Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
I’ve just finished listening to the latest edition of Unbelievable, on the above subject. Representing the ‘Yes’ campaign, Joseph Cummings. ‘No’, Nabeel Qureshi. This was definitely one of the best recent episodes; the dialogue was respectful and enjoyable.
The conversation hovered around the issue of what we would say about Judaism for longer than I liked. (The question goes: if we say that Muslims do not worship the God that we Christians worship, what do we say about Jews?) I recognise that it’s an important question, but it’s also on at least some level a different one, and I would have liked to hear Nabeel or Justin push Joseph to answer the question purely with respect to Islam without recourse to this problem, as is surely possible if he is confident to be able to assert that Christians and Muslims DO worship the same God. Anyway, I did feel that Nabeel ultimately dealt with this one when he mentioned that Jewish faith relates to Christianity as a forebear; Islam relates to it as a supposed descendent – and one which sets out to undermine every key tenet of its ancestor at that, and which intends to suggest that Christianity itself has been corrupted.
There were a couple of other angles which I had hoped would be explored:
- Worship of Christ as God. This is clearly a distinctive Christian practice, noted by scholars to be present since the earliest times of Christianity. In that sense, of course we don’t worship the same God – because they don’t worship Jesus as God. Neither do the Jews, if you want to throw that in, and there’s no problem with pointing that out. Actually, I believe this point was made briefly in a certain way but I think it should have been made much more strongly. (I am not suggesting that Nabeel didn’t do brilliantly; I found him forceful and persuasive and in a unique position to argue his case, having converted to Christianity from Islam.) If any Muslim were to suggest to me that we worship the same God I would instantly leap to this point – because I do worship Jesus as God, and this is important to me! It’s even through him that I understand the rest of God; my understanding of God is Christ-shaped. (You may have gathered by now that I am fixed firmly in the ‘no’ camp. For this and other reasons.)
- A different way of thinking about the question comes from Bible translation on the mission field. Some Bible translation societies translating Scripture into the language of predominantly-muslim countries are translating the words for ‘God’ (‘El’ in Hebrew, ‘Theos’ in Greek) as ‘Allah’, for reasons which must be obvious – they want Muslims to be able to make the cross to reading the Bible. The problem is that the name ‘Allah’ is bound up with all that they will understand from the Qur’an. It’s certainly not as simple as saying that ‘Allah’ simply means ‘God’; if Jay Smith is correct, Allah is the name of an Arabian deity found in literature from pre-7th century (i.e. before the Qur’an is said to have been written); a deity with a wife, no less. Anyway, this might have been an interesting way to view the question – should Bible translators in Muslim-predominant nations translate ‘God’ as ‘Allah’, or something else?
Thanks as always to Justin Brierley for a great show.