In FrontPage today, Daniel Pipes takes up a question that has often been considered by commenters here: is the Allah of Islam the same as the God of the Bible? This is not just a matter for theological wrangling; the policy implications of the question begin to come clear along the middle and particularly at the end of Pipes’ article. Says Pipes:
This might seem like a minor semantic quibble, but the meaning of Allah has profound importance. Consider two alternate ways of translating the opening line of Islam’s basic declaration of faith (Arabic: la ilaha illa-la). One reads “I testify that there is no God but Allah,” and the other “I testify that there is no deity but God.”
The first states that Islam has a distinct Lord, one known as Allah, and implies that Jews and Christians worship a false god. The second states that Allah is the Arabic word for the common monotheistic God and implies a commonality with Jews and Christians.
The first translation is 40 times more common at google.com than the second. Despite this, the latter is the accurate one. Bush was right. Several reasons point to this conclusion.
Scriptural: The Koran itself in several places insists that its God is the same as the God of Judaism and Christianity. The most direct statement is one in which Muslims are admonished to tell Jews and Christians “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we do submit” (E.H. Palmer translation of Sura 29:46). Of course, the verse can also be rendered “our Allah and your Allah is One” (as it is in the notorious Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation).
Historical: Chronologically, Islam followed after Judaism and Christianity, but the Koran claims Islam actually preceded the other monotheisms. In Islamic doctrine (Sura 3:67), Abraham was the first Muslim. Moses and Jesus introduced mistakes to the Word of God; Muhammad brought it down perfectly. Islam views Judaism and Christianity as flawed versions of itself, correct on essentials but wrong in important details. This outlook implies that all three faiths share the God of Abraham.
Yes they do — in a sense. Obviously Muhammad portrayed himself as a prophet sent by the God of Moses and Jesus. It is not actually Islamic doctrine that, as Pipes says, “Moses and Jesus introduced mistakes to the Word of God.” Their followers did that. The Qur’an, addressing Muhammad and the Muslims, says of the Jews: “Have ye any hope that they will be true to you when a party of them used to listen to the word of Allah, then used to change it, after they had understood it, knowingly?” (2:75). This verse, combined with the fact that the Old and New Testaments do not bear witness to Muhammad as he expected, have led mainstream Muslim theologians to extend the charge of willfully perverting the Scriptures to Christians as well, although the charge is not made against Christians in the Qur’an.
In light of that, it is no small thing that, as Pipes notes, “Islam views Judaism and Christianity as flawed versions of itself, correct on essentials but wrong in important details.” I think unfortunately that this makes it unlikely that some path to mutual coexistence can be based on the fact that “all three faiths share the God of Abraham.” They do, but Islam views the other two not as equal or even potential partners, but as renegade perversions of the true faith of the God of Abraham. No Muslim, therefore, would say he worships the Triune God of Christianity, which the Qur’an rather inaccurately denigrates as worship of God, Jesus, and Mary (5:116). Hardly a promising ground for mutual understanding.
Accordingly, I wrote some time ago that “Muslims themselves vehemently deny that the Allah of the Qur’an is the God of the Bible.” By this I did not mean to deny the identity between the deity of Jews and Christians with that of Muslims that is claimed in Qur’an 29:46; rather, I was referring to the rejection by Muslims of the Trinity, which is accepted by almost all Christians, as well as to their classification of Judaism along with Christianity as a renegade perversion of Islam, which is based on the idea that the Bible as we have it has been corrupted. The Qur’an even says that “they indeed have disbelieved who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary” (5:17). The Arabic word used here is “kafara,” which is related to “kafir,” or unbeliever. Thus traditional Christians are unbelievers (and under Allah’s curse, cf. Qur’an 9:30).
Linguistic: Just as Dieu and Gott are the French and German words for God, so is Allah the Arabic equivalent. In part, this identity of meaning can be seen from cognates: In Hebrew, the word for God is Eloh-im, a cognate of Allah. In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, God is Allaha. In the Maltese language, which is unique because it is Arabic-based but spoken by a predominantly Catholic people, God is Alla.
Further, most Jews and Christians who speak Arabic routinely use the word Allah to refer to God. (Copts, the Christians of Egypt, do not.)
Quite so. Many Arabic interjections that are used by Christians as well as Muslims feature the word “Allah”: “Inshallah” (God willing), “Smallah” (in the name of God), “Wallah” (by God), “Allah ma3ak” (God be with you”, “Yalla” etc…) Copts, in line with Dr. Pipes’ observation, never use these expressions. They replace the word “Allah” with “Rabb” (Lord), hence saying “Insha’arrab”, “bismirrab”, “Rabbina Ma3aak” etc. — as if to divorce themselves from the God of Islam. However, Maronites, Melkites, and other Arabic-speaking Christians use the same expressions that Muslims use, although not in reference to the God of Islam.
The Old and New Testaments in Arabic use this word. In the Arabic-language Bible, for instance, Jesus is referred to as the son of Allah. Even translations carried out by Christian missionaries, such as the famous one done in 1865 by Cornelius Van Dyke, refer to Allah, as do missionary discussions.
Pipes draws these conclusions from this evidence:
The God=Allah equation means that, however hostile political relations may be, a common “children of Abraham” bond does exist and its exploration can one day provide a basis for interfaith comity. Jewish-Christian dialogue has made great strides and Jewish-Christian-Muslim trialogue could as well.
But before that can happen, however, Muslims must first recognize the validity of alternate approaches to the one God. That means leaving behind the supremacism, extremism, and violence of the current Islamist phase.
This is a point worth exploring further. In light of the Qur’anic verses I have referred to here and others, I wonder if it would really be possible for Qur’an-believing Muslims to “recognize the validity of alternate approaches to the one God” — specifically approaches that are condemned as perversions of the true faith in the same Qur’an that seems to assert (in 29:46) this “common ‘children of Abraham’ bond.” On what basis will Muslims be able to act upon 29:46 but not 9:30 and 5:17? In Qur’an 98:6 the “unbelievers” — using the same word that is used of Christians in 5:17 (kafara, kafaru) are termed the “vilest of creatures.” We’re all one big happy group of children of Abraham? Not quite.
Also, I think it is worth noting that “supremacism, extremism, and violence” are not solely features of “the current Islamist phase” of Islam, but are constants of Islamic history — as Dr. Pipes himself suggests when he notes that the Qur’an itself “views Judaism and Christianity as flawed versions of itself.” What is that but supremacism? And that supremacism, combined with the jihad ideology that is rooted in the Qur’an and Sunnah (as I detail in Onward Muslim Soldiers) and has been a constant of Islamic history (as Dr. Pipes has ably noted), becomes a recipe for extremism and violence. Will this change as Muslims come to recognize that we are all children of Abraham with a common God? I hope so. But I don’t think a reading of the Qur’an justifies this hope.