Is the Allah of the Quran the same as the God of the Bible?
This morning we’re going to hit pause on our chronological journey through the gospel books in order to learn a little bit more about the Muslim people group that we have been praying for. Over the past several Sundays we’ve made available a few different handouts: a quick fact sheet on Islam; and an article that challenges Christians to see Muslims not as terrorists, but as neighbors we are commanded to love; and then another article that gives the story of a former Muslim from Turkey that came to know the Lord through reading the Bible who now has made it his life mission to see other Muslims come to know Jesus. Our fact sheet outlined the five basic tenants of Islam and upon examining the five tenants, one might conclude that perhaps Muslims aren’t too far off from what we as Christians believe. The 1st tenant is to profess belief in only one god- Allah- and that Mohammad is his prophet. Christians too believe in one God and that He communicates through prophets. The 2nd is to pray five times a day- which is commendable in that perhaps that is more often than many Christians set aside time to pray. The 3rd tenant is to fast during the month of Ramadan, again commendable in that fasting is a Biblical principle. The 4th tenant of Islam is to give money to the poor, also a concept presented throughout the Bible. And lastly, the 5th tenant is to make a trip, a pilgrimage, to the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. While Christians don’t feel it necessary to make a trip to Israel in order to follow Jesus, many Christians do make a pilgrimage to the holy land and feel it has a significant influence on their faith. These five basic tenants, or pillars as they are called in Islam, definitely don’t seem to convey extremism by any means, but they also don’t speak very much to what Muslims really believe. And this morning I want to share a little bit more of what they believe, through asking the question “Is the Allah of the Quran the same as the God of the Bible?”
First of all, why should Christians be concerned with asking and answering this question? As I have mentioned before, a simple search on the internet will reveal that many believe Islam to be one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Also, wars and great acts of terror have taken place and are currently taking place under the banner of Islam. And yet, Muslims around the world are turning to Jesus in numbers never seen before in Islam’s existence. In this landscape, it is imperative that Christians today should be educated concerning the basics of Islam, and should be able to discern between the Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible. There are those who have claimed that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all share the same God. Others reject this idea completely, stating that Allah specifically references the God of Islam and that the terms Allah and God are not interchangeable. We as Christians need to be educated in order to properly understand and engage with the rapidly growing worldwide Muslim population.
In asking the question “Is the Allah of the Quran the same as the God of the Bible?” there have been primarily three different responses. The first response I’d like to present to you is from those who have attempted to find common ground between Christians and Muslims who have responded to this question with an answer of “Yes”, they are the same. Those that hold to this view would argue that Christians themselves claim to worship the same God of the Jews, but concerning Jesus, Christians would say that they have a deeper understanding than the Jews- of God, His character, and His salvific purposes- because of Christianity’s acceptance of Jesus. In similar fashion, perhaps Muslims worship the same God as Christians, but Christians have a deeper understanding of God than Muslims, again because of Christianity’s doctrine concerning Jesus. In continuing this line of thinking, one could say that Jews, Muslims and Christians all share the same God, but that Jews and Muslims both have a distorted view of God because they both deny God as trinity- Father God, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The concept of the trinity is denied by Jews because they do not recognize Jesus as God Himself in the flesh, nor do they see Him as the Messiah, nor do they even see Him as being a prophet of God. Muslims on the other hand recognize Jesus as a great prophet sent from God, yet they deny the triune nature of God, misunderstanding that fact that Christians profess belief in only one God, but one God who functions in three separate, yet united and equal persons.
Concerning God’s character and who He is described to be, there are many points in which the Quran agrees with the Bible. Both books describe God as the Creator and Judge of the world. The Quran also describes God as “Most Gracious, Most Merciful”. He is the “One and Only,” the “Eternal,” and “there is none like unto Him.” The Bible as well describes God under such terms. The Bible states “Gracious is the LORD” (Ps. 116:5), and that He is “rich in mercy.” (Eph. 2:4) Psalm 86:5 describes God as “good” and “ready to forgive.” Concerning God’s “oneness” God declared to His people “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut. 6:4) Jesus Himself said that He and the Father were one. (John 10:30) Moses described God as the “eternal God” (Deut. 33:27) and Isaiah described Him as the “Everlasting God.” (Is. 40:28) In Isaiah 45:5 God declares of Himself “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God.” These are all descriptions of God in which the Quran and the Bible are very much in agreement with each other.
In fact, the Quran and the Bible are even in agreement concerning many of God’s prophets- including Noah, Jonah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Lot, David, Solomon, Elisha, Job, Zechariah, John, and Jesus. Not only is there agreement on God’s attributes and His Prophets, but the Quran specifically states that Allah established for the Arabs the “same religion enjoined on Noah, on Abraham, on Moses, and on Jesus.” So, even the Quran itself attempts to make the case for the sameness of Allah and God. The Quran even agrees with the Bible concerning the virgin birth of Jesus. With so much in common, it is very easy to see why many would come very quickly to the conclusion that the Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible are in essence the same being. Kenneth Cragg, a Muslim-Christian relations scholar, states that “Since both Christians and Muslim faiths believe in One supreme sovereign Creator-God, they are obviously referring when they speak of Him, under whatever terms, to the same Being. To suppose otherwise would be confusing.”
While the Quran and the Bible agree concerning much of the characteristics of the supreme being, and even share a few similarities concerning revelation through the prophets and Jesus’s virgin birth; there are some very critical points in which the Allah of the Quran conflicts with the God of the Bible, and thus would lead one to answer “No” to the question of sameness. The Quran teaches that Christians are going to hell because Christians elevate the prophet Jesus to the level of God, and yet the teaching of the Bible is that no one comes to God the Father except through Jesus. (John 14:6) The Quran portrays Allah as a distant, cold judge who hates the unbeliever. This portrayal of God comes in direct conflict with the Bible’s portrayal of “God is love” (1 John 4:8b) and “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16a)
Not only is the Quran in conflict with the Bible concerning Jesus’s divinity and God’s love for mankind, but the Quran conflicts with itself concerning who Allah is. Irshad Manji, a Muslim who in his book entitled “The Trouble with Islam”, states that the Quran is “contradictory and ambiguous.” For example, the Quran states that “no change can there be in the Words of Allah.” Yet, in the Quran during the beginning of Mohammed’s ministry, the Muslims are instructed to have tolerance towards those of other faiths; but later Muslims are urged to slay the “idolaters” wherever they may be found. Because of contradictions like this, Islam has become very divided, with some sects promoting peace, and others seeking to destroy those who do not claim Islam as their religion.
In the book “Answering Islam” Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb mention another way in which the Quran seems to contradict itself. Though the Quran offers many descriptive names of Allah [many of which agree with the Bible], Geisler and Saleeb contend that the Quran promotes “a God who is basically unknowable.” He is described with certain names, yet those names do not always correspond with the way in which He acts. They suggest that the Allah of the Quran can only be seen through the lens of how He willed to act, and that His actions do not necessarily reflect His character. In contrast, a very major theme throughout the Bible is God’s consistent desire for Himself to be made known to mankind. In speaking to His people through the prophet Jeremiah, God says “Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things.” (Jer. 9:24) According to the God of the Bible, not only does God want to be known, but He desires mankind to aid in making Him known. Paul expresses his thanks for this attribute of God in 2 Corinthians 2:14, he says “But thanks be to God, who… manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”
The Quran not only presents Allah as unknowable, but as I already mentioned it denies Jesus’s divinity and declares Christianity’s confession of a triune God as blasphemous. Denying the divinity of Jesus conflicts directly with Christianity’s core belief that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one, and that God is made known to mankind by the revelation of Himself through Jesus. Jesus states in John 14:7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” So, the Bible contends that God wants to be known and that ultimately God made Himself known through Jesus. Islam also denies Jesus’s death on the cross, stating that it “was made to appear” that Jesus was killed. Muslims believe that God would never allow one of His prophets to suffer such a tragic death. The very heart of Christianity is attacked through this particular Islamic viewpoint. Through Jesus’s death on the cross, God demonstrated His love, grace, and mercy for mankind. In stating that Jesus did not die on the cross, the Quran attempts to tear away from the very core and foundation of Christianity. Without Jesus’s death and resurrection, we as Christians have no hope of forgiveness and eternal life. The Quran and the Bible may agree that God is “Gracious and Merciful,” but in stating that Jesus did not die on the cross, the Quran dismisses the Bible’s biggest example of how God’s grace and mercy has been displayed to mankind.
The Quran also portrays itself as the last and final word concerning God, with Mohammed being the last and best prophet of God. The Quran is seen by Muslims as the book that supersedes the Old and the New Testament. In contrast, Jesus states in the Bible that He came not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 5:17) In stating this, Jesus did not annul the Old Testament, but rather completed and finished its meaning. The book of Hebrews states that God spoke “long ago to the fathers in the prophets” but “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” (Heb. 1:1-2) In this verse, the Bible claims that the last word for these last days has been given to us by Jesus. Because of this, evangelical Christians do not recognize the authority of any other scriptures beyond the Old and New Testament. Because of these great contrasts, there are many that would answer our question of the day with a resounding “No”, the Allah of the Quran is not the same as the God of the Bible.
There is a third response that I would like to propose to you, and that is not a simple “Yes”, nor a simple “No”, but a “Yes AND No”. Theologian Dr. Timothy George proposed a similar question stated as “Is the God of Mohammad the Father of Jesus?”, and his response was “Yes in the sense that the Father of Jesus is the only God there is. He is the Creator and Sovereign Lord of Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, of every person who has ever lived. He is the one before whom all shall one day bow. Christians and Muslims can together affirm many important truths about this great God- his oneness, eternity, power, majesty. As the Quran puts it, he is ‘the Living, the Everlasting, the All-High, the All-Glorious.’ But the answer is also No, for Muslim theology rejects the divinity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit- both essential components of the Christian understanding of God. Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity, it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.”
Taking the time to adequately describe the ways in which Allah and God are the same, and in what ways they are different through a “Yes and No” answer is by far the best way to approach comparing Allah and God. In answering “Yes” and detailing out the “Yes” points, Muslims and Christians can find a starting point of common ground in which to enter into conversations with each other. In answering “No” and detailing out the “No” points, beautiful qualities of God lacking in the Quran can be displayed through His revelation of Jesus. Hope can be given to the Muslim people that God indeed loves them, has a plan for them, wants them to know Him, and wants them to be in a right relationship with Him that leads to eternal life. But both of these answers must be presented together. Attempting to answer the question of sameness with just a “Yes” or a “No” gives a very incomplete answer in comparing Allah presented by the Quran and God presented by the Bible.
In conversations between Muslims and Christians, Christians must realize the subject of Allah and God is one that must be handled very delicately. In the Arabic language, God is referred to as “Allah” by both Muslims and Christians. But Arab Christians are very clear in their expression of who that being is, what that being does, and how that being reveals Himself to mankind.
If we as Christians can understand the ways in which Allah and God are the same and in which ways they are different, we will be able to engage in dialogue with Muslims in a knowledgeable and meaningful way. Conversations will begin on common ground, celebrating together God’s grace and mercy. Common Biblical and Quranic stories can be shared through which a bridge to Jesus can be built. Jesus can be highlighted as being different and set apart by His unique virgin birth. These commonalities will build the rapport needed in order for Muslims to allow Christians to express further their Biblical perspective of God. Christians must establish this firm base with Muslims before moving forward. Because Muslims very firmly defend God’s “oneness”, talk of the Trinity must be handled very delicately. This is a concept that might take much time and help from the Holy Spirit in order to address. Before delving deeply into the concept of the Trinity, the commonalities of Allah and God must first be addressed, and from there Christians can build a bridge upon agreed characteristics such as grace and mercy, leading into the explanation of the way in which God has most powerfully displayed that grace and mercy to sinful mankind- through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus.
Jesus is the One who split history in half, the One who was with God and was God from the very beginning (John 1:1, 2 Tim. 1:9), the One whom all the Bible is pointing to. Determining who He is, what He did, and what He says to do- are some of the most important concepts for one to seek to understand in this life. He made some very bold claims of Himself, claims to which we must all decide how we will respond. It’s my prayer that we as a church would take very seriously the claims of Christ, and that we would grow to know, love, and trust Him more and more, seeking to make Him the number one priority in our lives. He is the One who we will each face at the end of our lives on earth. He is the One Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, New Agers- all religions of the world- will all one day face. What will you choose to do with Him?