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Common Ground

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

August 22, 2016 by Major Ray Harris


We met at a Tim Hortons on a winter’s Friday afternoon. Our coffee purchased, I asked my Muslim friend for his thoughts on a recent controversy within the Christian community in the United States. A professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution, decided to wear the hijab as a mark of solidarity with Muslims, who were being targeted by presidential candidates. This created tension between the professor and the college, such that they eventually agreed to part ways.

As we sipped our coffee, I said, “The question is being raised within the Christian church: Do we worship the same God as Muslims?”

Rather than starting with the phrase, “same God,” I asked what was important for him in worship. There was no hesitation: submission is the heart of Islamic worship. Praise, gratitude and intercession may come. But submission is the important element.

Christians could learn from this. I often wonder if we aren’t missing something important when we come into our worship casually, with coffee cups in our hands. Then again, it’s hard to imagine a boisterous brass band playing a jazzy arrangement of Joyful, Joyful in a mosque.

There are differences, but we both agree that worship impacts all of life. It has social, political, even ecological implications. Our worship acknowledges that there is Someone beyond ourselves, even beyond our capacity to grasp. This sense of mystery leads to worship.

Our conversation moved to “the God we worship.” It’s true, there are parts of the world where Christians use the word “Allah” when speaking of God. Is this the “same God”? I acknowledge that I have difficulty recognizing the portrayal of “God” touted by some presidential candidates. I am also aware that “Allah” (which means “the Divinity”) is not understood consistently within Islam. But the same God? Is this even the best way of framing the question? If I see another Honda Civic driving along the road, does this mean they are driving the same car as me? Not really. Perhaps we’re looking for what is held in common, not what is identical.

There are ways to show solidarity while respecting the integrity of each other’s faith

One phrase that points to commonality is the “oneness of God.” The fundamental conviction of Islam as stated in the Qur’an is that “There is no God but the one God.” The Qur’an also instructs Muslims to say to Christians, “Our God and your God is one.” This is important. Both faiths agree that the universe is purposeful and does not have a plurality of gods. In common with our Jewish friends, we acknowledge God’s oneness. The Creator is utterly distinct from creation. But the “oneness of God” also has to do with God’s character. God is faithful, consistent, a God of integrity. One.

My friend acknowledged that while the oneness of God is something we share in common, the Christian view of God as trinitarian is a major difference. For a Muslim, worship that includes worship of Jesus would violate God’s oneness. It doesn’t for the Christian. God’s oneness embraces God’s diversity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As a Christian, I worship God through my understanding of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. My understanding of God is especially shaped by the cross. In the words of Michael Gorman, a biblical studies professor, “Christ crucified both reveals and redefines God … God is cruciform.”

We finished our coffee; it was time to go. My Muslim friend and I agreed that there is much we hold in common when it comes to our understanding of God. Our sacred texts, the Bible and the Qur’an, instruct us to “love God and our neighbour.” There are ways to show solidarity while respecting the integrity of each other’s faith. Two years ago he attended the funeral of an Anglican bishop, who was one of our colleagues on the Manitoba Multifaith Council. My friend showed his solidarity by joining this deeply Christian service of remembrance. About the same time, a Muslim family lost their lives in a tragic fire. A public service of remembrance was held in the mosque. I attended, wearing my Salvation Army uniform, and was warmly welcomed. Personal presence in difficult moments can express solidarity.

There is much we hold in common, and there are important differences. Is there an understanding of God that lies beyond this conversation? Most certainly. But that calls for another cup of coffee at Tim Hortons, and much more thinking on my part.

Major Ray Harris is a retired Salvation Army officer. His book, Convictions Matter, is available at is available at store.salvationarmy.ca, 416-422-6100, orderdesk@can.salvationarmy.org. For the e-book, visit amazon.ca.

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Comments

  1. Alonzo Twyne says:

    Greetings Ray, Yes there is understanding that lies beyond the conversation. There is only One true God with no sidelines or other avenues. When God in Christ came to this earth He landed in the midst of ‘religion'; in the midst of a people that had lost the true image of God and Jesus stirred them up and pointed them to the Father through a narrow Way, very narrow. We have ways of narrowing that Way by showing ‘respect’. What does repect mean? Does it mean not staying to the straight and narrow and slipping off to other ways? I too have had the priveliege of sitting with many while in Chaplaincy and yes did made friends but I did not waver from the truth. I could not sit well with the Multi-faith that had the bottom line of teaching as – don’t tell anyone about Jesus. Also, I do not use the word ‘faiths’ to describe other groups.

  2. Dean Noakes says:

    Ray,
    Did we answer the question?
    Dean

  3. Gordon Nicolson says:

    I have had a few occasions to discuss theological issues with a Muslim friend, a leader in a Mosque in the neighbourhood. He makes it clear when referring to Allah that the Muslim view and our view of God the Father would be almost exactly the same. Almost. Omnipotent, yes. Omniscient, yes. And Jesus Christ is to be respected as a very important prophet in Islam. But their Prophet is supreme when it comes to any human that has lived on earth–far and away and not to be disputed under any circumstances. As you noted the Trinity is just not on with a Muslim. The mystical three in one flies in the face of ‘oneness’ in their view.
    Back to God the Father and Allah ‘almost’ being the same. We must look at what God the Father says in the Bible about Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John, first few verses should do it. God by His Holy Spirit inspired John to state unequivocally that the Word is Jesus Christ and that all creation came through the Word, Jesus Christ. Allah says no such thing through the Prophet of Islam. In my view we cannot be referring to the same God of creation–just by another name as the Muslim would say. God by His very nature would not say to Muslims through the Prophet one thing and then to we Christians something so basically different. Christ is Creator and all authority is given Him and none other. There is no other Name by which salvation can come to a human being according to the Bible. That is not just different from the Muslim view. With respect it is contradictory and God we know cannot contradict Himself. With respect I believe we must be firm to friends in other faith groups that we believe Jesus Christ is the Name above all names. If it costs us division and rejection well, that is entirely Biblical and to be expected. Thank you for your thoughtful writing. Gordon

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