Jesus And Allah: Do Christians And Muslims Worship The Same God?

Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of political science, who studies and teaches courses on the intersection of religion and politics at a leading evangelical college in the USA, has created controversy in two ways: first, by wearing the Muslim hijab, as a sign of the common humanity shared by Muslims and Christians and second, by asserting that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. We may affirm the common humanity and dignity as (fallen) image bearers while doubting the wisdom of a Christian wearing the hijab. The act of taking the hijab, though well intended, is likely to be interpreted rather differently by Muslims—as an act of submission to Allah as they understand him—than as intended by Christians. Perhaps more fundamental, however, is the assertion that Christians worship the same God as Muslims.

The claim, as she has explained more fully, rests upon an editorial by noted Yale theologian, Miraslov Volf, published in the Huffington Post. His argument rests on two foundations. First, the ambiguity—some might say equivocation—over the Arabic name for God: Allah. It is true that both Christians and Muslims use this name for God. We might add that in the English translation of the Qur’an the name Allah is translated with the English word God. His second ground is that there is a tradition of Christians (he cites Nicolas of Cusa) teaching that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

To the first we may reply by saying that Platonists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews and Christians use the same generic word for God but we hardly mean the same thing by it. It is difficult to see how this argument proves anything other than the ability to equivocate is alive and well.

To the second, assuming for the sake of discussion that Volf’s contention is correct, it is still true one Nicolas is a complex figure in the history of medieval theology and not exactly representative of the mainstream of medieval thought in a variety of ways. It is certainly the case that Protestant Reformers rejected the notion that Allah, as understood in Islam is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or the God and Father of our Lord Jesus.

As we dialogue with representatives of other faiths, we should do our best to represent their views faithfully. The Qur’an itself explicitly rejects the biblical and historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity and it denies the deity of Christ:

People of the Book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God. His word directed to Mary, and a spirit from him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of ‘Trinity’— stop [this], it is better for —God is only one God, He is far above having a son, everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him and He is the one to trust. The Messiah would never disdain to be a servant of God, nor would the angels who are close to him. He will gather before him all those who disdain His worship and are arrogant: To those who believe and do good works he will give due rewards and more of his bounty; to those who are disdainful and arrogant he will give an agonizing torment, and they will find no one besides God to protect or help them (4.171–75).1

We are not doing justice to the explicit intent and teaching of the Qur’an and the Hadiths (traditions) of Islam to blur the differences that Islam itself teaches. The Qur’an says “those who say,’God is the Messiah, the son of Mary,’ have defied God…. Those people who say that God is the third of three are defying [the truth]: there is only one God. If they do not stop what they are saying, a painful punishment will afflict those of them who persist…. The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger….”2

Not only does Islam deny the deity of Christ and reduce him to an inferior precursor of Mohammad, it denies that he died on the cross—Muslims hold either the swoon theory or assert the Simon the Cyrene was crucified in Jesus’ place. Therefore, they deny the resurrection. In other words, as we consider the basic articles of the holy catholic (universal) faith as summarized in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381) and the Apostles’ Creed, Islam rejects the core message of the Christian faith. When Muslims say Allah, they are not thinking of nor are they addressing the Triune God progressively revealed in Scripture. They are not approaching him through the mediation of Jesus, the only way to God (John 14:6), nor are they present themselves on the basis of the righteousness of Christ imputed. These are not minor differences.

Both Hawkins and Volf are seeking for common ground for the sake of civil peace. All Americans live in a post-9/11 world. Volf is shaped by is experience of the Serb-Croation conflict. We need not flatten out the sharp differences between the Christian faith and Islam in order to seek civil peace. Here again we see how helpful it would be to distinguish the two spheres in God’s twofold kingdom. Christians ought to continue to insist graciously on the clear differences between Christians and Muslims in order that we might speak to them the truth that God is just, we are all sinners, that there is a Savior, and that he was raised on the third day for all those who trust him for salvation. We shall find civil peace when Islam confronts the Islamist ideology within and rejects violent Jihad as a path to producing submission to Allah. The ground of our common life together is not the painting over of clear religious differences but creation and the universal, natural revelation of God’s law revealed in it and accessible to all humans.

NOTES

1. The Qur’an, trans. M. A. A. Abdel Haleem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 106.
2. Ibid., 5.72, 73, 75 (p. 121).

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


9 comments

  1. “His second ground is that there is a tradition of Christians (he cites Nicolas of Cusa) teaching that Christians and Muslims.” I believe you left off something, Dr. Clark!

    From a historical perspective, what do you think of the idea of Islam being a Christian heresy?

    • Thank you Scott. Corrected.

      Yes, in a sense, insofar as the prophet was synthesizing a number of sources, from a fragmentary knowledge of sources, insofar as he was claiming a new, superior revelation (like Joseph Smith), then like Mormonism, it is, in part, a heresy (i.e., a divisive corruption) of the Christian faith.

  2. Another thing to consider is that not all women who claim to be Muslim wear a hijab. So it’s odd to watch a “Christian” wear something that some Muslims refuse to wear.

    I always like to go to Jesus and the women at the well. Jesus was clear to her that Samaritan worship was wrong and that Jews had the correct worship.

    Even if one were to assume for the sake of argument that worship is being directed to the same God, we know with certainty that God detests worship from all non-Christian religions. He even killed Nadab and Abihu, His own priests, for offering strange fire. So if He isn’t content with His people altering His commands on worship, there is no way non-Christians are escaping his wrath due to their false worship, nor should we give them the impression that their worship is worthy of honor.

    We have a history of calling Rome’s worship blasphemous and idolatrous, so Islam is definitely not getting a pass.

    Concerning Nicholas of Cusa, isn’t this a perfect example of how individual theologians don’t speak for a church or entire tradition unless they have the backing of their church? Churches speak as corporate bodies in formal declarations called creeds and confession, and not as individuals.

  3. Great article. It’s not just Hawkins and Volf who affirms this either. This is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium chapter 16 speaks of Muslims “who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God”. It’s an incredible argument, for any type of Christian, to make.

    • Which was precisely the argument of the Reformation. Rome was not a Christian church, if not that it was the western antiChrist, even as Mohammed/Islam was the eastern antiChrist.

  4. Volf appeals to the idea that Jews and Christians worship the same God. Even though some devoted Zionists are comfortable with not evangelizing Jews, my guess is that even most Dispensationalists do not believe that Jews and Christians worship the same God. But nobody running for political office is attempting to restrict the immigration of Jews.

    Lutheran Todd Wilkin ( Issues) —The problem with the Jews was NOT that they “merely” rejected Jesus while retaining the worship of the true God (which is impossible). The problem is that they rejected Jesus precisely BECAUSE they reject the true faith of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus says to them, If you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me (John 5:46). There is no worship of the true God apart from faith in Jesus. Jews and Christians do not worship the same God. This is not hyperbole, this is cold, hard Biblical fact. With respect to Jesus, modern day Jews are little different than their New Testament counterparts. They reject him. However, as was also the case in the New Testament, when a Jew is brought to faith in Jesus, he is returned to the faith of the Old (and New) Testament and to worship of the true God.

    http://www.issuesetcarchive.org/issues_site/resource/archives/jewschrst.htm

  5. Dr. Clark, in your reply to Scott Roper, did you call Muhammad ibn Abdallah “the prophet”? Given the points you made about the differences between Christian and Muslim views of God, is it possible to call Muhammad a “prophet”?

    • Peter,

      For two reasons:

      1. I want to be respectful. Muslims are not generally knowledgeable about Christianity and should a Muslim find himself here he might not be able to get past any other form of address. I think it’s clear that I do not actually regard him as a prophet in the biblical sense of the word.

      2. Charlie Hebdo and Theo van Gogh.

    • Dr Clark,
      Isn’t your No 2 (“Charlie Hebdo and Theo van Gogh”) a warning to Peter that his very asking of that question on HB means he needs to watch his back (for what good THAT will do!)?

Comments are closed.