Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Muslims claim that they do. Most Christians recognize that they do. Some Christians, however, do not agree. Let's take an honest look at their points before we come to a decision.

I have come across a number of websites maintained by fundamentalist Christians who deny that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. That is to say, these Christians believe that Allah is not the same as God the Father in Christianity, but some other deity, perhaps the so-called "monkey god" so callously referred to by national Tea Party leader Mark Williams. On the basis of a variety of comparisons between how Allah is described in the Koran and how God is described in the New Testament, these Christians make their claim that the two are not one and the same. But these differences are extremely pedantic and are rooted solely in minutiae of doctrine, not in the essential descriptions of the Deity. What strikes me as odd is that these same observations and concerns about the nature and description of Allah would similarly hold true for the Hebrew god Yahweh, as described in the Old Testament, yet modern Christians do believe that God the Father is indeed the same god as the one presented in the Old Testament-the Hebrew Bible-and is the same deity worshiped by the Jewish people. Yet by this same token, the concerns these Christians have about the nature and description of Allah would disqualify the Jewish god from being identical. This is not addressed by them.

I would like to address a number of contentions raised by two of these websites in particular. I will list them individually and give my responses.

On the website,, the following claims are made:

The god of Islam, Allah, is most definitely not the God of the Bible. Allah is presented in the Koran as an autocratic ruler who is aloof and arbitrary (Sura 5:40). Allah is unknowable whereas the God of the Bible is knowable (2 Timothy 1:12). Allah is impersonal, unlike the personal God the Scriptures reveal (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Allah is capricious (Sura 2:284), whereas the true God is trustworthy. And Allah is never anywhere presented as a god of love—which is the essence of the nature of the true God (1 John 4:7-16).

It has been mentioned by many theologians over time that there is a highly noticeable difference in how God is presented in the Old Testament compared to that of the New Testament. The claim was often made that the God of the Old Testament was an angry and wrathful God, sometimes even prone to seemingly capricious fits of destruction (Gen 6:13) and merciless commands of genocide (1 Samuel 15:3). This even led some early Christians, namely Gnostics, to surmise that the two are simply not one and the same, that the God of the Old Testament was a diabolical figure merely pretending to be the true God, the father of Jesus Christ, in order to enslave us. The more mainstream Christians quickly sought to suppress this speculation, reasserting that while the personality of God in the Old Testament may be presented differently than in the New Testament, Christians certainly do believe that they are one and the same. By the criteria in question listed above, might we not still say that the God of the Jews is a different deity than the God of the Christians?

To say that the Christian God is knowable, but the Muslim god is not, is open to interpretation. By "knowable" what do we mean? In John 1:18, we are told that "no one has ever seen God...the only Son has made him known." But to what degree is God knowable? Could it be that we can know of God and about God, yet still he remains a mystery to us? The Apostle Paul states, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:11). Ultimately, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that “no one knows the Father except for the Son” (Matt 11:27). Could it be that the Koran describes Allah in the same way? The author of the short article quoted never cites a Koranic scripture to support his claim that Allah is unknowable. Interestingly, the early Gnostic Christians described God as the unknowable God, echoing both Platonic and Stoic beliefs which influenced the Gospel of John=s description of the Father that were necessarily crafted for pagan audiences.

The first website also states:

Allah is unitarian (Sura 4:48) whereas the God of the Bible is trinitarian (2 Corinthians 13:14). Here is what the Koran says about the God of the Bible (Sura 4:171): "Believe in Allah and say not "Trinity." Cease! It is better for you! Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from his transcendent majesty that he should have a son."

That the Bible is Trinitarian is patently incorrect. The doctrine of the Trinity was a fourth century AD doctrine crafted as a compromise between different competing theologies, rooted in second and third century attempts to identify the exact nature of Christ and his level of divinity. Any passage mentioning three elements or people can certainly be retrospectively interpreted as referencing the Trinity; it does not mean that Trinitarian doctrine is either organic to, or even endorsed by that scripture. Modern Catholic scholars recognize that the scriptures do not sufficiently support the idea of the Trinity, which for them is proof of the importance of post-canonical and extra-biblical prophecy and doctrine. Without which, doctrines such as Trinitarianism would be unsupportable if simply relying upon scriptural evidence. That is to say, Catholics believe that revelation outside of scripture is available to us for guidance, while Protestants tend to deny this, historically claiming a position of sola scriptura, or exclusive reliance upon scripture for the development of doctrine. It is common knowledge that Jews do not believe in the divinity of Christ or the Trinity as a valid description of God. It is also common knowledge that neither do Muslims do not believe thusly. Why is this doctrine trotted out as a proof of the non-identity of the Muslim and Christian god, yet it is not currently seen as proof of the non-identity of the Jewish and Christian god?

The second website,, also makes the same claim that the lack of Trinitarian theology is in part what disqualifies Islam from being recognized as believing in the same god. Yet, by contrast, the identity of the Jewish god with that of Christians is still maintained. Witness the following statements about the differences in theology being crucial:

Christianity is based on God sending His Son, Jesus, to atone for the sins of mankind (John 3:16-17). Jesus is part of the triune God, come in the flesh (Emmanuel means God with us) to earth for this purpose through His crucifixion and resurrection. (No other deity can claim this.)The Quran's Surah 17 111 says: "Praise be to Allah, who begets no son, and has no partner in (His) domain. . ." Surah 4 171 says: "O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor, say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of Allah and His Word. . ."

Once again, the refusal of a religion to recognize the triune identity of God is not grounds for claiming that it is a different deity entirely. If it were, Judaism would be excluded as well. Many modern Jews often take a similar view of Jesus of Nazareth in describing him as a good man and possibly a prophet, but neither the son of God nor a part of God. The Jews have always and continue to assert the unity of God—“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

The first website continues:

“In addition, the Muslims despise Jews, but the Christian Bible says that the Jews are the apple of God's eye and that whoever blesses her will be blessed and whoever curses her will be cursed. (Genesis 12:2-3)”

I answer this by saying that not all Muslims despise Jews. In fact, most do not despise Jews any more than Christians despise Jews—perhaps less! Throughout the Middle Ages, there were many Muslim governments under whom the Jews enjoyed religious freedoms and prosperity. Not least of these was Muslim controlled Spain. Don’t forget who ejected the Jews from Spain - the subsequent Christian monarchy of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, not the Muslims of the previous regime! And moreso, it was not too long ago that conservative Christians were taught that the “perfidious Jews” were “Christ-killers” and that they were damned to hell for the sins of their forefathers, and that Jews had lost the mandate of heaven on account of their blood libel. For more information, see the following interesting website
which preserves a whole host of anti-Semitic statements from church fathers throughout the ages—not to highlight their error but to endorse their beliefs! Evidently, some of these scions of Christian anti-Semitism have their descendants in those who compiled this website.

In the early part of the twentieth century, many Nazis and their sympathizers the world over believed a variety of untruths about JudaismCthat Judaism was integrally related to Marxism, the latter being fundamentally rooted in Jewish doctrine; that the Jewish people were spawns of the devil (an idea inspired by an racially biased, anti-Semitic interpretation of John 8:44); some even denied that the Jews were in any way the descendants of ancient Israel, preferring a racially motivated eugenic myth in which the white, Aryan race were the true descendants of Israel, and not the Jews.

The second website has numerous statements about the differences between Christianity and Islam. A few are as follows, accompanied by my comments:

Another important distinction is that throughout the Quran, the teachings are to destroy all others outside of Islam in the name of Allah. In comparison, the Christian God is a god of love. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:27-28: "But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you and pray for them which despitefully use you." In addition, the Muslims despise Jews, but the Christian Bible says that the Jews are the apple of God's eye and that whoever blesses her will be blessed and whoever curses her will be cursed. (Genesis 12:2-3)

First of all, no support is given for the author's assessment of Islam's destructive intent. On the contrary, the author conveniently forgets Christianity's frequent attempts to supplant all other religions, a view endorsed by scripture, whether currently upheld or not. Witness the Gospel of John 14:6, in which Jesus states "No one comes to the Father except through me." Witness also what is said in the Book of Acts regarding the sole authority of Christianity: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Do my Jewish readers really think that the current trend in conservative Christian support of Israel and Judaism has no strings attached? Do you really think that the most staunch, fundamentalist Christians believe that at the Judgment Day, Jews will be allowed to persist in their unbelief in Christ? Do you really think that they conceive of an escape clause that is available to the Jews, while all others are required to proclaim faith in Christ? It wasn't too many generations ago that many Christians sought the destruction of the Jews as part of their religious beliefs, as witnessed by the above website listing the vitriolic and vehemently anti-Semitic views of various popes and Christian fathers. The culmination of this was the Holocaust and the attendant silence of the European and American people leading into World War II. The modern ecumenical and interfaith movements which seek to establish peace and understanding between Judaism and Christianity, as well as other religions, have come about very late in the game.

Another point is made by the author of the second article online.

Acts 4:12: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."Whereas, the Quran states:Surah 23 102, "Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy -- they will attain salvation. . ."

He seeks to point out that because Christianity has a different conception of the path to salvation, this disqualifies the god of Islam from being identical to the God of Christianity. By that same token, once again, Judaism—which does not believe in salvation by way of faith in Christ, but rather a preponderance of good deeds—is not disqualified.

The overarching theme here is that these particular Christians writing this sort of polemic against Islam simply do not want to see Islam as in any way connected or comparable to Christianity. When in fact, Muslims claim to be descended from Abraham (by a different lineage from the Jews), they revere Moses and Jesus as prophets of the Hebraic line, common ancestors all. They are monotheists whose name for God, “Allah” is a cognate (i.e. from the same etymological root) as two Hebrew words for God—“El” and “Elohim”. They revere the same prophets of the Old Testament and hold the same Biblical stories to be true and fundamental for their history.
If one were to make a claim that theological doctrine and one’s name for God were to disqualify one from being seen as worshiping the same god, then Anglican Christians would be seen as worshiping an entirely different god than Italian or Spanish Catholics. In fact, at one point in European history, this was for all intents and purposes the case: the Protestants and Catholics considered each other to be heathens whose proclaimed reverence for the same God did not qualify them to be called Christians at all. Many wars were fought in Europe, sparked by these simple theological differences. Even today, many fundamentalist Christians do not consider Catholics to be Christian at all, but an entirely different religion. By this same token, Mormons—whose specific conception of the Trinity does not coincide with that of other Christians—could be said to be worshiping an entirely different god! And many conservative Christians often make the false claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not a Christian religion! And the Jehovah’s Witnesses—whose belief in the subordination of the Son to the Father and who reject the divinity of Christ—could be seen as having a theology much closer to Judaism than Christianity, and have been described by many of the same fundamentalist Christians as not being Christian at all. By this token, despite their insistence upon the inerrancy of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, they might therefore be said by those polemicizing Islam to worship an entirely different god than the one the “true Christians” behold!

Bear in mind that one of the early polemics against Trinitarian Christians, by both Jews and other Christians, was that the doctrine of the Trinity was tantamount to polytheism, and therefore idolatry. After claiming to be monotheists from the beginning moments of Christianity, how could one now claim that there was not one God, but three? And yet, somehow, Christians were able to maintain that their claim to monotheism was not disqualified by the mystical belief in the unity of God and Christ, something entirely alien to, and insupportable within, the Jewish faith from which Christianity derived.

So, to conclude, do Muslims worship the same God as the Christians do? You bet they do! If one can claim that the Christian god is the same god worshiped by the Jews, and not a Trinitarian perversion that disqualifies Christians from this claim, then all three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all worship the same God, albeit with different doctrinal trappings.

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