Magazine article The Christian Century

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Article excerpt

In late 2003 President Bush said, in response to a reporter's question, that he believed Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." The remark sparked criticism from some Christians, who thought Bush was being politically correct but theologically inaccurate. For example, Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals, said, "The Christian God encourages freedom, love, forgiveness, prosperity and health. The Muslim god appears to value the opposite."

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same Cod? The question raises a fundamental issue in interfaith discussion, especially for monotheists. We asked several scholars to consider the question. J. Dudley Woodberry's article is the third in a series.

IN COMPARING Muslim and Christian beliefs it is helpful to distinguish between 1) the Being to whom we refer and 2) what we understand about the character and actions of that Being in the two faiths. As monotheists we both refer to the One and only Creator God, but what we understand about the character and actions of God are significantly different.

As to the One to whom we refer: when the Qur'an speaks of God, it means the One Creator God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob (2:136). To the Jews and Christians the Qur'an says, "We believe in the revelation that has come down to us and that which came down to you; our Cod and your God are One, and it is to Him that we bow" (29:46). Furthermore, it adopted the name for God ("Allah") that Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews used and still use.

Muslims such as the late Isma'il al-Fariqi say that in Islam God reveals only his will, not himself. Christians, on the other hand, believe that God desires to reveal himself, and would contend that the fact that humans are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), even if fallen, provides some basis for some understanding of his character. The Qur'an does not state that humans are created in the image of God, although later traditions attributed to Muhammad (hadith) do. The Qur'an instead says "nothing is like him" (42:11), and he speaks "from behind a veil" (42:51).

"The most beautiful names of God" that appear in Muslim devotion have been used by Muslim theologians to express God's attributes even though they are more expressions of praise than doctrinal statements. But those names can provide windows to allow some comparison of Muslim and Christian understandings of the character and actions of God.

When we look at similar descriptions in the two faiths, we see that they are not always as similar as they may at first appear. While both scriptures affirm that God is One (Qur'an 112:1; Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29), they do not agree on how that unity is expressed. Both traditions consider God to be transcendent above his creation (Qur'an 42:11; Isa. 6:1). The Qur'an expresses God's immanence by saying that God is "the Lord of the heavens and the earth" (19:65) and nearer to people than their jugular vein (50:16). Yet outside of Sufi mysticism the closeness of God to humans is not developed in Islam. By contrast, in the Gospels the incarnation of Jesus the Christ is understood as "Emmanuel ... God is with us" (Matt. 1:23). This, of course, has implications for bow God guides (Qur'an 22:54; Ps. …

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