Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are widely known as the three great monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, although each of the three has a different understanding of the One and only God of our father Abraham. We will look at the Muslim and the Christian understandings of God, and see what He is like.
Muslim view of Allah
In Islam, God is One. He is a singular exclusive being, who has no partner or equal. He is eternal, creator, unique in all, and independent of all. His essence is neither body nor spirit, as he is wholly other than his creation; “There is nothing like unto Him” (al Shura 42:11). Due to His otherness, He sent the Qur’an as guidance for humanity in the Qur’an. Muslims submit (the def., from the root ‘s-l-m’) to this guidance, which is viewed as a mercy from God. The Qur’an does not reveal who Allah is, but rather uses “Allah” as the very own name.” Allah is another name vs. YHWH, nor does it tell us anything about Allah, but points instead to his great and transcendent otherness. He does whatever He wants; guiding aright those he will and leading astray those he will (Ibrahim 14:27). Even the phrase “Allahu Akbar” is a comparative phrase suggesting a high transcendence of a Allah who is greater than anything or anyone else.
Muslims will claim that Allah is the same deity as the biblical God. If it can be shown that the name of Allah was in use to refer to this deity, then we could say that the God of the Bible (YHWH) and Allah are the same. But, if it can be shown that a deity called “Allah” was borrowed from pre-Islamic Arab paganism, then that claim is debased. Critical analysis will show the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the pre-Islamic Arab world. Muhammad’s father’s name was “Abd-allah” (or ‘slave of Allah’) showing a connection already present in Muhammad’s roots to a distinctive deity called Allah. We know that Allah was considered the highest God of all those housed in the Kaaba, which was the pre-Islamic idol house in Mecca, home to a said 360 idols. While it must be granted that Muslims believe “Allah” is the standard Arabic term for Abraham’s God, the usage of this name suggests that it is was a more generic term. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are widely known as the three great monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, although each of the three has a different understanding of the One and only God of our father Abraham. We will look at the Muslim and the Christian understandings of God, and see what He is like. For example, Prof. Charleton S. Coon’s extensive archaeological research in Saudi Arabia has shown that there are many ancient inscriptions to the idol moon-god “Sin” whose title was engraved “al-ilah” (the god), and later shortened to “allah” in pre-Islamic times. Additionally, Sin’s symbol was a crescent moon. This tells us why Allah was never explained or introduced in the Qur’an. The pre-Islamic, jahiliyya, Arabs knew who Allah was. Muhammad told them that He was the only and exclusive God, not just the highest God. For these reasons it is doubtful that Allah is the biblical God of Abraham.
God in the Bible: Self-Revelation
The God of Abraham is not a distant and impersonal force entirely unrelated to and separate from His creation, but one who is actively involved with all its affairs since the beginning (Gen. 1:2). This intimate bond between God and humanity is the core of Old Testament religion. All biblical revelation of God teaches His people who He is and what He is like (it is “self-revelation”). The God of the Bible, often called ‘Elohim’ in the Patriarchal period, is set apart from His ancient neareastern counterparts. He is not called by a generic and unknown name like Baal (Lord) or Dagon (from the root for grain, meaning the god of harvest). He is not limited to a place or season, and requires no appeasement to approach. On the contrary this God reached out and chose Abraham and committed Himself to be identified with people and events, not a place. In fact, the presence of this God is what made a place holy, and for no other reason (Ex. 3). This is unique in ancient near-eastern religious practices. While it may be said that the name El is the generic Hebrew word for “God,” the name Elohim is unique to Him. God is referred to as El-Shaddai (God Almighty), El-Elyon (Most High God), and many other “El’s,” but His most common one is “Elohim.” It has been oft pointed out that Elohim is a plural word emphasizing unity in diversity, which is true. This name is the summation of all other El titles, and this God of Abraham brought together in one person the culmination of all divine power.
In Genesis 12 God appeared to Abraham and told him to leave his homeland, and as a result he would receive three promises: land, lineage, and blessing. These three promises were repeated throughout Abraham’s life and form the basis for the covenant that God would make with Abraham. When Abraham how he could trust that God would come through on his promises, God gave Abraham a covenant that would be established throughout all generations. A covenant is “a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement.” God bound Himself to Abraham as an assurance that the promises would be fulfilled. In Gen. 15:17-18 God Himself initiated a unilateral covenant with Abraham: When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces [of slaughtered calf]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram This is a passage drawing from ancient near eastern practices of covenant making, wherein an animal would be slaughtered and the two parties would pass through the pieces saying in effect, “may this happen to me if I fail to uphold my end of the covenant.” That God alone passed through the sacrifice shows that only God, alone, can fulfil the covenant. From the beginning, God has been a covenant God who has committed Himself to a people. Abraham’s knowledge of God was primarily in covenant form according to what God had showed Abraham about Himself.
The Name of God
The covenant proceeded through the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ibrahim, Ishaq, Yacob). In Exodus 3, God revealed His very own personal name to Moses: YHWH (‘Yahweh’). The revelation of God’s personal name suggests that this God would commit Himself to the people He has chosen, to hear them and be with them. This name YHWH, “I am who I am,” found in Ex. 3 in the passive imperfect tense, means, ‘I will be with you,’ suggesting that ‘just as I was with Abraham, you can also call on my name to be assured.’ Abraham called God El-Shaddai, which was God’s self-revealed name that Abraham was to use to call upon Him. God continued to give His people His personal name. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, they cried out to God for release. God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Then Moses asked, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God answered, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am’ has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”
This tells us that it was the God of Abraham who appeared to Moses, and gave His very own person name. God answers, in effect, ‘I will be with you, just as I was with your fathers.’ The personal name of God assures that He is the God of Abraham; it demonstrates His covenant heart. His continual covenant presence is assured. And His covenant presence assures that the promises will be fulfilled. It all culminates in the revelation of his personal name.
Comparison & Contrast
1. Abraham’s God revealed about Himself. 2. Abraham’s God made a covenant with Abraham. 3. Abraham’s God gave His very own personal name. What this means is that we are dealing with two wholly different conceptions of God. While Yahweh enters into His Creation and gives His covenant people His personal name so as to assure them that their prayers will be heard, Allah remains distant and unknowable.
The Real God you can Know
Abraham’s God revealed Himself most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, who was Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14). Jesus was the clearest revelation of God (Heb. 1:1-3), brought a covenant for all people (Mt. 26:28), and gave us His very own name to assure our answered prayers (Jn. 14:13-14). In Genesis 3:15 God tells Eve that she would give birth to a “seed” who would destroy Satan. This promise was re-affirmed to Abraham in Gen. 15, when told that he would bear the line of this man of promise (remembering that only God could fulfil the requirements of the covenant). Galatians 3:16 tells us that Jesus Christ was that promised seed, born of a virgin, who destroyed Satan (Col. 2:15). It tells us that those who are in Christ Jesus are descendents of Abraham according to the promise (Gal. 3:29). This means that those who believe in Jesus are justified by faith before God just like Abraham (Gen.15:6). Those who are justified stand before God blameless and without shame, and are free to call upon His name to receive the fulfilled promises of the covenant. Those in Christ are Abraham’s descendents, and inherit the covenant relationship with God including His own personal name, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14). Philippians 2: 9-11 tells us, that “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In Jesus, we can know Abraham’s God and enjoy Him forever. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (John 8:56).
Photocredit: https://flic.kr/p/4s4o3Y (CC BY-SA 4.0)