Many Christians subscribe to the notion that Muslims worship the same God we do and note with enthusiasm that Muslims also believe in the person of Jesus. However, is the Muslim portrait of God and Jesus the same as the Christian's? What are the differences? In this entry we will study the differences regarding God. A second instalment focusing on Jesus will follow. The god of Islam is often referred to as "Allah". "Allah" is actually a generic Arabic word for "god" that has been used since before the birth of Islam. Arabic Christians have always used the word "Allah" to refer to Lord God and still do today. The word "Allah" is not the personal name of the god of Islam although it is most often used within that context. We are going to adopt this distinction for clarity of reference and use "Allah" to refer exclusively to the Muslim portrayal of god. Islam means submission or surrender. The word itself comes from the root word "salam" which means peace. Conceptually it would not be inaccurate to say that Islam is the way of submission to Allah and thus, a Muslim is a person one who follows the way of submission as laid down through Islamic scripture and tradition. The Quran is the holiest book to Muslims. The entire Quran is believed to have been dictated word for word to Muhammad by Allah over a period of 23 years and it is seen by Muslims as the only direct and uncorrupted word of god. Muslims also accept Muhammad's repeated declaration that he is the final prophet of god and that no more would come after him. To a Muslim, this means that Muhammad's words and the Quran are authoritatively conclusive and nothing can ever refute either. Muhammad is revered as infallible; a perfect man beyond reproach and is hence considered as every Muslim's supreme model. Muslims also believe the Quran to be Allah's final correction over all other religions in the world including Christianity. The Quran is however not the only scriptural authority received and followed in Islam. Muslims also submit to the Sunnah and Hadith literature. Together with the Quran, they shape Muslim beliefs and religious practice. The Sunnah refers to actions of Muhammad that lays out the "path of life" for all Muslims. It relates specifically to what Muhammad did, his habits, his sayings, what he condoned and condemned. The Hadith texts on the other hand are a collection of narrations about Muhammad and are often studied to provide clarification to the Quran. The Sunnah and details of Muhammad's actions are integral to Islam as the Quran itself specifically instructs the believer to follow Muhammad. In the Quran 3:31 Muhammad penned, "Say: If you love Allah, then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you your faults, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." Please pause and read that verse again. If we may paraphrase, it states that a Muslim's devotion to Allah is fulfilled through modelling Muhammad and by that, Allah's love and pardon is received. Put in even simpler words, Allah's love and forgiveness is predicated upon following Muhammad. Muslims work to receive love and be forgiven by following Muhammad. This is stark contrast to the Christian faith that is rooted in grace. Christians understand God's love to be unconditional. We know that we don't gain more love or forgiveness through works although we do it as an expression of our faith. We believe in redemption, in confession and grace through the atoning Cross of Jesus. Christians follow Jesus - as God Himself made flesh, Jesus is the Christian's supreme example - He is the way, the truth and the life. Gods Identity and Character Islamic doctrine teaches that god cannot have human attributes, behaviour or characteristics and it would be a sin to think otherwise. Muhammad Al-Bukhari, one of the most revered Imams who authored several Hadiths, asserts: "Whoever likens Allah with His creation, will have committed Kufr. Whoever denies what Allah has described Himself with, will have committed Kufr. Certainly, there is no resemblance (of Allah with the creation) in what Allah and His Messenger have described Him with" (Tafsir ibn Kathi, 2003). "Kufr" basically means the sin of unbelief, denial or concealment of the truth. If I may use a big word simply because it is the most fitting and succinct, Islamic doctrine rejects the anthropomorphism of Allah. Allah cannot be seen to have human attributes or human character and Muslims find the Biblical account of God resting on the seventh day insulting because of its demeaning implication to god. To the Muslim mind-set it is nonsensical that God would rest. In fact, Islam's teaching that god cannot be human in any way (among others) necessitates their refutation of Jesus as God. To the Muslim, God cannot be likened to man, let alone actually become man and subject to every human weaknesses. This is stark contrast to the Judeo-Christian concept that man is created in God's image. Intimacy, Knowing God & Our Relationship with Him There are 99 names for Allah in Islam in which terms corresponding to power and greatness are most prominently featured. Of all these names, "Father" is not found among them. Muslims do not recognise God as "Father"; in fact they cannot because it would be anthropomorphism. Perhaps a more significant implication of not recognising God as Father is that it means Muslims are unable to see themselves as children of God. This in essence impacts their understanding of the relationship between God and man. Muslims see Allah as master and themselves as servant and attaining any more intimacy with god than that of the master-servant relationship is not thought possible. Muslims regard Allah as being without equal and humans as merely Allah's subjects. The essence for intimacy with God that Christians seek is lost to Muslims; the "spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:14-15) is never received. The Muslim faith is more about religious strife for Allah rather than growing in relationship with God. This strife is part and parcel of the Muslim faith and is encapsulated in the doctrine of Jihad Â€Â“ which is not only about holy war (that would be too narrow a definition for Jihad) but also encompasses internal strife and general struggle for piety performed by modelling Muhammad. Without grace, there is only religiosity. The Bible does not lack in revealing the greatness of God as Holy, Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent but we also find a clear portrait of God as our tender loving Father, Shepherd, Friend, Husband, Lover even and much, much more. Biblical references not only describe God's relationship with us but also let us know that God desires intimacy, to the extent He woos us for it. The god of Islam is very different in this respect. Allah is portrayed as an impersonal being. Furthermore, as a result of avoiding anthropomorphism, Islam portrays god as utterly unknowable. Conceptually, Allah is thought to transcend character or personality and is beyond human knowing. Other than adjectives that describe Allah's supremacy and divinity, all other adjectives are interpreted as only being instructive of Allah's will. The 99 names of Allah are only attributes in as much as they reveal what Allah wills and does; but no more. It is neither revelation of character nor attributable to Allah as character. Doing that would again be anthropomorphism of Allah and hence kufr. It is not possible to ask questions about Allah without invariably assuming human terms to Allah. Any question would invariably presume that Allah is like man or may have thoughts or feelings like a man; and that would be anthropomorphism. Muslims cannot even think they know Allah because by thinking so they would invariably assign human attributes to Allah. Again, it is anthropomorphism. It may sound convoluted but it would not be an inaccurate way of expressing the Muslim perception of Allah's unknowable nature. Muslims cannot know Allah in any relational manner but only receive Allah's will and comply obediently, master-to-servant. Christians believe very differently. While Christianity does indeed recognise God as Master, our relationship with God is more than just that (John 15:15). The revelation of God's personality and character to every individual in the personal sense is central to Christian Faith. While we do say that God is beyond our understanding, that much of what He does is just unfathomable, we are however still meant to seek Him. Christians understand that God is Spirit (John 4:24) but yet are not restricted from relating to God in human terms. The Christian teaching is that God allows the use of human terms to describe Himself for our benefit. Without it, we would not have the adequate framework of references to relate to Him and He wants us to relate to Him. We are exhorted throughout scripture to know Him. The fact that God desires that we know Him is made plain to us (1 John 4:7-8; Jeremiah 9:23-24; 2 Corinthians 4:6). Biblical faith teaches that God is as He has acted and He is as how He has revealed Himself to mankind through the ages. God is unchanging and eternal. He keeps His promises and doesn't lie (Titus 1:2). God's character is consistent and we rely on this consistency as a basis of our trust and faith in Him. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Muslims however believe that Allah, being absolutely supreme, is absolutely free to act in any way he pleases. Allah is not bound by character or even moral principles. This is quite a different lordship from that of the covenantal Christian God. Love Unconditional The Christian faith understands that God's love is unconditional so much so that He is the initiator of unconditional love towards mankind. God loved us first before we even knew Him or understood this (1 John 4:19). This love is equally extended to the sinner and even to enemies. All Christians should be able to recite John 3:16, believing that Jesus laid His life down for us because of God's Greater Love (John 15:13) despite our sinful conditions. Christians will readily say that God is Love. Contrast this to Islam. While the Quran shows that Allah is capable of love, it is expressed rather conditionally and selectively. My understanding is that Allah is never depicted as loving someone who does not love him first and in fact, love from Allah has to be earned through piety and discipleship to the ways of Muhammad. Allah's love is conditional. It is predicated upon performance, not relationship. It is also explicit in the Quran that Allah does not love sinners. For instance, "Allah loveth not transgressors" (Quran 2:190); Allah loveth not those who do wrong (Quran 3:57); "Allah loveth not those who reject the faith" (Quran 3:32). This is unlike the Christian understanding, where we know God hates sin but yet loves the sinner. In Islam, no distinction is made between the sin and the sinner and the sinner is thus condemned. In Christianity, God loves every individual whatever that person believes and even if that person does not acknowledge or worship God. Islam however says that unless you are Muslim, Allah will not love you. In fact, a Non-Muslim is in essence synonymous with transgressor or wrong-doer and it can be troubling to know that exterminating a transgressor is considered by some radical Islamist interpretations as a service to Allah (John 16:1). Lastly to be highlighted (here anyway) is the contrasting notion towards God as having emotions. To the Muslim understanding, it would be a demeaning to Allah to portray him as having emotions. The Bible on the other hand portrays God as capable of feeling wounded by mankind's betrayal, broken hearted even. We also know that He can be grieved by our sinfulness; that He can feel compassion; He is not above sympathy and though patient He can be pushed to anger and even jealousy. The God worshipped by Christians is neither detached nor impersonal. Conclusion Comparison of Allah and the Judeo-Christian God is a study in contrasts when we look at the image, identity and more importantly, character portrayed. The personality of Allah that Islam depicts is quite different from the Judeo-Christian God. The Father God Christians worship and Allah are not the same in the way they relate to mankind. One desires to be known; the other makes it impossible. One sees mankind as His children; the other sees humans as slaves. One made a model of Himself to die for us; the other makes a model of a man. One readily expresses feelings for mankind; the other is above emotions. One loves unconditionally; the other predicates it on performance. One is compassionate, loving sinners; the other condemns sinnersÂ€ and we can go on. Why then the notion that they are the same God? It is true though that there is much common ground between Christianity and Islam. Both share the same roots in Abraham. Owing to this Abrahamic root, we may have been too quick to conclude that we worship the same God. If I may use an analogy to illustrate, it is like receiving two parcels sent from the same location. We notice different packaging but note however that both have the same label. Yet, it would be premature, short-sighted even, to assume that the contents are identical. Opening both packages and examining them indeed reveals they are not the same at all. No doubt, if we look at Christianity and Islam in terms of religious commandments there would also be much in common. However, so does every other religion in the world. All religions share certain common moral standpoints but that doesn't make the gods of all religions the same God. Muslims believe we worship the same God but Muslims however think that Christians and Jews have gotten the worship of God all wrong and have in fact been doing God a disservice, angering god. Muslims believe the only true way to worship is Muhammad's way. However, should it be about how we worship or about Who we are worshiping? And if we don't even know who we worshiping would it really matter how? This is not about religion but about God; about Who He is and who we are to Him Â€Â“ and when we look at that, the contrast is obvious. When we know someone, we know who they are not. Even as I was writing this, I was moved by the reminder of how God, the Indescribable, Unfathomable, Mighty Creator of the Universe sees me as I am and yet loves me the same.Â€ My God knows me by my name. He formed me in my mothers womb. He calls me His child and He wants me to know Him too. He sent His only Son to die for me - even before I knew Him. My God is love and I belong to Him. I willingly and freely chose a relationship with Him. The relationship I have with God is personal. I know my God and I know that He is not as the way Allah is portrayed by Islam.
This is sure frowned upon today, but 1st John 2:22,23, is still there. Therefore personally I have to say NO. I believe in ancient times there was also a moon god named allah. But I agree with the arab definition you mentioned. Anyhow, Jesus Christ is either who scripture and His followers say He was/is, or we believe another teaching. Can't have and believe both. In Jesus Christ, billy
Doulos, Much appreciated. This is an excellent writing demonstrating a far above average understanding of a different god, Allah. The answer to the question posed is NO. Like Billy, I have read that there was a moon god named Allah. It is so wonderfully awesome that the one true God, our Father, lovingly and longingly desires to have an intimate personal relationship with each of His children. Thank you. I look forward to your next writing on the Islam view of Jesus Christ! Dorothy
WOW! This is amazing. I certainly learned a lot about Islam that I didn't know before. Thank you so very much for clearing up the distinction between Allah and God. :)
The best description of the difference I have heard is by (my mind slips) ether Dr. Yusef or Dr. Ravi.
(I think Yusef)
He was asked by the driver of the jeep (paraphrase) we worship the same God don't we?
After some thought and concern of becoming stranded in the desert Dr. Yusef answered.
No! My God has a Son.
Love - God loves me! - of everything else we can share and debate with a Muslim, the relization and understanding that God loves them, as they are, for who they are, unconditionally, is key to their converting.
Isn't it that way with all of us though?
Very well written blog Brother.
Thank you for this excellent and informative blog. I have read several books written by women who converted from Islam to Christianity... and suffered great peril also. There was a common theme in each of these books... the great joy these women expressed when they discovered God desires to be in relationship with us as a father does with his children. Now I further understand their joy!
I am sitting here at the moment, contemplating all of the times that God has revealed Himself to me as a father tenderly caring for His child... even if that means discipline. I'm remembering His great love surrounding me and my heart aches.
I think Hark and Kreynolds have hit the nail on the head. It is about love and how God loves us; and Hark is right that this realisation is the key to conversion. I am always humbled when I see how deeply touched Muslim converts are by their perception of God's love. I watch them weep openly in church as we listen to sermons mentioning God's love. I think we sometimes take God's love for granted. I know I am still learning new things about what being His child means and like Kreynolds, my heart aches in the same way.
With regards to the mention of "Allah" as the moon god that brother Billy and sister Dorothy highlighted, I have read that article also which has been quite controversial. I didn't want to go there because I am not able to resolve certain issues with that postulation. I was more comfortable with keeping to the origin of the Arabic word which is well documented and in fact sounds the same in Aramaic; and there is no controversy there. In any case, once we are ourselves convinced that the Muslim god is not our Judeo-Christian God, it becomes completely open to interpretation as to who Allah actually is anyway. Billy also mentioned 1 John 2:22-23 and that is something that really struck me when I studied what Islam says about Jesus. That's all in the next part and I am close to finishing it.
Thank you also "WriterofGod" for your response and I appreciate everyone taking the time to comment and for the kind encouragement also.