I wrote this initially as a message for the Jr. High School students at my local church. In California, students in the public school system begin learning about Islam as part of their history curriculum. The textbooks used most frequently in public schools tend to cast Islam in glowing terms, often glossing over intentionally some of the more unfavorable aspects of it. For a good analysis, read the report by the American Textbook Council on Islam in the Classroom.
One frequent opinion voiced by educators and politicians alike is the idea that the God that Muslims worship is the same as the God of the Bible. Even former President George Bush said so. But is this so? The answer to this question is the subject of the following.
The Description of God
We can learn about the difference between the God of Christianity and Allah of Islam by examining the description given each in the Bible and The Qur'an respectively.
Trinity or Absolute Unity
The views of God in Islam and Christianity differ in how they describe God. This is our first clue that the God of Christianity and Islam are not the same God.
Christianity: Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
In Christianity when we speak of God, we speak about the triune Godhead: that God is one God, but composed of three persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, possesses all the attributes of God: Eternal, all powerful, omniscient (everywhere all the time), has emotions (can be grieved), and so on. We call our understanding of God with the word "trinity" which comes from two words: Tri-Unity, Three-in-one.
Even though the Bible never uses the word "trinity" anywhere, we can see many examples of this tri-une God in the Bible:
- Matthew 28:19 - Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
- 1 Cor. 12:4-6 - There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
- 2 Cor. 13:14 - The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
- Eph. 4:4-6 - There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Because God is triune in nature, we can better understand where "Love" comes from. We love others because we are made in God's image. Therefore, God also must love others. God cannot give us something he does not possess himself.
- 1 John 4:8b - "God is love."
God has always been "love" and has always been able to demonstrate love, for eternity. God the Father in a loving relationship with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in eternal loving communion with both God the Father and God the Son. Love is one of God's eternal attributes because the trinity allows for the existence of "Love."
Islam: Absolute Unity
Muslims understand God (Allah) as absolutely single. He has no partners (as the Christian Trinity). In fact, the Qur'an is very clear that anyone who says God is anything but a single entity is guilty of blasphemy.
- Sura 4:171 - "O People of the Book, do not exaggerate in your religion and do not speak against Allah and his word, which he cast to Mary ... and do not say "Three." Cease. It will be better for you. Sure Allah is only one god."
- Sura 112: Say, "He is Allah the one. Allah is absolute. He does not birth, neither was he birthed, and there is no equal to him."
This presents a problem for Islam, though. Muslims believe God created mankind, and gave mankind all the attributes that make us human. But how can Allah have the attribute of love if he is an absolutely singular god? Before we were created, who did Allah love?
Love requires at least two people: a lover, and an object of the lover's love. But if Allah was alone by himself in eternity before creation, who did he love?
The trinity of Christianity helps us make sense of who we are, since we love. Muslims also claim the ability to love, but where do they get that from? They can't get it from Allah, because Allah cannot be defined as "love."
We are talking about two different Gods.
Knowable or Unknowable
The next attribute we need to look at is whether God can be known, or whether it is impossible to know God.
The Christian God YHWH is certainly knowable. God has always been at work reaching out to us, his creation. Even beginning in the Garden of Eden, we see God at work wanting to "know" Adam and Eve, reaching out to them in relationship:
- Gen. 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?
Throughout the Bible, God makes appearances from time to time, allowing us to get to know Him. The ultimate expression of God wanting us to know him was in Jesus.
- John 10:37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."
- John 14:7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.* From now on you do know him and have seen him."
- John 14:8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?
The God of Christianity wants to be known and has attempted through all history to find ways to make Himself known to man.
In Islam, Allah cannot be known at all. Allah never comes to earth as God did in Genesis 3 and a number of other places in the Old Testament (think of Moses leading the people out of Egypt, guiding them as a pillar of clouds by day and a pillar of fire at night).
The inability to not know Allah in Islam is called transcendence, which means Allah is so far away from his creation that it is impossible to know him. A famous Islamic scholar by the name of Al-Ghazali said that Muslims who try to know Allah end up understanding that he cannot be know him, and that it is absolutely impossible to know Allah.
SO, the God of the Bible can be known and goes out of the way to make himself known to man, even to the point of becoming a man himself so that we might know him. The god of Islam does not make himself known, and Islamic scholars admit Allah cannot be known. So, the God of the Bible and Allah of Islam are not the same God.
Relational or Not
What can we learn about how the God of the Bible and the god of the Qur'an relate to people? When we understand Allah's relationship with his creation and mankind, is this the same God we see in the Bible?
Look again at Genesis 3:8-9. After Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible tells us that they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, and God called out to Adam and Eve and said, "Where are you?" Why did God do this? Was it because He didn't know where they were? No, it was because a relationship was broken when Adam and Eve sinned against God. God was giving Adam and Eve a chance to respond, a chance to restore the broken relationship.
Throughout the Bible, God shows that He desires a relationship with us. We are called God's children, and God is called our Father. We are even encouraged to call Him a name, Abba, which is a loving name similar to "Daddy."
- Rom. 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
Islam: Not Relational
The god of Islam, Allah, is not a relational being. In fact, we just looked at how Islam teaches that Allah is unknowable. If you can't know someone, certainly you can't have a relationship with that person.
Nowhere is the relationship of Allah to Muslims described as like a father to a child. In Islam, the relationship is more like that of a Master to a slave. In fact, that's what Islam means: to submit as a master to a slave, and a Muslim is one who submits. In Islam, the relationship is a one-way street: Allah says, and a Muslim does. One of the most common names for Muslim men and boys is Abdullah, which literally means "slave of God."
The Character of God
We will look at three descriptions of God and Allah to see if these descriptions of character are the same for both: Goodness, Love, and Justice.
Good or Evil?
When we ask whether God and Allah are good or evil, we see a real difference between the two.
Christianity: Perfectly Good
The God of the Bible demonstrates perfect goodness. Everything God does is good; nothing God does is evil. Even when God created the earth, he called it good:
- Gen 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
- Psa. 31:19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
- Zech. 9:17 For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!
There are over 400 verses in the Bible where God condemns evil: evil people, evil judges, evil thoughts, and so on. God is perfectly good and cannot allow evil to go unpunished. In fact, this is what brought the flood of Noah's day.
- Gen. 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
- Hab. 1:13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong
- Psa. 5:4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.
God hates evil and will never participate in creating or inventing evil. Evil comes only from man's disobedience to God.
Islam: Good and evil both
Allah is responsible for the presence of both good and evil.
- Sura 4:78: If some good befalls them, they say, "This is from Allah"; but if evil, they say, "This is from thee" (O Prophet). Say: "All things are from Allah.
In the following verses from the Quran, the word translated "scheme" comes from a word that literally means " an act of deception aiming at causing evil."
- Sura 3:54 - And (the unbelievers) schemed and planned, and Allah schemed also, and the best of schemers is Allah.
- Sura 8:30 - Remember how the unbelievers schemed against thee, to keep thee in bonds, or to slay thee, or get thee out (of thy home). They scheme and plot, but the best of schemers is Allah.
So the god of Islam plans evil and actually uses it to his advantage. The God of the Bible hates evil and can never participate in it. They are two different people.
Love: Unconditional or Conditional?
When we look at the issue of love, we see quite a contrast between God and Allah.
God's love is unconditional. There is nothing we can do to earn it, nor do we deserve it. He loves us in spite of anything we do to offend Him. God is described in the Bible as "love" and this is one of his eternal attributes.
- 1 John 4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
- 1John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
- Jer. 31:3 I have loved you with an everlasting love;
- John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son.
When we look at Allah, the god of Islam, we see something entirely different.
In the Quran, Allah is called "The Loving One" twice, in Sura 11:90 and 85:14. But this title does not mean Allah is love in the same sense as 1 John 4:8 in the Bible speaks of God. A famous Islamic scholar explains this love as consisting solely of objective acts of kindness and expressions of approval. He denies that there is any subjectivity in the love of God, that is, that God feels any love in his own heart towards mankind.
In many places in the Quran we find Allah's love is conditional. Muslims have to do something to earn the love of Allah, he does not love unless that love is earned. Those who do not earn Allah's love, he is said to hate.
- Sura 2:195 - surely Allah loves the doers of good
- Sura 2:222 - For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean
- Sura 3:76 - surely Allah loves those who guard (against evil).
- Sura 3:146 - And Allah loves those who are firm and steadfast
- Sura 3:159 - For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).
- Sura 5:13 - Allah loves those who are kind.
In other places, we find Allah does not love certain people.
- Sura 28:77 for Allah loves not those who do mischief."
- Sura 30:45 For He loves not those who reject Faith.
So we see that the love of Allah is not the same as the love of God of the Bible. They are not the same God.
Just or Unjust?
What does it mean to be "just?" Just like a judge must pronounce judgment on a criminal (murderer, thief, etc), so God must pronounce judgment on people who disobey Him.
The Bible shows us that God's justice is perfect.
- 1Pet. 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God,
- 2Pet. 3:9 The Lord is ... not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
- 2Cor. 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
God made a way for us to escape the punishment for our sins. Jesus himself died on the cross to take the punishment for us, and we can escape God's judgment by trusting in Jesus and making Him Lord of our life. This is God's perfect justice - that He himself would become a man to pay the penalty for our sins.
Allah is unjust.
- Sura 4:119--"I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires;"
- Sura 18:17-"Such are among the Signs of Allah: He whom Allah guides is rightly guided; but he whom Allah leaves to stray- for him wilt thou find no protector to lead him to the Right Way."
- Sura 14:3 - "Then Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will."
- Sura 4:88 - "For those whom Allah has thrown aside and led astray, never shall they find the Way."
- Sura 4:142 - "... Those who Allah causes to go astray and err will not find a way."
On the day of judgment, Muslims believe their good deeds will be weighed on a scale with their bad deeds. If the good outweighs the bad, they might go to heaven.
But here is the problem: If their bad deeds are heavier, they will face punishment in hell. But as we see in the verses above, it is Allah who causes them to do bad things. So how can Allah punish them for doing the bad things that he causes them to do? This is not justice.
Our Relationship With God
Finally, let's take a look at our relationship with God and the Muslim relationship with Allah. We touched on this briefly above, but another look is in order.
Christian Relationship with God
Relationship with God in Christianity looks very familiar, because it's the same relationships we have in our families.
Those who have accepted Jesus as savior are said to be children of God. This implies a very special relationship with God, like our relationship with our father or mother.
- John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God
- Rom. 8:16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God
- 1 John 3:1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!
A father's or mother's love toward his or her children is one that nothing else can compare to. A father or mother would do anything at all for his or her child, even to the point of sacrificing their life to save the life of the child. That's exactly what we find in the Bible: God sacrificing himself for us because He loves us so much.
Relational in Our Families Reflects God's Relational Nature
Our family relationship follows a pattern set by God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We love one another in our families because we are made in the image of God, and one of God's attributes is love. Since God is love, and we are made in His image, we also have the capacity to love, and we do.
Muslim Relationship with Allah
The relationship of a Muslim with Allah looks very foreign to us if we think in terms of our family structure.
Muslims are described in the Quran as merely slaves or servants.
- Sura 51:56 "I have only created men that they might serve me."
- Sura 49:13 "The most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you."
Being righteous entails doing what Allah commands, just as an obedient slave would do.
We already mentioned that Islam itself means "to submit" to Allah and be obedient, and a Muslim by definition is "one who submits" and does what Allah commands.
Allah says, and a Muslim does. That is the picture of relationship in Islam. There is no understanding of love or true relationship.
Relational in Families Also, but This is Not Allah's Nature
In spite of the relationship between Allah and Muslims as master and slave, Muslim families recognize they are relational and loving. Fathers love wives and children, not as slaves, but as flesh and blood offspring. They recognize a love where a mother would be willing to lay down her life for her child. Yet this idea of relationship cannot be found in the Quran. It is found only in the Bible. Muslims are borrowing a model of relationship they have no right borrowing, but they do so because they recognize that we are relational people. And we are relational because God is relational. Allah is not.
The god of Islam, Allah, is not the same person as the God of the Bible, YHWH.
- YHWH is a trinity, Allah is absolutely one.
- YHWH can be known and seeks to be known. Allah is unknowable.
- YHWH is a relational God and seek relationship with us. Allah does not.
- YHWH is perfectly good and is never responsible for evil. Allah causes evil along with good.
- The love of YHWH is unconditional; we cannot earn it. Allah's love requires a Muslim to earn it.
- YHWH is perfectly just. Allah is unjust because he punishes people for the sins he causes them to commit.
- The relationships we experience in our families reflects the relationship with have with God, and the relationship the triune God has with himself. The relationship Muslim families also experience does not reflect the relationship with Allah.