Series 9 - Comparisons Between Islam and Christianity
Who is Allah in Islam?
II. Allah in the Light of the Christian Faith
Islam has recovered much ground and expanded in the last ten years, making a substantial thrust into the cultures of Christianity, Hinduism, communism and the African cults. When we, as Christians, meet Muslims and try to understand them, we should not forget that many of them are genuine worshippers, who serve their God with dedication within the limitation of their religion. A Christian should not despise their deep aspirations, but should love and respect every Muslim who sincerely worships Allah.
This, however, does not absolve us of the obligation to seek the truth about Islam. Our respect for Muslims leads us to a pertinent comparison of the Qur'an with the New Testament, which is for us the only standard of truth. If one compares the 99 names of Allah in Islam with the names of God in the Bible, one must acknowledge that the Allah of the Muslims is not in harmony with our God. Therefore, if a Muslim says, “Your God and our God is the same,“ either he does not understand who Allah and Christ really are, or he intentionally glosses over the deeply rooted differences.
1. Allah -- No Trinity
It is unthinkable and impossible for a Muslim to believe in the existence of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the New Testaments sense. Whoever says that God has a partner, companion or an equal God beside him will, from an Islamic point of view, fall into an unforgivable sin (like the sin against the Holy Spirit in Christianity). Consequently, the Islamic confession of faith declares not just the uniqueness of Allah but at the same time firmly rejects the deity of Christ and the deity of the Holy Spirit.
In the Arabic language, the name Allah is a study in itself. The word can be understood as a sentence: al-El-hu. “El“ is an old Semitic name for God meaning “the strong and mighty One“. The Islamic name, Allah, corresponds to the Hebrew name Elohim, which can also be understood as a statement: al-El-hum. Although the Hebrew name Elohim contains the possibility of a plural (hum), the name of Allah (hu) can only be singular. Thus, Allah in Islam is always only one and never a unity of three, even if such a unity was complete in itself. When Christians claim that their Trinity does not mean three different, separated persons, but a unity in a Trinity, Muslims must repudiate this concept. For them Allah is never a triune God, but one person alone.
2. Allah -- No Father
In conversations with Muslims and Jews it is important that we scrutinize anew statements of Jesus in the New Testament concerning the name Father for God. We find this name mentioned at least 164 times in the gospels. So we can speak in terms of a “theological revolution“ that Jesus brought about in answer to the rigid Semitic belief in one God. Christ did not preach about a distant, mighty, unfamiliar God whom no one can know or comprehend, nor did he teach us to have cringing and trembling fear before him as the unapproachable holy Judge. Instead he gently moved the veil from before the God of the Old Testament and revealed him to us as he really is -- the Father. He did not teach us to pray to Elohim, Yahweh, Jehovah, the Lord almighty or to the holy Trinity, but placed on our lips the loving name -- our Father. Christ thus shared his own privilege with us, the unworthy ones. Through him we have become children of God, a relationship which Muhammad emphatically rejects (Sura al-Ma'ida 5:18).
Anyone who takes the time to check the context of the occasions when Christ used the name “God“ and compares it with the occasions when he used the name “Father“ will be in for a surprise. When Jesus spoke to outsiders, demons or his enemies, he spoke of the hidden God, the great and powerful Lord, by whom all creatures were created. But when Jesus prayed or talked in the intimate circle of his followers, he revealed to them the innermost secret of God -- his Fatherhood. For this claim Jesus was convicted of blasphemy when the high priest Caiaphas asked him, “I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God“ (Matthew 26:63). Caiaphas was unable and unwilling to name God “Father“ because to the Jews it would have been slanderous talk. Therefore, he asked Jesus if he considered himself to be the “Son of God“, implying the Fatherhood of God. Christ confirmed the validity of his confession. His first words on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.“ But as the Father veiled his face in his function as a punishing Judge the Son cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?“ Yet the crucified One held on to the reality of God's Fatherhood in the midst of his suffering and died with the words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.“
The name Father, the revelation of God's innermost reality, is an indispensable element of the Christian faith. God has bound himself to us in the New Testament as our eternal Father. John stated, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God“ (1 John 3:1).
One of the reasons Islam has rejected the Holy Trinity along with the Fatherhood of God is because of a complete misunderstanding of its true nature. In Muhammad's day a certain Arab sect taught that the Trinity consisted of God the Father, Jesus and Mary. Every Christian, together with Muhammad, will refute this error. It is regrettable that the birth of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary is understood not spiritually but carnally, in Islam. For a Muslim it is blasphemy to think or say that Allah had a son through Mary. God's spiritual Fatherhood remains incomprehensible to their minds. For them, Allah is the exalted, distant and mysterious God. They do not know and appreciate the nearness of God, who in his love as our Father revealed himself in Christ.
3. Allah -- No Son!
The Sonship of Christ is another subject that outrages Muslims. They cannot contemplate a second divine person existing beside Allah. This would mean the possibility of conflict within the Godhead. The Son could rebel against his Father at any moment. Only Allah is the powerful one. In the Qur'an he is also called the arrogant and the most crafty of the cunning (Suras al-Hashr 59:23 and Al 'Imran 3:54). Christ's meekness and gentleness, as well as his self-denial, are regarded as weakness in Islam. It is taken as proof that he is not God when he says, “I am gentle and humble in heart,“ or “The Son can do nothing of himself,“ or “The Father is greater than I.“
For a Muslim, the mystery of the Holy Trinity remains concealed. The Son continually glorified that Father during his life on earth, just as the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son today. The Father honored the Son and seated him at the right hand, while the Son left to the Holy Spirit the task of building the Church that he purchased with his blood. Christ's statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,“ sounds like blasphemy in the ear of a Muslim. If this were true, Allah would have no more power in his hands. The spirit of Islam is full of pride. So a Muslim cannot understand the meekness and gentleness of Christ's character.
The existence of a Son of God would also mean an encroachment upon Allah's sovereignty. Allah forgives whom he wants, when he wants and where he wants. He does not need a lamb, a mediator or a cross. Islamic reasoning declares the crucified Christ unnecessary, because Allah does everything alone.
Muhammad's denial of the sonship of Christ includes the rejection of the historical fact of the crucifixion. He simply said without hesitation, “they crucified him not“ (Sura al-Nisa' 4:157). If Allah would have allowed the crucifixion of Christ, then Muhammad could also have expected a shameful death during the time of his persecution in Mecca. Instead he clung to a powerful Allah, who in sovereign majesty protects his prophets. In Islam the cross of Christ would signify a denial of the omnipotence of Allah.
The contrast between the holiness of God that demands the death of all who are guilty, and his love that longs to save all sinners, is concealed from Islam. Allah does not love sinners (a principle that is recorded 24 times in the Qur'an, Sura al-Baqara 2:190ff), but only those who fear him (Sura Al 'Imran 3:76). For this reason, no Muslim can ever be certain whether Allah has prepared a place for him in paradise or if the gates of hell will stand wide open to receive him.
Islam does not recognize a crucified Son of God. They have no concept of the Lamb of God who was the vicarious sacrifice for mankind. Therefore, no Muslims can perceive redemption; they remain without grace and abide in their sins. The entire second article of our faith is eliminated by a Muslim. The concept and fact of “being saved through Christ“ is non-existent in Islam. The true Savior is hidden from their eyes.
4. Allah -- No Holy Spirit
Islam rejects not only the Father and the Son, but also asserts that the Holy Spirit is not God but a created spirit like angels and demons. The Holy Spirit is taken to be the angel Gabriel who brought messages from God to Mary and Muhammad. The fact that God is spirit and became flesh in Christ and now lives within believers is a hidden mystery to the Sunnites and Shi'ites of Islam. At best, the Sufis, the mystics of Islam, have hoped for and expected the indwelling of Allah in man, but they reject a justifying act through the cross as the only basis for this indwelling.
We must state that Muslims do not recognize the Holy Spirit and that he does not dwell within them. Therefore, they cannot call Christ Lord and do not belong to him (1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 8:9).
A person in whom the Holy Spirit does not dwell has no assurance of answered prayer, no assurance of salvation, and does not know the certain hope of eternal life. Anyone involved in spiritual counseling with Muslims will find in many of them a deeply rooted piety and a great hope in the mercy of Allah. The actual assurance of salvation, however, is absent in Islam.
Sometimes a Muslim will say, “Why should the great Allah trouble himself with the billions of two-legged ants on earth that crawl on one another and kill one another? Allah is greater than that he should listen to all our prayers. Certainly he can answer prayer when he wants, but he is free to do as he pleases.“ The certainty that an eternal Father hears every cry of His children is missing in Islam. Personal contact with God is lacking. Muslims are not children of Allah; they are his slaves.
If you ask a Muslim if his sins are forgiven at best you may receive the answer, “If Allah wishes!“ No one knows for sure if this is the will of Allah. On the other hand, we as Christians can testify, “Yes, God has forgiven all our sins, because his Son bore our guilt and paid our penalty on the cross.“ The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, testifies with our spirits and hearts that we are justified and have been received into the family of the house of God (Romans 8:16; Ephesians 2:18-22).
How then can some Christian theologians claim and declare, “Allah in Islam is identical to the God in Judaism and Christianity!“? Do they not realize that the New Testament says, “He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life“ (1 John 5:12)? Everyone who does not identify himself with the cross of Christ does not have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life“ (John 3:16).
We must confess that when the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a person he cannot know eternal life. No Muslim can be sure that he has eternal life, because he does not accept Christ who is “the life“. All that remains for him is judgment and condemnation, while the followers of Christ are delivered from judgment because of his death (John 3:18).
5. Allah -- No Love
Our inquiry into the Person of God in both religions boils down to a comparison. We know that God is love. Islam acknowledges Allah to be the Merciful One. Perhaps you may ask, “Is not this name, which occurs in the Qur'an more than any other name, equivalent to love? Are not mercy and love the same?“ Perhaps an illustration can help to clarify the comparison between these two words. If a groom would say to his bride, “I have mercy on you and will marry you,“ what would her reaction be? She would run away from him! But if he says, “I love you,“ then the relationship will be as it should be.
Even in his mercy, which is Allah's favorite name in Islam, he remains the Great and Exalted One who at best will condescend a little to help his needy creatures. Even in exercising his mercy he remains distant and impersonal.
Our God, on the other hand, in his love came down to our level in Jesus Christ. He took on the form of a slave and abased himself to the lowest level, bearing our guilt and taking our place in judgment. His self-sacrifice for us sinners means eternal holy love.
We do not have a distant impersonal God, but a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit, who does not hesitate to save us and make his home within us. In an exaggerated sense we could say, “God, in the earlier meaning of his name, no longer exists since Jesus came to earth. What actually exists is only the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.“ As a result everyone who does not recognize or accept the Holy Trinity shows that the true God is hidden from him.
6. You Shall Know them by their Fruits
Since Allah in Islam is fundamentally distinct from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it follows that ethics, culture and way of life in both religions are essentially incompatible with one another.
One of the main principles in Islam is that all thought is based on law and justice. The whole of life is influenced by and remains under the law. Sin necessitates expiation. Words similar to the Old Testament are used in the Qur'an, such as, “An eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth“ (Sura al-Ma'ida 5:49; Exodus 21:23,24).
Christ, however, taught a new law based on his love, and commanded his disciples, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven“ (Matthew 5:44).
Because our heavenly Father has unconditionally forgiven all people all their sins through the death of Christ, Christian ethics and principles are thus built upon an unconditional forgiveness toward all people. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors“ (Matthew 6:12). He applied his prayer with the words, “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins“ (Matthew 6:15).
In Christianity God's love and unconditional grace have become the guiding principles of life. In Islam law and justice are the basis for all thought and behavior. The everyday language of Muslims abounds with expressions like, “I am in the right“ (literally, “The right is with me“), “you are in the wrong“ (literally, “The wrong is upon you“). There is no flexibility in deciding the right, and compromises are seldom possible. To compromise would be an injustice.
Consequently, every sin and mistake merits reprisal and punishment. When sin is not propitiated, then justice is not satisfied. We read in the Old Testament that shed blood cries out to heaven (Genesis 4:10). Murder requires retribution and vengeance. In Islam blood revenge is a law of Allah. It would be unjust to forgive a crime or a mistake casually. In the Old Testament forgiveness was possible only through sacrifices and the shedding of blood. The Muslims do not understand the need for sacrifice nor that all demands of justice in God's law have been fulfilled by Jesus, once for all time and for all people. He shed his own holy blood for those who deserve to die. However, since reconciliation with God through Christ is denied in Islam, the principle of blood revenge is perpetuated. As long as unconditional forgiveness is regarded as unjust in Islam, grace does not supersede justice, but justice overrides grace. Anyone who has been in Islamic countries, the “House of Peace“, for a long period of time, knows of endless blood feuds, the revengeful murder of family members for the maintaining of another family's honor.
In the Middle East, wars seldom end in a compromise. The right to land, rivers and wells must be restored intact; if not, those who fought for their rights will have no peace of mind. When the Israelis had given back 99.99% of the Sinai Peninsula to the Egyptians, the Egyptians said, “We demand that every grain of sand is returned to us.“
This rights-oriented attitude leads to a kind of war between Islamic tribes and nations that we scarcely comprehend. Iraq and Iran have destroyed one another's oil pumping equipment. Meanwhile, Anwar Sadat made a peace treaty with Israel because of pressure from America and was shot for it. The Lebanese civil war raged for more than ten years. In Syria, the Alawites and the Muslim Brotherhood are destroying one another, and Qaddafi with his billions in oil money intends to conquer Chad and destabilize Morocco. The spirit of Islam is a restless spirit. The Old Testament predictions about Ishmael are being proven true until today. “His hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him“ (Genesis 16:12).
The sensitive concern of Muslims for justice and law is deeply rooted in their concept of Allah himself. In the Qur'an he commanded Islam to be defended with weapons, to carry out Holy Wars with bloodshed, and to kill every convert who leaves Islam by rejecting Allah and accepting Christ as the Son of God (Sura al-Ma'ida 5:9). The God of Islam is a God of retribution and a judge who is merciless in punishing iniquity. The legalistic reasoning among Muslims comes from Allah himself, as well as from a fanatical pride and the desire for retribution.
7. The Institution of Marriage
The Muslim attitude toward marriage and family life is indicative of further contrasts between Christianity and Islam to a degree where it becomes absurd to speak of the same God being in both religions.
According to Islam, Muhammad received a revelation from Allah, through which he learned that any Muslim can legally marry up to four women (Sura al-Nisa' 4:3). Muslims can also, according to an interpretation of several schools of law, enter into a temporary marriage. For instance, when traveling, a Muslim can keep wives in different places or take concubines from among his slaves, just as it pleases him (Sura al-Nisa' 4:3-34).
Of course, today only the rich can afford several wives because a man is bound to give each wife the same amount of food, clothes and presents, as well as give equal gifts to all the children. If he marries several wives, he must support separate households. The hatred, envy and jealousy that spring from this arrangement can hardly be imagined by an outsider.
In this age of birth control, modern Islamic theologians have arrived at a special interpretation of Sura al-Nisa' 4:3. According to this verse, Allah had intended Muslims to be monogamous from the beginning, because his requirement for men to love all four wives equally cannot be achieved by an husband.
No matter what modern scholars may write, a woman in Islam stands on a lower level than a man. He is responsible to educate her in marriage; he may keep himself from her as a punishment for disobedience and has the right to strike her (Sura al-Nisa' 4:34). The witness of one man at a trial is equal to that of two women (Sura al-Baqara 2:282). Children always belong to the man. Admittedly, a mother has the privilege of caring for the children up to a certain age, but then they must return to the father. According to Islamic understanding, these rules are commands of Allah in the Qur'an.
In most Islamic countries it is very easy for a man to divorce his wife. Should it have been an action carried out in hasty anger, he can remarry her later. Later, if he divorces her a second time, he still has the right to marry her once again. But if he divorces her a third time, he forfeits his legal right to remarry her until she has married another man and has been divorced by him. Then the first man can remarry her (Sura al-Baqara 2:229,230).
We cannot grasp the wretchedness behind such a regulation. The wife is not a partner but a commodity for the man, a means to an end. This is all linked to the fact that in Islam a person is not made in the image of Allah but is only his slave. For this reason the wife also does not stand on the same level as her husband, but is considered to be only a little higher than a maidservant. She is regarded as his field, in which he can sow whenever he wishes (Sura al-Baqara 2:223).
This dominance of the male is projected even beyond the gates of paradise. A magnificent life awaits the faithful Muslim -- trees of shade and fresh fruit, alongside cool rivers; a few dozen maidens and several lads always at his disposal. Little is said in the Qur'an about his previous wives in connection with paradise (Suras al-Rahman 55:54; al-Waqi'a 56:15-22,34-35,72).
How utterly different is the Christian outlook on remarriage! Woman too is created in the image of God, not just the man. As far as the spiritual relationship is concerned, she is equal to the man. Monogamy is therefore the consequence of the spiritual position of a woman. She is a partner and helper to her husband to tackle all problems of life together. Christ confirmed monogamy and prohibited any irresponsible divorce (Mark 10:6-12).
The Apostle Paul demanded complete submission of the wife to her husband, but only in conformity to the Church's submission to Christ. Accordingly, the husband has the privilege of offering his life out of love for his wife and children, just as Christ gave his life as a sacrifice for the church (Ephesians 5:22-25).
Such spiritual principles regulate all areas of the Christian's life. The secret of the Christian culture is the everlasting love of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. In Islam, all areas of life are governed by the judicial dominance of the dictator, Allah. Islam and Christianity are thus two completely different religions, as distinct from each other as Allah is from the Holy Trinity.