By Martin Accad
The Malaysian Supreme Court finally confirmed last week what many in the Evangelical community have been suspecting in recent years: Muslims and Christians worship different gods, and we must establish clear theological and linguistic boundaries, lest our people get confused! The first time I heard anyone suggest that Muslims and Christians worshiped different gods was in 1997. I had moved to the UK to study and it was the first time I lived outside of Lebanon for an extended period of time. The emotion I felt when I heard my new British friend suggest that Muslims worship a different God is still vivid for me. I would describe it as a mixed feeling of sadness and shock. It made me feel slightly nauseous, while at the same time causing me to dismiss it with a shrug as I ascribed it to simple ignorance. Yet since that time over 15 years ago, I have heard that argument more and more often. While growing up in Lebanon, I never heard this suggested, either by Muslims or Christians, even though those were years of intense civil war precisely between Christians and Muslims. Most importantly perhaps, the fact that my Muslim friends and I never questioned whether Allah that we all worshiped was the same divine being never led us to feel that we were all part of the same religion. They still felt that they had the truth and so did I. They talked to me about their own understanding of God and I invited them to Sunday school.
I know that an argument from silence is not the strongest, nor is relying on a gut feeling or emotion necessarily the best test for truth. But however sophisticated an argument I could make to demonstrate the absurdity of this claim (and perhaps I’ll present that on another occasion), I am still driven by my gut feeling. I know the counter arguments will never convince me, not because they are bad arguments, but simply because I have always grown up with the assumption that my Muslim friends and I worshiped the same God. Conversely, I do not expect to convince many who believe we worship different gods, even through the most sophisticated of arguments, simply because they are likely driven by the opposite gut feeling. Isn’t the argument beyond human reach anyway?
When the Malaysian appeals court ruled that “the term Allah must be exclusive to Islam or it could cause public disorder,” did that not reflect the human obsessive drive for control, even of God? Especially God we must control, for he is such a powerful catalyst for action in human beings. No amount of complaining that Christians have used the word “Allah” for centuries before Islam in the Arab world and in Asia will do anything to change the mind of religious leaders. God must be kept under control. Monopolies over the names of God must be settled in court. Otherwise our people might get confused. It might “cause public disorder.” Our symbols of exclusion, our walls, our boundaries might be laid low. It’s news like this that issued from Malaysia last week that reminds me why I hate religion so much. Because religion sparks tensions between communities, it causes churches and mosques and Sikh temples to be attacked and burnt down.
Then I am reminded that God cares about the nations too, not just about his “chosen people.” The prophet Jonah learnt this lesson at great cost to himself. Even in the cases where God punishes the nations in the Old Testament, is that not a reflection of God’s care for them? He punishes a nation for practicing injustice towards the oppressed, the orphans and the widows among its own population. But these downtrodden people are themselves unbelieving pagans. On the other hand, we read of times when God did not listen to the prayers of his own people anymore. Consider the following scathing criticism relayed by the prophet Isaiah (1:11-15):
‘The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!’
Is it because his people’s theology had gone heretical that God turned a deaf ear to them? Clearly not. Two verses later (v. 17), God tells them what they need to do for their worship to be accepted again:
‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’
The fact is that, throughout the Bible, what seems to matter more to God is our love and care for our fellow human beings rather than our correct theology. I know this may not sound pleasing at first to our Evangelical mind-set, steeped as we are in the belief that we are not saved by our good works but by faith. I believe this as well. But it is clear that we cannot convince God of our good faith if our works don’t reflect it. And salvation by faith also points to the fact that we are not saved by right theology or by sophisticated doctrine.
Finally, I am reminded of the parable that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Both were Jews, so we can assume they were worshipping the “correct” God. Yet after they had finished praying, Jesus affirms: “I tell you that this man (that is the tax collector), rather than the other (the Pharisee), went home justified before God.” We learn from Jesus’ narrative that one man’s prayer was accepted by God because it came from a humble heart, whereas the other man’s prayer was not because it came from a heart that exalted itself. We learn, too, that we can have the right theology and pray to the right God, yet our prayer and worship is not accepted because our heart is not right. On the other hand, God will hear the cry of the oppressed even if they don’t have the right theology, if their heart is humble and they come in brokenness before him.
Is it of any relevance, then, to reach a conclusion on whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Besides my conviction that it is Biblically irrelevant, I believe we will never get to a satisfactory conclusion that everyone agrees with. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that Jesus occupies a central role in our ability to approach the holiness of God and to understand and experience his Fatherly heart. But I would feel like a Pharisee if I insisted that Muslims, who affirm passionately that they worship the God of Abraham and of Jesus, were actually worshiping a different god. I’d much rather work hard on reflecting the love of Jesus for them, so that they too would be attracted to his beauty and grow deeper in their understanding and experience of God. I refuse to align, like so many these days in my own Evangelical community, with the religious extremists in the Malaysian context.
For more on this issue of God in Christianity and Islam, please refer to previous post by IMES colleague Jesse Wheeler: “Is Allah God?”
I appreciated this article , Martin! Well said and so true…so sad too. Praise be Allah, the God of peace !
“Some time ago a Christian priest in Malaysia said that it is alright for Christians to use the term Allah because He is also their Allah. The so-called Muslims raised a hue and cry over this and the matter was taken to the court. Unfortunately the court decided that only Muslims can use the term Allah and no one else has the right to say that Allah belongs to them. So, these worldly people restricted Allah’s name in the name of Allah! They deem that only the so-called Muslims have ownership of Allah. The ignorant Maulwis may say things like these but it is astonishing to note that educated decision-making people are bringing Islam in disrepute with such decisions. Allah the Exalted states: ‘All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds.’ (1:2) that is, He is the Lord of everyone, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. He also states: ‘Allah enlarges His provisions for whomsoever He pleases…’ (13:27) Is someone else providing for Christians, Jews or the others? In light of their [the court’s] decision it is an unforgivable sin if a Christian says that Allah is providing for him. Allah the Exalted has had it stated in the Holy Qur’an through the earlier Prophets that: ‘Allah, your Lord, and the Lord of your forefathers of old?’ (37:127) Thus, how can Muslims have ownership of Allah? Indeed, Allah the Exalted states about the Christians about whom the Malaysian court passed a verdict that only Muslims can use the term Allah: ‘Say, ‘O People of the Book! come to a word equal between us and you — that we worship none but Allah…’ (3:65) That is, the commonality/common value between Muslims and Christians is the Being of Allah the Exalted. Just as a Muslim has the right to say Allah, so does a Christian and anyone else. I have given these examples because some Ahmadis ask me regarding this matter. The Holy Qur’an is replete with examples where Allah the Exalted has called Himself Allah of everyone. No individual, religion, no sect, no government and no court of law has the ownership of Allah. Allah the Exalted is not a trademark; He is Lord of all the worlds.”
Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah strengthen his hand), 5th Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in his Friday sermon in Singapore on September 27th 2013.
But Christians & Muslims do have a different concept of God. The Christian God has a Son, while the Muslim God does not. That;s just one aspect. The more extensive differences lie in all the contradictions there are in the Qur’an vs the Holy Bible. The same God will not contradict Himself,
Reblogged this on Persona and commented:
Here are some very pertinent comments of my friend Dr. Martin Accad, from IMES, on the recent ruling of a Malaysian court that non-Muslims are not allowed to use the name Allah for God.
And a little quote, from the end of the article:
‘Is it of any relevance, then, to reach a conclusion on whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Besides my conviction that it is Biblically irrelevant, I believe we will never get to a satisfactory conclusion that everyone agrees with. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that Jesus occupies a central role in our ability to approach the holiness of God and to understand and experience his Fatherly heart. But I would feel like a Pharisee if I insisted that Muslims, who affirm passionately that they worship the God of Abraham and of Jesus, were actually worshiping a different god. I’d much rather work hard on reflecting the love of Jesus for them, so that they too would be attracted to his beauty and grow deeper in their understanding and experience of God. I refuse to align, like so many these days in my own Evangelical community, with the religious extremists in the Malaysian context.’
Loved this article Martin, so very true…I have a little marcasite pendent on a chain around my neck, with the Arabic script Allah on it, I bought it in Beirut, It sits close to my heart… God bless you
[…] My Allah Is More Authentic Than Your Allah! (imeslebanon.wordpress.com) […]
No god but Allah, is only one God (ahad) and Muhammad is messenger of Allah……
A very well written article. Only to be expected from the offspring of Lucien and Huguette….
On the subject at hand… Unfortunately, this attitude is not only among Malay Muslims and evangelicals, I have seen it among other Christians too …
I share Martin’s distaste for the subliminal racism this really reflects in both directions. However , It seems to me, that people who insist on such doctrinal stances only show thier own ignorance. Someone needs to remind people, i feel, that God is who he is ( wasn’t that what He told Moses, when Moses asked who should he say sent him.) … Doctrines are just a feeble attempt to extrapolate who God is from the words of a prophet or of Christ…but in reality God is beyond our doctrines because the reality of God is way beyond what words can explain or a mind can understand on its own. Is it any wonder then that when God Had expressed himself time and again through prophets and laws, He finally sent His Logos ( word) as a man to Live God infront of us and so we can mimick Him?
I personally pity anyone tying themselves to a doctrinal God on both sides. They are trying to contain the uncontainable….
I loved the article. I loved how it tackled what truly lies at the heart of the matter. The issue is definitely not just a doctrinal issue. It is packed with emotions. It is deeply rooted in our interactions and our experiences with one another.
Now this does not deny that the name “Allah” was used by Christians in pre-Islamic era, nor does it deny that there are significant differences between how Christians and Muslims perceive God.
I pray that this court decision will have a positive effect on Muslims in Malaysia who out of outrage and curiosity will want to hear the Gospel from their Christian fellow-citizens.
The Bible proves that Christians have used the word Allah to refer to the God who sent Jesus to us.
In the list of people’s present on the Day of Pentecost who “heard them declare the wonders of God in their own languages,” Arabs are listed last (Acts 2:11).
So when Arabs heard the Apostles speaking of God in Arabic, it came out as Allah – and they followed Jesus in the name of this Allah and were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Think about this! Perhaps 10% of the very first people on Earth who became known as The Church, referred to God as Allah – over 300 years BEFORE Mohammed arrived on the scene.
How many people at Pentecost spelled God g-o-d?
Nice reminder Nate! Were there no Americans at Pentecost? Surely a few Brits 🙂
Allah is a derivative of Elohim. Just ponder the similarity. Arabs, Muslim & Christian, often say Allahumma while praying, even closer to Elohim.
This is a great comment on the court decision, but in terms of “God” it misses the essence of the matter. The god of the Old Testament (the “Lord” or Adonai) is in fact Yahweh, whom we know now from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other evidence is one god in a pantheon of gods headed by the chief father god Il or El. Yahweh is one of the sons of god, who in the biblical tradition assumes the powers of the father god, as happened also in Greek and other mythologies. This chief god (Il /El) was technically the god of Ibrahim (Abraham), as many of the names containing “el” show also. He is in effect the “Allah” in Arabic. So the two gods are different, but not in the sense that either the court or Martin argue.
[…] of Middle East Studies at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. He entitled his blog My Allah is More Authentic Than Your Allah! It’s a thoughtful treatment of the news of Malaysian lawmakers’ recent decision to disallow the […]
The issue is not whether Muslims and Christians worship the same Allah (God). The real question is whether the Allah described in the Koran is the same Allah (God) of the Bible. I agree with the comments of “the observer” (see above). How should one interpret the following verse: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
[…] question until quite recently. For example, Dr. Martin Accad (aka my boss) admits to having never once pondered the question until an acquaintance asked him about it during his studies in Oxford – this after completing […]