In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
On Saturday May 14, I was blessed with the opportunity to appear on the PAX TV network’s show Faith Under Fire. The entire show dealt with various issues related to Islam, and the segment on which I appeared was titled, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” Appearing along with me were Dr. Ergun Caner, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity and professor of Theology and Church History at Liberty University, and Deborah Caldwell, senior producer and national correspondent for Beliefnet, the premier religion and spirituality website. In case you don’t know already, I regularly write for Beliefnet.
Dr. Caner believes that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. Quoting Dr. Caner from the show, he said: “You cannot mess with the God of the Bible, you cannot change definitions mid-stream and think that we as Evangelicals are going to sit quietly and say, ‘Oh, OK. It’s the same God.'” His point was, if I understood him correctly, that God in Christianity is Jesus Christ, the “God-man,” to use the phrase he coined during the show, and thus Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. On this point, I agree with him. If Dr. Caner means Jesus Christ when he says “God,” then absolutely, I do not worship the same God as he.
Yet, the God Whom I worship is the God of Abraham, the God of Noah, the God of Moses and Aaron, and it is the God of Jesus Christ. It is the God to which Jesus refers in this passage in Luke:
“And it came to pass, that, as he [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he [Jesus] said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” (Luke 11:1-4).
The One whom Jesus called “Our Father” is the God Whom I worship. When a “certain ruler” came to Jesus and asked him, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18), Jesus replied: “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19). The “only thing that is good” according to Jesus is the God Whom I worship. When, according to the Gospel account in Mark, Jesus was on the cross, he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). The “El” on Whom Jesus called is the God that I worship.
Which brings me to another point: the overwhelming majority of Muslims call God “Allah,” by His Arabic name. There are those who claim that this “Allah” is not the God of Abraham, but a different god. In fact, there are those who claim that Allah is none other than the moon god of the Arabs, and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was directing his people to worship this god alone. The claim is absolutely absurd.
“Allah” is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the God of Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and Jesus. He is the “Elohim” of the Old Testament, and “Eloi” in the New Testament. The word Allah comes from the same root word that forms the basis for the words used for God in the Bible: Elohim, ha Elohim, and ha Eloh. “Allah” also comes from the same root word as the Aramaic word for God, Alaha. Aramaic, if you recall, was the language spoken by Jesus Christ (pbuh).
Elohim, the Hebrew word for God, is derived from the word eloh, which means “god.” The im is a plural of abstraction, appended at the end for respect. Allah is also related to the word ilah, which is Arabic for “god.” Thus, these three words – eloh, alah, ilah – are etymologically equivalent, just as Deus, Dios, and Dio are equivalent names for God in Latin, Spanish, and Italian respectively. The proto-Semitic root for eloh, alah, and ilah is ‘LH, which means “to worship.” Therefore, the literal meaning of Elohim, Alaha, and Allah is “the one whom is worshipped.”
Eloi, the name Jesus cried out on the cross in the account according to Mark, comes from this very same root word for God. Thus, Allah is not some foreign god whom the Muslims worship, but the very same God that Jesus called upon during his ministry on earth. In fact, the name Allah is nothing but the Arabic equivalent of the name Jesus used for God when he walked among the faithful. Pick up a copy of an Arabic translation of the Bible, and lo and behold, you will find the word used for God is none other than Allah.
Now, I have heard some Muslims tell me that I should not use the word “God” for God, but only “Allah,” that “Allah” is the only proper name for God. I also believe this to be hogwash. The word God dates back to at least the Neolithic Period. It is derived from the proto-Indo-European word gheu, which means “to invoke” or “to supplicate.” God, in fact, is a past participle (remember English grammar?) of gheu, and thus is means “the one who is invoked,” very similar to the meaning of the word Allah, which is “the one whom is worshipped.” What’s more, the word God dates back to before Christianity, and its earliest documented use is in the poem Beowulf. Thus, to use the word God to refer to Allah is not only proper, it is linguistically correct for me as a native English speaker. To me, the names are interchangeable, and whichever word I use – God or Allah – is completely immaterial. [I am indebted to Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah for the information on the roots of the word Allah.]
The bottom line is this: the God that I worship is the God of us all. His name has changed from epoch to epoch and people to people, but He is the self-same God of the universe, our Loving Creator Who gave us life and sustains it for us. Muslims may call Him “Allah,” Christians may call Him “Father”; to me, there is no difference. He is my God and your God. Why can’t more people today, both Muslims and non-Muslims, simply understand this?