Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? (Part 1)
When Christians ask “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” they are asking:
“Is the Allah of Islam the same as God the Father?”
“Is the God of Islam the same God of the Old Testament who created the world and spoke with the prophets?”
“Did the same God who spoke with Jesus, James, Peter, John, Paul, and Ananias, send His angel Gabriel to speak the Quran’s words to Muhammad?”
They want to know if Muslims and Christians are worshiping the one and the same Divine Person, the one and only one God.
Of course we know that both faiths refer to the One Almighty Creator God. Muslims believe that they worship the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of Jesus. The question, however, is not if they refer to the same God, but rather, from the way They are identified, revealed, and described, are they the same God.
Christians who ask this question approach it from a matter of personal faith. It is more to them than an academic question. The answer counts. They understand that even if the faiths present differing aspects about the Gods, They could still be the same God, and on the other hand, if there are contradictions and opposites between these Gods then They would not be the same.
For the Christian, if the answer is “Yes” then it validates Islam and the Quran to some degree. If the answer is “Yes” it implies that they are ignorant of much about the God they worship and love. Further, if the answer is “Yes” it means that when Jesus prayed in the Garden He was praying to Allah.
The most important aspect of this question is its eternal significance. Although this question’s theme is in play as Muslims and Christians interact in worldwide record-setting breadth and depth and its answer affects how they view, interact, and treat each other, of far greater consequence is that these Gods demand accurate worship. They both require correct theological beliefs in worship. Neither of Them take idolatry and the worship of a false god lightly and in both faiths idolaters are condemned and sentenced to hell! Eternal consequence outweighs temporal relations. Jesus said as such: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
This is a five part article which examines historical, religious, and Scriptural evidence to answer that question. Its pace is slower than normal but I am convinced that the answer to this question is of the utmost importance for Christians. It affects how we relate to God, practice our faith, understand Islam, and how we practice outreach to Muslims.
Three principles must be established before we move on to examine the evidence.
Principle 1: The Integrity and Authority of the Faith’s Scriptures
To answer the question accurately we need defined and established references. Therefore, the general integrity of each faith’s Scriptures is assumed in order to facilitate an honest and accurate investigation. Each Scripture must be viewed as portraying the faith’s God accurately. Let the Quran speak for Islam’s God and let the Bible speak for Christianity’s God. The statements we’ll examine are not abstract, masked, or mysterious. While the textual integrity of both the Quran and Bible is not perfect scholars agree that what is written closely represents the originals.
The authority of the faith’s Scriptures is fundamental. Christians and Muslims know about their God through their Scripture’s teachings. While exterior religious sources may provide extra-Scriptural information about their God, (such as the writings of the Early Church Fathers or Islam’s Traditions), those faiths’ Scriptures are their primary theological sources. We understand the God of Christianity because of the Bible’s teachings. Christians believe that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and so on because of what the Bible states. In the same way, because of the Quran’s teachings, Muslims know that Allah is all powerful, all merciful, and so on.
The Scriptures that tell us of these Gods’ omnipotence, eternity, unity, etc., also give us their words, commands, intentions, plans, and communications with mankind. If we take their lofty statements at face value then we should also take their plain spoken statements at face value. We must be honest and fair in our treatment and acknowledgement of these Scriptures. If we ignore some verses out of personal preference, or out of a desire to win an argument, then we only create a laughable mysticism or a valueless superstition lacking substance. That approach is worthless and deserves mockery.
Of course the Scriptures are limited in what they tell us about God. Concerning this Francis Schaeffer said in Escape from Reason:
In this way we know true truth about God, true truth about man, and something truly about nature. Thus on the basis of the Scriptures, while we do not have exhaustive knowledge, we have true and unified knowledge.
We have limited, but accurate, truth and knowledge about God from our Scriptures.
We do not create these Gods from our imaginations. Rather these Scriptures tell us about these Gods and from those Scriptures we perceive God’s attributes and upon those Scriptures we stand and build our metaphysical conceptions. Our perceptions and conceptions must be established upon the Scriptures which tell us about these Gods, and they should not contradict what the Scriptures state.
I make this point because some theologians pick and choose specific Scriptures for their argument while conveniently ignoring or discounting other Scriptures that undermine their argument. How would God have felt if Moses gave the Israelites the “Eight Commandments”? Jonah refused to proclaim God’s words to Nineveh and we know the results. When Muhammad compromised with idol worship he was rebuked by Allah through Gabriel. Shouldn’t today’s theologians be held accountable and expected to engage all of God’s word?
Principle 2: Theological Setting and Scope
The Story of the Blind Men and the Elephant.
There is a notable parable about several blind men examining an elephant. One man feels the tusk, another the trunk, and another the tail. They discuss what attributes they’ve identified and declare a truth about the elephant. Thereafter they argue and disagree about its identity and attributes. “The elephant is solid, smooth, and strong,” “No! The elephant is pliable like a rope,” “No! The elephant is large and rough.” There are variations of the story but in general it is used to teach the message that although all faiths have different understandings or different truths about the one God they do indeed worship the one and the same God. Therefore all faiths should accept and learn from each other, respect each other, and live in peace.
The problem with this story is that from its beginning it concedes and concludes that an elephant is being examined. There is no real argument here because we know that the differing truths about the elephant are complimentary, not contradictory. This story allows for no possibility that the blind men are examining different creatures, for example a bird, an elephant, or a fish. Applying this allegory to our question establishes the answer from the beginning that Christians and Muslims are indeed worshiping the same God. They just have different understandings and know different characteristics of that One God.
However for our question a story could be titled “What the Blind Men Examined.” It would start out by having each blind man examine an unidentified creature and allow the possibility that they were examining the same or different creatures.
In the case of the elephant the blind man who identified the tusk’s strength made an accurate observation. It is not contradicted or cancelled out by the testimony of the blind man who identified the tail’s flexibility. But if one man examined a fish and stated “my creature only breathes underwater,” while another man examined an elephant and said, “my creature only breathes in air,” then we could conclude that they are not talking about the same creature.
The challenge here is to identify key attributes that confirm these Gods are the same, could be the same, or are not the same.
Principle 3: The Living Gods and the authority of the Christian and Muslim Scriptures
We are talking about living and speaking Gods whose actions are recorded in the faiths’ Scriptures. These Gods were not silent observers. They were involved actively with their followers and interacted with them. These Gods make it rain, save people from death, and kill people. Comparing these Gods requires evaluation of their attributes, words, and deeds. Comparing these Gods must involve more than abstract academic fluff, metaphysical rhetoric, and trite philosophical points. All too often the theologians approach this question from an academic perspective which does not recognize that they are examining living, powerful, and active Gods.
A “Yes” answer’s implications:
- If they worship the same God then all believers would enter heaven/paradise.
- If they worship the same God then Christians and Muslims could view each other as fellow believers destined for eternal life.
- If they worship the same God then it is possible that the one and same God is behind both Scriptures: the God that inspired the New Testament also sent Gabriel to give the Quran to Muhammad.
- If they worship the same God then could they be free to mix practical elements of both Scriptures and faiths? Wouldn’t it make sense to take the best from each faith and apply it to our lives?
A “No” answer’s implications:
- If they don’t worship the same God then one group is committing idolatry.
- If they don’t worship the same God then the good and sincere believers of one group are going to hell regardless.
- If they don’t worship the same God then one group should be doing all it can to spread the true faith to the other.
- If they don’t worship the same God then at least one group’s Scriptures, as a whole, are false and poisonous.
“Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?”
I’m trying to methodically present an examination based on what both faiths teach so that we may reach a definitive answer. To that end I’ve chosen three different theological topics to examine and compare. The burden of proof is on me to show that they are either the same, could be the same, or are not the same.
I need to arrive at a simple and concrete “Yes” or “No” answer. I’ve read two books and some 20 articles on this subject and many, (not all), of the answers are confusing, abstract, and unclear. This answer has eternal consequences and it had better be more definitive than a personal or philosophical opinion and involve more than cursory work.
NOTE: to simplify things from here on out, when I’m differentiating between the Gods I’ll refer to Islam’s God as “Allah” and Christianity’s God as “God.” When referring to them both at the same time, or in a general sense, I’ll use “God” or “Gods.” The context will define whom I mean. I understand that Arabic Christians refer to “God” as “Allah” and that is fine. But for ease of reading here, when warranted, I’ll distinguish them simply by calling Islam’s God “Allah” and Christianity’s God “God.” No disrespect is meant to One or the Other.
Definitions - Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
I need to define the key term “same” for the context of our question. Words have different contexts and different meanings at different times. Sincere people in earnest conversations may misunderstand and disagree on a word’s definition. On the other hand, when Bill Clinton lied to the grand jury investigating his illicit sexual encounters he said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.” So too we must define what we mean by the word “same.”
Defining “same” here is also important because as we’ll see later some of the “theologians” who address this question are reluctant to, or have difficulty in, defining “same.” They are uncomfortable with it. That such a fundamental aspect of this equation is avoided or fumbled by the theologians is a sign that they are not up to, or unwilling, to tackle the question as it should be addressed.
Below is Webster’s Online Dictionary’s definition, and I’ve included its synonyms and antonyms because they provide contrast:
a: resembling in every relevant respect
b: conforming in every respect —used with as
a: being one without addition, change, or discontinuance : identical
b: being the one under discussion or already referred to
: corresponding so closely as to be indistinguishable
: equal in size, shape, value, or importance —usually used with the or a demonstrative (as that, those) in all senses
Synonyms: coequal, duplicate, equal, even, identical, indistinguishable, much of a muchness
Antonyms: different, disparate, dissimilar, distant, distinct, distinctive, distinguishable, diverse, nonidentical, other, unalike, unlike
Webster’s gives us a foundation to build upon. For our purposes, “same” is “resembling, conforming, identical, indistinguishable, equal in all respects and senses.” Can it be shown that these two Gods are distinct and different enough that they cannot be construed as being the same? If we cannot detect and identify distinctive differences, dissimilar characteristics, or disparate attributes between Islam’s Allah and Christianity’s God then we may conclude that they are, or could be, the same. However, if we can distinguish such differences then we must conclude that they are not the same. Agreed?
Let’s draw a further distinction here: “similar” does not equal “same.” For example, both texts generally describe their God as being omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. If those were the only considered attributes then we could end the discussion now and conclude they are the same. But their Scriptures contain many more attribute details about these Gods. If there are significant differences then we could conclude these Gods may be similar but they are not the same. Just because they have similarities, or have some attributes in common, does not negate the attributes in which they differ. Amanita mushrooms are similar in many ways to white mushrooms but no mycologist would declare that they are the “same.” Sulfuric acid is similar in some ways to water but no chemist would declare them the “same.” Otherwise people would suffer pain and death. Experts in such fields who made such fallacious declarations would be either pernicious (therefore deserving punishment) or ignorant and laughable (thereby proving they are not true experts).
In sum, when we ask “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” we are asking if their essence, attributes, character, and identities, are identical or distinctly different.
(Also see: Do Muslims and Christians speak the same language? )
The Approach - Questions
There are several key elements that must be defined and then used to establish the basis for our final decision.
Q1: Where can we find the data we need to examine and compare to evaluate these Gods?
Answer: As mentioned earlier, we must use the Bible and the Quran. They contain the data we must draw from and examine. These primary books provide definition and distinction for their God. Islam has second and third sets of theological writings: the Traditions (Hadith) and the biographical writings (sira) respectively, which I will reference to expand the understanding of certain points, but the Quran alone is our foundational text for Islam. Additionally, I may refer to Christian and Muslim theological commentaries (tafsir) related to each faith respectively.
Q2: What attributes, identifications, and characteristics do we evaluate to decide if they are the same God?
Answer: We must examine their Scriptures and identify their words, actions, instructions, plans, intentions, commands, and relationships with their followers. From this we can identify and establish cross-characteristics to evaluate. By evaluating, comparing, and contrasting those characteristics we compare and contrast these Gods.
We’ll have to have something more significant than varying shades of gray or an ambiguous comparison to reach a firm conclusion. For example, Allah has 99 plus names, (these names are attributes of Allah), and not all of these names are attributed to the God of the Bible. Just because a particular name, title, or attribute is not declared and shared between the two does not necessarily mean that they are not the same God. It only shows that that attribute has not been declared and attributed to that God.
Q3: How can we decide if the differences are distinct enough to allow us to conclude that they are different Gods? (Distinguishing between similar Gods may not be as easy as distinguishing between coal and oranges).
Answer: We need answers that identify these Gods’ attributes and characteristics distinctly. One of the fundamental laws of classical logic is the law of non-contradiction, i.e. "A is not B" or “A cannot be non-A.” Using the definition of “same” above if we find different and distinguishing features between Islam’s God and Christianity’s God then we must conclude that “A is not B,” i.e. that Islam’s God is not the same as Christianity’s God. I’m not talking about shades of gray, (even within Christianity’s theological branches there are strong shades of grey), I’m talking about opposing or distinctly different characteristics.
The three topics we’ll compare and contrast.
We could approach this question from many different directions and this topic could easily take up an entire book. If you examine the books and articles that address this question you’ll find very different methods and approaches are used.
I’ve chosen these three areas of comparison for our evaluation:
1) The plan for the believers until the final judgment
2) Jesus’ “Sonship”
3) Intimate knowledge and relationship with God
The Bible and the Quran provide God-spoken words and deeds for each topic. These three aspects are distinct from each other and provide a spectrum of comparison & contrast. I think this approach is more beneficial than simply using one topic, such as the trinity, for an area of comparison which focuses only on the “personage” or “oneness” of God. (Using the trinity is fine but I wanted to take a broader, perhaps less common but less metaphysical, approach.)
End of Part 1. Continue with Part 2.