Islam began as a reaction to the Christian God, either as understood or as misconceived. Disagreements over the name and nature of God are central to the conflict between Islam and Christianity. The pluralist argues that Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic religions that claim spiritual descendancy from Abraham, so the same God is worshiped by either. Such an easygoing ecumenism is a distortion. We simply do not share the most essential understandings of God and to claim otherwise shows disrespect. It fails to take seriously what a religion claims about ultimate truth.1
Thirteen questions illuminate some possible openings and clear away cultural errors and misunderstandings that have arisen concerning our respective faiths.
In Islamic literature, the concept of Allah is that of the one true God. All other gods are idols. Christianity and Judaism, in their original form, were correct in teaching the tawhid (unique and absolute oneness) of Allah, but these teachings were later distorted. In Abdullah Yusuf >Ali’s commentary on the Qur<an, he writes:
There is really only one true Religion, the Message of Allah, submission to the Will of Allah: this is called Islam. It was the religion preached by Moses and Jesus; it was the religion of Abraham, Noah, and all the prophets, by whatever name it may be called. If people corrupt that pure light, and call their religions by different names, we must bear with them, and we may allow the names for convenience. But Truth must prevail over all.2
Muhammed fervently believed that Jews and Christians were at one time “People of the Book.” However, they now are infidels, no better than other pagans. In fact, they are worse, as they have denied the very truth they were called by Allah to proclaim.
In Surah al-Taubah (9:29–33) the severity of their sin is outlined:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah (poll tax) with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.
The Jews call >Uzayr (Ezra) a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the Son of God. That is a saying from their mouth; (In this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!
They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ, the son of Mary; Yet they were commanded to worship but One God: There is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: (Far is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him).
Fain would they extinguish Allah’s Light with their mouths, but Allah will not allow but that His Light should be perfected, even though the unbelievers may detest (it).
It is He who hath sent His Messenger with guidance and the Religion of Truth, to proclaim it over all religion, even though the pagans may detest (it).
Clearly Muhammed based his teaching at least partly on a misunderstanding of what the Bible taught. He believed that Jews and Christians had both deified humanity and made idols out of their prophets Ezra and Jesus, respectively. Actually, orthodox Old Testament believers would have been in agreement with Muslims that the Old Testament term sons of God referred to spiritual relationship, not literal physical generation. >Ali shows the errant understanding as he complains about the theology of Job 38:7: “‘When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.’ . . . If used figuratively these and like words refer to the love of Allah. Unfortunately ‘son’ used in a physical sense, or ‘beloved’ in an exclusive sense as if Allah loved only the Jews, makes a mockery of religion.”3
Apparently Muhammed knew of some sect that called Ezra a “son of God” and thought that all Jews ascribed some sort of divinity to the post-Babylonian exile Jewish priest Ezra. >Ali cites Baidhawi as a source of this belief.
Misunderstanding what the Old Testament writers meant by the concept of sonship, the early Muslim understanding was that Jews took the “primitive ignorance and superstition” of deifying their leaders from their idol-worshiping neighbors.4 Christians had further “deluded the Truth” by adapting the ancient Jewish heresy to deify Jesus Christ. This is the highest shirk (sin).
Use of the term anchorites in 9:31 is an apparent reference to the intercessory position Muhammed believed the priests of his day took between God and people. He saw these priests and monks as claiming to stand in the place of Allah in a quite literal sense, again a sin of the highest order.
Muhammed is thus sent as the final prophet to correct their errors, as we can deduce from 9:33. This messenger (Muhammed) would proclaim the “Religion of Truth” over all the religions, leading either to their extermination or subjugation. This proclamation is of the highest importance, as one can readily see by 9:29.
To “fight those who believe not in Allah nor in the Last Day” has been variously interpreted as literal, intellectual, or spiritual, but within the context of the verse, the submission of the unbelievers is unquestionably demanded. If they remain under Islamic rule, they must pay a tax (Jizyah).
In any interpretation of the Qur<anic text, Christianity and Judaism have left the truth taught by their founders and have followed idolatrous practices to their eternal peril. The belief that Christians and Jews substantially changed the message of God is further expounded in surah 5:18: “Both the Jews and the Christians say, ‘We are sons of Allah, and His beloved.’ Say: ‘Why then doth He punish you for your sins?’ Nay, ye are but men—of the men He hath created: He forgiveth whom He pleaseth, and He punisheth whom He pleaseth.”
One contemporary Christian view is that Muhammed borrowed his concept of Allah from a pagan “moon god” identified with the Ka<aba.5 Thus, the crescent found in Islamic architecture is symbolic of the moon. This argument identifies Islam as a syncretistic pagan phenomenon.
In his books Islamic Invasion and The Moon-god: Allah in the Archeology of the Middle East, Robert A. Moray submits the thesis that Muhammed actually took both the word Allah and the nature of Allah from a pre-Islamic Arabian mythology.6 His thesis has three parts:
1. Before the rise of Islam in the seventh century, the term Allah was used to refer to any of 360 gods worshiped in the Ka<aba.
2. This one god may have been a “high god,” greater than the other deities, but it was never viewed as the absolute one true God.
3. Allah can be traced back to the Babylonian term Il and the Bedouin term al-Il<ah.
Morey believes that he has found strong evidence in thousands of books and articles for an adaptation view of the word Allah. However, there are problems with this view:
First, Muhammed believed in Allah’s absolute separation from creation, not identification with it. Further, the Qur<an clearly stipulates in surah 41:37: “Among His Signs are the Night and the Day and the Sun and Moon. Prostrate (adore) not to the Sun and the Moon but prostrate to Allah, Who created them, if it is Him you wish to serve.”
Second, whatever might have contributed to Muhammed’s theology, the historical criticism of Islamic doctrine has little to do with the beliefs of the modern Muslim. For fifteen hundred years, Muslims have held to the tawhid nature of Allah. It is more profitable to evaluate what the Qur<an now says and Muslims now confess. Christians can find ample points to dispute without bringing in some moon god that neither Muhammed nor Muslims have accepted.
Third, Morey makes the common mistake of relying on Christian sources for his citations. Muslims correctly assert that Christian scholarship is hardly an unbiased observer in proving anything about Islam. His hundreds of citations from Christian academic works seem unfair, at best, to Muslims.
Certainly this provocative thesis demands further investigation from ancient sources that can be uncovered. Meanwhile such statements are open to dispute. Even if they were unassailable, the conclusions are irrelevant to the evaluation of Islam as it now exists. The Christian would be well advised to study and discuss the nature and attributes of Allah as found in the Qur<an.
Related to the question of the origins of Islam is a raging controversy that we have been called to address repeatedly.7 The basic question frequently is stated: “Christians claim to know the one true God. Muslims claim to know the one true God. Are you not talking about the same God? Are you not both historically monotheistic religions?”
We like the manner in which Timothy George framed the issue in the February 2002 issue of Christianity Today: “Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?”8 Dr. George suggests that Christianity and Islam share a number of suppositions. Both are monotheistic, historical, textual, and moral systems, and speak of the one God in terms of holiness and justice. He answers the question:
Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? The answer is surely Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that the Father of Jesus is the only God there is. He is the Creator and Sovereign Lord of Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, of every person who has ever lived. He is the one before whom all shall one day bow (Phil. 2:5–11). Christians and Muslims can together affirm many important truths about this great God—his oneness, eternity, power, majesty. As the Qur<an puts it, he is “the Living, the Everlasting, the All-High, the All-Glorious” (2:256). But the answer is also No, for Muslim theology rejects the divinity of Christ and the personhood of the Holy Spirit—both essential components of the Christian understanding of God. No devout Muslim can call the God of Muhammad “Father,” for this, to their mind, would compromise divine transcendence. But no faithful Christian can refuse to confess, with joy and confidence, “I believe in God the Father . . . Almighty!” Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity, it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.9
The article goes on to explain how Islam and Christianity differ in the fundamental descriptions and attributes of God, and how such a distortion can have eternally deleterious effects. However, others have taken the position that, since Muslims worship a monotheistic, just, righteous God of creation, then that God—under whatever name—is the same God. Some missiologists, even purported evangelical Christians, argue that we must simply tell Muslims that the “Allah” to which they are praying sent Jesus, for them.
The God of Muhammed is not the Father of Jesus. We are not speaking of an etymological issue, for the Arabic term Allah certainly means “God.” But different religions by their nature pour distinctive meanings into terms that can be translated by the English word God. Do Muslims mean the same God when they faithfully face Mecca five times a day as Christians do when they bow before the Father? No, they do not. Islam repudiates the Christian concepts of God as triune and personal, as it repudiates Christianity itself.
Throughout the Qur<an, statements contradict the biblical revelation and make impossible any cohesion between honest disciples of the two religions. The Qur<an teaches that Christians are going to hell because we elevate the status of a prophet to that of a deity. The Bible teaches that no one comes to the Father except through Christ. Islam says that Christianity has abandoned any truth they held of Allah. One need only read surah 5:72 to see that “They do blaspheme who say ‘Allah is Christ the son of Mary.’ But Christ said, ‘O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ Whoever joins other gods with Allah—Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help.”
This is not a mere modification of the biblical record; it is a complete and utter distortion. History is filled with men and women who, upon reading the biblical record, decided to take the central ideas of the Bible and create a new god, more to their liking. Many of these movements even chose to maintain biblical names and titles. Others have kept Jesus in their religions but molded their view of Him to fit their schematics. One cult calls Jesus the half brother of Lucifer. Another group believes that Christ was a failed Messiah, whose crucifixion left the work of redemption undone. Are we all speaking of the same Christ?
In our estimation, this is the philosophical equivalent of the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11). Sounds may seem similar, but the ideas hurled about with reckless abandon cannot communicate the same concepts. The God of Islam is no more the Father of Jesus than the Mormon Jesus is the authentic Jesus of biblical revelation.
Muslims believe that Surah al-Ikhlas (112) summarizes their confession of the attributes of Allah. Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb accurately reflect the importance of this section when they observe that, “this surah is held to be worth a third of the whole Qur<an and the seven heavens and the seven earths are founded upon it.”10
The title al-Ikhlas means “the purity of faith,” and the succinct chapter says:
Say: He is Allah
The One and Only,
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;
He begetteth not,
Nor is He begotten;
And there is none
Like unto Him.
In all of the descriptions of Allah in the Qur<an, in all of Allah’s reported ninety-nine names, in all of his dealings with humankind, the glaring omission is immanence or divine-human intimacy. Allah is never described as personal. A Muslim does not have a “personal relationship with Allah,” in the sense that a Christian speaks of having a personal relationship with God. The attributes of Allah ascribed in the Qur<an present him as transcendent Judge, but never as close Friend. This one-dimensional transcendent separateness is a vital difference between the two religions.
The attributes of Allah are expounded in a number of places in the Qur<an. Surah 59:22–24 presents one example:
Allah is He, than Whom there is no other god—Who knows (all things) both secret and open; He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Allah is He, than Whom there is no other god—the Sovereign, the Holy One, Source of Peace (and Perfection). The Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the Supreme: Glory to Allah! (High is He) above the partners they attribute to Him.
He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of forms (or colors). To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His praises and Glory; and He is the Exalter in might, the Wise.
>Ali, in commenting on surah 112, expounds upon the nature of Allah in reference to the believers:
The nature of Allah is here indicated to us in a few words, such as we can understand. . . . He is near us; He cares for us; we owe our existence to Him. Secondly, He is the One and Only God, the Only One to Whom worship is due; all other things or beings that we can think of are His creatures and in no way comparable to Him. Thirdly, He is Eternal, without beginning or end. Absolute, not limited by time or place or circumstance, the Reality before which all other things or places are mere shadows or reflections. Fourthly, we must not think of Him as having a son or a father, for that would be to import animal qualities into our conception of Him. Fifthly, He is not like any other person or thing that we know or can imagine: His qualities and nature are unique.11
Some Christian apologists have asserted that Islam has no concept of a merciful God. This is not correct. Allah often is called “merciful” in the Qur<an. The proper distinction between the description of the attributes of Allah in the Qur<an and the God of the Bible is whether God can be present in the life of the believer. In Islam, Allah is merciful and present in the midst of trial. However, in the Bible, God is not only Sovereign Lord, Judge, and Redeemer. He is also personal. He is not only intimate. He is indwelling. First Corinthians 6:19–20 (niv) states, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
There is no doctrine in Islam that speaks of having a personal relationship with Allah as a child would relate to a father. To imagine such a relationship violates the sovereign transcendence of Allah. Yet for the Christian, the sacrifice by Christ has done more than purchase our salvation. Through Christ’s righteousness credited to our account, we are allowed access to God as our Father. Islam rejects the possibility that Jesus Christ can redeem His people from God’s wrath. Likewise, the Islamic definition of Allah cannot allow the concept that any kind of redemption would give access to him. Muslims pray as a step toward salvation, not because they are saved and have a right to come before the Creator of the universe. Hebrews 4:14–16 (niv) illustrates the vast implications of being declared just before God in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ:
Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Another former Muslim, who goes by the pseudonym Abdul Saleeb as coauthor of Answering Islam, has summarized accurately the Qur<anic portrayal of Allah under six categories:12
1. God as the absolute one (His unity). Islam denies any partner or companionship with Allah, but rather His complete unity and uniqueness.
2. God as absolute ruler (His sovereignty). As surah 2:255 states, “There is no god But He—the Living, Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him Nor sleep.” This attribute, known as aseity, means Allah is self-existent and can sustain all by Himself.
3. God as absolute justice (His equity). Surah al-Imran (3:9) speaks of Allah’s precise judgment, which is part of his holiness.
4. God as absolute mercy. ar-Rahman is the Arabic term for “the Merciful.” It speaks of Allah’s willingness to forgive if the Muslim does right.
5. God as absolute will (His volitionality). Many terms and descriptions in the Qur<an depict Allah as ordering existence and all about Him.
6. God as absolutely unknowable (His inscrutability). God is ultimately beyond human comprehension in any meaningful way.
The most succinct way to describe the attributes of Allah found in the Qur<an is that he is sovereign Judge.
Doesn’t the Qur<an use the plural “We” when Allah is speaking?
One of the most serious misconceptions we encounter among Christians who have read the Qur<an is that they think they have found a plurality to God, as in the Christian Trinity, when Allah uses the first person plural We. For instance, Surah al-Maeda (5:70) states:
We took the Covenant of the children of Israel and sent them Messengers. Every time there came to them a Messenger with what they themselves desired not—some (of these) they called imposters, and some they (go so far as to) slay.
Does use of the plural We indicate that Islam affirms some connotation of a Godhead? Sadly, no; this is simply an example of the “pronoun of regal splendor,” which is common to many languages connected to a monarchy. It is a first person plural used by monarchs to convey an idea of majestic royalty. The Queen of England, for example, might say, “We are very pleased” when she is referring only to herself. No trinitarian terminology has crept into the Qur<an.
Islam unequivocally disavows any attribute of Allah that would bespeak the Trinity. The clarity of this denial is illustrated in surah 5:72–73:
They do blaspheme who say: “Allah is Christ the son Of Mary.” . . .
They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three In a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.
Earlier, in surah 4:171, the teaching is explicit: “Do not say ‘Trinity.’ Cease from doing that.”
In a series of well-publicized debates, Christian scholar Anis A. Shorrosh and Islamic scholar Ahmed Deedat crossed intellectual swords concerning this central point. Deedat, the Muslim apologist, stated, “He (God) does not beget because begetting is an animal act. It belongs to the lower animal act of sex. We do not attribute such an act of God.”13
Deedat’s statement shows the Islamic misunderstanding of what Christians mean when they speak of the Trinity. Christians speak of God as consisting of three eternal centers of personhood within one being. These centers are described in Scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to delineate the command structure within the Triune God. The Son and Holy Spirit were not generated at some moment. Rather Christ is the Son because He submits to the plan of the Father and was sent to earth to serve the Father. The Holy Spirit likewise serves and submits to the plan of the Father and Son.
This has been difficult for Muslims to understand from the beginning. Perhaps because he interacted with unorthodox groups who claimed to be Christian, Muhammed evidently believed that the Trinity consisted of God, Jesus, and Mary. An example is found in surah 5:116:
And behold! Allah will say:
“O Jesus the son of Mary!
Didst thou say unto men,
‘Worship me and my mother
As gods in derogation of Allah’?”
To claim a trinitarian view of God is, in Muslim theology, the highest of sins, the Islamic equivalent of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Whether the sin is irrevocable is a point of considerable debate. Some Muslims believe such a confession irrevocably and immediately damns the person. Others believe that there is always hope of forgiveness, if the sin is the result of ignorance. Surah 4:116 asserts, “Allah forgiveth not (the sin of) joining other gods with Him.” >Ali comments that this sin is an act of treason against Allah:
Just as in an earthly kingdom the worst crime is that of treason, as it cuts at the very existence of the State, so in the spiritual kingdom, the unforgivable sin is that of contumacious treason against Allah by putting up Allah’s creatures in rivalry against Him. This is rebellion against the essence and source of spiritual Life. It is what Plato would call the “lie in the soul.” But even here, if the rebellion is through ignorance, and is followed by sincere repentance and amendment, Allah’s Mercy is always open.14
Surah 5:73 summarizes the Islamic central belief: “They do blaspheme who say God is one of three, . . . for there is no God except one God.” The difficult thing for a Muslim to understand is that any true Christian agrees with surah 5:73. Christianity does not teach that “God is one of three.” Nor do Christians believe that God reproduced a “son” through sexual intercourse with a consort (surah 6:101). Muhammed may well have encountered cults who taught that. Latter-Day Saints, who often identify themselves as Christian but are not in any meaningful sense of the term, teach something of the sort. This idea is as blasphemous to a Muslim as to a biblical Christian. Thus, Islam finds no argument from Christianity when it notes that Allah “has taken no consort (nor has he) . . . begotten any children” (surah 72:3).
Here we find the nexus of the Christian-Islamic dialogue. Shorrosh has explained that most Muslims believe that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches that Mary was a goddess, Jesus her son, and God Almighty her husband.15 What Christians really do believe is demanded by the full picture God reveals in Scripture. Mary has no part in this teaching and will be covered elsewhere.
First, God is one simple and indivisible unity of divine Being, unchanging and without parts. But second, this simple and indivisible transcendent being exists eternally through a complex nature. A diversity exists within the unity. God teaches most of what we know about His infinite, transcendent being by showing us what He is “like.” His Triunity, though, is like nothing in human experience. So God reveals Himself through three pictures—Father, Son, and life-giving Spirit. As Father, God is Creator and ultimate Ground of all Being, whose presence fills the universe and maintains existence. As Son, He proceeds from the Creator-Sustainer to carry out the divine will. In the Son, God was able to set aside His own prerogatives and assume a nature that was both fully human and fully God. The plan of salvation would not have been possible otherwise. As Holy Spirit He proceeds from both Father and Son to carry out the divine will, particularly in personally applying the gifts of salvation.
Functionally, God has explicitly revealed these aspects of His being—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While all the attributes of God belong to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the fatherhood of God relates particularly to His omnipotence and infinity; sonship to His justice and love, and the Spirit to His immanent presence. Here we will give a sampling of what just the New Testament teaches, although the nature of the Trinity can be discerned from all of Scripture.
The Father is God:
[Jesus said,] “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:26–27)
Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead). (Galatians 1:1)
(Who are) elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:2)
The Son is God:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1–2)
Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:57–58)
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Colossians 2:9)
The Holy Spirit is God:
[Jesus said,] “You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:18–20)
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? . . . You have not lied to men but to God. . . .” Then Peter said to her [Ananias’s wife], “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (Acts 5:3–9)
Second, Scripture references all three persons of the Godhead appearing together as distinct, yet equal:
When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16–17)
[Jesus said] “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, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)
Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21–22)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:1–2)
If we did speak of three equal gods, as Islamic theology accuses, Christians would follow a view called “tri-theism,” but that is utterly incompatible with the teaching of Scripture. The Bible teaches absolute monotheism, for which the theme text is Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Neither is it possible that there is one Supreme God and two minor gods. The only option open to those who believe God has revealed Himself truly in Scripture is the Trinity: “three Persons, one Substance.” Skeptics have said that Christianity defies logic, making 1 + 1 + 1 = 1? This is a misunderstanding. The Trinity is not a triplex (by addition) but a triunity (by multiplication). “His one essence has multiple personalities. Thus, there is no more of a mathematical problem in conceiving the Trinity than there is in understanding 1 to the third power (13).”16
In contemporary society, one of the more remarkable movements has been the desire to “neutralize” all gender designations for God in Scripture. These “gender-neutral” Bibles are products of a complaint that Christianity is a patriarchal religion because the first person masculine pronouns found in Scripture demean women by portraying God as a “supramale.” Muslims occasionally join in this charge, especially to counter a Christian assertion that Islam favors men.
Does the Bible actually portray the Father as a divine model of masculinity, complete with male genitalia? Of course not. God declares in Hosea 11:9, “I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst. And I will not come with terror.”17 So why does Scripture usually refer to God in male terms?
The explanation is that Scripture uses analogy to show aspects of who God is by comparison to things in human experience. How else could finite language and concepts be used to convey facts about the infinite and transcendent? Male pronouns used to refer to the Father do not have biological relevance. They have theological importance in distinguishing the God who is from the false gods of other religions.
An example of this is in the Bible’s depiction of God as a Father. Human fathers guard and protect their children with strength and love in the human ideal. They nurture and give of themselves. God is like that. The biblical God is described in terms of His relation to humans as a loving, patient, and ever merciful Parent. The father concept is a more straightforward picture of how this relationship works than that of a mother. For example, we learn much about God as parent by viewing the father-child relationship described in Romans 8:14–21:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
As God relates to us as His children, we are proffered all the divine rights, privileges, and standing as heirs of His divine Promise. Therefore, use of the term He has nothing to do with physical characteristics. God is Spirit (John 4:24). Rather God’s fatherhood refers to a paternal type of love shown to those who call upon His name.
Is everything in life predetermined?
The issue of whether human beings are pawns in some cosmic game is raised against both Muslims and Christians. Both religions deal with questions of the will of God versus human freedom and what is predestined in the plan of God. The Islamic doctrine is called qadar. Sura al-Anam (6:18) says of Allah,
He is the Irresistible,
From above over His worshippers;
And He is the Wise,
Acquainted with all things.
As the Irresistible, Allah effectively predestines all belief and unbelief, according to many Muslim scholars. Indeed, al-Ghazzali views this as the logical implication of a God who is Supreme and removed:
(Allah) willeth also the unbelief of the unbeliever and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will, there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion. All we do we do by His will: what He willeth not does not come to pass. . . . We have no right to enquire about what (Allah) wills or does. He is perfectly free to will and to do what He pleases. In creating unbelievers, in willing that they should remain in that state; . . . in willing, in short, all that is evil, God has wise ends in view which it is not necessary that we should know.18
In the Hadith, Muhammed is recorded as saying:
Allah’s Apostle, the truthful and truly-inspired, said, “Each one of you collected in the womb of his mother for forty days . . . and then Allah sends an angel and orders him to write four things, i.e., his provision, his age, and whether he will be of the wretched or the blessed (in the Hereafter). Then the soul is breathed into him. And by Allah, a person among you (or a man) may do deeds of the people of the Fire till there is only a cubit or an arm-breadth distance between him and the Fire, but then that writing (which Allah has ordered the angel to write) precedes, and he does the deeds of the person of Paradise and enters it; and a man may do the deeds of the people of Paradise till there is only a cubit or two between him and Paradise, and then that writing precedes and he does the deeds of the people of Fire and enters it.”19
Some Muslims believe that this Islamic doctrine of predestination is overstated. Scholar Fazul Rahman allows for free will when he writes that “to hold that the Qur<an believes in absolute determinism of human behavior, denying free choice on man’s part, is not only to deny almost the entire content of the Qur<an, but to undercut its very basis: the Qur<an by its own claim is an invitation to man to come to the right path.”20
Even popular dictionaries of Islam, written by Muslim ulema (scholars) leave room for interpretation:
QADAR [is] often translated as “destiny,” “fate,” “divine predestination,” “divine determination.”
Qadar specifically is the divine application of (qada—divine decree) in time, according to the most widespread interpretations.21
This is a poorly understood area of disagreement in either religion, with a number of arguments based on nuanced interpretations of biblical and Qur<anic texts, respectively. It is not a subject that promotes fruitful discussion.
As Islam denies any doctrine of the Trinity, the very existence of the Holy Spirit is, of course, an enigma. Since Muhammed believed portions of the Gospels had been sent from Allah, and the Holy Spirit is mentioned throughout the Gospels, how did Muhammed deal with His existence?
The Qur<an teaches that the Holy Spirit is actually the angel Gabriel. Gabriel’s purpose was to carry the Qur<anic revelations to Muhammed as an emissary or middleman, when Muhammed began having these alleged revelations upon his fortieth birthday. Surah 2:97–98 says,
Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel—for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah’s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe. Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and prophets, to Gabriel and Michael—Lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject faith.
In Surah al-Nahl (16:102), the text is even more explicit:
Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe and as a Guide and glad tidings to Muslims.
As Muslim commentators hasten to note: “(The Holy Spirit is) the title of the Angel Gabriel through whom the revelation comes down.”22 In Arabic, Gabriel is transliterated Jibril. In The Popular Dictionary of Islam, Ian Richard Netton writes:
[Jibril] is one of the greatest of all the Islamic angels since he was the channel through which the Holy Qur<an was revealed from God to the Prophet Muhammed. He is mentioned by name three times in the Qur<an . . . and elsewhere referred to by names like “The Spirit.” Much tradition has accumulated in Islam round the figure of Gabriel: for example, he showed Nuh [Noah] how to build the ark and lured Pharoah’s army into the Red Sea. He pleaded with God for, and tried to rescue, Ibrahim [Abraham] when the latter was on the point of being burned to death by Namrud [Nimrod].23
Gabriel does not explain Jesus’ reference to the “Comforter” in John 14–16, the one who would not come until Jesus ascended. As seen in the section on “Questions of the New Testament,” Muslims believe that the comforter to come was Muhammed.
If the Holy Spirit is Gabriel in the Qur<an, are jinn the same as angels?
Actually, in the Qur<an, jinn and angels differ from one another as entities. Jinn are unseen beings, created from fire, but are not angels. There are good and evil jinn, some of whom are found in the Islamic hell, their faces covered with fire (surah 14:49–50). Surah adh-Dhariyat (51:56): “(Allah says), I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve me.” In Surah ar-Rahman (55:15), Muhammed says, “And He created Jinns from fire free from smoke.” As one Muslim scholar notes, “They are spirits, and therefore subtle like a flame of fire. Their being free from smoke implies that they are free from grossness, for smoke is a grosser accompaniment of fire.”24
In the Qur<anic depiction of the fall of Satan (Iblis), he is called an angel, but Muslim commentators note that this is a reference to jinn. Surah al-Baqarah (2:34) declares, “And behold, We said to the angels: ‘Bow down to Adam:’ and they bowed down: Not so Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was of those who reject faith.” >Ali states that there are no fallen angels in Muslim theology. Iblis is spoken of as a jinn. Surah al-Kahf 18:50 bears this out:
Behold! We say to the angels, “Bow down to Adam”: they bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the command of his Lord. Will ye then take him as his progeny as protectors rather than Me? And (the demonic) are enemies to you! Evil would be the exchange for the wrongdoers!
Some Christian commentators use these verses to expound two perceived discrepancies, first, confusion over whether Iblis is a jinn or an angel, and, second, the statement “progeny of Satan.” In our estimation, neither perceived discrepancy is significant.
1. Timothy George, “Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?” Christianity Today, February 4, 2002.
2. Abdullah Yusuf >Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur<an (Brentwood, Md.: Amana, 1992), n. 5442.
3. Ibid., n. 718.
4. Ibid., n. 1284.
5. An ancient stone structure in Mecca that Muhammed emptied of idols in 630 a.d. It is reverenced by Muslims as a holy shrine, built by Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ismael (Ishmael).
6. For more on Morey’s work, contact Faith Defenders in Orange, California, or go to http://www.faithdefenders.com.
7. Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner, Unveiling Islam (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002).
8. George, “Is the God of Muhammad the Father of Jesus?” Dr. George, dean of Beeson School of Divinity, subsequently wrote a book-length treatment, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? Understanding the Differences Between Christianity and Islam (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
10. Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 131.
11. >Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur<an, n. 6296.
12. Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, 133–34.
13. Anis A. Shorrosh, Islam Revealed (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 254. Cited in Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, 256–57.
14. >Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur<an, n. 569.
15. Shorrosh, Islam Revealed, 114.
16. Geisler and Saleeb, Answering Islam, 262.
17. Emphasis added.
18. Abdiyah Akbar Abdul-Haqq, Dictionary of Islam (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1980), 147.
19. Sahih al-Bukhari, The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari, trans. Muhammed Muhsin Khan (Medina: Islamic University, n.d.), 8.387.
20. Fazul Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur<an (Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980), 20, as cited by Geisler and Saleeb, 140.
21. Ian Richard Netton, A Popular Dictionary of Islam (Chicago: NTC, 1992), 200.
22. >Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur<an, n. 2141.
23. Netton, Popular Dictionary, 136.
24. >Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur<an, n. 5182.