Is the God of the Bible the Same as the God of the Quran?
Azar Ajaj | January 20, 2016
A Wheaton College professor recently donned a hijab in a show of solidarity with the Muslim people who faced a worldwide backlash following the terrorist attacks in Paris. Wheaton College responded by suspending the teacher, Larycia Hawkins, not because she wore the hijab, but because of her comments claiming that Muslims and Christians worship “the same God.” A few friends wrote to me asking what we Arab Christians believe, having lived side-by-side with our Arab Muslim neighbors for centuries. Here were my thoughts.
Do Christians and Muslims actually worship the same God? This is a complex and difficult question. The underlying issues have a lot of bearing on my experience as an Arab Christian, and yet the issue is rarely addressed explicitly in my daily interactions because of the sensitive nature of Muslim-Christian relationships (I am speaking of the evangelical community, either at large or in the Middle East).
An examination of the correlation between the God of the Bible and the god of the Quran from a purely existential or even “mathematical” perspective could easily end with the conclusion that both are referring to the same “deity.” For, after all, there is only one God. Muslims and Christians both claim to speak about the same God in the sense that they both intend to refer to “God, the one and only.” When it comes to that deity, there is certainly some real overlap between Islamic and Christian claims about the one God. Muslims as well as Christians believe that God is the creator, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal and so on.
In addition to that, the usage of the name “Allah” adds to the complexity of the issue. The Arabic Bible uses the word “Allah” when referring to God. I do not believe that Islam “owns” the Arabic language, even though it is dominate. “Allah” should not have a negative connotation to Christians. When I interact with Muslims, I find that Allah is conventionally used by Arab Christians and Arab Muslims as though it refers to the same person. That is, in the Arabic language, this term is the standard generic term for the word “God” (however else it may be used in this or that special context). For an Arab Christian to use the word “Allah” does not imply any specific theological congruence between our respective understandings of God; it is simply conventional linguistic usage.
So much for linguistics. But when it comes to theology, I am convinced that there is a rather significant gap between the God and Father of our Lord Jesus (God as we know him) and God as he is conceptualized in Islamic thought. Muslims do not believe in the following essential theological elements: Trinity, the fatherhood of God, the eternal sonship of Jesus, the deity of Jesus, Jesus the Redeemer, the cross of Christ, and God’s covenant with humanity. The person of the Holy Spirit is also understood very differently in Islam (Muslims generally believe that the Holy Spirit was created by Allah as his one of angels).
When a Muslim converts to Christianity, he or she ceases to draw truths about God from the Quran and adheres instead to the revelation of God in the Bible. By way of contrast, converting from Judaism to Christianity involves gaining a critical new light on the story of God already known in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Think, for example, of the Biblical tale of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The Quran paints a very different picture of this story. Despite some literarily powerful Quranic passages and some true assertions in the Muslim book, and despite some overlap between the contents of Quran and Bible, the two scriptures are, at the end of the day, incompatible “revelations.”
So, to use the argument that both visions of God are “one” for the sake of building bridges is unnecessary and not entirely truthful. Both Muslims and Christians already believe that there is only one God (“Allah,” in Arabic). To that extent, the bridge already exists. There is little virtue, because there is little truth, in seeking to imply that on the most vital level we understand this God similarly. We do not.
Nonetheless, we as Arab Christians do not seek to inflame emotions and relationships between the communities by aggressively highlighting our differences at every turn. Employing the bridges that already exist is necessary both for the sake of outreach and to live in harmony with the Muslim majority throughout the cities and villages of the Middle East.
The God of Christianity is not the same as the deity of Islam. In our context, no one could stand on the pulpit and preach or voice such a sentiment. In so doing, the Quran would be viewed as another alternative through which to know the true God, the Father of Jesus Christ. I believe that there is only one God, the God of the Covenant, which was fully enacted in the person and life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Having said that, Christians do not, and usually need not, initiate relationships with Muslims by focusing on the issues of highest tension and offense between the communities. Yes, our ultimate goal must be to proclaim the revelation of Jesus as Lord, speaking the truth in love, but more often than not it is wiser to begin by building trust and strengthening potentially fragile relationships rather than by stoking controversy from the start.
And, finally, concerning Hawkins’ wearing of the hijab as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with victims of anti-Muslim hatred and/or racism, I fully endorse the intent of the act, and would leave the question of that mode of protest to the conscience of the individual. Christians should certainly stand against injustice and stand by oppressed people, whoever they may be.