Morgan, UT—Last year we got to know and love the Amish Latter-day Saints—now get ready for a whole new adventure: Meet the Al-Jalalabads; Muslim Latter-day Saints.
This is the story of how one family blended two worlds into one vibrant and living faith.
Born Mahmud bin Hassan Abdulla Al-Jalalabad and raised in Northeastern Afghanistan, the patriarch of the Al-Jalalabad clan never imagined that he would one day be baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I was not looking for another faith,” Al-Jalalabad recounts, “but the truth found me nonetheless.”
Although he was not looking for change, Al-Jalalabad says he always held the Church in high esteem: “I always had a great respect for the Mormons. I used to think, ‘In some ways our faiths are not too dissimilar. They have Joseph Smith; we have Mohammad—they have the Book of Mormon; we have the Quran.’”
Brother Al-Jalalabad moved his family, which includes four wives and twenty-nine children, to Southwestern Yemen in 2011 to join Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen; otherwise known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His activities in the group led to a seven-month detainment in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after which he was released by President Barack Obama.
While it was a dark time for the whole family, there was in this moment a serendipitous ray of light. It was in his detainment that Al-Jalalabad discovered The Book of Mormon. “One day I saw one of the Marines reading a book,” Al-Jalalabad recalls. “I asked him about it, and he gave it to me and said, ‘Read it yourself! I bet you’ll like it.’”
Al-Jalalabad would return to Yemen a changed man. “I read the Book of Mormon in its entirety, and knew that I must share this with my wives and children upon my return home to Yemen,” he said. After teaching his wives and children about the book, Al-Jalalabad suggested that they seek out the church that espoused the book. After some research, they learned of several branches of the Church in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. But knowing they would now be branded infidels in their community, they decided it would be wiser if they left the peninsula altogether.
On a dark night late in November the Al-Jalalabads took their family across the Strait of Bab al-Mandab between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Over the next several days the family would take buses and sometimes walk until they arrived at the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Here they found a small branch of the Church.
“We started meeting with missionaries for the first time,” remembers Al-Jalalabad’s second wife. “One of the questions we had right away was: Is it possible for us to be baptized Mormon, but stay culturally Muslim? Can we remain members of Al-Qaeda?” The missionaries assured the family that joining the Church would not destroy any of their previous culture, but would only add to it.
Another fear came when the Al-Jalalabads learned that the Church no longer allowed the practice of plural marriage. “We were surprised and scared when we found out,” said wife number three. “We were confident that because Joseph Smith had many, many wives that we would have no problem gaining access to baptism. Now we were fearful that our husband would have to choose just one of us to remain with.” That was a choice that would never have to be made. After appealing to Church leadership for an exception, a letter from Salt Lake City said that the family could join the Church so long as they did not acquire additional wives. “We were so happy,” said wife number four. “We could keep our culture and family together after all.” And with that assurance the Al-Jalalabads were baptized several weeks later.
Daryl Jenkins, the Branch President where the Al-Jalalabads were baptized said, “These people are who they are because of the faith and devotion they had before coming to the Church. They are smart, hardworking, and loyal. They’re fighters.” Susan Gates, who taught eleven of the Al-Jalalabad children in primary said with a smile on her face, “I think that when you blend the Mormon culture and the Islamic extremist culture together, you really get the perfect culture.”
The Al-Jalalabads now live in Morgan, Utah.