Contend Earnestly: Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God? Part I

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God? Part I

When I first heard this question brought up to me, my thought was a simple, “No.” The reason that I gave was the fact that we, as followers of Jesus, worship the monotheistic, yet triune God of Abraham. If one does not believe that God is triune in nature, how can they worship the same as I, one who is a follower of Jesus? But, I quickly started to think this through. The reason was that Jews would give the same answer as a Muslim in regards to God, yet I would have a harder time to say that God’s chosen nation in Old Testament didn’t worship God, if they didn’t believe Him to be triune. Not only that, but I would have a hard time regarding those in contemporary Judaism as not worshiping the same God as I. Being that both the Muslim and Jew worship God, who is the One and only, if one is cast out as not worshiping God so shall the other. One can see the similarities in the two faiths, in their preeminent proclamation of them:

The Shema for the Jew, taken from Deuteronomy 6:4, states:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!

When the Muslim is asked what makes one a true Muslim, or one who is submitted to God, they will speak of their Shahada:

There is no god but God

So, as I started to think this through, I said, “If I say that Muslims do not worship the same God as I, then neither does the monotheistic Jew either.” Although this bothered me some, I still, nonetheless, decided to go to the Scriptures to see what it would say about those who did not believe Jesus to be God, and held that believing so, meant that God is more than one and was therefore being blasphemous.

I am going to go through this in steps to show what I am getting to. I will first distinguish between worshiping God and knowing God, then will show what Islam teaches about God or Allah, and then what the Scriptures speak of concerning those who do not know Jesus to be part of the Triune aspect of the Godhead.

Defining Worship, Not Knowing

Worshiping in the New Testament Greek is brought about in the terms “sebomai, proskuneo and latreuo .” These terms have the connotation of both a physical aspect and spiritual one. The physical aspect is brought out in the term, “proskuneo” which can either mean to “prostrate, kiss or bow” but also carries the idea of “deep reverence.” We see this term used in the most profound way when John uses it when quoting Jesus as saying,

“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:24

The next term that is translated as worship in the New Testament Greek is “sebomai” and has the idea of “revere, worship or one who is devout.” This term is translated in the NASB by using the terms “God-fearing, devout, worship and worshiper.” A couple of usages in the New Testament are found in Acts 13:50 and Acts 16:14 respectively:

But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

What one will notice is that the connection in these terms is the term, rendered in the English as, reverence. We will connect these further when looking at the Scriptures, but one other term that is very close to these two terms is the term “phobeo”, which means to “fear, to reverence or to be afraid.” So, when the Bible uses the term, “worship” there is some idea that reverential fear is being spoken of. Many times we see in the Scriptures that those who followed God were said, ‘to fear Him”. To give a reference that I will use later, Peter says in 1 Peter 2:17, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

What I want the reader to know is that I am not saying that all those who “worship” or “fear God” know God fully, or worship him in the way that God desires. Jesus tells us,

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Matthew 11:27

I want to make this distinction, because I don’t want to confuse the reader to think that I am saying that by worshiping God, one then knows God, therefore accessing heaven by a different means than Christ.

What Does Islam Believe About God?

First, this is not some Magnum Opus on the doctrines of the Islamic faith on Allah or God. I understand that most of my readers are Westerners with very little knowledge of the Qur’an, but have only heard Evangelical Polemics against Islam in regards to their understanding of God. My intent here is to show the similarities of the Qur'an with the Torah and New Testament, not to get into a debate about their practical wisdom of the terms they use.

Before we begin, some love to draw a very odd straw man against Islam by saying that “Allah” is a demon and should not be used as a term for calling on God. So much so, that they desire Muslim converts to Jesus to stop calling God, Allah. This is quite simply, very elementary and foolish. Mark D. Siljander, in his book, “A Deadly Understanding” puts the understanding quite well. He states:

What did the Semitic languages have to say about God and Allah? The answer proved fascinating.

In pre-Muhammadan times, Arabs worship a moon god called Hubal, whom they also referred to as “Al-ilah,” and this, goes the claim, was the source of “Allah.” But ilah is simply the Arabic word for “god.” Al-ilah means, “the god.” (The Arabic “al” is equivalent to the English “the.”) In precicely the same generic way, Semitic tribes used this basic term, il or el, to refer to their various gods for thousands of years before Muhammad. El was the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon; the Canaanite language was closely related to Hebrew. With Abraham and the birth of the great monotheistic faiths, these words were adopted to refer to the one God. The Aramaic form was Alaha, the Hebrew Eloah, which became the Elohim who does the creating in the first chapter of Genesis.

Taking a closer look at our own language, I found precisely the same linguistic process: our word “God” is derived from the proto-German pagan word gott, which denotes a particular water spirit. The Latin Deus, from which we draw our word, “deity,” Spanish its Dios, and French its Dieu, are all descendants of Zeus, the name for the chief god in the Greek pantheon. Yet when modern Christians pray to God, Dios, or Dieu, we don’t accused them of invoking Zeus or a pagan water demon! The Hubal issues was a nonissue: God, Dios, Elohim, Eloah, Alaha – and yes, Allah as well – all refer to the same One Deity of Abrahamic monotheism.

For over five hundred years before the birth of Muhammad, Arab Christians and even some Jews in the Arabian peninsula used the word Allah for God.

Mark J. Siljander, A Deadly Misunderstanding, 46-47

As we continue, remember that the great monotheistic beliefs understand that there is only one God. There is no other God. So, when one says that they are worshiping the one God and then describes that God in many of the same ways we would, it is difficult to come to the conclusion that they are, in fact, worshiping “another” god. Here are some of the descriptions that Islam has for Allah:

God is:
Creator of Universe
Revealer of Himself
The Light

It is easy to see that the way the Qur’an describes God, is very much how we would describe God. Would they describe God in every way that a follower of Jesus would? No. Would they understand God in every way that a follower of Jesus would? No. But, this shouldn’t negate the fact that Islam is monotheistic and hold to many of the same descriptions that we would hold to.

And these descriptions shouldn’t be too surprising, as Muhammad had much contact with Jews and Christians on the trade routes and the fact that Surah 3:64 states,

Say, "O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you - that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah ." But if they turn away, then say, "Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to Him]."

One can see that there are many similarities between the God of the Bible and Allah of the Qur’an. Even Muhammad, when speaking to “the people of the book (Scripture)” states that we both worship the same God and that none is his equal. The reason is the fact that Muhammad saw that the Jew, the Christian and the Muslim were all worshiping Jehovah, God, Allah – the one true God.

I will continue tomorrow with how the Scriptures describe those people who do not know God to be triune, yet One: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.


Darlene said...


I encourage you to read a recent entry on the "Beggars All" Reformation site on this very topic. Actually, the article was written in response to some of my questions. The blog article is entitled, "Common questions about Islam and Muslims."

I think this article will help you to understand the various nuances and distinctions when addressing this topic.

Seth McBee said...

I skimmed what he was saying...and I don't want to get into some sort of debate on the subject with him, but he is mistaken on a lot of points. I don't know him, but I would tell him that he should listen to what is happening with those in the Muslim countries who focus in on Jesus and his teachings, instead of trying to convert people to an ideology of Western Christianity. When one speaks about Jesus and the is received 100% positive...when speaking about is received news reports will give you.

I can't wait to minister and befriend Muslims to start reporting my own interactions. I can just say that based on all my interactions with those that are serving Muslims, nothing could be farther from the truth that he has reported.

glo said...

Seth, I just happened on this site when searching and read it, plus the comments. I'm curious and wonder if you would explain about Jesus and the Bible being received 100% (without mentioning christianity). Can you elaborate? thanks much,

Seth McBee said...

Thanks for the comment..I would happily answer your question if you email me at smcbee at mcbeeadvisors dot com

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