Is Allah the God of the Bible?

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Mosque

This question is one of the biggest drivers of a strident Evangelical reaction to Muslims.

Two things bother me about the “no” response – one is the attitude of un-grace that can accompany it; the other is the tenuous evidence that is used to support the “no” verdict.

For some, a “yes” response is unthinkable – isn’t that a capitulation to Islam? It seems to be an insult to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some people in the cross-cultural mission community are even saying: ‘If we accept Allah and God as the same being, we are muddling-up Christian faith and Islam to the point of being an unfaithful hybrid that might as well be called ‘Chrislam’?

Having said all this, the question is like the trick question: ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet?’ We are labelled, whether we say “yes” or “no”.

So the question is best answered by asking more questions – as Jesus sometimes did. If we unpack the big question by asking some lesser questions, it can help untangle the issues:

There are two things to think about here; firstly – what a word refers to (i.e. its referent) and secondly – what a word causes us to understand (i.e. its meaning). So if we ask the question: “Are Muslims intending to refer to the high God of the Bible?” the answer is “yes”. However, if we ask: “Do Muslims understand what we do about who God is and what he is like?” the answer is “no”.

People outside mosqueAs is so often the case in such debates, the point at issue is not the real point at all. The names “God” and “Allah” are not the point – the Muslim understanding of what He is like, is the point. Muslims refer to Allah but they don’t appreciate His full biblical meaning.

It’s a bit like asking the question: Is the Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses the Jesus of the Gospels? The answer of course has to be “yes” because there is only one Jesus to refer to. However, their understanding of Jesus is faulty to the point of being a caricature; the same is true of the Muslim concept of God.

In 38 years’ of experience in this field, I have met many followers of Jesus from Islam (particularly native Arabic speakers) who are puzzled why anyone should even think that Allah is not the God of the Bible. For example the Pakistani lady Bilquis Sheikh is a good example because she said that through Christ she had found the God she had been trying to know and worship, all her life. For her, the completion of her Islam was found in Christ.

Bishop Teqani Tafti of Iran was from Muslim background; his son was martyred for Christ. The bishop said:

 ‘Some people tend to think that Muslims have one God and Christians another. While I agree that the two concepts are very different from each other, I cannot agree that they really worship two utterly different gods… my faith in a Christian God was related to my childhood faith in a Muslim God. Then through the book of Psalms and Job I learnt anew the meaning of trust in God and came to worship Him at the foot of the Cross’.

David Pawson points out that the teaching of Islam is a ‘mixture’ of truth and error, but this is not a reason to conclude that Allah is not God; it is every reason to accept that their understanding of Allah is faulty.

The evident darkness at work in politicised radical Islam prompts some Evangelicals to site this as proof that Allah is behind such darkness. But we don’t apply the same logic by identifying the God of the Bible as the demonic force behind the violence of the Real IRA. Is the God of the Bible therefore evil, or is it merely how sinful human beings re-fashion him into their own image?

Reasons for using Allah for God

I address this vexed question in my manual Friendship First but let’s look at some points that validate the use of the word Allah for the God of the Bible.

Linguistic evidence:

For many centuries before Islam, Allah was the Arabic word for the high God. One of Muhammad’s relatives was called Abdullah (slave of God). The word “Allah” is used in all translations of the Arabic Bible; it is the only available word for God for tens of millions of Arabic-speaking Christians today.

The word Allah has also found its way into the Bible in the various non-Arabic languages of Muslim lands – including Indonesia, Malaysia and Central Asia. Some Islamic governments are now reacting to this by trying to stop Christians using Allah in order to force a cultural distinction between Muslims and Christians for political ends.

Muhammad’s evidence

Muhammad was persecuted for trying to wean the idol-worshipping Arabian tribes away from the worship of pagan gods and onto the worship of the one and only God – Allah (S38:4), who is identified as the God of Abraham and the Jews (S3:84; 29:46).

Conclusion:

It is therefore accurate (and more helpful) to identify Allah as the God of the Bible, with the proviso that the Muslim understanding of Him remains un-enriched without Christ. This is a challenge to Christians, who need to do something about this, rather than merely reacting negatively and driving a wedge between them and Muslims.

4 Comments

  1. Steve

    I see some of what you are saying. But I have trouble with the over all point. The whole of the Bible is about Christ. Not only that there is a Jesus but who He is and what He came to do. How we are changed by what he did and how we are to live in light of it. The Muslims deny who He is what He did for us and how to live in light of that truth. The have no truth about how God views sin. What is the only atonement. They have the same names for most of the characters in the story but the point and every meaningful truth of the entire plot is different. Just as when Arron showed the molten calf to the people and said “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” The word God here is Elohim the same they used for God and the phrase, “who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” show he was talking about the same God. Does that mean that the calf was God they just did not know His true nature? Of course not. It is more important to know who God is than to know His name in order to be worshiping the one and only God.

    • Steve Bell

      “I see some of what you are saying. But I have trouble with the overall point. The whole of the Bible is about Christ. Not only that there is a Jesus but who He is and what He came to do. How we are changed by what he did and how we are to live in light of it. The Muslims deny who He is what He did for us and how to live in light of that truth.

      Yes I agree! This is our task and we are agreed about that.

      They have no truth about how God views sin. What is the only atonement.

      No, Islam does have a theology of sin; it just that is has a poor grasp of biblical atonement. Islam is closer to ancient Judaism in that its understanding of God; Jesus; sin; salvation by works and forgiveness only by a benevolent God who may or may not accept a Passover lamb (Judaism) or Qurbani lamb (Islam).

      They have the same names for most of the characters in the story but the point and every meaningful truth of the entire plot is different. Just as when Aaron showed the molten calf to the people and said “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” The word God here is Elohim the same they used for God and the phrase, “who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” show he was talking about the same God. Does that mean that the calf was God they just did not know His true nature? Of course not.

      Yes I do see your point here; however, Aaron tried to pass off an idol as a substitute for the Living God; while Muhammad was at pains to try to turn the Jews of Arabia and then the Arabs to turn to the God of Abraham in “proper” Judaism, which failed and became Islam instead. I gave some Qur’anic references for this in the blog piece. The judgement as to whether Allah (as Muhammad understood him) is an idol or a faulty and partially ignorant attempt to honour the living God is a matter for where you are coming from. The grace and truth response gives the benefit of the doubt in order to follow the approach of the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill.

      It is more important to know who God is than to know His name in order to be worshiping the one and only God.”

      Well put – I absolutely agree with this point. Our task with Muslims is to do as the Apostle Paul did when he approached the Greeks on Mars Hill in Athens and found ‘the unknown god’ which he used to connect an aspiration to the reality.

      Let’s not waste time fighting Muslims and being critical about where they do not yet grasp the richness contained in the biblical revelation of God, and focus attention on coming alongside them where they are and putting energy into helping them to see the biblical richness as authentic witnesses to Christ in words and attitude.

      I hope this helps you understand that I am nearer you than you may think. The difference is about what we are prepared to do about what we know to be true.

  2. Stephen

    This question intrigues me, and I’m amazed how many fellow evangelicals so readily dismiss it while at the same time take it for granted that the Jewish God is the same God as the Christians’. The God of Abraham is the one God to whom all three believers direct their prayers. What each believes about God’s character obviously differs.

    The question it poses for me therefore is what did Muhammad know of and think about Jesus, prior to his revelations and the hijra. Muhammad was trying to turn people back to the one God but rejected the doctrines of the Messiah and the Trinity, despite being 600 years afterwards and only just down the road from Judea (and therefore having plenty of opportunity to encounter Christians).

    There is very little scholarship available about Muhammad’s awareness and understanding of Jesus prior to his revelations, but I’m fascinated by how or why he didn’t accept the claims of the Christians he’d had contact with. Instead, he rejected Christianity and saw the need to form a new religious movement to bring people back to God. Why?

  3. Darren

    Whilst I can commend a spirit of peacemaking, I sit wondering how the idea that the Christian God is the same as Allah.

    I understand the argument that people can have different views and understanding of the same God but question how we can decide where the line is. Indeed using this principle it could be argued that any and all monetheistic faiths follow the same God just with different understanding of Him.

    Addtionally I cannot fathom how we can reconcile the idea of Allah being the same God with scripture. The God of the bible is very clear about His name, His authority and His instructions all of which are very different from the Allah of the Quran. How far from the bible descriptions of God (character, actions, desires, names, authority, etc) can we stray before it is accepted to be a different God? (One degree, twenty, one hundred)

    Finally, whilst it might be nice to find common ground with our Muslim brothers, you either have to accept the Quran as truth or reject it (because parts are flawed). Finding areas of common ground and similarity ultimately suggests the Quran has authority and truth that ultimately cannot be accepted.

    Personally, I have no problem with suggesting Allah is a distorted representation of God if it helps Muslims see Christ but therein lies perhaps the biggest problem; Islam’s view of Christ.

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