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Christian God & Muslim Allah 1/2

15 May

(or) same thing, different name…

In an interview for christianitytoday.com made in 2011, Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, was asked this question: “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” he answered: “I think that Muslims and Christians who embrace the normative traditions of their faith refer to the same object, to the same Being, when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God. The referent is the same.”[1] Afterwards he goes on to explain his position to a greater detail, yet his initial statement remains.

In a world of multicultural societies full of pluralistic prospects we experience a natural tendency to link similar looking concepts and consider them to be the same. We incline to connect ideas that are foreign to us to those we are already familiar with, thus looking rather for similarities than differences. Today many would share Volfs perspective and suggest that the Muslim “Allah” and the Christian “God” is virtually the one same god, only perceived from different angles. In the following lines I will not attempt to give, what is in philosophy called, “a killer” argument, that would decisively disqualify one of the alternatives. No, the intention of this paper is more modest. Both similarities and differences of the two theologies will be highlighted and the conclusion, whether the referent is the same, will stay with the reader.

Only one God

With regard to the broad spectrum of world religions Islam and Christianity is at this point truly very close to each other. In fact this parallelism is taken to be one of the most impressive. Yet this is not to say that a great many other religions do not recognize a figure of a high god. Egyptians worshipped Ra, Isis or Osiris, while Greeks gave their praise to Zeus or Jupiter.[2] Nordic people among others feared Odin and Thor while in China “Yu-huang-shang-ti” was originally taken to be the greatest sky deity. Hinduism exalts Brahma, Vishnu and Siva while Mahayana Buddhism follows the example of Buddha. Hiebert, Shaw and Tienou further in their book offer a list of several other tribes that hold this belief: “In sub-Saharan Africa, belief in a creator God is taken for granted by almost everyone. The Masaii call this god “Engai,” the Yoruba “Olorun” [“ Lord of the Sky”], the Dinka “Nhialic,” the Mende “Ngewo,” the Ibo “Chukwu,” and the Fon “Mawu.”[3] The overriding issue with all these other belief systems is that they at the same time recognize multiple high or lesser gods or goddesses, ending up in polytheism. Their belief is nowhere confined to only one god. On the contrary both Islam and Christianity make indisputable claims about only one true God.open_bible

Bible claims:

Det. 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” Mk. 12:32: “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 1 Cor. 8:4: “…We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” Exod. 20:3: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

The last verse is mentioned as one of the Ten Commandments given by God directly to Moses when he was on the mountain of Sinai.quran

Quran claims:

Surah 112[1] “…He, Allah, is One. [2] Allah is He on Whom all depend. [3] He begets not, nor is He begotten. [4] And none is like Him.” Surah 57 [3] He is the First and the Last, and the Outward and the Inward; and He is Knower of all things. Surah 4[48] “Lo! Allah forgiveth not that a partner should be ascribed unto Him. He forgiveth (all) save that to whom He will. Whoso ascribeth partners to Allah, he hath indeed invented a tremendous sin.”

The last verse in Islam is associated with an unforgivable sin called “shirk” (associating). As suggested, Allah, if he pleases, can forgive other sins yet if someone breaks his commitment to the only one God, he falls beyond Allah’ remission.[4] Thus it appears that this strong monotheistic attitude is an undeniable bond between the two religions.

Trinitarian or Unitarian

While the first look at the oneness of God is outwardly without a problem, the second one does raise a challenge. Deep in Christian theology lies the doctrine of Trinity according which God consists of three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This concept is often misunderstood by folk Muslims who because of it consider Christians to be polytheists. Frequently these Muslims assume that Christians believe in a sexual union between a Father God and a Mother God (Mary) begetting their “Son of God.” This is a very mistaken view which practically nobody holds. Yet even well-informed Muslims are having troubles accepting one God who in the same time consists of three persons.

Despite the fact that this post is not focused on explaining the Trinity alone I believe that a useful analogy of Cerberus offered by Professor William Lane Craig can bring a certain level of understanding to this apparent paradox:

“In Greek mythology, there is a dog which is supposed to be guarding the gates of Hades named “Cerberus.” One of the tasks of Hercules is to subdue Cerberus at the gates of Hades. Now, Cerberus is no ordinary dog. CerberusHe is a three-headed dog, and each of these heads is a fully functioning canine head. I think we can suppose, therefore, that Cerberus has three brains and that these brains are associated with three distinct states of consciousness, whatever it is like to be a dog. Whatever a dog-consciousness is like, Cerberus has three of them, not one of them. Therefore, even though Cerberus is a sentient being, he doesn’t have a unified consciousness; rather he has three consciousnesses – three centers of consciousness. Obviously, in order for Cerberus to be a biologically viable organism, as well as to be a good guard dog, there needs to be a considerable degree of cooperation and harmony among these three canine minds. Despite the diversity of his mental states, Cerberus is clearly one dog. He is one three-headed dog, a single biological organism which exemplifies a canine nature.”[5]

Muslims on the other hand explicitly deny any form of fatherhood or sonship related to Allah.

Surah 23[91] “No son did Allah beget, nor is there any god along with Him: (if there were many gods), behold, each god would have taken away what he had created and lorded it over the others!

As we read previously, Allah is considered to be “one” in all aspects[6] and any other teaching is an unacceptable heresy. This view also called a “pure” monotheism.


[1] Christanity Today, Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/muslimschristianssamegod.html?start=1 (10th May, 2013)
[2] Morey, R. A. (2003). The Islamic invasion: Confronting the world’s fastest growing religion (Rev. and expanded ed.). Las Vegas, NV: Christian Scholars Press. pp. 67
[3] Hiebert, Paul G.; Shaw, R. Daniel (2000-01-01). Understanding Folk Religion: A Christian Response to Popular Beliefs and Practices (Kindle Locations 777-779). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[4] Publishing, R. (2004). Islam and christianity. Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing.
[5] If you feel like finding out more about Trinity, please follow this teaching. Craig. W.L., Doctrine of Trinity (part 8), Retrieved from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s5-8 (10th May, 2013).
[6] Tawheed “Oneness.” Publishing, R. (2004). Islam and christianity. Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing.
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5 Comments

Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Reasonable Faith, Theology

 

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5 responses to “Christian God & Muslim Allah 1/2

  1. Prayson Daniel

    May 17, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Lookind forward to the second part. I follow, to a point, Volf thoughts that Christians and Muslim claim to follow the same God of Abraham. So I am also tempted to say they do indeed point to the same being, but Muslim and Jews have a wrong understand of that being.

    Example it was the Muslim thinkers that gave us the kalam cosmological case for God, namely a timeless prior creation, spaceless, immaterial, personal, creator of the universe. Both Muslim and Christian believe God is a greatest conceivable without equal(ontological argument) and on and on. This leads me to think that it is the same God of Abraham both Muslim and Christian believe to worship and follow, but Muslim and Jews have a wrong understand of that God, if Christianity is true.

    Expound more, say there are two group following Adolf Hilter. Both group hold that he was a German leader, but the first group claim that Hilter was such an angel as Mother Teresa, kind and loving to the Jews, while second group claim he was cruel as a devil, not knid and hated the Jews. Here first group is wrong, and have a wrong understanding of Hilter, not because there are two Hilters. Both groups have same reference point, a Germany leader Hilter, but different understanding.

    So I can say that that the Hilter of the first group is not the Hilter of the second group, not because there are two Hilters, since there is on reference point, but because their understaning of that Hilter is different. Same with God of Abraham that Muslim and Christian claim to believe. He is a reference point, but then we can say that the God of Muslim, Allah, is not the Triune God of Christians, not because of two different ontological being, but two different epistemological begins.

    In short the difference between Muslim, Jews and Christians is not ontology (God of Abraham) but epistemology(how we understand the God of Abraham). Volf claim is that the ontology, reference point is the same, which I concur, but again Allah and triune God are not the same(epistemologically)

     
    • factorysense

      September 27, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Pray, it’s always good to have you around. Your insight offers a good ground for this discussion. Perhaps a good question then is to ask, how far does ones epistemological misunderstanding have to go in order for us to qualify something as ontologically different being?
      To use your example, in such a grievous misunderstanding of who Hitler was, one can be so much in doubt that he begins to ask “Are we really talking about the same person here?”

       
  2. Taha

    June 19, 2013 at 5:21 am

    Heh, as a Muslim from a Muslim country who’s read some Muslim books, this is perhaps the first I’ve ever heard of “most” Muslims believing in a sexual union between God and Mary. I’m guessing this is some Crusades-era superstition still floating about in Western academic circles. Could we have a source please? Maybe a poll or something? From my experience I’d think most Muslims don’t really have a fully formed stance on Christianity per se, most don’t know much about it, and there’s really no impetus to actually learn.

    Also…I was under the impression there was a great deal of diversity in Christianity (suppressed and otherwise) about the personhood of Jesus and the nature of God. Not all Christians agree on the triune God, do they? And how close is the God of Islam to the God of the Christians/Arians?

    And, would it be more accurate (and less divisive) to say that Muslims and Christians actually differ in their interpretation of Jesus rather than their interpretation of God?

     
    • factorysense

      June 19, 2013 at 10:53 am

      Hi Taha, I appreaciate you took the time to read through the article and decided to write back. It is nice to have your fresh perspective on the table as well.

      I would agree with you that probably many Muslims don’t have a fully formed stance on Christianity since they didn’t really give it much thought (and vice versa), however I haven’t said that most Muslim altogether believe in a sexual union between God and Mary. Only that among those who somehow encountered the concept of Trinity this functioned as a popular misunderstanding. (taken from: Publishing, R. (2004). Islam and christianity. Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing.)

      I believe that perhaps a closer look at the Nicean Creed (325) can offer some answers. Here one of the issues around the personhood of Jesus was settled and the foundations for the doctrine of Trinity was laid, rejecting Arianism, Ebionitism and Adoptionism. (See also: Jesus Christ: Truly Human, Truly God)

      We again agree that there is a differece in our understanding of the person and work of Jesus, yet I would maintain that the concepts of God in Christianity and Islam are too unlike in several aspects (divisive or not). I wrote about them in the second section of this article. I would like to hear your take also on this.

      Wish you all the best Taha and I hope to hear from you again.
      Peter

       

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