On the Salaam Project website are seven hard questions that people often ask. I am planning to post one per month for the next seven months. I look forward to your responses.
Are Allah and God the Same?
This is one of the most common questions that I receive. Most Muslims would be quick to say “yes.” We can agree with them, and it is good to do so, because it puts us on common ground. Searching for common ground shows respect for the other, and opens up room for dialogue and the sharing of our faith. Searching for common ground also reduces prejudice and hate and helps to form bridges and relationships. It is the hospitable thing to do. There are some good reasons for this approach.
First, we are both monotheistic religions. We believe there is One Supreme Creator God who is in charge of all things. We will answer to this God on the Day of Judgment for our actions. In this we can agree that we believe in the same God. We can agree with almost all of the 99 names of God that Muslims recite. We have much in common.
Second, the name Allah is a legitimate name for God. Many Middle – Eastern Christians read the Arabic Bible. God is referred to Allah in this Bible, and he has been referred this way for hundreds of years. Allah is linguistically more closely related to the Hebrew name for God Elohim. When Jesus said, “Eli, Eli” in Aramaic on the cross, and some of the people standing there thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah, he was using a word that has closer ties to Allah than to God. Our English word for God comes from Germanic roots and even farther back from the Farsi language.
Third, by stressing the similarities rather than the differences we can begin to explore together our understanding of God’s mercy, compassion and grace. This can lead us into important discussions about Jesus and forgiveness of sin. So Allah is also a bridge to a Christian understanding of the nature of grace.
But, a caveat. Having said all of this, it is clear that the way we conceptualize God is different from how a Muslim thinks of Allah. God, as He is revealed in Scripture, is a loving Father. This could not be said of Allah. The Qur’an describes Allah as merciful but his mercy is something unknown – it cannot be counted on. Even the prophet Muhammad himself did not know if he would secure salvation from Allah on the Day of Judgment. The Christian concept of God giving his own Son to die for the sins of God’s people is a very different form of mercy. Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection on the third day, gives the believer in Jesus the assurance that their sins are forgiven and that they have been made right with God. This then leads to the desire to live a holy life in gratitude for this gift of grace.
So clearly the starting point is yes. We gain much by focusing on what we hold in common in our respective faiths. Differences are best left to later when relationships have formed and the Holy Spirit is at work.