Muslim and Christian Views of God

Don't Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Ever since 9/11 we've been hearing dire warnings about the "dangers" of "radical Islam." I'm as concerned as the next person about threats to our national security. Still, I can't help feeling that this kind of talk is overblown. In fact, it strikes me as being pure religious bigotry. Instead of demonizing Islamic believers, we should be emphasizing the common ground we share with them. After all, 'elohim and 'allah are just two different forms of the same name. Aren't they?

It’s true that the Hebrew ‘elohim and the Arabic ‘allah are both connected with the proto-Semitic root ‘lh. But this doesn’t necessarily imply that they mean the same thing. To make such a claim is to ignore a very important aspect of the discussion. The development of language is a complicated thing. Words and names acquire all kinds of different layers and levels of meaning as they split off from common roots and evolve along diverging pathways of linguistic development.

On a very superficial level, it would be easy for someone to say that Christians and Muslims “have the same God.” We realize that people make such assertions from the highest and most laudable motives. They’re trying to be generous, kind, tolerant, and open-minded. But they’re mistaken nonetheless. Anybody who is familiar with the subject can tell you that their conclusions are misguided.

The Muslims themselves would probably be the first to disagree. Their own Scriptures deny that their faith is “the same” as that of other “people of the Book” (Jews and Christians). As the Qur’an puts it: “Say, ‘O you disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor do you worship what I worship. Nor will I ever worship what you worship. Nor will you ever worship what I worship. To you is your religion, and to me is my religion'” (Surah 109, “The Disbelievers”).

What a Jew pictures in his mind when he says ‘ elohim or ‘ adonai is distinct in some important ways from what a Muslim imagines when he says ‘allah. ‘Allah was an Arab tribal god. Originally, he was one member of a polytheistic “pantheon” or collection of gods. Eventually he supplanted the others as the one-and-only deity of Muhammad (though Muhammad himself seems to have made concessions to the existence of other gods in the early stages of his career). YHWH or ‘elohim, on the other hand, has always been the unique and unrivaled Creator and Lord of His people in the minds of monotheistic Jews.

The distinction becomes even sharper when we compare the Islamic god with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Christians down through the ages have declared that the Scriptures bear witness to one God who exists in three persons subsisting within a single essence. Muslims reject this. In fact, they refer to it as blasphemy and describe it as “tritheism” (worship of three gods). It’s precisely here that the Christian and Muslim ideas of God diverge most sharply and irreconcilably. We cannot say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God when Islam energetically denies the existence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Islam itself says that the Christian teaching is blasphemous. And this is not just an academic point. “Blasphemy” and “heresy” are issues that Muslims regard very seriously.

In the Hadith (Islam’s second most sacred text, a collection of authoritative sayings and biographical sketches from the life of the Prophet), Muhammad says that Trinitarian Christians are guilty of putting Jesus “in a position not rightly his” (the Qur’an regards Jesus as a mere a prophet). From the Muslim perspective, this is idolatry. This idea is reflected in the following verse of the Qur’an, which contains a clear reference to the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is God incarnate: “Say, ‘O followers of the scripture [i.e., Jews and Christians], let us come to a logical agreement between us and you: that we shall not worship except ALLAH; that we never set up any idols besides Him, nor set up any human beings as lords beside ALLAH”” (Surah 3:64-emphasis added).

Combine this with what the Prophet says in Surah 9:5 and you will begin to see how serious Islam is when it comes to the question of its differences with the Christian faith: “Once the Sacred Months are past, you may kill the idol worshipers when you encounter them, punish them, and resist every move they make.”

That’s not to mention that the character and the attributes of the God of the Bible differ in many profound ways from the descriptions of Allah found in Islamic sacred texts. We could develop this theme at length, but perhaps you can already see that there is a vast difference between the Islamic and Christian concepts of the Supreme Being.

We hope this reply has been helpful. If you think it might be helpful to discuss your concerns at greater length with a member of our team, call our staff of pastoral counselors. They’d love to speak with you over the phone.

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