The God of Islam and the God of the Bible
by Gary Corwin
Who is God?” It’s the most basic question, but one that is frequently lost sight of in discussions about insider movements and the contextualization of ministry to Muslims.
Who is God?” It’s the most basic question, but one that is frequently lost sight of in discussions about insider movements and the contextualization of ministry to Muslims. Converstaions about the appropriateness of Christ’s followers saying the shahada (Muslim creed) tend to focus on Muhammad and the nature of prophet-hood. But the really important question is, “Who is this God who alone is God?” The Bible and the universal teachings of Islam have very different answers to this question.
While Insider Movement (IM) advocates from the outside tend to focus on prophet-hood, the primary hurdle that followers of Jesus from a Muslim background must face in considering whether they will continue to affirm the shahada is not “What kind of prophet is the prophet of Islam?” but “Who is this God about whom I am affirming that there is no other?” When focus is placed on the nature of prophet-hood, the challenge is usually downsized to determining sufficient plausibility. The real issue, however, is one of revealed truth.
Before proceeding further, let me try to dispel two concerns that commonly arise in the minds of many who would prefer that this question not even be raised. First, am I saying that it is illegitimate for Arabs, for whom “Allah” has been the term for God from before the advent of Islam, to use that term today? No, that is no more illegitimate than it is for English speakers to use the term “God” simply because it has pagan Germanic roots. Such terms can be redefined biblically by those who use them, but that is different than ignoring the fact that the “Allah” of Islam is not the same as Yahweh (or Jehovah) of the Bible.
Second, I am not saying that those common understandings of God’s attributes that Christians and Muslims share should not be acknowledged and used as evangelistic bridges. But again, that is different than saying that the Allah of Islam and the God of the Bible are one and the same. The divergences that exist are just too many and too important to suggest that is the case.
So what are these divergences and how can they be properly understood? Dr. Ben Hegeman (permission granted), an Islamic scholar and colleague of mine at SIM, recently shared a diagram that was helpful in this regard. He showed three categories that describe the attributes of Allah and where they overlap. First, there is scripture’s (the Bible’s) Allah. His unique attributes as revealed from this source include his being relational, “Emmanuel,” incarnational, Trinity, sacrificial, light, redeemer, humble, love, and covenantal.
At the other end of the spectrum is the catalog of unique attributes which Islam credits to Jibril (Gabriel) in the revelation he brought to Muhammad. These include Allah being pure will, capricious, deceiver, aloof, arbitrary, fatalist, impersonal, and Tawid (absolute oneness).
Between these two revelations (the special revelation of the Bible, and the revelations of Jibril to Muhammad) stands the Arab understanding of Allah garnered through general revelation. The attributes it shares with both of the other revelations include Allah being one, creator, provider, judge, all-powerful, just, merciful, transcendent, and eternal.
Thus it is clear that while there are many attributes shared by the God of the Bible and the God of Islam, there are enough significant and salvation-dependent differences that there can be no doubt they are not the same. To examine the appropriateness of Muslim followers of Christ reciting the shahada only from the perspective of what it says and could mean about Islam’s Prophet is to miss the more fundamental point altogether. Whether the Prophet of Islam should be acknowledged by followers of Christ as a true prophet of God, or a prophet in the sense that he led Arab tribal groups out of polytheism into monotheism, or as no prophet at all, is almost beside the point in terms of creed worthiness.
It is in the creed’s assertion concerning God, about whom his solitary existence is steadfastly maintained, that the truth issue must be addressed. Who is THIS god, and is he the same as the God of the Bible? It is because these questions must be answered in the negative that recitation of the shahada by followers of Christ cannot be done with integrity and truth.
“But,” some may argue, “when reciting the creed I am thinking of the Allah of the Bible, not the Allah of Islam.” While that is certainly good, one must in good conscience ask if that is how those who witness it would perceive it. That they would most certainly not see it that way argues for not doing it to avoid deception.
This argument is a familiar one, as it has also been made in the more frequently held discussions about prophet-hood related to the last half of the shahada. While it applies equally well to both, it should certainly not be ignored with regard to the more elemental assertion of the creed concerning who God is.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and staff missiologist with the international office of SIM.
EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 134-135. Copyright © 2014 Billy Graham Center. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.