For one reason or another, I’ve been delaying writing a post about the nature of God, both in Christianity and Islam. It seems relevant now due to the recent news regarding Wheaton College. Everybody is talking about it on social media, and people have their own opinion on whether or not the teacher should have been suspended.
I personally think she incurred in deep theological contradictions. This issue, of course, goes deeper than wanting to hold hands with every Muslim around the world singing kumbaya. An assertion like this offensive to both authentic Muslims and authentic Christians.
This article is a combination of a lecture given by Keith Small and Andy Bannister, as well as my own insights on how we can use the role of Christian apologetics in further dialogue with Muslims. There are plenty of resources about Apologetics and Islam at www.bethinking.org. You should also check other links in which I refer you to other websites.
God and Muslims
Talking about God with Muslims can be extremely confusing because in so many ways we can seem to be talking about the same BEING. Most of the time we find ourselves coming into direct conflict with them, even though we are using the same words. We find different assumptions underlying our different views of God – concerning His character, His nature, and His actions towards humanity. The discussion can derail really, really quickly.
Here’s the thing. Muslims DO think they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They DO think they worship the God of the Jews and the Christians.They really do think because that’s what the Quran teaches.
We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. [speaking to Christians and Jews]. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.
– Surah 29:46
You see, there is this open claim in the Quran that Allah is the same God that the Jews and the Christians worship. Now, before we continue, it would be important to know that Christians in Muslim countries, for example, DO refer to God as Allah. They also DO make the distinction between the different persons in the Trinity.
Allah is just the arabic word for God – THE GOD. That is why I personally do not have a problem with those names. However, for the purposes of this article, I will refer to the god of the Quran as Allah, and I will refer to the God of Jews and Christians as YHWH.
Throughout the whole Quran, you can read that God is one. God is one. It is almost as if the author of the Quran wanted to make that point more than clear – that God is only one.
Surah Al-Fatiha (Chapter 1)
In the name of God, the infinitely Compassionate and Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds.
The Compassionate, the Merciful. Ruler on the Day of Reckoning.
You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help.
Guide us on the straight path,
the path of those who have received your grace;
not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray.
In context, those who have received grace are the Muslims – those who follow Muhammad. The ones who have the wrath are the Jews, and the ones who are misguided are the Christians. When you think about the five obligatory prayers a day (Salat) and the cycles within them, a devout Muslim ends up asking Allah not to let him become like a Jew or a Christian. He prays this at least twenty times a day.
Besides Chapter 1, Chapter 112 is also a good example of another prescribed prayer that Muslims might recite several times a day. This Surah is basically addressed at the Christians. Allah is one, and he has no son.
Sura Al-Ikhlas (Chapter 112)
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the
Say: ‘He is God, the One,
God the Eternal and Besought of all,
Neither begetting nor begot, Nor is there
anything comparable or equal to Him.
That is why for a Muslim, the sole idea of the Divinity of Christ is indeed a great blasphemy. This is key in understanding the issue behind whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same god.
The unforgivable sin (shirk) for Muslims is associating partners with Allah. In the Muslim mind, a Christian – who sees God as a Trinity – is a polytheist. They understand the Trinity as being three gods. The Quran addresses the Trinity as Allah, Jesus and Mary. The fact that the author of the Quran had no real knowledge of Christian doctrine does not help either.
The Muslim thinks that our Christian beliefs about Jesus being God is a lie that we have invented. We have exceeded our limit in doing that. Allah calls for Christians to stop saying Three since Allah is but one God. There are not three Allahs. Again, the author of the Quran had no understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.
O People of the Scripture [Christians], do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son.
I encourage you to watch these videos by James White. There are some many things out there about people wanting to give an opinion about these issues… and opinions are great. I am giving mine. But in the dialogue with Muslims, I believe, you really need to understand where they are coming from.
James White on Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?
James White on Wael Ibrahim’s misunderstanding of the Trinity – Part 1
James White on Wael Ibrahim’s misunderstanding of the Trinity – Part 2
If people do not argue, they usually fight. We, as followers of Jesus, should not fight with Muslims. We have the responsibility of explaining them – when the opportunity arises – that many of the misconceptions they have about our faith are not grounded in reality, but in a lack of understanding of our doctrines mainly by the author of the Quran and Muhammad.
ARE ALLAH AND YHWH COMPATIBLE?
Colin Chapman in his book Cross and Crescent sites seven areas of general similarity. He would use these to talk to a Muslim about the God of the Bible. This can be very useful if you have a Muslim who is willing to listen. My Muslims listened a lot – they were great about that. They would always say, of course, that I was wrong because the Bible as it is today has been corrupted.
But is it corrupted?
You see, if the Bible (Hebrew Bible and New Testament) is NOT corrupted, then Islam is false. So these areas of similarity can be great to use if you would like to encourage a Muslim to read the Bible for himself. That can lead them on a path about the reliability of our Scriptures (Textual Criticism, Read Sea Scrolls, etc.)
So Muslims and Christians agree on these areas.
- God creates
- God is one
- God rules
- God reveals
- God loves
- God judges
- God forgives
The issue here is that even though we agree on these similarities, we differ on the HOW God does these things. That’s where the real difference between Allah and YHWH comes. Let’s explore these points. I encourage you to read the Quran so you might be able to grasp these differences better.
1. GOD CREATES
According to the Quran, Allah creates with just his word. BE, and it is.
In the Bible, YHWH creates with His Word and His Spirit – The Trinity is involved right away.
2. GOD IS ONE
Allah is a very numerical oneness. The Quran really never describes what that oneness (Doctrine of Tawheed) looks like. The Quran describes what Tawheed IS NOT – associating partners with Allah.
YHWH is One – yes – but He is a Trinity. One BEING, but three persons. The Trinity explains why we can be made out of complex molecules, and cells and yet we are still one essence. I encourage you to read The Forgotten Trinity by James White.
This might not make sense to many of you, but it resonated with me greatly. I majored in Chemistry, Biology and Pharmacy. When I read the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I was amazed at how God can really speak into anybody’s life. Do you want to know what made Nabeel start giving the Trinity a chance? Organic Chemistry.
Technically, a molecule with resonance is every one of its structures at every point in time, yet no single one of its structures at any point in time. It’s all the structures ALL the time, never just ONE of them.
A molecule of nitrate is all three resonance structures all the time and never just one of them. The tree are separate but all the same, and they are one. They are three in one. If there are things in this world that can be explained like this – though incomprehensibly so – then why cannot God?
– Nabeel Qureshi
3. GOD RULES
Allah rules as a dictator in the Quran – absolute, unquestioning rule. He rules over everything and also through angels.
YHWH rules cooperatively. The Trinity rules in complete harmony.
4. GOD REVEALS
Allah gives revelation through nature (a lot of Muslims are using intelligent design as an apologetic) and he reveals through prophets. What Allah reveals is just his will – but he never reveals himself.
YHWH reveals through nature, prophets, but specially through the incarnation of Christ. YHWH not only reveals His will, but He also reveals Himself. This is a concept that is embodied through Genesis 1 to Revelation. YHWH loves His people and wants to live with them, dwell with them. He wants a relationship with His people. YHWH has revealed Himself to the fullest in the person of Jesus Christ.
5. GOD LOVES
Allah bestows his favor and loves only those who love him. He loves only those who repent and turn to him. He DOES NOT love those who reject Muhammad.
YHWH loves sacrificially. Allah does not put Himself out to love, but YHWH does at huge cost to Himself. YHWH loves everyone, even the ones who reject Him. Over and over He would always forgive Israel. He punished them, but the Israelites are His people. YHWH is their Husband. He gave them promises that He has to keep. Through the Jewish nation all nations in the world will blessed. Through Messiah, all the Gentiles would come into a relationship with YHWH.
YHWH in the New Testament shows His infinite love for all people by dying in our behalf. Jesus is YHWH in the flesh. He loved us first. He came to this earth not to condemn the world, but to sabe the world through Jesus.
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him [Jesus]! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his [Jesus’] life!
6. GOD JUDGES AND FORGIVES
Allah judges capriciously. He doesn’t judge according to a standard. The chief attributes of Allah are his power and his sovereignty, and even his love is submitted to those. Allah is under no obligation to forgive or purify anyone, he doesn’t commit himself to save any individual. You can visit the sources here.
Likewise, Allah also forgives capriciously. Allah just forgives. No need for atonement like YHWH or the Cross. Allah forgives just like that. But since there is no standard on how Allah judges or forgives, you just never know where you stand with him on the Day of Judgement.
Whoever Allah guides – he is the [rightly] guided; and whoever He sends astray – it is those who are the losers. And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and mankind
– Surah 7:178-179
Whoever says, ‘Subhan Allah wa bihamdihi,’ one hundred times a day,will be forgiven all his sins even if they were as much as the foam of the sea.
Whoever says, ‘La ilaha illal-lah wahdahu la sharika lahu, lahu-l-mulk wa lahul- hamd wa huwa ‘ala kulli shai’in qadir,’ one hundred times will get the same reward as given for manumitting ten slaves; and one hundred good deeds will be written in his accounts, and one hundred sins will be deducted from his accounts
Whoever Allah sends astray – there is no guide for him. And He leaves them in their transgression, wandering blindly.
By Allah! I would not feel safe from the deception of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.
– Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s companion
YHWH judges with perfect justice and He judges everyone. He forgives through they system of atonement (a Jewish concept) that provides legal basis for His judgement. Those who believe in Jesus’ atonement in the cross are the ones who receive the forgiveness. YHWH’s forgiveness is available to all, but you have the responsibility to receive it.
This is the confusion that Muslims have. They do not understand that Jesus’ death has the power for the forgiveness of their sins, because they believe Jesus was only a man. This is stressed out throughout the Quran and the Sunnah – that nobody should pay for your sins. This is fair, of course, no man should be responsible for your sins. All men sin.
If Jesus were solely man, atonement through Him would make no sense to a Christian either. Muslims assume this because they are Unitarian. They do not have a proper understanding of the Trinity so they cannot understand that Jesus is more than a man. Jesus is God. Jesus was also fully man, and as man, He never sinned. The Creator of the universe is sacrificing Himself for you to have a relationship with Him. He loves you that much. But for the Muslim mind, this is blasphemy. Allah cannot lower himself like that. Allah cannot make himself a man because it takes away from his majesty.
I don’t think any Muslim would deny that if God Himself wanted to become a man He is powerful enough to do it. If a Muslim denies this, they are actually denying God’s omnipotence. I guess Muslims put God into a box. They make assumptions about what God can and cannot do based on their own presuppositions about Allah’s oneness.
For example, Muslims ask, “If Jesus is God and He died on the cross, then who was in heaven ruling the universe when God died?” This presents a problem for them because they are thinking oneness in number. This is not a problem for the Trinitarian Christian.
I would ask a Muslim another question, though. If God is Unitarian, then how would you explain the accounts in the Quran when Musa (Moses) talks to God in the burning bush? According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir (exegesis – commentary of the Quran), God talks to Moses from within the bush. But if God is in the bush, and Allah is only one, then who is in heaven ruling the world? Even for the Muslims, Tawheed presents a problem.
Regarding atonement through blood and sacrifices is not a concept that the first Christians came up with. The very first generation of Christians were all Jewish! Atonement does not go against the Hebrew Bible or against the teachings of the Torah. Jesus actually came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Jesus was the perfect sacrificial atonement. And whoever sets up against Israel and God’s love for the Jewish people is standing on very thin ice.
If Jesus is not the Messiah of the Jewish people, then He is not the Savior of the Gentiles. Orthodox Christianity is very Jewish.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [talking about Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy
More thoughts on Allah and YHWH
One of the names of Allah is the JUST. The Quran never says this. Allah commands justice. Muslims think Allah is the best of judges. The problem is that when these concepts are applied, they seem to be arbitrary.
Allah doesn’t have to be fair. His mercy and his judgement are subjected to his sovereignty. One of the names of Allah is the Holy. In the Bible, though, HOLINESS has two components. First, YHWH is exalted above us – greater than us. Second, YHWH has absolute, moral purity.
This is why YHWH demands payment for every single sin. Allah just forgives as if he can sweep sins under the carpet without punishing sin. But YHWH’s holiness is so great that every single act that goes against His character demands to be punished.
YHWH is the fairest of judges and the most merciful of judges. The fairest of judges HAS to punish every single sin. Every act of rebellion against the Creator of the Universe has to be addressed. In the other hand, the most merciful of judges will always forgive. Only YHWH is able to meet these two criteria.
In the atonement of Jesus, YHWH is judging sin – He is still being JUST – and at the same time He forgives – He is MERCIFUL.
Allah cannot do these two things. Muslims think he can. They say Allah can forgive freely because he is so merciful. But what do you with the sin? If Allah forgives like that, then Allah is not the fairest of judges. Besides that, if Allah makes you pay and atone for your own sins (good deeds vs bad deeds) then Allah is not the most merciful.
A Muslim who tries to explain this concepts of JUSTICE and MERCY, thinking that Allah can indeed just forgive and pretend that nothing really happened, has no understanding of the gravity of sin, and how devastating sin is. Either that, or Allah is not that Holy. Not as holy as YHWH anyway.
A Muslim may understand the concept of outer purity or ceremonial cleanliness – as they do practice ceremonial washing before prayer – but they have no understanding whatsoever of moral inner cleanliness or purity. As long as they don’t act on it, they do not understand why anger can be equated with murder, or lust can be equated as adultery. This is something I discussed often with my friends, and they did realize that the standard that Jesus demanded for me as a Christians was impossible to meet.
“DUH! That’s why I need a Savior”, I would say. Then again, I do not know if they really understood that this was the standard God demanded of every single human being if they ever want to have direct access to their Creator.
Philosophical implications of Allah as Unitarian
1 John 2:29 tells us that God is righteous, and 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. With YHWH these two traits are exercised fully in balance.
Allah cannot do this. Love IS NOT one of the seven eternal attributes of Allah in Islamic theology. YHWH IS LOVE. Allah focuses on power and might. One of Allah’s 99 names is The Loving. It can also be translated as The Affectionate, but it is only one name – you have like fifteen or twenty that have to do with power. Allah is only loving and merciful to those who repent.
If you read the Quran, you’ll see very quickly that power to overwhelm, to destroy, to terrify, to condemn to hell is the main emphasis of the book. Allah loves those who love him, and he hates those who reject him and his prophet.
Even tough Allah is The Loving or The Merciful or The Forgiving, Allah has a philosophical problem. All these adjectives need both a subject and an object. If these atributes are eternal as Muslims claim them to be, then Allah becomes contingent upon his creation. Allah becomes subject to existing only if he creates. Allah in the Quran had to create, otherwise he cannot be loving, or forgiving or merciful. Allah’s eternal attributes become otherwise because he couldn’t be who he was without his own creation.
The Trinity has never faced this problem. YHWH is not only loving. YHWH himself IS love. From eternity past, YHWH has always existed in harmony between three persons so He didn’t need to create anything. He was perfect, complete and fulfilled. Creation is an act of grace. Love changed from the horizontal (Godhead) to the vertical (human beings). The expression of love changed, but YHWH never changed.
Allah is not personal. YHWH is personal. Now, look at reality. What model explains human reality? It is very difficult to see that which is personal come from what is impersonal. The Christian concept of God explains reality. If we are indeed created in YHWH’s image, it is hardly a surprise that we, humans, need and want to be in relationship with other human beings.
Theology precedes anthropology. The God you have will directly influence the society you build. Is it any wonder why Islam produces societies that are subjected only to the power of the state?
On the other hand, Muslims also affirm the eternality of the Quran. Orthodox Islam affirms that the Quran is the eternal word of Allah. The Quran is uncreated. It has existed – for all time.
Now, think about this… Doesn’t the presence of another eternal entity existing alongside Allah for all time begins to attack the doctrine of the oneness of Allah?
There is a real tension there. And there are schools of thought in Islam that would call heresy on those who think one way or another. If the Quran is uncreated, then you have two eternal beings from eternity past, and you end up contradicting the Quran on the Oneness of Allah.
But if the Quran is created, that means that at some point in time, Allah was without His eternal Word – and how can that be? In this case, you end up also contradicting the Quran itself. More info here.
What do I think?
Goodness… many things. I love these issues. Call me weird, my husband is sick of me talking about it – which is why I don’t talk to him about it anymore.
My experience is short, and I haven’t read all the sources there are to read regarding Islamic texts. But understanding the claims of the Quran, and having a deep understanding of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, I think that Muhammad might have wanted to compromise with both Jews and Christians. He might have actually thought he was a prophet in the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
You see, tough, the prophets only come through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You ask any Muslim, and they would tell you Muhammad came from Ishmael, not Isaac. The prophets were to be Israelites, not Ishmaelites. Still, there are many other reasons as to why the Jews would reject the prophethood of Muhammad, but we’ll leave those for another time.
Let’s say Allah revealed the Quran.
The Quran says that Jesus is the Messiah. But the Jews in Muhammad’s time rejected this. In Jewish thought, Jesus was a blasphemer. Jesus died by crucifixion. History agrees with this. In the Jewish mind, even today, the Messiah cannot die – let alone by crucifixion. So the Jews rejected Muhammad. Not all of them, but some. So what do I know? Maybe Muhammad tried to appeal to the Jews by saying that Jesus was the Messiah and Allah did not let Jesus die on the cross.
Now, the Christians… Muhammad said that Jesus was the Messiah, and the Christians liked that. But the Quran also said that Jesus never die on the cross, and that Jesus was only a man. This goes against Christian doctrine even before the New Testament was put together. The deity of Christ is not something that Paul invented – Christians already knew that even before Paul wrote the letters. It is very clear, now that we have the manuscripts and we can see them all, that nothing has ever been corrupted in the text. So of course some Christians converted to Islam, but other Christians had to reject Muhammad as a false prophet – just as the Jews.
This is how I picture it in my mind…
In today’s world (except from photos and videos), people can read about the Holocaust. Let’s say the Holocaust happened a year ago. People wrote about the Holocaust because they lived it, they saw it, they experienced it. People were eyewitnesses to it. Now imagine this. This is the era of technology so things don’t get lost that easily. But just imagine for one minute that there are no computers or anything to store information. We only have paper – low quality paper.
People need to copy the records that we have available about the Holocaust. All the world – for whatever reason – needs to know about the Holocaust, why it happened and what it accomplished. So people begin copying the eyewitnesses accounts. People begin transcribing them like crazy, not only in English, but in many different languages.
Are you following me?
So these records end up being in circulation for many, many years. Centuries, actually. Within a century from now, people will still have copies of those original eyewitness accounts. The originals might be lost – it was low quality paper – but we have plenty of copies. Two centuries from now, still going strong.
We can actually compare all the copies, and the basic description of the Holocaust still remains the same. Sure, there are differences in spellings and words that might be weird, but the account of the Holocaust – when it happened, how it happened, why it happened, who was involved, where it happened – is still intact.
Three centuries, the same. Four centuries, the same. Five centuries, same. Now, we may not have the originals in five centuries, nor the copies from a century from now. Maybe we will lose them, and we will always be looking for them. But the oldest one that we will have in our possession two thousand years from now will be two hundred years after the Holocaust. That’s pretty good if you consider that we have only seven copies from Plato written one thousand years after the original. Nobody questions Plato.
And thousands of years down the road, people will continue to copy our records of the Holocaust. One day, we will end up having more than 22,000 pieces of paper with which we can reconstruct the original eyewitness accounts. HOmer’s Iliad has 647 – and nobody questions Homer’s authorship.
We cared so much about preserving those records because the Holocaust changed History.
But then something will happen. About six hundred years from now, in the middle of a civilization that had never heard about the Holocaust, someone will come and will say that God gave him a message through an angel. And the message is basically this: You people are wrong. The Holocaust never happened like that. I will tell you exactly how it happened.
And a lot of people will believe that man, and his own version of the Holocaust. People who love this man will look back on the actual records that we preserved, and they will see that they contradict the man’s version of the Holocaust. But they will love that man so much, that in blind faith, they will begin allegations against our own records. The records we so carefully tried to preserve – the actual eyewitnesses accounts of the Holocaust – will be charged with corruption of the text.
And many people, unfortunately, will end up believing in the new version of the Holocaust that this man will give them. They will believe it only in faith, even tough the evidence says otherwise. In my own mind, that’s what Muhammad did.
You see, the Christian who recognizes ALL these issues is in a better position to explain to the Muslim about our faith, and about the text of the Bible. It is the responsibility of every Christian to show love to Muslims. Eventually, though, conversations will happen, and questions – deep theological questions – will arise.
The Christian has to be prepared to meet the challenge not only of understanding why Islam (the new version of the Holocaust) differs from Judaism and Christianity (the original version of the Holocaust). Not only that, but what it actually brings in the present life of a person. Muslims can have peace with God. They do not have it. They might think they do, but in reality, they do not know where they stand with God.
The Christian needs to learn how to make a strong case for Christianity.
It might be too much information, too difficult to grasp at the beginning, or intimidating, but God’s timings are prefect. If you only give God your heart, He will do amazing things through you. The first time I learned about Islam was seven years ago, and I cried because I was so confused about it. How come this Allah was the same God that I worshipped?
Little by little I began learning more and more about this. I am not an expert, but if I can learn, everybody can.
This post was so long… I’m sorry for that 😦
In short, do we – Muslims and Christians – worship the same God? No. I don’t think we do. But we have the opportunity of reaching out to our Muslim friends, and introduce them to who God really is 🙂
You might want to read Nabeel Qureshi’s opinion on the Wheaton’s College controversy.