ALLAH: THE GOD OF ISLAM

The terrorist attack against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a Christian minister opened a memorial service with this invocation: “We pray in the name of our God-the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam…”

 Many people-even many Christians in the United States-believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I will demonstrate in this chapter that this is far from the truth.

 THE MUSLIM VIEW OF ALLAH

Muslims believe Allah is the only true God. The term Allah is probably derived from al illah, which means “the god.” Allah has seven primary characteristics: He has absolute unity-he is one and not a Trinity (more on this below)-and he is all-seeing, all-hearing, all-speaking, all-knowing, all-willing, and all-powerful.

Allah Has Many Names

The Quran reveals that Allah has many names, including Most Gracious, Most Merciful, the Sovereign, the Source of Peace, the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, and the Supreme (Sura 59:22-24). Though he has many names, Muslims most often refer to him simply as Allah. Muslims often sprinkle Allah’s name into their speech. If a Muslim promises to do something, he may well add the qualification Enshallah, meaning “If Allah wills.” If he sneezes, he might say, “Praise Allah!” If he witnesses a beautiful sight, he might say, “Glory to Allah!” Whatever he might encounter in day-to-day life, he might say, “Thanks be to Allah!”[1]

Allah Is Singularly One Muslims view Allah as being absolutely one, and he has no partners or associates. Allah is different from anything man can conceive. For this reason, Muslims often describe Allah using negative terms. For example, Allah is not a spirit. (They say angels are created beings and are spirits, meaning that they have “subtle bodies,” and so to say God is a spirit would imply He is a created being, which is blasphemy.)[2] Muslims also say Allah cannot be seen by anyone and that he does not have parts or members. But they also sometimes speak in positive terms, noting that Allah is full of compassion and mercy.

Some Muslims prefer to use the term unicity to emphasize Allah’s oneness and utter uniqueness.’[3] Allah is entirely separate from the creation and is not manifested in any way. Allah’s will is manifested in the pages of the Quran, but Allah himself is not manifested. He is utterly transcendent. He is so separate and divorced from the creation, and so unified to himself, that he cannot be associated with creation. Any talk of God revealing Himself would compromise His transcendence.

Muslims thus understand God as being beyond virtually every quality and state that belongs to creatures. Allah is inaccessible. We cannot know him in his true nature, for he is beyond us. He is wholly other and totally different. This means that the Allah of the Quran is unknowable. Yet the Quran includes a verse that teaches that Allah is closer to man than his jugular vein (Sura 50:16). Still, Allah does not personally manifest himself to those he is close to.

Not a Trinity

The emphasis on the absolute oneness of Allah is the primary reason Muslims reject the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity. They take the phrase “Son of God” quite literally, and they believe it implies that Allah would have had to have a sexual partner in order to beget Christ.’ his is why Muslims also reject the idea that Allah is a father. In the Muslim mind-set, the term father cannot be divorced from the physical realm. To call Allah a father or heavenly father is blasphemous because it amounts to saying Allah had sexual relations to produce a son Jesus Christ (see Suras 6:101; 19:35).

When Muslims bring up the subject of the Trinity, they typically describe it in terms of tritheism, which espouses the idea of three gods. (The correct viewpoint recognizes one God eternally manifest in three persons.) Muslims thus accuse Christians of worshipping three gods (see Sura 4:171). Muslims often say the doctrine of the Trinity is contradictory-how can something be both three and one at the same time? A particularly strange idea that often surfaces in discussions of the Trinity with Muslims is the misunderstanding that Christians believe the Trinity is made up of God, Mary, and Jesus (see Sura 5:116). This was apparently the way Muhammad understood the Trinity.

Good and Evil

One of the more controversial aspects of the Muslim view of Allah relates to his absolute sovereignty. The Quran tells us, “God hath power over all things” (Sura 3:165). In the Muslim view, God brings about both good and evil (Suras 32:13; 113:1-2). God can guide men in righteousness, or he can lead them to evil. In some 20 passages of the Quran, Allah is said to lead men astray. Abdiyah Akbar Abdul- Haqq observes, “Even if a person desires to choose God’s guidance, he cannot do so without the prior choice of God in favor of his free choice.”[4]

Everything that happens in the universe, whether good or bad, is foreordained by the unchangeable decrees of Allah. Muslims believe all our thoughts, words, and deeds (good or evil) were foreseen, foreordained, determined, and decreed from all eternity. Everything is irrevocably and fatefully written (Hadith 8:611). One Muslim theologian, Risaleh-i-Barkhawi, goes so far as to say this:

Not only can he (God) do anything, he actually is the only one who does anything. When a man writes, it is Allah who has created in his mind the will to write. Allah at the same time gives power to write, then brings about the motion of the hand and the pen and the appearance upon paper. All other things are passive, Allah alone is active.’[5]

There is thus a very strong strain of fatalism in Islam. Devout Muslims frequently say Enshallah-”If Allah wills.”[6] This strong sense of fatalism can lead to irresponsible actions. For example, some children in apartment buildings in Teheran, Iran, fall over low balcony railings to their deaths. Because of the belief that this must have been the will of Allah, authorities do nothing to heighten the railings to prevent such tragedies in the future.’[7] Fatalism thus leads to a diminished sense of moral responsibility.

Some Muslims try to explain this contradiction in Allah (causing both good and evil) as relating not to his nature but rather to his will. However, such an explanation seems less than satisfactory in view of the fact that actions that stem from a will are rooted in a person’s nature. As apologists Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb put it, “Salt water does not flow from a fresh stream.”[8] One cannot help but notice that the Allah of the Quran seems to act quite arbitrarily.

He can choose good, but he can just as easily choose evil. He can choose mercy, but he might just as easily choose severity. He could choose love, but he could just as easily choose hate (see Sura 11:118-19). So the Quran teaches that Allah engages in both good and evil, and therefore we should not be surprised that the Quran never suggests that Allah is holy. The Quran seems to emphasize Allah’s power rather than his purity, his omnipotence rather than his holiness.

Allah Loves, but Only to an Extent

A Muslim cannot truthfully say that God is love the same way a Christian can (1 John 4:16). The Quranic view is that Allah loves those who love him and serve him, but he does not love unbelievers. Allah is merciful to those who do good, but he withholds mercy from evildoers (Suras 2:135; 3:31; 19:96). One should note that the Islamic version of God’s mercy is much different from that of Christianity. Former Muslims Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner note that in Islam, “Allah is merciful because he did not kill me or leave me in peril.”[9] In contrast, Christian mercy is rooted in God’s grace-His unmerited favor.

A Christian Response

Contrary to the Muslim viewpoint, the Bible reveals that God is a highly personal being, and we can establish and enjoy intimate personal relationships with Him. A person is a conscious being-he thinks, feels, purposes, and carries these purposes into action. A person engages in active relationships with others. You can talk to a person and get a response from him. You can share feelings and ideas with him.

You can argue with him, love him, and even hate him if you so choose. Surely, by this definition God must be understood as a person. As inscrutable as this may seem to the human mind, our personal God specially constructed man with a capacity to know and fellowship with Him (Genesis 1:26-27). Our purpose-indeed, our highest aim in life-must be to know God. Recall that when God created Adam, He declared Adam’s loneliness to be “not good” (Genesis 2:18).

God made man as a social being. He did not create man to be alone. He created man to enter into and enjoy relationships with others. Man’s most important relationship is with God Himself. The human heart knows a hunger that none but God can satisfy, a vacuum that only God can fill. God created us with a need for fellowship with Him, and we are restless and insecure until this becomes our living experience. People in biblical times undoubtedly knew God intimately in their personal experience. In fact, knowing God was believers’ main business in ancient times. We read that Enoch and Noah walked with God (Genesis 5:24; 6:9).

God spoke directly (not through an angel) to Noah (Genesis 6:13), Abraham (Genesis 12:1), Isaac (Genesis 26:24), Jacob (Genesis 28:13), Moses (Exodus 3:4), Joshua (Joshua 1:1), Gideon (Judges 6:25), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4), David (1 Samuel 23:9- 12), Elijah (1 Kings 17:2-4), and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8). Likewise, in the New Testament, God spoke to Peter, James, and John (Mark 9:7), to Philip (Acts 8:29), to Paul (Acts 9:4-6), and to Ananias (Acts 9:10). How different this is from the utterly remote Allah of Islam.

God Is Spirit

Contrary to Islam, which says God is not a Spirit, the Bible informs us that God is indeed Spirit (John 4:24). Because God is a Spirit, He is invisible (Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17). John 1:18 tells us, “No one has ever seen God [the Father], but God the One and Only [Jesus Christ], who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” When Jesus became a man, He became a visible revelation of the invisible God.

Islam is incorrect in asserting that the suggestion that God is Spirit implies He is a created being, like angels. Scripture indicates that God is Spirit, but He is also eternal. God is an eternal spirit. God is the King eternal (1 Timothy 1:17) who alone is immortal (6:16). God is the “Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 1:8) and is the first and the last (see Isaiah 44:6; 48:12). God exists “from eternity” (Isaiah 43:13 NASB) and “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2).

God Is Transcendent and Immanent

The theological phrase transcendence of God refers to God’s otherness or separateness from the created universe and from humanity. The phrase immanence of God refers to God’s active presence within the creation and in human history (though all the while remaining distinct from the creation). Allah is portrayed as radically transcendent, but the God of the Bible is portrayed as both transcendent and immanent.

He is high above His creation but also intimately involved among His creatures. Deuteronomy 4:39 says, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” In Isaiah 57:15 God affirms, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.” In Jeremiah 23:23-24 God says, “Am I only a God nearby… and not a God far away?” Clearly, God is above and beyond the creation, yet He is simultaneously active in the midst of the creation.

God Reveals Himself

 Muslims believe that the Quran manifests Allah’s will, but Allah himself is never manifested. Contrary to this viewpoint, the Bible is clear that God has always been the aggressor in making Himself (not just His laws) known. He has always taken the initiative in revealing Himself to humankind. He does this through revelation. Revelation makes good sense. God is our Father.

No loving parent would ever deliberately keep out of his or her child’s sight so that the child grew up without knowing of the parent’s existence. Such an action would be the height of cruelty. Likewise, for God to create us and then not communicate with us would be a cruel act of abandonment. God has revealed Himself in two ways-through general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is available to all persons of all times.

For example, God reveals Himself in the world of nature (Psalm 19). Special revelation is God’s very specific and clear revelation in such things as His mighty acts in human history (as in the book of Exodus), the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2-3), and His message spoken through Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God delights in making Himself known!

God Is a Trinity

Muslims sometimes come right out and ask, “Do you believe in the Trinity?” This is where the Christian must be cautious. As Sobhi Malek points out, if the Christian simply says, “Yes, I believe in the Trinity,” and does not clarify what he means, the Muslim will conclude that the Christian believes in three gods, which is anathema to the Muslim. Yet if the Christian says, “No, I do not believe in the Trinity,” he will be in denial of one of the basic doctrines of Chris- tianity.[10]

So if a Muslim asks this question, the Christian must give a qualified yes-that is, the Christian must clearly define what the term Trinity means. Muslims typically reject the doctrine of the Trinity for several reasons. Primarily, the doctrine implies that God has partners, an idea Muslims interpret to be heinous. Beyond this, Muslims point out that the word Trinity is not in the Bible. Of course, the Muslim term for God’s unity (tawhid) is not in the Quran either.[11] Yet Muslims believe in the concept of God’s unity because they believe the whole of the Quran teaches it.

Likewise, though the word Trinity is not mentioned in the Bible, the concept is clearly derived from Scripture. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is based on (1) evidence that there is only one true God, (2) evidence that three persons are God, and (3) scriptural indications for three-in-oneness within the Godhead. Let’s briefly consider these three doctrinal planks: Evidence for one God.

The fact that there is only one true God is the consistent testimony of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation-something you will want to emphasize to your Muslim acquaintance, who probably thinks the Trinity includes three gods. God’s oneness is emphasized throughout the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4; 32:39; 2 Samuel 7:22; Psalm 86:10; Isaiah 37:20; 43:10; 44:6; 45:5,14,21-22; 46:9) as well as the New Testament (John 5:44; 17:3; Romans 3:29-30; 16:27; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 1:17; 2:5; James 2:19; 1 John 5:20-21; Jude 25).

Evidence for three persons who are called God. Though Scripture is clear there is only one God, God’s revelation to humankind also clearly refers to three distinct persons who are called God. Be sure to emphasize that the three persons are not God, Jesus, and Mary, but rather the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls each of these three persons God-the Father (1 Peter 1:2), Jesus (Hebrews 1:8), and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). Each person of the Trinity individually possesses the attributes of deity, including omnipresence (Psalm 139:7; Matthew 19:26; 28:18), omniscience (Romans 11:33; Matthew 9:4; 1 Corinthians 2:10), and omnipotence (Matthew 28:18; Romans 15:19; 1 Peter 1:5).

As well, each of the three performs works of deity. For example, all three were involved in the creation of the universe: the Father (Genesis 2:7; Psalm 102:25), Jesus (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), and the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30). Scriptural indications for three-in-oneness. Scripture indicates there are three persons in the one God. Perhaps one of the best verses is Matthew 28:19. After Jesus had risen from the dead, He referred to all three persons of the Trinity while instructing the disciples: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The word name is singular in the Greek, pointing to one God, but the Godhead includes three distinct persons-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul’s benediction in his second letter to the Corinthians gives further evidence for God’s three-in-oneness: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).’ his verse shows the intimacy that each of the three persons has with the believer.

As you try to share the correct view of the Trinity with your Muslim acquaintance, he might say the doctrine does not make sense. How can three be one? Help your friend see that the Trinity does not involve three gods in one god, nor does it involve three persons in one person. Those kinds of statements would be illogical. But the Trinity involves one God who is eternally manifest in three persons (one What, three Whos).

The Trinity may not be easy to understand, but we should not be surprised that finite minds cannot fully comprehend the nature of an infinite God. Scholar Dean Halverson notes that “the difficulty of understanding and explaining the concept of the Trinity is, in fact, evidence for its divine origin. It is unlikely that such a concept would be invented by mere humans. [12]

God Is Love

While “Allah loveth not those that do wrong” (Sura 3:140), the Christian Bible tells us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves all sinners (John 3:16; Romans 5:1-10). God is not just characterized by love. He is the very personification of love (1 John 4:8). Love permeates His being. And God’s love does not depend on the lovability of the object (human beings). God loves us despite the fact that we are fallen in sin (John 3:16). First John 4:9-10 tells us, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

God Is Holy

Unlike the Allah of the Quran, the God of the Bible is holy. This means not only that He is entirely separate from all evil but also that He is absolutely righteous (Leviticus 19:2). He is pure in every way. God is separate from all that is morally imperfect. The Scriptures lay great stress upon this attribute of God (Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 99:9; 111:9; Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 15:4).

God Is Singularly Good, Just, and Righteous

A key emphasis in the Bible relates to the absolute unity of God’s moral character. By unity, I mean that God does not have within His nature dualistic ideas of good and evil, mercy and cruelty. God is singularly good, just, and righteous. The God of the Bible abhors evil, does not create evil, and does not lead men astray. Christian apologists have noted that in Islamic teaching, Allah is not essentially good but is only called good because he does good.

He is named for his actions. This line of thinking has an obvious fatal flaw. If Allah is called good because he does good, should we call Allah evil because he also does evil? This conclusion seems difficult to avoid. If Allah does evil, doesn’t this reveal something about his nature? Doesn’t an effect resemble its cause? As Thomas Aquinas pointed out, one cannot produce what one does not possess.

The inescapable conclusion is that evil is a part of Allah’s nature. Contrary to Islam, the Bible teaches that both good and evil cannot stem from one and the same essence (God). We read that God is light, and “in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5; compare with Habakkuk 1:13; Matthew 5:48).1he Scriptures clearly portray God as singularly good (Psalm 25:8; 31:19; 34:8; 100:5; 106:1; Nahum 1:7), singularly righteous (Ezra 9:15; Psalm 11:7; 33:5; 89:14; Jeremiah 12:1), and singularly just (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 11:7; John 17:25; Hebrews 6:10).

 God Is Sovereign, but He Allows for Free Will

The biblical God is absolutely sovereign-He rules the universe, controls all things, and is Lord over all (Psalm 50:1; 66:7; 93:1; Isaiah 40:17; 1 Timothy 6:15). At the same time, Scripture portrays man as having a free will (Genesis 3:1-7).

Man’s finite understanding cannot comprehend how both divine sovereignty and human free will can both be true, but Scripture teaches both doctrines. In fact, they are often side by side in a single Scripture verse (see Acts 2:23; 13:48). This means that the true God, unlike Allah, cannot be held responsible for people’s evil choices.

An Objective Basis for Forgiveness

According to the Bible, humankind’s dilemma of falling “short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) required a solution. Man’s sin-his utter unrighteousness-prevented him from coming into a relationship with God on his own. God solved this seemingly insurmountable problem by declaring righteous all those who believe in Jesus. Because of Christ’s work on the cross-taking our place and bearing our sins-God acquits believers and pronounces a verdict of not guilty.

Romans 3:24 tells us that God gives His “declaration of righteousness” to believers “freely by his grace.” The word grace literally means “unmerited favor.” Because of God’s unmerited favor, believers are freely “declared righteous” before God. Here is the important thing I want to emphasize: God’s declaration of righteousness has an objective basis. God did not subjectively decide to overlook man’s sin or wink at his unrighteousness. That would be unjust and unrighteous. Instead, Jesus died on the cross for us.

He died in our stead and paid for our sins. He ransomed us from death by His own death on the cross. By contrast, Islam has no atonement, so Allah has no objective basis to forgive sins. This means that Allah’s forgiveness is unrighteous and unjust. Only through the cross could God remain just and the justifier of the ungodly who trust in Jesus. To imagine that God can righteously forgive sinners without requiring any atonement “is to impute immorality to God and make him a protector of sin rather than its condemner.”[13] 

Biblical God Is Not Allah

Though many people think the Allah of Islam and the God of the Bible are one and the same, the Bible compels us to reject this line of thinking. The differences are so substantive that a common identity is impossible.

[14]

Ron Rhodes

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End Notes:

[1] William Miller, A Christian’s Response to Islam (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1976), p. 45. 

[2] Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka, Muslims and Christians at the Table (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1999), p. 94.

[3] Donald Tingle, Islam and Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), p. 8.

[4] Abdiyah Akbar Abdul-Haqq, Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1980), p. 159.

[5] Risaleh-i-Barkhawi, quoted in Gerhard Nehls, Christians Ask Muslims, in The World of Islam CD-ROM (Colorado Springs: Global Mapping International, 2000).

[6] Lewis Hopfe, Religions of the World (New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1991), p. 410.

[7] McDowell and Zaka, p. 124.

[8] Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), pp. 141-42.

[9] Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner, Unveiling Islam (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), p. 117.

[10] Sobhi Malek, Islam: Challenge and Mandate, in The World of Islam CD-ROM (Colorado Springs: Global Mapping International, 2000).

[11] William Saal, Reaching Muslims for Christ (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1993), n.p.

[12] Dean Halverson, The Compact Guide to World Religions (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), p. 113.

[13] Gleason Archer, “Confronting the Challenge of Islam in the 21st Century,” Contend for the Faith (Chicago: Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, 1992), p. 99.

[14] Ron Rhodes, The 10 Things You Need to Know About Islam [Eugene: Harvest House, 2007], 49-60. 

See also:

EVANGELICAL CHURCHES PROMOTING ISLAM?

CHRISLAM AND THE GOSPEL OF ISLAM

JIM WALLIS AND SOJOURNERS MAKING MUSLIM-CHRISTIANS

THE RISE OF CHRISLAM?

EXPLAINING CHRISLAM

IS SHANE CLAIBORNE A CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM?

KEEPING YOU APPRISED OF: ISLAM