Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?
There has been a lot of discussion about this recently after a Wheaton professor, Larycia Hawkins, proclaimed that Christians and Muslims do in fact worship the same God, a statement she made to explain her choice to wear a hijab for the length of Advent as an act of solidarity with Muslims.
Our opinions of whether Hawkins ought to be terminated for her words and whether she should or should not have worn a hijab as a method to love her Muslim neighbors may be interesting discussion points, but they are peripheral issues. What I’m most interested in is the question that has arisen more prevalently since all the headlines battling as a result of her actions.
It is a fairly common question, even prior to the gasp-inducing headlines that have ensued after one woman’s choice of words.
Is Allah the same God as the God of Christianity?
I remember five years ago, sitting amid five quiet Somalian women, and one exuberant Egyptian woman, pointing to simple English words and helping them pronounce them, struggling through my own pronunciation of Arabic phrases, while my lovely Egyptian friend laughed loudly at me, her large hand patting me on the back. In the midst of our fledgling friendship the warning given by the leaders of this informal ESL school during our morning meeting kept nagging me: “You can talk about God all you want, but you cannot talk about Jesus.” It was a surprising rule, that all of us, professing Christians, couldn’t share the author and perfecter of our faith with these women who had come to our country as refugees, fleeing death and persecution, looking for hope. But I was warned my first day of volunteering that any mention of Jesus would be met with quick and stern responses from their husbands and their mosque. If they heard one word of us speaking of Jesus as anyone more than man or prophet they would be pulled from these English lessons and forbidden from seeing or speaking with us again. This rule had been established from past experience, Jesus was not to be spoken of.
I remember pouring chai that I had boiled on that kitchen stove, scalded milk, cardamom and black pepper filling the air, carrying it down precariously on a metal tray and serving it to each woman, repeating As-salamu alaykum, the only Arabic I could remember well enough to use regularly. I remember watching their comfortable, stoic interactions with their children who ran around wildly and happily while we went over pronouncing the word “pencil”, they would whisper in Arabic to one another, laughing together. There was a lot to admire about these women who had endured so much, who were starting over in a foreign land and working hard to learn the skills they needed to function in an alien culture. I remember coming to love these women, despite our limited words. And I remember the hard look of their husbands’ eyes when they came to take them home after lessons had finished. I remember wondering if they could see how desperately I wanted these women to know the freedom Jesus offered them, and if that was the reason they looked at me with such animosity every time they came to retrieve their wives.
Do we worship the same God if they fear the name of Jesus because he undoes their religion, while I fear him in awe of his being my Creator and Rescuer?
I remember sitting on the upper floor of the evangelical church of Egypt, listening to the stories of those who had converted to Christianity from Islam. I won’t ever forget the calm face of the pastor as he told of a woman who decided to follow Jesus, and shortly thereafter was murdered at the hands of her Muslim brother and father who had pushed her from a four-story window because of her apostasy, her’s was one of many stories like it.
I remember waking to the siren for the call to prayer and the drone of Arabic over all the mosque’s loud-speakers, synchronized and drowning out all other sounds of Cairo’s bustling life. The faithful prostrating themselves before Allah, hoping their zealous efforts would be enough to win his favor.
I remember watching Burkha clad women, faceless, their gloved hands holding the small brown hands of their children and walking behind their husbands who wore shorts in the 115 degree heat.
Do we worship the same God?
Their God is distant, unknowable, demanding, devoid of mercy. Mine came down from his distance, breaking into humanity to be knowable, and met all his holy demands in himself as we drained the life from his body. Can they be one in the same?
I remember the first time someone told me they believed Muslims and Christians worshiped the same God. I think I may have laughed aloud reflexively. As I thought of all the women I knew in Burkhas, whose god declared them secondary property. I thought of my friends in hijab who believed they had to hold tightly to their five pillars or risk the wrath of their Allah, never really certain if he looked on them with favor or disdain. I thought of all those men who feared the name of Jesus because he undid everything they’d built their lives on.
No, we do not worship the same God.
Their Allah is holy, yes. He is powerful, yes. He is a distant imposter built on the ideas of the God of Abraham, but the similarities end there. He is not good, and he does not love. He demands enslavement and offers uncertainty.
My God is perfectly good, loving, and faithful, and so knowable that his spit touched the eyes of a blind man, that his hands washed the feet of his followers, and there were those who touched his hands and side scarred by the evil of humanity. He is so loving that he breathed his last breath on our behalf. My God is certain and does not need to force our affections violently or coercively; he draws us to him with his own deep affection and care for us, and he assures us of his unconditional favor by his own work on that blood-stained wood, not our ability to hold up pillars that crumble by the failing hands of humanity. He demands faith in the freedom he gives openly, and he offers certain, unfailing hope.
Christians have an absolutely certain responsibility to share this unfailing hope we have in this Jesus with our Muslim neighbors. They need him as much as we do, so we must speak the name of Jesus as God; that name that created riots and turned pious men into blood-thirsty murderers as they shouted, “crucify him!” with greater passion than any prayer they had uttered.
Declaring Jesus as God is still a violent theological utterance. It makes enemies, and it is also the only way that we can love our enemies fully. The incarnation of Jesus Christ, the coming down of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is the intersection at which every other religion breaks down. Jesus declared himself to be God and to be the only way to know God, was murdered for his words, and defeated death to prove their truth.
Hawkins words were her attempt at trying to love her Muslim neighbors, this much I can agree with her on: that we ought to love them. But to announce that we worship the same God is not how we love a people who are enslaved to an imposter god.
May we love our Muslim neighbors, may we serve them, befriend them, and care for them; and may we love them enough to show them Jesus, the one God who loves them deeply and offers them himself.
For further reading on the “Same God” debate, check out these articles:
Muslims and Christians Do Not Worship the Same God
The ‘Same God’ Debate Is Too Important to Leave to Philosophers