A God by Any Other Name? (Part 1)

Have you ever had a double take?   Usually it’s a compulsory second look due to something visually startling.  I had one not long ago due to a conversation before a luncheon with two evangelical Christian friends who attend two different churches. The conversation led to the comment “The Muslims believe in the same God as we do, they just call him by a different name, Allah.” After my double take, but before I could blurt out, “No!”, our luncheon host called us to our individual tables.

So is a name really that important? Juliet Capulet deeply hoped it wasn’t, as Shakespeare penned “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Ironically, name changing wouldn’t have solved their families’ feud because of the nature of the people involved. In my scenario, the name does matter, because the name is mentioned and the Being revealed in authoritative writing.  For the God of the Bible, He is YHWH (LORD; I AM).  For the God of the Qur’an, he is Allah.  The Islamic name doesn’t translate well in English, so one Muslim writer defined it as “the unique god who possesses all the attributes of perfection and beauty in their infinitude” (1).  From this alone, you can’t conclude anything–there’s no detail to make a comparison. However, there are important differences in three areas: nature and character, the identity and deity of Jesus Christ, and soteriology.  I’ll cover the first in part 1 of this postcard, and the remaining two in part 2.

Nature and Character of God

The LORD is a person, Allah is wholly other, neither physical or spirit. To Muslims God has no likeness (Sura 42:11; a sura is one of the 114 revelations in the Qur’an), yet the Bible informs us that we have been created in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27).  Allah is transcendent (Sura 4:171), meaning being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge, or being beyond comprehension.  While the LORD certainly has incommunicable attributes that we don’t share (holy, self-existent, self-sufficient, unchangeable, all knowing (omniscient), all powerful (omnipotent), fully sovereign, having no beginning and no end (eternal), and his whole being is present everywhere (omnipresent), we certainly have some understanding of what they are, again due to Scripture.  He also has communicable attributes (holy-when redeemed, spiritual, loving, merciful, wrathful, jealous) which we more fully understand because we recognize them in our own lives.  Lastly, the LORD has revealed himself to all and is knowable (Rom 1:19-20), which is in direct contrast to Sura 4:171.

The LORD relates to man, Allah does not. The Qur’an has two passages (Sura 11:90, 85:14) that describe Allah as compassionate and merciful, however there’s not a single passage that indicates God loves any portion of mankind, or that people can know God on a personal, relational level. Scripture tells us that those who trust in Christ, do the Father’s will, and have been redeemed have been adopted as sons (Rom 8:14-15; Gal 3:26). We are heirs of God (Gal 4:7) and the Father deals with us as His children (Matt 12:47; Mark 3:35; Heb 12:5, 7).  We can even be called His friends (John 15:13-15; James 2:23).

The LORD is triune, Allah is not. To the Muslim the concept of a triune God is blasphemous.  The Qur’an attacks valid heresies of Christianity in Sura 5:116 (probably the Collyridians or Anticomarionites, who gave Mary, Jesus’ mother, co-Godhead) and in Suras 5:17, 5:72 (probably Patrippassianism, where the Father became the Son and suffered on the cross).  However, in other parts of the Qur’an, such as Sura 9:30, Christian beliefs are accurately identified and attacked.  The Scripture reveals that the only true God eternally exists in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – the Trinity. Each person of the Trinity is fully and completely God with the same divine nature, but the persons of the Trinity are not identical. Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, is fully divine. The Holy Spirit is fully God and not an impersonal force. See our complete Statement of Faith for Biblical references (http://reformationchristianfellowship.net/Documents/AppendixA-RCFFullStatementofFaith.pdf)

The LORD is unchanging, Allah is changeable. One of the prerogatives of the Qur’an is abrogation, a legal term referring to the “destruction or annulling of a former law by an act of the legislative power, by constitutional authority, or by usage.” (2)  This is something taught in Sura 2:100/106, Sura 13:39, and Sura 16:101, which says, “And when we exchange a verse in the place of another verse–and God knows very well what He is sending down–they say, ‘The art a mere forger!’ Nay, but the most of them have no knowledge. Say: ‘The Holy Spirit [in Islam the angle Gabriel is the Holy Spirit] sent it down from the Lord in truth, and to confirm those who believe, ad to be good guidance and good tidings to those who surrender.” (3)  One must ask why this is necessary since the Qur’an is described as the eternal speech of God.  It seems to indicate God can change His mind, something vastly different from the Biblical God who is unchangeable in His character and essence.  Scripture is never abrogated, because God does not change (Mal 3:6), nor does His word (Matt 5:17-18).

In Part 2 we’ll pick up the remaining important differences between Christianity and Islam when it comes to the defining tenants of God.

(1) Badru D. Kateregga, with David W. Shenk, Islam and Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 1

(2) Black’s Law Dictionary, abridged 5th ed. (St Paul, MN: West Publishing Co., 1983), 3

(3) The Koran Interpreted (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1955)

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