Muslim-Christian interfaith dialogue often raises the question: Do we worship the same God? The answer is usually colored by the preferences, presuppositions, or theological-doctrinal understanding of the individual. In this essay, I affirm the complexity of this question, explain some of the challenges, provide arguments Muslim and Christian scholars voice, and offer an understanding to the question: Do Muslims and Christians really worship the same God?
Common Responses: If we ask this question to Muslims on the streets of Egypt, we will hear many answers. A nominal Muslim would say, “We all worship the same Allah, we are all good, and He is the Great God.” A devoted, educated Muslim may affirm, “We Muslims know the true God, and you Christians have twisted the knowledge of God, worshiping a divine identity you created.” A fundamentalist Muslim would respond, “No, definitely not! You Christians are infidels.” If you ask the same question to Christians in Egypt, you will hear similar answers.
These responses are driven by religious enthusiasm rather than deep, analytical thought on the matter. According to the Qur’an (Q4:163; 5:69; 22:34; 29:46), Muslims worship the same divine being that Jews and Christians worship. Professor Imad Shehadeh, therefore, rightly rephrases the question from, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” to a more accurate, “Do Christians agree with the Islamic claim that they believe in the same God?”
Some Christian scholars affirm that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. In Allah: A Christian Response, Miroslav Volf affirms, “Christians and Muslims worship one and the same God, the only one God.” His argument is a valuable attempt to promote Muslim-Christian mutual respect, yet I believe that in the pursuit of peace-building, particularities and differences essential to each faith cannot be set aside.
Complexity of the Question: Other scholars take a different approach. Christian scholar Dudley Woodberry argues,
In comparing Muslim and Christian beliefs, it is helpful to distinguish between the Being to whom we refer and what we understand about the character and actions of that Being in the two faiths.
Thus, as suggested by Methodist theologian Wesley Ariarajah, it cannot be really treated as a yes or no question.
Linguistically, the matter is confusing. Christians in the Arab world today use the same word, Allah, to identify the divine being. Muslims in the West use the word God, as well as Allah, to name the being that they worship. Common language, however, does not mean common belief.
In addition, we see overlap and differences theologically. Some argue that because Islam and Christianity affirm that there is only one God, the two faiths must therefore address the same divine being. This argument appears reductionist. As monotheists we both refer to the One and only Creator God, but what we understand about the character and actions of the divine being are significantly different. Muslims cannot accept the notion of a Triune God. Furthermore, while Jesus Christ is of great importance in the Quran, they deny his divinity and even his crucifixion. Jesus, for Muslims, was one of the Messengers of Allah, like Adam and Noah. Muslims affirm that Jesus is neither Allah nor son of Allah, as Allah has neither a son nor a partner.
A consideration of the attributes of God and Allah also proves that a simple yes or no answer to the question remains difficult. For Muslims, Allah is: All-Merciful, All-Compassionate, Pure One, Mighty One, Knower of All, Just, Forbearing, Generous, Giver of Life, and Patient One. These attributes of Allah are similar to those of the God Christians worship. However, Muslims still believe that Allah is, at the same time, the Avenger, Proud One, Subduer or Suppressor, Constrictor, Abaser or Degrader, Humiliator, Taker of Life, Harmful One, Afflictor, and so on. This list makes Christians uncomfortable, as it does not fit the picture of God depicted in the New Testament.
Other Challenges: We might assume that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God because they differ greatly in their views of Jesus. However, this creates a question with regard to Jews. Generally Christians believe that they worship the same God as the Jews because of the continuation between the Old and New Testaments, even though Jews regard Christ as, at best, a Jewish prophet or teacher. If this is the case, we cannot say that Muslims and Christians worship different Gods because they view Jesus differently. Moreover, even among the many Christians factions there are differing views on the nature and character of Jesus, yet we would not claim they do not worship the same divine being.
If we say that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, then when Muslims pray and worship, which divine being is listening to them? Is he the same one Christians worship? In the Bible we read that Cornelius was a ‘God-fearer’ but not a Jew; yet the God of Peter listened to him (Acts 10). Moreover, when the people of Nineveh repented and prayed, the God of Jonah listened to them (Jonah 3:6-10).
A New Question: I argue that while Christians and Muslims may worship the Only One God, they conceive of His character, deeds, and nature differently. Shehadeh rightly observes that from a Christian standpoint Jews have an incomplete picture of God’s nature based on their reliance solely on the Old Testament, and Muslims have an inaccurate one as they see him through the lens of their sacred texts. As Christians, we believe that a complete and accurate view of God comes through the whole of Scripture and defines the One we worship. Therefore, to answer the question under study with a yes or no, I argue, would violate the complexity of the matter. From a certain angle, the answer would be yes, but from a different angle, the answer must be no.
I believe that in matters of faith and doctrine, particularities and specifics cannot be denied or avoided, even if it is for the sake of peaceful dialogue. Thus, we should seek to better understand the one true God as revealed through his Word, who is the God we worship, and make every possible effort to connect with Muslims through the common ground we have, without feeling the need to compromise components of our faith.