Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? Absolutely Not. Here’s Why.
The Qur’an says that Christians and Muslims worship the same God (29:46), and so does the Catholic Church. The Irish Catholic newspaper recently considered this question and offered an argument from authority, which is the weakest of all arguments: Christians and Muslims worship the same God because the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council says so in the documents Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate. But a closer examination of the evidence shows this to be false.
Besides the obvious differences regarding the Trinity, the crucifixion, and the divinity of Christ, there are deeper differences that are often overlooked.
- Free will. There are numerous passages of the Qur’an, as well as indications from Islamic tradition, to the effect that not only can no one believe in Allah except by his will, so also no one can disbelieve in him except by his active will. “And to whoever God assigns no light, no light has he” (24:40).
The issue of free will versus predestination has, of course, vexed Christians of various sects for centuries, as different biblical passages are given different weight in various traditions. Calvinism, of course, in its pure form is notorious for its doctrine of double predestination, the idea that God has destined people for hell as well as for salvation. But this position is largely unique to them in the Christian tradition, which generally holds that God desires all men and women to be saved, and gives them the means to attain this salvation. The idea that God would create men for hell is in total conflict with the proposition that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), and that he “takes no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezekiel 18:32).
The situation in Islam is, on first glance, even worse, with the Qur’an’s testimony on this, as on other matters, appearing to be hopelessly contradictory. The Qur’an, says the Qur’an, is “nothing but a reminder to all beings, for whoever of you who would go straight; but you will not do so unless Allah wills, the Lord of all Being” (81:27-29). Those who would “go straight” — follow Allah’s straight path — cannot do so “unless Allah wills.”
The Qur’an goes significantly further than that, into a more or less open determinism: “If Allah had willed, he would have made you one nation; but he leads astray those whom he wills, and guides those whom he wills; and you will surely be questioned about the things you have done” (16:93). Even though everything is in Allah’s hands, even the decision of the individual to obey him or not — for he leads astray those whom he wills, and guides to the truth whom he wills — human beings will still be held accountable for the things they have done.
Allah even sends people to hell based not on their deeds, but solely upon his fiat: “And if we had willed, We could have given every soul its guidance, but the word from me will come into effect: I will surely fill hell with jinn and people all together” (32:13).
The Qur’an repeats this idea many times: Those who have rejected Allah do so because he made it possible for them to do nothing else. And indeed, given the fact that in the Islamic scheme of creation and salvation, human beings are the slaves of Allah, not his children, the rejection of free will is not altogether surprising. Allah tells Muhammad that “some of them there are who listen to you, and we lay veils on their hearts so that they don’t understand it, and in their ears heaviness; and if they see any sign whatever, they do not believe in it, so that when they come to you they dispute with you, the unbelievers saying, ‘This is nothing but the fairy-tales of the ancient ones’” (6:25-6).
Elsewhere in the Qur’an Allah describes this veil as a seal and as a barrier, saying to his prophet: “As for the unbelievers, it is all the same to them whether you have warned them or have not warned them, they do not believe. Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a covering, and there awaits them a mighty chastisement” (2:6-7). The medieval Islamic scholar Ibn Kathir (1301-1372), whose commentary on the Qur’an is still enormously influential among Muslims, says in his commentary on this Qur’anic passage: “These Ayat [verses] indicate that whomever Allah has written to be miserable, they shall never find anyone to guide them to happiness, and whomever Allah directs to misguidance, he shall never find anyone to guide him.”
At first glance, this may seem to be not far from Jesus’ words: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them’” (Matt. 13:13-15).
And indeed, Islamic tradition shares with Christian tradition the idea that repeated defiance of God can render one’s soul insensitive to grace. That appears to be the case in many passages of the Qur’an, such as one recounting the reaction of hypocrites to a new revelation that Muhammad has delivered: “And whenever a sura is sent down, they look one at another: ‘Does anyone see you?’ Then they turn away. Allah has turned away their hearts, for they are a people who do not understand” (9:127).
But in Islam there is more. Another Qur’an commentary explains Qur’an 36:9 as meaning that Allah has “covered the insight of their hearts (so that they see not) the Truth and guidance.” Ibn Kathir records that one early Muslim also ascribed unbelief to Allah’s will: “Allah placed this barrier between them and Islam and Iman [faith], so that they will never reach it.”
Other Qur’an passages state this explicitly. “We have created for hell,” Allah says in a Qur’anic passage that directly echoes the statement of Jesus’ quoting Isaiah, “many jinn and men: they have hearts, but do not understand with them; they have eyes, but do not perceive with them; they have ears, but they do not hear with them. They are like cattle; nay, rather they are further astray. Those — they are the heedless” (7:179).
Despite the superficial similarity of the “eyes but see not and ears but hear not” motif, there is an immense chasm between this and the statement of Jesus, which most exegetes throughout the ages have taken to mean that some people harden themselves so in unbelief that when they hear the truth of God, they do not recognize it as such. In the Qur’anic passage, by contrast, Allah says that he actually created some people (as well as the mysterious spirit beings known as jinn) for hell — a doctrine that is hard to reconcile with the idea of a just and loving God.
In Islamic theological history, a party known as the Qadariyya tried to advance the concept of individual free will. The pioneering Islamic scholar Ignaz Goldziher explains that the Qadaryya were protesting against “an unworthy conception of God,” and yet they “could not find a large body of supporters” among Muslims. Their opponents “battled them with the received interpretation of the sacred scriptures.” And won. Ultimately, Muslim authorities declared the concept of human free will to be heretical. A twelfth-century Muslim jurist, Ibn Abi Ya’la, fulminated that the Qadariyya wrongly “consider that they hold in their grasp the ability to do good and evil, avoid harm and obtain benefit, obey and disobey, and be guided or misguided. They claim that human beings retain full initiative, without any prior status within the will of Allah for their acts, nor even in His knowledge of them.” Even worse, “their doctrine is similar to that of Zoroastrians and Christians. It is the very root of heresy.”
- The nature of the soul. The Christian concept that mankind’s alienation from God is manifested in an inclination toward sin is utterly alien to Islam. In Islam, although Adam and Eve begin in Paradise and are banished from it after their disobedience, and Satan vows to tempt the believers, ultimately even this is a manifestation of Allah’s active will. In the Qur’an, it is only Allah who inspires in the soul both “wickedness and righteousness” (91:8). The world-renowned Pakistani Muslim political leader and theologian Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1902-1979), who wrote a popular and influential commentary on the Qur’an, explains that this verse means that “the Creator has imbedded in man’s nature tendencies and inclinations towards both good and evil.”
That means that Allah is ultimately responsible not just for the soul’s inclination toward good, but for its inclination toward evil as well. In other words, in sharp contrast to the Christian understanding that evil is the rejection of God, in Islam God is the source of evil. This is worlds apart from the proposition that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5) — for to place evil in the soul, Allah must have it to give, which would be utterly impossible and absurd in the Christian conception, since evil is the absence of God.
- The nature of God. No limits can be placed upon the sovereignty of Allah, the absolute monarch. That includes ones that would naturally arise from his being always good and true. Allah, the Qur’an says twice, is the best of “schemers”: “And when those who disbelieved plotted against you to restrain you or kill you or evict you. But they scheme, and Allah schemes. And Allah is the best of schemers.” (8:30; cf. 3:54). In this “scheming,” Allah has no limitations whatsoever. Indeed, at one point the Qur’an excoriates the Jews for suggesting limits to God’s power. The passage is ambiguous, but its principal import is plain enough: They dared to say that there was something Allah could not do: “And the Jews say, ‘The hand of Allah is chained.’ Chained are their hands, and cursed are they for what they say. Rather, both his hands are extended; he spends however he wills” (5:64). Neither does he have any obligation to disclose any consistency or anything else in what he does: “He shall not be questioned as to what he does” (21:23).
What could the Jews have possibly meant, if any Jews ever said it at all? It is possible that they meant that God, being good, would be consistent, and would operate the universe according to consistent and observable laws. This would not have been so much a limitation on what God could do, but upon what he would do. This proposition of divine consistency was all-important for the development of scientific inquiry. “The rise of science,” observes social scientist Rodney Stark, “was not an extension of classical learning. It was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: nature exists because it was created by God. In order to love and honor God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Because God is perfect, that handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, it ought to be possible to discover those principles.” That process of discovery became the foundation of modern science. “These were the crucial ideas,” says Stark, “that explain why science arose in Christian Europe and nowhere else.”
Indeed, for an Islamic culture to have affirmed that God’s creation operates according to immutable principles would have been nothing short of blasphemy. Allah’s hand is not chained by consistency or by anything else. Allah is absolutely free to do anything he wills to do, without any expectations or limitations deriving from logic, love, or anything else. This idea made sure that scientific exploration in the Islamic world would be stillborn.
So would philosophical investigation. The great Islamic theologian Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), although himself a philosopher, delivered what turned out to be the coup de grace to Islamic philosophy, at least as a vibrant mainstream force, in his monumental attack on the very idea of Islamic philosophy: Incoherence of the Philosophers. Muslim philosophers such as Avicenna and Averroes, according to al-Ghazali, were not intellectual trailblazers worthy of respect and careful consideration. In positing that there could be truth that was outside of or even contradicted what Allah had revealed in the Qur’an, they had shown themselves to be nothing more than heretics who should be put to death and their books burned.
And while Christians hold that God is unchanging, the Qur’an affirms Allah’s changeability, even in what he reveals to mankind: “We do not abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten except that We bring forth better than it or similar to it. Do you not know that Allah is over all things competent?” (2:106).
These three points are hardly ever considered when this question comes up. But they show the affirmation of the Vatican II documents Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate to be wholly false.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His new book is The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.