August 2, 2007 Publishing Good News since 1884 Volume 124 Number 26

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Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Personal relationship, holiness, love separate Christian God from Allah


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the second of a five-part series exploring the differences between Christianity and Islam in the weeks leading up to the 5th anniversary of the terrorist attacks by Islamic radicals on Sept. 11, 2001.

GRACEVILLE (FBW)—Christianity and Islam affirm monotheism, the belief in one God only. In addition, the biblical revelation and the Qur’an affirm similar attributes to the one Supreme God. The one Great God is First and Last (Isa. 41:4; Surah 57:3), all-powerful (Jer. 32:27; Surah 2:142-3), all-knowing (Ps. 147:5; Surah 13:9, 6:59), Creator (Gen. 1; Surah 16:3-12), and Judge.

Understanding Islam
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Despite the similarities in beliefs about God, Christians and Muslims radically disagree about the nature of God. The differences in the respective understandings of God lead to the question, “Are Yahweh and Allah the same God?” Timothy George, founding dean of the Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, answered the question “Yes” and “No” in his excellent book Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? George said the answer is “yes” historically. The answer theologically is “No.”

The theological differences between the Christian and Muslim understanding of God cannot be set aside. The issue of a personal relationship with the Creator-God separates Christianity and Islam. In addition, a wide gulf exists in terms of how Christians and Muslims understand the name, the holiness, love of God, and the trinitarian nature of God.

First, Christians and Muslims ascribe different names to God. In the Old Testament, the name “Yahweh” (Jehovah) functions as the personal revelatory, covenant name for God. God revealed Himself as Yahweh to Moses as recorded in Exodus 3:14: “I Am Who I Am.” The name highlights the eternal nature, self-sufficiency, and unchangeable nature of God. The name Yahweh derives from the verb “to be.” The name Yahweh, therefore, affirms God as “present” with His people and involved in human life.

Allah is the generic Arabic word for God. Some Muslim theologians trace the name “Allah” to a verbal root “to be perplexed” because humanity cannot understand the infinite. Others deny that the name “Allah” is a derivative of any term. Since Arabic is the language of Allah, Allah is the eternal Arabic name for God. The important thing to notice, however, is the biblical emphasis on the name of God in the context of relationships is lacking in Muslim thought.

Second, Christians and Muslims disagree about the holiness of God. Holiness is the attribute of Yahweh most frequently mentioned in Christian Scripture. Holiness characterizes the essence of Yahweh’s nature. Yahweh is holy. His purpose for his people is ethical holiness (Lev. 11:44). The biblical term for holiness means, “to be separate.” Holiness applied to Yahweh highlights both His transcendence (separation from creation) and His moral separation from evil. Yahweh’s holiness provides the foundation for His gracious provision of forgiveness and redemption in Christ. Holiness is central in biblical redemption. Christian theology does not separate Yahweh’s redemptive activity from His holiness. The Christian God maintains His moral holiness by judging sin through the sacrifice of Christ.

In contrast, the Qur’an only contains two ayas (verses) that ascribe holiness to Allah. Allah forgives because of His arbitrary will. For Islam, then, forgiveness lacks moral principle—like a presidential pardon, forgiveness is pardon without principle. Individuals enter paradise with sins unpunished. No correlation exists in Islam between holiness and forgiveness.

Third, Christianity and Islam differ in their understanding of the nature of love as applied to the Supreme Being. Yahweh’s love is unconditional. Nothing within us prompted or brought out Yahweh’s love. Indeed, while humans existed in a state of enmity against Yahweh, God demonstrated His love through the death of Christ (Rom. 5:8-11). Further, love requires an object of love. Yahweh’s love is eternal in that an eternal object of Yahweh’s love exists. A love relationship existed in the bond of Father and Son prior to creation (John. 17:24).

In contrast, Allah’s love is conditional and limited in scope. One must do perform the right before one can be the recipient of Allah’s love. “But love will the God of Mercy vouchsafe to those who believe and do the things that be right (Surah 19:96). Allah loves those who fight in his cause (Surah 61; 4). According to Timothy George, the Qur’an lists numerous classes of people whom Allah does not love: unbelievers, ungrateful, braggarts, prodigals, and transgressors. Since love requires an object of love, eternal love does not characterize the non-trinitarian Allah. Allah’s love is temporal and not properly an attribute of God.

Fourth, the Trinity is the most distinctive affirmation that Christians make about Yahweh; whereas Islam considers an affirmation of the Trinity as shirk, the greatest and unforgivable sin. For Muslims, individuals guilty of shirk associate something (or someone) who is not deity with Allah. The Qur’an states, “Whoever shall join other gods with God, God shall forbid him the Garden, and his abode shall be the Fire…. (Surah 5:77).

Muslims understand the Christian language of “Son of God” as applied to Jesus as referring to the physical act of begetting (Surah 19:92). The Qur’an implies that Christians understand the members of the Trinity as God, Jesus, and Mary. “Jesus, son of Mary, did you ever say to mankind: ‘Worship me and my mother as gods beside God?’” (Surah 5:116).

In a sense, Christians are blameworthy for Muhammad’s confusion about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Orthodox Christians failed to communicate the Gospel to the Arabian peninsula. The majority of “Christians” to whom Muhammad had exposure denied the orthodox understanding of the Trinity as expressed in the ancient creeds of the church.

The Qur’an claims that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God. “Our God and your God is one ….” (Surah 29:46). Jesus repeatedly asserted His own deity, which undermines the Surah suggesting that Muslims, Jews and Christians worship the same god, since Islam and Judaism explicitly deny the deity of Jesus while Christianity insists on His part in the Trinity.

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Islam teaches the greatest sin consists of ascribing deity to Jesus, disconnects God’s holiness from forgiveness, and affirms that God’s love is temporal and conditional. Sadly, because an individual cannot have a personal relationship with the transcendent Allah, Muslims cannot call God “Father.” Islam adamantly, and at times violently, denies the core teachings of the Christian understanding of God—the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement.

Yahweh and Allah are names for the Supreme God. Yet, Christians and Muslims fill the meaning of those names for deity with vastly dissimilar content. Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.