosques are more like our chapel.

“One of the greatest things I love about their religion is that before you can even touch a Quran, you need to wash yourself. It reminds me to be of a clean heart when reading the scriptures.”

Baikirewa finished by saying it was of great importance to respect Islam and other faiths, “Because as members of The Church of Jesus Christ, 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.

“I love what the gospel has taught me so much about loving all and respecting all no matter who they are.”

All children of God

Putong added how in the Church all people are seen as children of God. “In some other religions, people might be considered God’s children only if they believe in Jesus Christ. Thanks to the scriptures, we know we are all created in the image of God and are joint-heirs with Christ. We all have our divine potential to reconnect with our Father in Heaven.”