In the eight years that I have taught “Understanding Islam,” the most common question I’ve dealt with is “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” Political and spiritual leaders whom we admire have stated that we do in fact worship the same God. While I also revere many of these leaders, I must respectfully disagree. It may be convenient, popular, or even politically expedient to claim, as President George W. Bush once did that “we all worship the same God,” but that does not make it true. The better we understand our differences, the more equipped we will be to create a dialogue that explores our mutual faiths.
Dr. Fisher Humphreys, Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Samford University in Birmingham, AL recently wrote an article by this same title in the March-April 2016 issue of Nurturing Faith, published by Baptists Today. Many of my fellow Baptists shared his article with me, confused by his thesis that we worship the same God. Dr. Humphreys point was that “even when two speakers are disagreeing about God’s acts in the world, they are still talking about the same God.” I have wrestled with Scripture and have struggled in discussions with fellow Christians about this issue. I do not see how Dr. Humphreys, esteemed as he is, can draw this conclusion.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:22-28 that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Jesus’ own words contradict the statement that we worship the same God. We cannot accept the words of the New Testament that Jesus was God’s holy Son, that He died on the cross for our sins, and that He sent the Holy Spirit to empower us after His resurrection… and also embrace the Qur’an’s very strict declarations that all of those statements are false, even heretical. The Qur’an is very clear, in fact, that statements of Jesus’ divinity, His resurrection, and the existence of a Triune God are blasphemy. How can the Bible and the Qur’an both be right when they contradict each other in such fundamental ways?
According to the revelations made to Muhammad “Allah is only one god. Far be it from his glory to have a son.” (Surah 4:171) “They killed him not (Jesus), nor did they cause his death on the cross, but he was made to appear to them as such… They killed him not for certain.” (Surah 4:157) “They commit blasphemy who say that God is one of three in a trinity.” (Surah 5:73). Contrary to Dr. Humphreys’ thesis, this is not simply an issue about God’s acts in the world. If we worship the same God, then the Qur’an is also the word of God. But according to Jesus, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” These independent and conflicting perspectives of God—the words of Jesus and the Qur’an—cannot both be true. We do not worship the same God. And yet—the issue is even more complex.
Allah, in Arabic, means the “one true creator God.” When I pray with my Muslim friends, and when Muslims who have converted to Christianity pray, we often refer to God as “Allah” because that was the Arabic word for “God” long before Muhammad drew his first breath. The Muslim seeks God with amazing passion and dedication, committing himself or herself to daily prayer, to annual celebrations, almsgiving, commitment to the poor, fasting, and to a missionary zeal to spread the words of the Qur’an. Many Christians would do well to take a lesson from the spiritual discipline of those who commit themselves to Islam. Those same Muslims, at least the ones I have met, have a consuming passion to one day see heaven, to be forgiven for their sins, to know the grace of a compassionate and merciful God who is also the judge of all men. I believe that they seek the one true God who is the author of creation, just as Christians and Jews seek that God. In that respect, it seems clear that we may seek the same God, seek the same end, seek the same forgiveness and mercy and compassion. We may seek the same forgiveness and eternal life, but the contradictions of the Qur’an and the Bible make it quite clear: if the claims of Jesus are considered blasphemy in doctrine of Islam, we do not worship the same God,.
So, what are we to do? I agree with Dr. Humphreys that we are called into fellowship together, Muslim and Christian. In his words, “When we do this we are taking a step toward peace on Earth. We are also following the teachings of Jesus: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ (Matthew 5:9)” I challenge Christians every day to reach out to our Muslim neighbors, to open a dialogue, and to be hospitable neighbors. The large majority of Muslims in America and abroad want to live life just like the rest of us, raising families, pursuing careers, growing relationships, and seeking God. We cannot let the minority of terrorists that have captured the Islamic narrative speak for the entire body of 1.6 billion Muslims. If we lump all Muslims together under a common banner of hatred, terror, and death, then we fall into the devil’s hands.
Angry, revengeful Christians stoked with rage about jihad, refugees, and Sharia law become the unwitting tools of Satan. As for me, I have no intention of being a hammer in Satan’s toolbox. Let’s find common ground to develop friendships, to build relationships, and continue our dialogue. Although our object of worship is fundamentally different, Muslims and Christians seek the same God, and both faiths believe in Jesus. Despite our differences, there is fertile common ground here that we must cultivate.
The devil wants to drive a wedge between us. We cannot let that happen.