Before 11 September, most people knew very little about Islam. The average person might have recognized the name Muhammad as belonging to a famous religious figure but would have known little about his life or teachings. Although Muslims had been immigrating to the US since the 19th century, their numbers were small enough that they remained unfamiliar to most Americans.
The destruction of the World Trade Center put Islam under a spotlight. Americans wanted to know about the religion of those responsible for the greatest act of domestic terror in the nation’s history. Books on Islam began to appear. Sales of both the Bible and the Qur`an spiked.
In 2015, Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, wore the hijab as a sign of solidarity between Christians and Muslims. She said that she stood alongside Muslims because both Christians and Muslims are “people of the book” who worship the same God. Naturally, this aroused no small amount of suspicion on the part of the administration. Although Hawkins’ writings included the apparent endorsement of theological traditions at odds with Scripture, her donning a purple hijab seems to have been the final stroke leading up to her departure from the school. Are Hawkins and others—such as Pope Francis and Roman Catholic apologists—correct in their assessment that Christians and Muslims both worship the same God?
Christianity and Islam share much of the same religious history as well as many individual characteristics. Both claim belief in a single God, point to some of the same sacred texts as authoritative, and agree on many points of moral teaching. With such extensive similarities, some have concluded that the two faiths are different approaches to worshiping the same God. As popular as this may be in the popular media, neither the Qur’an nor the Bible permits such an identification.
The most significant difference between Christianity and Islam is the radical view of the oneness of God (tawhid) in Muslim doctrine. Isma’il al-Faruqi (1921-1986) says, “There can be no doubt that the essence of Islam is al tawhid, the act of affirming Allah to be the One, the Absolute, transcendent Creator, the Lord and Master of all that is” (al-Faruqi 1995, 17). This language sounds similar to what a Christian might confess about the God of the Bible, but there is a more profound difference between God and Allah: the absolute denial of the Trinity.
Like some others throughout church history—such as adoptionists, Arians, and Socinians—Muslims deny the doctrine of Trinity. According to Muslim thinkers, Christians recognize three gods in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even though the New Testament teaches their oneness. One passage which indicates something of the triune nature of God occurs is in John 14. Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father” (v.8) Jesus responds, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9).
On 13 October 2007, 138 Islamic scholars issued an open letter titled, A Common Word Between Us and You. The basis of the letter was Sura 3:64, which calls Christians to come to a common belief in God as one, not to associate any other gods with him, and to submit to Allah. The letter, whose signatories represented every major Islamic country or region, asks that Christians profess their love for God by embracing his oneness, and therefore rejecting any “associate.” By this, they meant a complete repudiation of belief in Jesus as God’s divine Son (Sura 5:78; 9:30; contra John 10:30), as well as the divinity of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14).
The denial of the Trinity is a significant problem for those who would equate God and Allah. This is not a simple matter of describing a minor difference of opinion. Muslims classify the belief in the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit as the sin of shirk (practicing idolatry or polytheism) and see it as ranking among the gravest offenses a human being can commit. Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit (whom they call “associates” or “partners”), making their concept of Allah fundamentally different than the description of God found in the Bible.
Jesus (Isa) occupies a prominent place in Islamic theology as the second greatest prophet after Muhammad. He is also one of the five elite messengers of Allah, called the “Possessors of Steadfastness (‘Ul al-Azm). Unlike Christians, Muslims have always taught that Jesus was not crucified (Sura 4:157). Like Jews, Muslims could not accept a crucified, humiliated Messiah, a difficulty that the apostle Paul himself addressed when writing to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:23).
Not only do Muslims reject the historical reality of the crucifixion, but they also dismiss the deity of Jesus. In doing so, Islam rejects the very foundation of the gospel—the substitutionary death of Christ for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins (cf. Rom. 5:8). Herein lies the beauty of the gospel: human beings are lifeless, helpless, and hopeless; spiritually, little more than walking corpses. In spite of our rebellion against him, God reached down from heaven to pull his people out of spiritual death and take them into his kingdom (Col. 1:13). Sadly, this is something that our Muslim neighbors will not accept.
The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus claimed divinity. He stated, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), a claim that could be seen as relatively vague until we consider the response of his opponents. They understood him to be committing blasphemy, claiming to be God (John 10:33). Other passages clearly teach the deity of Christ (John 1:1-14; 20:28; Rom. 10:9; Tit. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1).
The Jesus of Islam is neither God nor the Son of God. If Jesus is not divine, this puts further distance between the Muslim and Christian understandings of the essential nature and character of God himself. A person cannot remain in right standing with God while rejecting the Son (Matt. 10:33; cf. John 8:19). In Christianity, recognizing Jesus as divine is a non-negotiable necessity; in Islam, it is blasphemy of the highest order.
Although we may hear the oft-repeated refrain, “Both Christians and Muslims are people of the book,” the question is, “Which book?” Neither Christians nor Muslims can accept the teachings of the Qur’an and remain true to the Bible. For this reason, Muslims believe that the Bible is a corrupted book. The late Islamic scholar Hammadah Abdalati states, “Long before the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, some of those books and revelations [given to people like Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus] had been lost or corrupted, others forgotten, neglected or concealed. The only authentic and complete book of God in existence today is the Qur’an” (Abdalati 1975, 12). Although the Qur’an speaks highly of the Bible (Sura 2:41, 89, 101; 5:71), Muslims believe that the information it contains can only be accepted as factual as long as the Qur’an confirms it.
The primacy of the Qur’an is unchallenged in Islam. Although Muslims believe Allah revealed his message through the prophet Muhammad, they consider the Qur’an to be the perfect, eternal word of Allah in much the same way the opening verses of John’s Gospel describe Jesus (John 1:1-14). Religious authorities heavily discourage textual criticism of the Qur’an. Any Muslim scholar attempting to analyze copies of the Qur’an containing textual variants will find himself ostracized if not persecuted.
If the Bible is considered to be a corrupted book, then the only trustworthy text for a faithful Muslim is that of the Qur’an. At the same time, no committed Christian can cede the authority of the Bible. In short, for the Christian and Muslim views of God to be remotely compatible, both must accept the book of the other as authoritative, which is something neither side will do. Christians will not accept the authority of the Qur’an. Muslims will not defer to the Bible when they believe it to be an adulterated text. This produces an insurmountable impasse in any attempt to equate the two faiths.
Although some professing Christians consider Allah and the God of the Bible to be the same, doing so means ignoring many essential differences between Muslims and Christians. Recognizing these differences is not an expression of intolerance, condescension, exclusion, or judgment but a description of fact.
Some have argued that all religions interpret the same events or persons differently. To be consistent, however, this cannot be permitted when it comes to the nature of God. Either the Qur’an—as the eternally true, pure, and perfect word of Allah—is correct, or it is not. There is no middle ground for dialogue. The Bible and the Qur’an make mutually exclusive claims.
A desire for peace might motivate the efforts to connect Christianity and Islam. Without a doubt, the New Testament teaches that Christians should strive to live at peace with others if at all possible (Rom. 12:18). At the same time, Christians cannot make compromises with those in error. Even a cursory examination reveals that Allah and God are two different beings, causing these two religions to differ on the most fundamental level.
Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.
- Abdalati, Hammada. Islam in Focus. Indianapolis, IN: American Trust Publications, 1975.
- Al-Faruqi, Isma’il. Al Tawid: Its Implications for Thought and Life. Verndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1995.