Medallion showing “Allah” (God) in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. (Courtesy Wikipedia)
By Spencer D Gear
A Roman Catholic bishop in the Netherlands, Tiny Muskens, has proposed that Dutch Catholics should pray to Allah, as ‘ God doesn’t mind what he is called’. The Catholic News reported:
Breda Bishop Tiny Muskens, who once worked as missionary in Indonesia, has proposed that Dutch Catholics should pray to Allah just as Christians already do in other countries with significant Muslim populations.
Radio Netherlands reports that Bishop Muskens says his country should look to Indonesia, where the Christian churches already pray to Allah. It is also common in the Arab world: Christian and Muslim Arabs use the words God and Allah interchangeably.
Speaking on the Dutch TV programme Network on Monday evening, Bishop Muskens says it could take another 100 years but eventually the name Allah will be used by Dutch churches. And that will promote rapprochement between the two religions.
Muskens doesn’t expect his idea to be greeted with much enthusiasm. The 71-year-old bishop, who will soon be retiring due to ill health, says God doesn’t mind what he is called. God is above such “discussion and bickering”.
This view is alive and well on Christian forums on the www in the 21st century. Some claim that the Allah of Islam is the same God as the Almighty in Christianity. Albert Mohler Jr. (2007), to the contrary, stated, ‘From its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim — the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father’.
Who is correct?
The promotion of idolatry
J. C. Ryle, an evangelical and the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool, wrote in the 19th century:
‘I believe that we have come to a time when the subject of idolatry demands a thorough and searching investigation. I believe that idolatry is near us, all around us, and in the midst of us, to a very fearful extent. The second commandment, in one word, is in danger. “The plague is begun”‘.
Ryle’s definition was that ‘idolatry is a worship, in which the honor due to the Triune God, and to God only, is given to some of His creatures, or to some invention of His creatures’.
A lawyer once came to test Jesus with the question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” What was Jesus’ response? “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment” (Matt 22:35-38).
Since the worship of God is of first importance to us, engaging in false worship is one of the greatest calamities Christians can practice. Worshipping a false god is a serious problem as it is worshipping an idol, something the Israelites fell into on a number of occasions according to the OT.
I’m reminded of the warning against idolatry in 1 John 5:21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”. Therefore, it is of vital importance that we know who God is. So the differentiation between Allah and Elohim-God is of top priority.
Knowing what is idolatry is important as it is a dangerous practice. It can involve the worship of demons (see 1 Cor. 10:20 and compare it with Deut. 32:17). From the OT, we know that people can worship another god or demons and think they are worshipping Elohim God (see Ex. 32:1-6; 1 Kings 12:28-20)
That’s why it is of decisive importance to know that Elohim, the Almighty God, is not the same god as Allah. There is only one God and He is not Allah, according to the Scriptures. Nowhere in the OT and NT is God identified as Allah in the original languages (Hebrew-Aramaic OT and Greek NT).
One writer on Christian Forums stated: “If Abraham worshiped God and Abraham is recognized as the ‘father’ of believers then Judaism, Islam and Christianity worship the same God”.
My response was that this person was trying to argue for the ideology of old – old-fashioned religious syncretism.
What is syncretism?
W. A. V. Hooft (1963:11) stated that
‘the syncretic approach may be defined as ‘the view which holds that there is no unique revelation in history, that there are many different ways to reach the divine reality, that all formulations of religious truth or experience are by their very nature inadequate expressions of that truth and that it is necessary to harmonise as much as possible all religious ideas and experiences so as to create one universal religion for mankind’ (in Anderson 1984:17).
Sir Norman Anderson (1984:17) observed that syncretism was not a new phenomenon but was practised in ancient Israel and was denounced by the prophets. It also was a characteristic of Hellenism, Gnosticism and had wide practice in the Roman Empire. Emperor Alexander Severus
‘had in his private chapel not only the statues of the deified emperors, but also those of the miracle worker Apollonius of Tyana, of Christ, of Abraham and of Orpheus’ (Hooft 1963:15, cited in Anderson 1984:17).
The essence of syncretism is that all paths lead to the same God. In a paper on Hinduism given to the world’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago 1893, it was stated:
‘May He who is the Brahma of the Hindus, the Ahura-Mazda of the Zoroastrians, the Buddha of the Buddhists, the Jehovah of the Jews, the Father in Heaven of the Christians, give strength to you to carry out your noble idea!’
This was an example of the promotion of syncretism in the 19th century. The person on Christian Forums in the 21st century was attempting to make out that just because a religion (Islam) claims to go back to Abraham, that it represents the same religion as that of Judaism and Christianity. That is the promotion of a very old religious ideology. That is an example of support for religious syncretism, which is an old-fashioned way of encouraging theological falsehood, worship of an idol instead of the true God Almighty.
He wanted to syncretise Christianity and Islam because they go back to the one Abraham. A religion that supposedly goes back to Abraham (Islam) and tries to identify this with the Abraham of Israel and Christianity, is just pulling our theological ‘legs’. There is no way that the doctrines of Christianity can be harmonised with those of Islam, which is what syncretism tries to do.
On the Internet, this person’s theologically liberal promotion of world religions was an attempt to make the God of Judeo-Christianity look like the Allah of Islam. It sounds like and looks like religious syncretism and it is a false amalgamation – thus, idolatry.
This is one of the major areas where this attempt to syncretise Christianity and Islam fails with its effort to make Allah = Elohim. For the Muslim, one of the unforgivable sins is what is called shirk, which is the association of anyone or anything with the Almighty. Therefore, the very idea of the incarnation of the Deity is anathema. It is blasphemy, especially for the orthodox Sunni Muslims that make up about 90% of the world’s Muslims.
The Qur’an demonstrates this theology of ‘ruin’ and ‘tremendous sin’ of those who promote Allah as being the God of Jesus’ incarnation:
‘Had there been within the heavens and earth gods besides Allah , they both would have been ruined. So exalted is Allah , Lord of the Throne, above what they describe’ (Al-Anbiya 21:22).
‘Indeed, Allah does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin’ (Al-Nisa 4:48).
The Unitarian god of Islam
Abul A’La Mawdudi has stated:
The most fundamental and the most important teaching of Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) is faith in the unity of God. This is expressed in the primary Kalimah of Islam as “There is no deity but Allah” (La ilaha illallah). This beautiful phrase is the bedrock of Islam, its foundation and its essence. It is the expression of this belief which differentiates a true Muslim from a kafir (unbeliever), mushrik (one who associates others with God in His Divinity) or dahriyah (an atheist).
The acceptance or denial of this phrase produces a world of difference between man and man. The believers in it become one single community and those who do not believe in it form an opposing group. For the believers there is unhampered progress and success in this world and in the hereafter, while failure and ignominy are the ultimate lot of those who refuse to believe in it.
So, the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in the Trinitarian God of Scripture is anathema to the Muslims. This is one clear indication that Allah does not equal Elohim. The Trinity of Christianity is incompatible with the Unitarianism of Islam.
Of Jesus, the NT Scriptures state,
And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 ESV).
Who is this Jesus, the Word?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:1-4 ESV).
It could be not clearer, from biblical revelation, that Jesus was and is God and never ceased to be God during his incarnation on earth.
For the Christian, the unity of God has a very different understanding to that of Islam. The unity of God can be defined as follows:
‘God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times. This attribute of God has also been called God’s simplicity, using simple in the less common sense of “not complex” or “not composed of parts” (Grudem 1994:177).
When we understand both Christianity and Islam, it is impossible for Islam’s Allah to be one and the same with the Lord God Almighty of reality and as revealed in the Christian Scriptures.
Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. (2007), in his reply to Tiny Muskens’ syncretism, has rightly stated the issues when people try to identify the Trinitarian God of Christianity with that of the Unitarian god of Islam:
Those making the case for a Christian appropriation of Allah must take their argument in one of two trajectories. The first trajectory is to argue that Allah can be used in a generic way to refer to any (presumably monotheistic) deity. This case will be very difficult to make. Language, theology, and worship are so closely intertwined that it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue for a generic use of Allah. Further evidence against this trajectory is the fact that non-Arabic speaking Muslims also use Allah when referring to their god.
The second trajectory presents even more of a problem. Those following this line of argument must make the case that Allah and God refer to the same deity. This represents a huge problem for both Muslims and Christians. Allah is not a personal deity in the sense that the God of the Bible is. Furthermore, the Qur’an explicitly denies that Allah has a son, and Islam considers the notion of a triune God to be blasphemy.
Thus, from its very starting point Islam denies what Christianity takes as its central truth claim — the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father. If Allah has no Son by definition, Allah is not the God who revealed himself in the Son. How then can the use of Allah by Christians lead to anything but confusion . . . and worse?
To be faithful Christians, we must obey John’s exhortation: ‘Keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5:21). To worship Allah (as defined by Islam) is to worship another god and that is idolatry.
Appendix A: Schaff & Muir on Islam
Eminent church historian Philip Schaff noted that
Goethe and Carlyle swung from the orthodox abuse to the opposite extreme of a pantheistic hero-worshiping over-estimate of Mohammed and the Koran by extending the sphere of revelation and inspiration, and obliterating the line which separates Christianity from all other religions….
But the enthusiasm kindled by Carlyle for the prophet of Mecca has been considerably checked by fuller information from the original sources as brought out in the learned biographies of Weil, Nöldeke, Sprenger and Muir…. Sir William Muir concedes his original honesty and zeal as a reformer and warner, but assumes a gradual deterioration to the judicial blindness of a self-deceived heart, and even a kind of Satanic inspiration in his later revelations (Schaff n d: 4:92).
Schaff used the research of Muir who stated of Mahomet (Muir’s spelling):
He was delivered over to the judicial blindness of a self deceived heart; that, having voluntarily shut his eyes against the light, he was left miserably to grope in the darkness of his own choosing….
I would warn the reader against seeking to portray in his mind a character in all of Mahomet, its parts consistent with itself as the character of Mahomet. The truth is that the strangest inconsistencies blended together according to the wont of human nature) throughout the life of the Prophet. The student of the history will trace for himself how the pure and lofty aspirations of Mahomet were first tinged, and then gradually debased by a half unconscious self-deception; and how in this process truth merged into falsehood, sincerity into guile, – these opposite principles often co-existing even as active agencies in his conduct. The reader will observe that simultaneously with the anxious desire to extinguish idolatry, and to promote religion and virtue in the world, there was nurtured by the Prophet in his own heart, a licentious self-indulgence; till in the end, assuming to be the favourite of Heaven, he justified himself by “revelations” from God in the most flagrant breaches of morality. He will remark that while Mahomet cherished a kind and tender disposition, “weeping with them that wept,” and binding to his person the hearts of his followers by the ready and self-denying offices of love and friendship, he could yet take pleasure in cruel and perfidious assassination, could gloat over the massacre of an entire tribe, and savagely consign the innocent babe to the fires of hell. Inconsistencies such as these continually present themselves from the period of Mahomet’s arrival at Medina; and it is by the study of these inconsistencies that his character must be rightly comprehended. The key to many difficulties of this description may be found, I believe, in the chapter “on the belief of Mahomet in his own inspiration.” when once he had dared to forge the name of the Most High God as the seal and authority of his own words and actions, the germ was laid from which the errors of his after life freely and fatally developed themselves (Muir 4:320, 322-323).
Al-Bab 2009. Arabic words and the Roman alphabet. Available at: http://www.al-bab.com/arab/language/roman1.htm (Accessed 13 February 2012).
Anderson, N 1984. Christianity and World Religions. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.
Grudem w 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
Hooft, W A V 1963. No Other Name: The Choice between Syncretism and Christian Universalism. London: SCM.
Krusch, D 2011. ‘Sunni Islam’, Jewish Virtual Library, available at: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/sunni.html (Accessed 15 September 2011).
Mohler Jr., A 2007. ‘What does God care what we call Him?’, August 22, available at: http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/08/22/what-does-god-care-what-we-call-him/ (Accessed 15 September 2011).
Muir, W 1861. The biography of Mahomet, and the rise of Islam, in W Muir, The life of Mahomet (e-book), 4 vols, 4:302-324. London: Smith, Elder, & Co. Answering Islam, available at: http://www.answering-islam.org/Books/Muir/Life4/chap37.htm (Accessed 13 February 2012).
 ‘Pray to Allah, Dutch bishop proposes’, Catholic News, 13-17 August 2007. Available at: http://www.cathnews.com/article.aspx?aeid=5904 (Accessed 15 September 2011).
 For a lively discussion of this topic, see Christian Forums, “Is Allah God?”.
 J C Ryle, ‘Idolatry’, available at: http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/warn8.htm (Accessed 15 September 2011).
 Christian Forums, “Is Allah God?”.#53.
 I’m OzSpen on Christian Forums.
 ‘Paper on Hinduism’ given at the world’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago, September 19, 1893. Available at: http://www.mathfundamentals.org/geocities/Religion/Vivekananda/Paper.htm (Accessed 15 September 2011).
 For an explanation of shirk, see ‘Shirk (Polytheism)’, available at: http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/Shirk.htm (accessed 15 September 2011).
 This paragraph was based on information from Anderson (1984:17). David Krusch (2011) stated that ‘Some estimates say that Muslims constitute 20 percent of the world’s population. Although the exact demographics of the branches of Islam are disputed, most scholars believe that Sunni Muslims comprise 87-90 percent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims’.
 Abul A’La Mawdudi, Towards Understanding Islam, ‘Tawhid: Faith in the unity of God’, islamworld.net. Available at: http://islamworld.net/docs/mautaw1.html (Accessed 15 September 2011).
 Muslims use the term, ‘the unity of God’ in a different sense to that of Christianity and by ‘the unity of God’, Muslims mean Unitarianism. For them, God is one, but not Trinity.
Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 December 2015.