Is the God of the Bible and Allah of the Quran the same Being?
The importance of the nature of God
The most important teaching of the Bible is its teaching about God. The Bible not only teaches us to worship One God but also tells us about His character; and it is the character of God which gives meaning to all that the Bible teaches on other subjects. In the light of God’s character we understand the nature of sin and our need for the salvation which Christ brings. Because God’s character is gracious, we understand how He gives of Himself to men through Christ and His Holy Spirit. All depends upon what God is in Himself, so much so, that man’s nature and destiny find their meaning in the light of the character of God.
We believe that God is righteous, holy and self-giving, and these words give significance to our belief in One God. This question of God’s character is very important when we study Islam. The Muslim also believes that Allah is One, and because he believes that Allah is One, he says that Allah and the God of the Bible are the same: “We worship the same God,” he says to the Christian, and this belief that Allah and the God of the Bible are identical is the very foundation of Islam.
We have therefore to decide whether we Christians really do believe in the Allah of the Quran for if we do not, we cannot assume that the Muslim will understand us when we speak of Christ as the Son of God, or when we preach about the Holy Spirit and sin and salvation. Our teaching about such matters depends on what the Deity is like in His nature and activity.
How did the Arabs, to whom Muhammad the Prophet preached, understand him when he spoke to them about Allah?
It is not difficult to answer this question for, fortunately, the Quran itself tells us a great deal about the way in which the idolatrous Arabs thought about Allah. Below we read of the heathen goddesses whom the Arabs regarded as the daughters of their deity Allah:
This question was asked because angelic beings were also regarded as 'daughters of Allah' (As-Saffat 37:149 to 153; An-Nahl 16: 57; Al-Isra‘ 17: 41) and they, with Satan and the Jinn, were worshipped along with Allah by the pagan Arabs (An-Nisa 4:116,117; Al-An‘am 6:100). The pagan Arabs used to set aside a proportion of their harvest and cattle for their chief deity Allah, and then other portions for the other deities associated with Allah (Al-An’am 6:136).
The Meccans said of Muhammad, "does he make the gods to be one God?" (Sa’d 38: 4) and this was the way in which they objected to Muhammad’s teaching. They knew of and worshipped Allah, but wished to retain their other deities also.
We find that the prophet Muhammad complained that when the heathen Arabs were in danger or distress they called upon the name of their supreme deity Allah, but when they gained security, they associated others with Allah in their worship (Al-An’am 6:64; Al-Isra’ 17:67; Ar-Rum 29: 65) The Arabs even went so far as to say that Allah physically begot the female angels As-Saffat 37:151-153). "Allah begets not and he is not begotten", states the Quran (At-Tawhid 112: 3) in refutation of the statement that Allah physically begot these angelic beings.
Allah was undoubtedly worshipped by these heathen Arabs, but was not given pre-eminence as the only deity. That Allah was the deity of the Meccan Arabs, the protector of Mecca’s ancient temple the Kaaba is also made abundantly clear by Surah Al-Fil (105) of the Quran. According to this Surah, this Meccan temple with its idols was protected by Allah against the attack of an army led by an Abyssinian Christian. Calamity befell the attackers, and Surah Al-Fil celebrated Allah’s defence of His temple (about A.D. 570)
From the above statements it is therefore quite clear that the Arabs associated Allah with the worship of the Ka’aba and worshipped Him along with such goddesses as Allat and with female angels, with Satan and with the Jinn. It was to this setting that Muhammad came and it was his task to rid Allah of these associate deities and spirits.
In order to give the greater force to his teaching Muhammad then identified Allah with the God of the Bible, made the Meccan Ka’aba the House of God, and declared that Abraham and others in the Old Testament and New Testament worshipped Allah as the Supreme God. The opponents of Muhammad said that Allah “never sent down anything to a mortal” (Al-An‘am 6:91), but Muhammad declares that Allah had sent down the Quran, as He is also reported to have sent down the Torah, Psalms and Gospel.
Allah then, is not only identified with the God of the Bible, but the Quran and the Bible are declared to have come from the same source, and to have been given by the same God. The basic assumption of the Quran, accepted by all Muslims, is that the Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible are the same. Muhammad made this assumption the basis of his appeal to idolatrous Arabs, Christians and Jews.
Do we feel that we can read the Quran in our churches? Do we think of God and His character as the Muslim thinks of Allah? We believe in One God, and we should always say this to the Muslim, for Islam states that we believe in three gods and associate others with Allah. Do we think of Allah when we speak of the Father’s only Son and of the Holy Spirit of God?
What is the nature of Allah?
The Quran emphasizes His creative power, and teaches that not only the moral and material good of the world, but also its moral and material evil are His creation. When therefore Muslims speak of the Unity (tawhid of Allah) they combine in that Unity some creative activities which we declare are contradictory and cannot be reconciled.
The doctrine of the unity of Allah is a unified dualism. On the other hand, the God of the Bible is righteous. He abhors evil, and it would be blasphemy for us to say that God creates moral evil. The central doctrine in the Biblical teaching is its emphasis on a unity in God’s moral character, but Islam does not think of Allah in this way. There is no law of righteousness in the being of Allah. Allah does “as He pleases”, states the Quran; He guides men aright or He leads men astray. When we read, in Surah Al-Hijr 15:28-43 and elsewhere, of the legend concerning Satan, we find that Satan says to Allah:
The same verb is used of Allah’s beguiling Satan as is here used of Satan’s beguiling men. But Christians would regard it as blasphemy to think of the God of the Bible in terms of Satanic activity. The God of the Bible is conditioned by His holy nature. He sets before man life and death, and says to man ‘choose’.
Allah cannot be conditioned in any way. Allah creates all man’s acts, both good and evil, and only allows man the power to appropriate the acts which He has created for him. This appropriation, moreover, is not even a free acceptance on man’s part, for man cannot of himself say, ‘I don’t want to act thus’ man’s every thought and act, his every intention and purpose, are created by Allah, man creates nothing, whether it be by thought or action, whereas Allah not only creates all man’s thoughts and actions, but is the direct and immediate cause of all man’s sensations (e.g., if a man feels burning, it is because Allah creates that sensation in him).
Moreover, in the interest of the dogma of Allah’s continuous creative activity, early orthodox Muslim theologians held that there are no “stable natures” in the universe. All orthodox Muslim theologians speak of what appears to be a habit in the functioning of things, but maintain that, in reality, Allah is the direct and immediate cause of everything which takes place and exists. Some Muslims have said that He creates all the atoms of existing things moment by moment. It follows therefore, that the actions of a saint, the excesses of a libertine, the flight of a fly, and the movement of a star in the heavens, are all direct creations of Allah, moment by moment.
Allah is the sole Creator, and Islam, of necessity, sets forth a Deity who is unconditioned in His creative activity, teaching that man is uncreative and passive in His hands. It is, therefore, not surprising that Islam holds not only that man is completely unlike Allah in that he is incapable of creating an act or thought for himself, but that between the nature of Allah and that of man there is an absolute ‘opposition.’ Allah remains inaccessible and man can know nothing of His nature.
Moreover, even if a man appears to keep Allah’s laws, Allah is not obliged by any disposition of justice to put such a man into Paradise. Orthodox Islam firmly repudiates the suggestion that Allah is conditioned by a disposition of this kind and declares that it would be heresy to speak of His justice. The unorthodox Mutazila who also declared that if Allah were the creator of moral evil then He Himself would be vile insisted on Allah’s justice.
Our statement represents the strict Asharite position. The Mutazila were opposed on the grounds that no obligation may be laid on Allah. The orthodox al Ghazali, however, affirmed that Allah is ‘just’, but that this divine justice cannot be understood by analogy with human justice. Allah’s right is absolute and therefore He cannot be understood by analogy with human justice. Allah’s right is absolute and therefore He cannot be held to be unjust.
There is a Tradition (hadith) in which we are told that Allah produced from the hairs of Adam’s back all the generations to come. These generations were divided into two camps, and some were laughing and the others were crying. Allah indicated those who were laughing, and said: ‘These are for Paradise, and I care not!’ He then spoke of those who were crying, and said: “These are for Hell, and I care not!’ Allah creates all, decrees all, and He cares nothing.
Is this Allah (the Immediate Cause of all that occurs or exists, the Creator of good and evil, the One who indifferently consigns to Hell or Paradise) the same as the God of the Bible? Is He the same as the God who spoke by the prophets, the God who holds out His hands all day long, the God of truth and grace? These are the questions which the Christian must first answer before he can hope to speak intelligibly to followers of Islam.