Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
(COMMENTARY) Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
This topic hit the news Feb. 4 when Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayebb of Egypt’s influential Al-Azhar University issued a joint declaration “in the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity.” Did Francis, who was making history’s first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, thereby mean to say that the Christian God is the Muslim God?
Yes, he did, if properly understood, and this was no innovation on his part.
In 1965, Pope Paul VI and the world’s Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council approved Nostra Aetate, the declaration on relations with non-Christian religions. The decree’s denunciation of calumny against Jews gets most of the attention, but it also proclaimed this:
“The church also regards with esteem the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,” although “they do not acknowledge Jesus as God” and regard him as only a prophet. The subsequent Catechism of the Catholic Church likewise defines the belief that “together with us [Muslims] adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
Such interfaith concord is disputed by some conservative Protestants in the U.S. For example, the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry believes the Catholic Church has “a faulty understanding of the God of Islam,” and Muslims “are not capable of adoring the true God.” Hank Hanegraaff of the “Bible Answer Man” broadcast — now a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy — has asserted that “the Allah of Islam” is “definitely not the God of the Bible.” [Note that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word meaning “God.”]
Back in the century after Islam first arose, such thinking was expressed in “The Fount of Knowledge” by John of Damascus, a revered theologian for Eastern Orthodoxy. John spelled out reasons why Islam’s belief about God is a “heresy” and Muhammad is “a false prophet.”
Islam’s fundamental profession of faith declares that “there is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
How are we to understand this one true God?
Christianity worships the one God who exists eternally as three persons, God the Father, Jesus the divine Son and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine of the Trinity distinguishes traditional Christianity not only from Islam and Judaism but groups like the Latter-Day Saints (“Mormons”), Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Oneness” Pentecostals and those Unitarians who define themselves as Christian.
Islam’s Quran opposes those “who say that God is the third of three” (5:73). A further passage declares that “we worship God alone; we ascribe no partner to Him, and none of us takes others beside God as lords” (3:64; similarly in 6:161-163). The Quran also says that God asked Jesus, “Did you say to people take me and my mother as two gods alongside God?” Jesus then denied this (5:116).
Christians are perplexed by that last passage and suppose it expressed a misunderstanding of the Trinity doctrine, or the incorrect idea that Catholicism and Orthodoxy deified Jesus’ mother Mary rather than venerating her, or was attacking some unknown heresy in Muhammad’s day.
This article was published at Get Religion.