Do Muslims and Christians Believe in the Same God?

Since September 11, 2001, interest in the religion of Islam has heightened. Much of the current questioning about this religion leads naturally to noting how Islam compares with and differs from other religions, particularly Christianity.

 

This kind of investigation has the advantage of sensitizing the researcher to the different perspectives on reality that other religions bring to theological education.[1] It also finds that the claims of Islam challenge the very foundations of Christianity. Yet after careful exploration of Islam‘s view of itself in relation to biblical revelation, a new understanding and appreciation of the Christian faith emerges. It is hoped that the articles in this series will go further in demonstrating the inherent stability and penetrative message of Christianity and bring to the forefront the purity and solidarity of biblical doctrine. To put it another way, the study of Islam helps refine Christianity‘s own understanding of itself.[2]

 

This study is limited to mainstream Sunni Islam. Also in dealing with general Islamic assertions, it is primarily the Qur‘an and the Hadith that are considered, along with comments by Muslim theologians about them. The Qur‘an is believed by Muslims to have been inspired by God and given to Muhammad by dictation. The Hadith is the collection of the sayings of Muhammad accumulated by his followers and compiled in the eighth century A.D.[3] Both the Qur‘an and the Hadith are considered inspired but in different senses, the Qur‘an being recited (matlu) and the Hadith being not recited (ghayr-matlu). It is therefore vital to understand Islam‘s highest authorities before examining how they affect current Muslim thinking.

 

 

WHO IS THE GOD OF MUHAMMAD?

 

A fundamental question lies at the root of the inquiry about Islam and Christianity: Do Muslims and Christians believe in the same God? Islam claims that they do. Referring to Jews and Christians, Muhammad declares in the Qur‘an, ―We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we bow.[4] Furthermore the Qur‘an claims that God had sent His word of inspiration to Muhammad as He did to the prophets of the Old Testament.[5] It also asserts that the same God declared His will to all nations.[6] With these assertions the question then more precisely becomes, Do Christians agree with the Islamic claim that they believe in the same God?

 

A recent popular theory asserts that Allah was originally the moon god worshiped in Arabia before and during Muhammad‘s time. According to this theory, when Muhammad came on the scene, the Ka‗bah contained 360 idols, among which was the moon god called ’ilah, or ―a god.‖ Then it is said that Muhammad declared this moon god to be the chief god and called it ’al ’ilah by adding the article ’al to ’ilah, thus yielding the meaning ―the god.‖ It is then claimed that the term ―Allah‖ is arrived at from a contraction of ’al ’ilah.[7] Morey, who is foremost in popularizing this theory, cites many references from encyclopedias, dictionaries, works of philosophy and history, as well as various writers.[8] However, though there is little doubt about the existence of a moon god worshiped in Arabia before and during Muhammad‘s time, there are several weaknesses with identifying this moon god with Allah. In fact Muhammad initially adopted the name ―Allah‖ as it was used by the Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians of his day in referring to the true God of the Bible. This assertion is based on four factors: textual, lexical, historical, and theological.[9]

 

The Textual Factor

 

The moon god theory does not adequately explain the presence of the term ―Allah‖ in present-day Arabic Christian Bibles. Evidence seems to suggest that this way of referring to the one true biblical God as Allah began to occur among Jews and Christians earlier than in Muhammad‘s time. Translations of parts of the New Testament into the Arabic language were done in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., in which the word ―Allah‖ was used for the true God. In agreement with the Lebanese Jesuit scholar Louis Shikho, Bailey asserts that some Muslim writers of the seventh century quoted full pages of the New Testament in Arabic.[10]

 

Textual evidence after the start of Islam is also useful in this regard. Some scholars indicate that the presence of extant Arabic palimpsests of the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. points to the existence of earlier manuscripts.[11] Unfortunately the oldest extant Arabic manuscript containing much of the New Testament, Codex 151, dates from the ninth century A.D. It contains all the New Testament except the four Gospels and Revelation. It was found among the many manuscript treasures of the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai.[12] This codex has several colophons that indicate when different segments of the manuscript were written.[13] What is noteworthy about this codex is that all but three of the New Testament books in this manuscript begin with the common Muslim introduction of quranic surahs, ―In the Name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate.‖[14] Only three New Testament books in the same manuscript (Acts, Romans, and 2 Corinthians) begin instead with ―In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[15] This shows that within two hundred years after Muhammad‘s life Arab Christians viewed ―Allah‖ as referring to the God of the Christian Scriptures. In fact Codex 151 demonstrates that the Arab Christians used the Islamic ways of thinking rather freely. This is evident, for example, in the use of the Islamic dating system[16] and the use of quranic terminology to refer to Christians (Al-mutanasirun and its derivatives).[17]

 

The Lexical Factor

 

The word ―Allah‖ is a cognate of the Hebrew plural אֱוֹּהִים†, ―gods‖ or ―God,‖ and the singular אֱלוֹ†ץַ†, ―a god‖ or ―God.‖ The root of these Hebrew words is assumed to be אלה†, which corresponds to the Arabic ’ilah, meaning ―a god.[18] However, while the moon god was referred to as ’ilah or ’al ’ilah, it is wrong to conclude that ’al ’ilah contracts to ―Allah,‖ for this has little historical evidence.[19]This popular view does not explain the elimination of the second syllable ’el (or ’il), which is the most important in ’al-’ilah where ’el or ’il is the Semitic word for God since time immemorial. Furthermore this popular belief sadly ignores the much more plausible notion that the word ―Allah,‖ like many other words—especially religious words—was imported from the Aramaic ’alaha or ’alah, which is the word for the unique Christian God.[20]

Several lines of evidence support this Aramaic origin. First, Aramaic was the language used by Jews and Christians in the Arab Peninsula and northern Mesopotamia.[21] In fact Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East in biblical and postbiblical times (2 Kings 18:26; Isa. 36:11; Ezra 4:7; Dan. 2:4; John 5:2; 19:17, 20; 20:16; Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14), and it ceded to Arabic only in the ninth century A.D., two full centuries after the Islamic conquests.

 

Second, the Aramaic word ’alah is used for both ―a god‖ and ―the God,‖ and the word ’alaha is used for ―God‖ or ―the God.[22] This is true in the spoken language as well as in both the Old and New Testaments of the modern Aramaic Bible.[23] Furthermore in Arabic ―Allah‖ and in Aramaic ’alaha/’alah the consonants for the word ―God‖ are the same as those for ―God‖ in the Aramaic portion of the Masoretic text of Daniel and Ezra, which uses the designation אֱלָהָא†(Ezra 4:24; 5:2, 8, 13–17; 6:3, 5, 7–8, 12, 16–18, 7:24; Dan. 2:20; 3:26; 4:2; 5:3, 18, 21, 26; 6:20). Middle-Eastern Christianity came to use ’alah and ’alaha frequently. Scholars believe that Jesus spoke mostly Aramaic, although sometimes He spoke Hebrew and on some occasions He may have spoken Greek. If Jesus spoke Aramaic, then when He referred to God He used basically the same word that is used in Arabic.

 

Third, in the adoption of the Arabic word ―Allah‖ from the Aramaic ’alah/’alaha, several things should be noted.[24] (1) The understanding of the first syllable of ’alaha as an article was a common misunderstanding, as for instance in ’al-Iskandar from Greek ᾿Αλεξάνδπορ, which caused many to think mistakenly of the first syllable of the word ―Allah‖ as an article, and therefore as a contraction of ’al ’ilah. (2) The doubling of the ―l‖ in ―Allah‖ is irrelevant, since the doubling sign is a very late invention of Arabic orthography, centuries after Muhammad. (3) The final ―a‖ in the name ’alaha was originally the definite article in Aramaic and is regularly dropped when Aramaic words and names are borrowed into Arabic, much like case endings in the Arabic vernacular. (4) In the Aramaic language there are two different ―a‖ vowels, one something like the ―a‖ in English ―hat‖ and the other more like the vowel in ―ought.‖ In the case of Aramaic ’alah, the first vowel is like ―hat‖ and the second like ―ought.‖ Arabic does not have a vowel like the one in ―ought,‖ but it seems to have borrowed this vowel along with the word ’alah, making the second vowel in ―Allah‖ unique.

 

Fourth, the Hadith asserts that the Jews and Christians, referred to as ―the People of the Book,[25] in Muhammad‘s time ―used to read the Torah in Hebrew and explain it to Muslims in Arabic.[26] The Hadith also declares that Waraqah bin Nufal, the cousin of Muhammad‘s first wife, who had much influence on Muhammad early in his career and had been a Christian before the development of Islam, was accustomed to copying the New Testament from its Hebrew translation.[27]

 

The Historical Factor

 

Several issues are of importance here. First, many of the Arab tribes are descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar.[28] Others are descendants of Abraham and Keturah, his second wife. The rest are from the line of Joktan from Shem, the line of Aram, or the line of Lud. In spite of the presence of idol worship down through the centuries, the main religious traditions of all of these tribes stem from a monotheistic belief in the Creator God.[29]

 

Second, the word ―Allah,‖ reflecting belief in Him as the one and only true God, was well known among the Arabs before Muhammad‘s birth, or at least before his mission.[30] This is reflected in several poems, including the famous seven psalms known as the Almu‗alaqat.[31] These poems were Muhammad‘s introduction to monotheistic theology in which Allah is presented as Creator, Sustainer, Giver, Provider of immortality, the Center of religion, the unique one on whom the whole universe depends, and the omniscient, inscrutable, and omnipotent God.[32]

 

Third, forms of praise and worship of Allah were known before Muhammad‘s time. The Hadith reports that one person declared, ―I have learned to praise the name of your Lord before the appearance of the prophet [Muhammad].[33] Tisdall demonstrates that Muhammad was further influenced by the thoughts of his friends who were genuinely seeking the true God (Allah) through meditation. These friends were monotheists who learned from Jews around them.[34]

 

Fourth, the Ka‗bah, now the sacred center of the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, was considered a holy temple before the birth of Muhammad, and was called ―the House of Allah‖ (i.e., the House of ―God,‖ not ―the gods‖). Though people then had 360 deities, the pre-Islamic Arabs did not forget the one and only God. In fact they did not see Allah as one of many deities but always as the supreme God, higher than any of their other deities.[35] Thus Muhammad‘s own father had the name ‘Abdallah (the servant of Allah). The presence of other deities besides Allah was later condemned by the Qur‘an. People who believed there are other deities were called mushrikeen, ―sharers with God.‖ This term is applied to Christians who are said to make Christ a second God, and the Spirit a third.

 

These deities were recognized as secondary to Allah, but they were also seen as mediators to Allah. Qur‘anic Surah 39:3 indicates that pre-Islamic Arabs at that time considered these deities as intercessors through whom they hoped to reach the true God with their prayer requests.[36] Muhammad wanted to abolish not only the idea of a sharer with Allah but also the idea of a mediator to Allah. He saw the concept of a mediator as an attack on Allah‘s sovereignty, since it would mean that Allah is dependent on another outside of Himself. Speaking to the Arabs who had not become Muslims then, Qur‘anic Surah 10:3 declares, ―Verily your Lord is God, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne. He governs. There is no mediator except after His permission. This is the Lord your God. Therefore, worship Him, do you not remember?[37]

 

The Theological Factor

 

Islam focuses on the oneness of God, the transcendent Spirit and Sovereign over all creation. Philosophically Allah is seen as the uncaused Cause of all that exists. The name of Allah is defined as the name of the necessarily existent Being.[38] Allah is seen as the only true and eternal Creator, the Almighty, who is omniscient and omnipotent.[39] In fact Qur‘anic Surah 41:37 declares that Allah created the moon and that He, not the moon, must be worshiped: ―Among His signs are the night and the day and the sun and moon. Adore not the sun and the moon but adore Allah who created them if it is Him ye wish to serve.[40] The Hadith is also said to declare that the moon will be destroyed in the end. ―The Prophet said, ‗The sun and the moon will be folded up on the Day of Resurrection.‘ [41] Obviously only one God matches this description.

 

 

THE SAME GOD?

 

The term Allah was imported into Islam at the time of Muhammad from the Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians living in the Arabian Peninsula as referring to the one and only true God. However, while Islam today has much in common with Christianity on the essential attributes of God, there is wide divergence on His moral and relational attributes. Muslims and Christians may speak of the same subject, the true God, but they have different concepts of Him. ―Theologies, and Scriptures for their source, are agreed about His being. They diverge in understanding the predicates they make of Him. .. when freely assuming that the God of the Gospel, and Allah of the Qur‘an are the same Lord. Emphatically so, as subject of all the predicates made. And one, too, in many of the Muslim/Christian predicates, such as Lord, Creator, Sovereign, Sustainer, in power, wisdom, mercy and truth.[42]

 

Jews have an incomplete picture of God‘s nature (their view being confined to the Old Testament only), Muslims have an inaccurate picture of His nature (based on the Qur‘an and the Hadith), and only Christians have the complete and accurate picture of His nature (based on the Bible). However, Muslims believe that both Jews and Christians have corrupted the original concept they received about the nature of God, and that Islam came to restore that true concept of His nature. So, while Christians and Muslims believe in the same God, they conceive of His nature differently, each claiming that they have the true concept.

 

Based on this conclusion, a reconstruction of how Islam‘s concept of God came into being may now be noted. Muhammad‘s concept of God originated from several sources. First was natural revelation. Zwemer explains that ―he undoubtedly had a knowledge of God from nature, and the passages of the Koran which set forth this natural theology are some of the most beautiful and poetic in the whole book.[43]

 

Second, as was seen earlier, Muhammad was no doubt influenced by Jews and Christians around him. He was convinced of their belief in the one true Creator God, whose name ―Allah‖ was adopted from the much-used Aramaic designation for Him as ’alah/’alaha.

 

Third, Muhammad‘s monotheism was in the process of evolving into its own unique form. He had the right subject, but was not sure about the predicates. His inability to read the Bible and the lack of Chalcedonian Christianity in his immediate surroundings left him unable to free himself easily from the pagan idolatry around him. What the Qur‘an calls ―the satanic verses‖ (Surah 22:53–54) allowed the Meccans temporarily to keep their three idols Allat, Al-Uzza, and Manat (cf. Surah 53) as mediators to Allah, the supreme God. Then Muhammad is said to have realized that these verses, which were recited for a time, were from Satan. So he revised Surah 22 to exclude the three goddesses by speaking against any mediation to Allah. By encouraging people to pray to Allah directly, he was able to do away with what remained of the 360 gods.

 

Fourth, Muhammad was terribly offended that many of the Christians and Jews refused to adopt his claims, causing him when he arrived in Medina to change his language radically about them from kindness to utter rejection. And at that time he changed the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca.[44] He then submitted the story that Abraham along with his son Ishmael built the Ka‗bah, as Surah 2:125–27 declares.[45] Islam later replaced the biblical teaching that Solomon‘s temple was built on Mount Moriah where Abraham offered Isaac, with the story that the Ka‗bah was built in Mecca where Abraham offered Ishmael.[46] A link between the two stories becomes evident when it is realized that Muhammad probably believed that Abraham was the builder of the temple in Jerusalem. In defiance of the Jews he presented an alternative story. The Encyclopedia Judaica states that this Muslim teaching was based on the pseudepigraphal Book of Jubilees.[47]

 

The fifth impact on Muhammad‘s developing concept of Allah was some spiritual experiences, the origin of which he himself struggled to understand.[48]

 

The sixth source of Muhammad‘s concept of God was personal. He came to have national aspirations to elevate the Arab people to prominence and himself as their leader. In fact this has been the dominant force of Islam to the present. As a result, in many places in the world Islam is seen as an ideology with a heavy sociopolitical agenda.[49] In fact Islam‘s early conquests were hailed and welcomed by non-Chalcedonian or Semitic Christianity, which saw Islam as a mighty deliverer.[50] Sawirus ibn al Muqaffa, a Coptic (Egyptian Monophysite), gave this testimony: ―And [Muhammad] brought back the worshippers of idols to the knowledge of the One God.. .. And the Lord abandoned the army of the Romans. .. as punishment for their corrupt faith, and because of the anathemas uttered against them, on account of the council of Chalcedon, by the ancient fathers.[51]

So in short, Muhammad began with the one and only true God, Allah; he kept for Him some of the attributes he learned from Jews and Christians; but then he departed from the biblical portrayal of God‘s nature, which later affected all other doctrines of Islam.

 

 

IMPLICATIONS

 

The above conclusion has several implications. First, it may be incorrect to use the word ―Allah in English to refer to the God of Islam, as if ―Allah and ―God‖ were different beings.[52] Watt comments, ―The Arabic word Allah, of course, must be translated God. It is the word used by Arabic Christians at the present day, and was probably used by their ancestors before its adoption by Islam. To say ‗Christians worship God and Muslims worship Allah‘ is like saying ‗Englishmen worship God and Frenchmen worship Dieu.‘ The Arabic-speaker, Muslim or Christian, when he worships and speaks about Allah, is claiming to worship and speak about that transcendent reality whom the English-speaking Christian worships and refers to as ‗God.‘ [53]

 

Second, Muslims mistakenly conclude that the Qur‘an is an extension of biblical revelation. However, from the Christian perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. It is rather the reverse. For here lies the big impasse: Allah/God could not have been the source of both the Bible and the Qur‘an since they have contradictory messages on the most fundamental issues, especially on the nature of God. From a Christian perspective God is the author of the Bible only. But from a Muslim perspective God is the author of both the Bible and the Qur‘an, except that the present Bible is a corrupted version of the original one.

 

Third, for Muslims to claim that they believe in the same God Christians believe in should be conceived by Christians as much more serious than for Muslims to claim that they believe in a different God. For, from a Christian perspective, to speak of the true God, the God of the Bible, that is, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then to describe Him in unbiblical terms is much more threatening than to speak of a different God. From a Christian perspective the Islamic claim to equality does not mean a continuity in revelation, but rather the opposite. As Mombasa wrote almost a century ago, ―The adoption of the faith of Islam by the pagan people is in no sense whatever a stepping-stone towards, or a preparation for, Christianity, but exactly the reverse.[54]

 

It is here that the issue of the nature of God comes into focus. Though Muslims and Christians may believe in the same God as subject, the nature of God as conceived by Islam is not at all identical to the nature of God within the Judeo-Christian faith.

 

The second article in this series discusses the challenges that Islamic monotheism faces. See: https://iqri.org/the-predicament-of-islamic-monotheism/

 

 

 

 

Notes

 

a This is the first article in a four-part series “The Triune God and the Islamic God,” delivered by the author as the Missions and Evangelism Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 12-15, 2002.

[1] See Wesley H. Brown, “Globalization and Evangelical Theological Education for the Future” (paper presented at the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents, Phoenix, Arizona, January 1987).

[2] W. Montgomery Watt, “Islamic Theology and the Christian Theologian,” Hibbert Journal 49 (1950–1951): 242.

[3] The most famous and reliable sources for Muhammad’s sayings are Bukhari, Sahih of Bukhari (Istanbul: ‘Al-Maktabah Al-’Islamiyah, n.d.); and Muslim, Sahih of Muslim (Istanbul: Al-Maktabah Al-’Islamiyah, n.d.).

[4] Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, The Holy Qur’an (Brentwood, MD: Amana, 1989), Surah 29:46. Unless indicated otherwise, all English translations of the Qur’an are those of ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, whose translation and commentary volume is used as a modern popular and standard text and is also available electronically.

[5] Surah 4:163.

[6] Surah 22:34.

[7] Though it is more proper to write the word “Allah” as “Allh,” the former will be used in this study because of its common use today.

[8] Robert Morey, Islamic Invasion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1992). The encyclopedias and dictionaries Morey quotes include Marian Edwardes and Lewis Spence, comps., A Dictionary of Non-Classical Mythology (London: Dent, 1912), 7; John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 48; James Hastings, John A. Selbie, and Louis H. Gray, eds., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh: Clark, 1908–26), 1:326; Martin Theodoor Houtsma, ed., Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden and New York: Brill, 1987), 1:302, 406; 2:1093; Michael Jordan, ed., Encyclopedia of Gods (London: Kyle Cathie, 1992), 156; Anthony S. Mercatante, ed., Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend (New York: Facts on File, 1988), 1:61; Gesenius Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, trans. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (London: Bagster, 1846), 367; Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, trans. Robert Graves, ed. Felix Guirand (New York: Prometheus, 1968), 54–56; and John L. Esposito, ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 76–77.

The works of history and philosophy that Morey quotes are P. M. Holt, Ann K. S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis, eds., The Cambridge History of Islam (Cambridge: University Press, 1970), 1:27, 37; Jack M. Sasson, ed., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, vol. 3 (New York: Scribner, 1995); Carl Brockelmann, History of the Islamic Peoples, trans. Joel Carmichael (New York: Putnam, 1947), 8–10; S. W. Koelle, Mohammed and Mohammedanism (London: Rivingtons, 1889), 17–19; Wendell Phillips, Qataban and Sheba: Exploring the Ancient Kingdoms on the Biblical Spice Routes of Arabia (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955), 64, 227; and Archibald Browning Drysdale Alexander, A Short History of Philosophy (Glasgow: Machehose, Jackson, 1922), 130.

Other writers Morey quotes include G. J. O. Moshay, Who Is This Allah? (Gerrad’s Cross, UK: Dorchester House, 1994), 138; Arthur Jeffrey, ed., Islam: Muhammad and His Religion (New York, Liberal Arts, 1958), 85; Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), 31; William Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Mecca (Oxford: Clarendon, 1953), 39; Alfred Guillaume, Islam (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1954), 6–7; and Samuel M. Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God (New York: Young People’s Missionary Movement, 1905), 24–25.

[9] For an earlier treatment of this subject see Imad N. Shehadeh, “A Comparison and a Contrast between the Prologue of John’s Gospel and Qur’anic Surah 5” (Th.D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1990), 77–84.

[10] Kenneth Bailey, “The Arabic Translations of the Bible: Some Thoughts on Its History and Importance” (unpublished manuscript, 1979).

[11] Aziz S. Atiya, “The Arabic Palimpsests of Mount Sinai,” in The World of Islam: Studies in Honor of Philip K. Hitti, ed. James Kritzeck and Bayly Winder (London: Macmillan, 1960), 112–13.

[12] Harvey Staal, Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151—Arabic Text, IX (Louvain: Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 1984).

[13] The earliest colophon dates the writing of the Pauline Epistles as the month of Ramadan, 253 A.H. (i.e., After the Hijrah [pilgrimage] of Muammad from Mecca to Medina, or A.D. 867), which encompasses most of the epistles. The next period of copying for the rest of the manuscripts was about two hundred years later, in which three colophons reflect the two dates of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, 412 A.H. (A.D. 1030) and the month of Safar, 416 A.H. (A.D. 1034).

[14] Staal, Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151—Arabic Text, 48, 115, 132, 147, 158, 168, 176, 182, 195, 204, 209, 215, 322, 330, 338, 346, 350–52.

[15] Second Corinthians has a slightly different version, “In the name of God the Father,” while Acts and Romans add “the one God” (ibid., 1, 90, 249).

[16] Ibid., xi (of folios 186, 187, 159, 38, and 90).

[17] Ibid., 45, 116, 212, etc.

[18] See Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed., rev. Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 41–42; and Helmer Ringgren, “אֱוֹּהִים†,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, trans. John T. Willis, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 273.

[19] Even notable scholars make this same mistaken assumption. See Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M. E. J. Richardson, and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (New York: Brill, 1999); Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God, 24–26; and Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 70.

[20] Mounir R. Sa‘adah presents an unproven hypothesis that the Arabic name of Allah “does not, in reality, use conventional Arabic alphabet letters; rather, it borrows a symbol of Byzantine origin,” which is said to combine alpha and omega. Thus “the Alpha became an Alif poised Arabic style, at the right of the Omega.. .. The Ha became a kind of probe, a reaching out towards the incomprehensible Allah who is beyond language” (“Allah: The First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega,” Muslim World 71 [1981]: 45-46). However, this thesis grossly ignores the cognitive tie with Hebrew אֱוֹּהִים†and אֱלוֹץ†, it cannot explain the singular form of Arabic Elah, and it is based on mere speculation rather than concrete evidence. Sa‘adah himself admitted the latter (ibid., 46).

[21] The term “Aramaic” used here includes Chaldean and Syriac (Chaldean-Arabic Dictionary [Beirut: Babel Center, 1975], 13–21).

[22] Ringgren, “אֱוֹּהִים†,” 273.

[23] Chaldean-Arabic Dictionary, 22.

[24] For ideas in this paragraph the present writer is indebted to Christoph Heger, who shared this information through newsgroup interaction over the Internet.

[25] For more on the phrase “the People of the Book” as a reference to Jews and Christians see Al Fakhr Al-Razi, The Commentary of Al-Razi (Damascus: Dar-Al Fikr, 1981), 11:194; and Al-Sabzawari, The New in the Explanation of the Glorious Qur’an (Beirut: Dar Al-ta‘aruf Lilmatbu‘at, n.d.), 2:439.

[26] Bukhari, Sahih of Bukhari, 65 (2):11:150.

[27] Ibid., 1:3:3.

[28] Imad N. Shehadeh, “Ishmael in Relation to the Promises to Abraham” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1986), 33–39.

[29] See W. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites: The Fundamental Institutions (New York: Schocken, 1972), 74; and St. Clair Tisdall, The Sources of Islam (Villach, Austria: Light of Life, n.d.), 13.

[30] See Philip Hatti, The History of the Arabs (Beirut: Dar Al-Kashaf, 1965), 141; and F. V. Winnett, “Allah before Islam,” Moslem World 28 (1938): 246-47.

[31] Al-Zuzuni, The Explanation of the Seven Suspended Poems (Beirut: Dar Al-Sadir, n.d.), 81, 163, 165. The word “Almu‘alaqat” means “the hanging ones” or “the suspended ones.” It is suggested that these poems used to be hung on the walls of the Ka‘bah, which later became the sacred pilgrimage center in Mecca.

[32] For examples of some pre-Islamic poems see Tisdall, The Sources of Islam, 14–15; and Al-Zuzani, The Explanation of the Seven Suspended Poems, 81, 163, 165.

[33] Bukhari, Sahih of Bukhari, 66:6:101.

[34] Tisdall, The Sources of Islam, 161.

[35] Jean Muhammad Abed el Jalil, Breive Historie de la Litterature Arabe, ed. G. P. Maisonneuve (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1949), 21. See also Winnett, “Allah before Islam,” 248; and Tisdall, The Sources of Islam, 16–21.

[36] Surah 39:3. See Al-Hariri, A Pastor and a Prophet (n.p: n.p), 100–101, 201; and Tisdall, The Sources of Islam, 16–21.

[37] Surah 10:3.

[38] See Al-Munjid (Beirut: Dar El-Mashreq, 1975), 16; Al-Sabzawari, The New in the Explanation of the Glorious Qur’an, 2:502; Al-Baydawi, The Lights of Revelation and the Secrets of Explanation (Beirut: Dar Al-Kashaf, 1965), 227; Muhammad ‘Abduh, The Theology of Unity, trans. Ishaq Musa‘ad and Kenneth Cragg (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1966), 29–52; and Surah 211:2–3; and 26:24.

[39] Phillip Hatti, The Arabs (Beirut: Dar Al-‘ilm Lilmalayin, 1946), 48.

[40] In this connection see also Qur’anic Surahs 10:5; 13:2; 14:33; 31:29.

[41] Bukhari, Sahih of Bukhari, 4:422.

[42] Kenneth Cragg, Muhammad and the Christian (Oxford: Oneworld, 1999), 124.

[43] Zwemer, The Moslem Doctrine of God, 18.

[44] For a more detailed analysis see Shehadeh, “Ishmael in Relation to the Promises to Abraham,” chapter 3.

[45] I. Lilias Trotter, “Some Unfounded Moslem Claims,” Moslem World 2 (1912): 286; and S. M. Zwemer, “The Palladium of Islam,” Moslem World 23 (1933): 109. Richard Gottheil claims that these changes occurred when the Jews refused to acknowledge Muhammad as a prophet (“Abraham,” in The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1904 ed., 1:87). Sayid Qutub, on the other hand, claims that Muhammad wanted to change the direction of prayer much earlier but was delayed by his fear that the Jews would accuse him of doing so only because he was offended that Christians and Jews refused to adopt his claims (In the Shadow of the Qur’an [Jeddah: Dar-al-‘Elm, 1986], 1:93–94).

[46] Though the Quran states that Abraham indeed offered his son (Surah 37:107), it does not mention the name of either Isaac or Ishmael as being offered. Likewise, the two authoritative sources of the Hadith (Sahih Bukhari and Muslim) do not mention the name of which was the son offered. Yet, the belief that it is Ishmael not Isaac is strongly believed today by Muslims. Encyclopedia Judaica asserts that a renowned Jewish traditionalist and another Jewish scholar who converted to Islam told the Khalif Umar Ibn Abd Al-Aziz (A.D. 717-720) that the Jews were well informed that Ishmael was the one who was offered up, but that they concealed it because they were jealous (Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg, “Ishmael,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, 1971 ed., 9:82). However, two highly respected Muslim scholars of the ninth and eleventh centuries A.D. respectively, and who examined oral tradition state that the evidence is on the side of Isaac not Ishmael (cf. Al Tabari, Abi Jaafar, The Commentary of Al Tabari [Beirut: Dar Al Kutub Al Elmiyah, 1997], 10:510–15; Al Qurtubi, Abi Abdallah, The Compiler [Beirut: Dar Alfikr, 1998], 8:97–103). Their conclusion is supported by several Quranic verses that give Isaac an elevated status based on the revelation of Isaac’s birth as well as his prophethood: “We gave her (i.e., Sarah, Abraham’s wife) glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob” (Surah 11:71); “And we gave him (Abraham) the good news of Isaac a prophet, one of the Righteous. We blessed him and Isaac” (37:112–13).

[47] “There is also little doubt that in one form or another he [Muhammad] heard the story of Abraham as the founder of the temple of Jerusalem, as told in the Book of Jubilees 22:23–4. The story goes back to 2 Chronicles 3:1, which states that Solomon built the temple on Mount Moriah on which Abraham sacrificed Isaac (Gen. 22:2). The Book of Jubilees elaborates the story in which Abraham said that he built this house in order to put his name on it in the country which God had given him and to his posterity, and that it would be given to Jacob and to his posterity forever. In light of this, Mohammad constructed the ingenious theory that Abraham built the Kaaba together with his son Ishmael (Jub. 2:121), father of the Arabs, and thus founded the religion of Islam, which Mohammad promulgated among his own people” (Shelomo Dov Goitein, “Abraham,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, 2:119).

[48] According to the Hadith, Muhammad originally thought that his spiritual encounter in the cave was with the demonic world rather than with God. His wife and friends later convinced him otherwise. For a more detailed analysis see Shehadeh, “A Comparison and a Contrast between the Prologue of John’s Gospel and Qur’anic Surah 5, ” chapter 3.

[49] Samuel Schlorff, “Muslim Ideology and Christian Apologetics,” Missiology 21 (April 1993): 174.

[50] Robert M. Haddad, “Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam: An Historical Overview,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 31 (1986): 24-25.

[51] Sawirus ibn al Muqaffa, History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, Arabic text ed. and trans. B. Evetts, Patrologia Orientalis, 492–93, quoted in Haddad, “Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam: An Historical Overview,” 25–26.

[52] W. Montgomery Watt, “The Use of the Word ‘Allah’ in English,” Muslim World 43 (1953): 245-47. For this reason the term “Allah” is used in the remainder of this series of articles to refer only to the distinctively Muslim concept of God.

[53] Watt, “Islamic Theology and the Christian Theologian,” 244. See also Jamal Badawi, Bridgebuilding between Christian and Muslim (Halifax, NS: Islamic Information Foundation, n.d.), 3.

[54] W. G. Mombasa, “Islam Not a Stepping-stone towards Christianity,” Moslem World 1 (1911): 365.

 

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