[Editor’s note: This is a series of two questions and answers]
Question:Why do Muslims think that we worship the same God?
Answer:The reason they say we worship the same God is because we worship the same God. Muhammad believed that the God of the Jews and the God of the Christians was the same God who spoke to him and who he called people to worship. By the way, just so you know, in Arabic-speaking countries, and even in Indonesia, Christians call God “Allah” because that is the name of God in those countries. It is the same God.Now, as you clearly know, the Muslim description of God is different from the Christian description of the same God. But then, different Christians have a somewhat different view of God. I suppose that because the Muslim concept of the one God is significantly different from that of the Christians–they definitely reject the Trinity idea–that they worship a completely different God altogether, but I would not describe it that way. Remember that Jews did not see Jehovah as being a trinity either, and clearly they worship the same God we do.In reaching out to Muslims, it is very helpful to find common ground to proceed from. Therefore, saying that they worship a different God is probably not accurate, but it is also not helpful in reaching out to them. I would prefer that we let our Muslim friends understand that their understanding of God is not fully correct than say they worship a different God.Does this make sense?John Oakes
Well, I guess my question then is then why is Allah also called the moon god? That’s why the crescent moon became the symbol of Islam. Muhammad claimed that there was only one God and chose the moon god to be the only true God. So, why do the Muslims claim we worship the same god when We worship God who is the creator of all?
Here is the history of the thing. In Mecca there were a number of pagan gods. One of them was called Allah, and this was the moon God. Muhammad was presenting a strongly monotheistic view of God. What he chose to do was to co-opt the name Allah for his one, monotheistic God. We can criticize the wisdom of Muhammad for doing this, but what we should not accuse him of is “turning the moon god into the one God.” This is not what he did and the Golden Rule (which is a Christian teaching!) tells us that we should treat others as we would want to be treated. It is simply not accurate and certainly not fair or “Christian” to say that Muhammad turned a pagan god into his God, Allah.
We should bear in mind that Muhammad had to use some word for the one true God (whether he is the true one we can debate of course…). His choices included making up a totally new word, or using one of the words already in the Arab vocabulary. He chose the latter. Again, we can accuse him of an unwise choice, but it is not fair to accuse him of turning the moon god into what he called the one God, Allah.
By the way, the Jews did something like this as well. One of the titles for God in the Old Testament is El. El was a generic word for god, but it was also the name of a pagan God. As with Muhammad, when the Jews gave a name to their one true God, they had a choice, and one of the choices was to use a word already in existence. So, if we are going to accuse Muslims of turning a pagan god into God, then we had better be prepared to be accused, quite accurately, of the same thing.
Arguably, El is not a proper name for God, but a description of who God is. Similarly, the word Adonai was not God’s name, but what he is, as Adonai means lord. If God even has a proper name at all, it would be YHWH, the tetragrammaton given to Moses.
Then there is the use of the crescent moon as a symbol of Islam. Again, I ask you to be fair to Muslims, rather than look for accusations which work well in a completely “Christian” context, but which would not make sense if you were to talk to a Muslim about the question. All religions use some sort of symbol. Some would say that using an instrument of execution as a symbol of Christianity is scandalous, grotesque, and completely inappropriate. We Christians may not see it this way, but others might. Also, you should know that the cross was not used as a principle symbol of Christianity for a few hundred years.
So, why did Islam adopt the crescent moon symbol? I would claim that the history of its use is not all that important. The question is what does it represent now. It represents a religion which is hard-core monotheistic and which should not be accused of pagan influence. It is hard to think of a religion which more strongly opposes paganism that Islam!
Here is the history of the use of the crescent moon by Muslims. It was not used by Muhammad or his successors. It was not until the time of the Ottoman Empire that this symbol was used, not of the religion, but of the Ottoman Empire. It was only later that it came to symbolize the religion because so many Muslims were under Ottoman rule. So, the history is that this became a symbol, not because Muhammad used the name Allah for his religion, but as an historical accident nearly one thousand years after the religion formed. These facts should cause us to be humble in our criticism.
So… I suggest we treat Islam as we would like Muslims to treat Christianity, and not make criticism that really do not hold up to scrutiny in a a fair analysis. Again, as with the fact that the choice of Allah as the name of the one true Creator/God may be a bit unwise, I suppose that the use of the crescent moon symbol might also be a bit unwise with hindsight, but we should treat Islam for what it is, not go after the religion because of the symbols it uses or the names it uses. That is my input.
One more thought. There are plenty of legitimate grounds for criticizing Islam and for criticizing Muhammad as a prophet, and I suggest we stick to these things. We could accuse Islam of being a works salvation religion or of teaching a hard predestination which makes Allah the author of evil, or of teaching that God is distant and not relatable to humans. We could criticize Muhammad for being a man of war who ordered mass executions and who had dozens of wives. We can criticize the Qur’an for having blatant science and historical errors or for teaching that Jesus was not crucified, when he obviously was. These are legitimate criticisms, and I would stick with these.