Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Notes on Islam - Lesson 7 God in the Quran and the Bible

A Passion for God
As we discussed in a previous lesson, the central confession of Islam is “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God” (the Shahadah). Islam is one of the world’s three monotheistic faiths, along with Judaism and Christianity. The doctrine of the oneness of God, tawhid, is the fundmantal dogma of Islam. “Say, ‘He is God the One, God the eternal. He begot no one nor was He begotten. No one is comparable to Him’” (Surah 112:1-4).

The Quran places great emphasis on the names of God. “The Most Excellent Names belong to God” (Surah 7:180; see also 17:110; 20:8). In fact, Islam celebrates ninety-nine names of God as found in the Quran and the Hadith. Here’s an example of some of the name in Surah 59:22-24:

He is God: there is no god other than Him. It is He who knows what is hidden as well as what is in the open, He is the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy. He is God: there is no god other than Him, the Controller, the Holy One, Source of Peace, Granter of Security, Guardian over all, the Almighty, the Compeller, the Truly Great; God is far above anything they consider to be His partner. He is God: the Creator, the Originator, the Shaper. The best names belong to Him. Everything in the heavens and earth glorifies Him: He is the Almighty, the Wise.

Muslims divide these names into the Names of Perfection, the Names of Majesty, and the Names of Beauty (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islam: Religion, History and Civilization p. 61).

A Note About the Name “Allah”
As we discussed in a previous lesson, Allah is the Arabic word for “God”. It is a contraction of two Arabic words, ilah, “god,” and al, “the.” Thus, “The God.” It is etymologically related to the word for God in other languages, such as Syrian (Alaha) Aramaic (Elah), and Hebrew (Elohim).

If an Arab Jew or Christian reads the Torah or Gospel in Arabic, their Scripture will use Allah where English Bibles use “God.” So the terminology is the same. But are the concepts of God identical in Islam and Christianity?

Points of Similarity
The Quran and the Bible agree on many points concerning the nature of God.

  • Both believe there is one God (Deut. 6:4; Surah 2:163; 6:19; 16:51; 21:108; 37:4; 41:6 etc).
  • Both believe God is the creator of the world (Gen. 1:1; Surah 2:255; 7:54; 10:3; 32:4; 41:9-12).
  • Both believe God is eternal (Ps. 90:2; Surah 57:3).
  • Both believe God compassionate and forgiving (Ex. 34:6-8; Surah 16:18).
  • Both believe God is the King and Judge (Is. 33:22; Surah 1:2-4).
  • Both believe God is transcendent (Ex. 9:14; Is. 46:9; Surah 42:11) and immanent (Ps. 145:18; Surah 50:16).

There is no question that Islam has much in common regarding the nature of God with Judaism and Christianity. The Quran claims a common faith in the God found in Scripture.

God: there is no god but Him, the Ever Living, the Ever Watchful. Step by step, He has sent the Scripture down to you [Prophet] with the Truth, confirming what went before: He sent down the Torah and the Gospel earlier as a guide for people and He has sent down the distinction [between right and wrong]. (Surah 3:2-4)

[Believers], argue only in the best way with the People of the Book, except with those of them who act unjustly. Say, ‘We believe in what was revealed to us and in what was revealed to you; our God and your God are one [and the same]; we are devoted to Him.’ (Surah 29:46)

But of course the Quran also teaches that the truth has been corrupted in Judaism and Christianity, which is why the view of God found in the Quran is different than that in the Bible.

Points of Distinction
There are fundamental differences between what the Quran and the Bible teach about God.

The Bible teaches that there is one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (see Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 1 Cor. 8:6; Matt. 28:19).

The Quran, by contrast, specifically repudiates the doctrine of the Trinity.

Those people who say that God is the third of three are defying [the truth]: there is only One God. If they persist in what they are saying, a painful punishment will afflict those of them who persist. Why do they not turn to God and ask His forgiveness, when God is most forgiving, most merciful? The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger; other messengers had come and gone before him; his mother was a virtuous woman; both ate food [like other mortals]. See how clear We make these signs for them; see how deluded they are. Say, ‘How can you worship something other than God, that has no power to do you harm or good? God alone is the All Hearing and All Knowing.’ (Surah 5:73-76)

Interestingly, this surah contends that the doctrine of the trinity holds that God, Jesus and Mary are divine:

When God says, ‘Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to people, “Take me and my mother as two gods alongside God”?’ he will say, ‘May You be exalted! I would never say what I had no right to say— if I had said such a thing You would have known it: You know all that is within me, though I do not know what is within You, You alone have full knowledge of things unseen. (Surah 5:116)

Since the nature of Jesus is really the key point of contention, the Quran is explicit in its denial of the deity of Jesus.

The Jews said, ‘Ezra is the son of God,’ and the Christians said, ‘The Messiah is the son of God’: they said this with their own mouths, repeating what earlier disbelievers had said. May God confound them! How far astray they have been led! They take their rabbis and their monks as lords, as well as Christ, the son of Mary. But they were commanded to serve only one God: there is no god but Him; He is far above whatever they set up as His partners! (Surah 9:30-31)

People of the Book, do not go to excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God except the truth: the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God, His word, directed to Mary, a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’—stop [this], that is better for you—God is only one God, He is far above having a son, everything in the heavens and earth belongs to Him and He is the best one to trust. (Surah 4:171)

The Fatherhood of God
The other vital difference between God as revealed in the Quran and the Bible has to do with the concept of fatherhood. While Islam embraces ninety-nine names of God, “Father” is not one of them. Because Islam places such a high value on God’s otherness, it repudiates the notion that He is a father.

The Creator of the heavens and earth! How could He have children when He has no spouse, when He created all things, and has full knowledge of all things? (Surah 6:101; also 72:3).

The disbelievers say, ‘The Lord of Mercy has offspring.’ How terrible is this thing you assert: it almost causes the heavens to be torn apart, the earth to split asunder, the mountains to crumble to pieces, that they attribute offspring to the Lord of Mercy. It does not befit the Lord of Mercy [to have offspring] (Surah 19:88-92)

Say [Prophet], ‘If the Lord of Mercy [truly] had offspring I would be the first to worship [them], but—exalted be the Lord of the heavens and earth, the Lord of the Throne—He is far above their false descriptions.’ Leave them to wade in deeper and play about, until they face the Day they have been promised. (Surah 43:81-83)

The Bible, to the contrary, affirms the fatherhood of God. “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Ps. 68:5; see also 89:26; Is. 9:6). And through Jesus, we can cry out to God in the most intimate of terms, “Abba, Father” (Mk. 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

The Same God?
Some Christians automatically dismiss the idea that we worship the same God as Muslims on the basis that Islam is not Trinitarian. By the same token, Jews don’t worship the same God, either, something Paul and the apostles never allege. On the other hand, the denial of God’s fatherhood and the trinity means that the Muslim concept of God is much different. Just as Paul could use the same word, theos, to then teach the Athenians about the true nature of the God they knew, we can also do the same with Muslims. They do believe in one God, but they do not have the full and accurate view of the one God.

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