Mormons: a guide to the UAE's newest church

There may be fewer than 2,000 Mormons in the UAE, but they will soon have a dedicated temple in Dubai

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 18: The gold Moroni statue atop the historic Salt Lake City Mormon Temple is missing its horn after an earthquake on March 18, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. A 5.7-magnitude earthquake hit the Salt Lake Valley on Wednesday morning followed by at least 20 aftershocks ranging from magnitude 2.5 to 3.9.   George Frey/Getty Images/AFP
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The first Mormon temple in the Middle East is to be built in Dubai.

The new place of worship will be located on the legacy site of the World Expo.

But who are Mormons, what do they believe and what is the history of their church?

Here, The National explores a rapidly expanding religion that its adherents say is often misunderstood.

How was the church founded?  

In 1830, the religion’s founder, Joseph Smith, published the Book of Mormon in the US.  

According to Church teachings, Smith was confused about what religion he should follow. In 1820, he is said to have had a vision in a forest in which God and Jesus Christ came to him.

The practice of 'tithing' means members of the faith give 10 per cent of their income to the church, which has given the church huge resources

Smith was told Jesus would eventually establish his “original” Church through him.  

Smith, who was born in Vermont and grew up a farm boy, said he translated The Book of Mormon from an ancient language written on gold plates, buried on a hill near his home, that an angel helped him to discover.

He quickly gained followers, but also provoked anger from opponents who accused him of fraud and blasphemy.

What do Mormons believe?

Mormons believe in and revere the Bible, but do not think it is without error.

Unlike other denominations, they believe there are other books of scripture besides the Bible, such as the Book of Mormon, and that God continues to speak through living prophets.

Mormons believe a tribe of ancient Israelites came to America 600 years before Jesus was born. After his resurrection, the Book of Mormon states that Jesus came to the Americas and gained followers there.

In this Sunday, March 22, 2020 photo, the Preston family cheer as they see Elder Kaleb Preston as he returns from his mission in the Philippines, at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Sen. Mitt Romney and Utah state leaders are criticizing a large gathering of family and friends who went to the Salt Lake City airport to welcome home missionaries when people are supposed to be keeping their distance from one another to prevent more spread of the coronavirus. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Some official teachings have changed over the years. In 1978, a policy that meant black people could not enter its priesthood was ditched.

Strong family values are seen as central to the lives of Mormons.

The practice of tithing means members of the faith give 10 per cent of their income to the Church.

Another important staple is missionary work. Many young Mormons will serve two years away from home where they preach and complete humanitarian projects.

Are the temples important?

Yes – that a temple is being built in the Middle East will be highly significant for Mormons. The next closest is in Kiev, Ukraine, about 3,500 kilometres away.

Although there is already an LDS church in Abu Dhabi, a temple is different and is where marriages, baptisms and other important events take place.

Shortly after a temple is built, there will usually be an “open house” where anyone can visit. Once it has benn “dedicated”, only members of the faith can enter.

During important temple ceremonies, everyone wears the same temple robes  white robes, caps, aprons and sashes. These are designed to be similar to those described in the Old Testament.

On most temples there is a golden statue of a man in flowing robes, with a long horn pressed to his lips. This is the angel Moroni, who is said to have shown Smith where to find the golden plates.

How many Mormons are there?

It took 117 years – until 1947 – for LDS to grow from its initial six members to one million. However, it now has more than 16 million adherents.

More than nine million Mormons are in North America. There are four million LDS Church members in South America, 1.2 million in Asia and almost 500,000 in Europe.

In the Emirates, the Church has 1,631 members, according to the most recently published statistics. There are another 346 church members in Kuwait and 223 live in Bahrain.

There are 162 Mormon temples around the world.

How are Mormons viewed?

Mormons have faced persecution ever since the faith was founded.

In 1838, they were driven from their early base in Missouri after an official state order was issued that called for their “extermination or expulsion”.

Smith, the founder of the faith, was killed by an anti-Mormon mobthat broke into a jail in which he was being held, in Carthage, Illinois, in June 1844. 

The group had tried to establish themselves in Illinois but had again faced hostility and discrimination.

In this photograph provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shows President Russell M. Nelson speaking during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' twice-annual church conference Saturday, April 4, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The conference kicked off without anyone attending in person and top leaders sitting some 6 feet apart inside an empty room as the faith takes precautions to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. A livestream of the conference showed a few of the faith's top leaders sitting alone inside a small auditorium in Salt Lake City, Normally, top leaders sit side-by-side on stage with the religion's well-known choir behind them and some 20,000 people watching. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints via AP)

A common complaint of Mormons is that they are subjected to ridicule while older religions do not.

Are there any famous Mormons?

Yes, plenty. Perhaps the world’s most influential Mormon is Mitt Romney, the Utah senator, who was the Republican Party’s nominee for the US presidency in 2012.

Although he lost the election to Barack Obama, he has continued to be an important figure in the politics of the United States. Mr Romney’s faith has been a topic of interest and scrutiny throughout his political career.

Other famous Mormons include Brandon Flowers, lead vocalist of US rock group The Killers, and soul diva Gladys Knight.