One day last December, Wheaton College political science professor Larycia Hawkins donned a hajib (Muslim head covering) and posted the following statement on Facebook: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
That gesture, by a professor at an evangelical college, ignited a firestorm of controversy that continues to blaze. Wheaton administrators took exception to Hawkins’ statement. The media largely took exception to Wheaton. Social media took the story viral. And Christianity Today magazine editor Mark Galli opined, “We at CT are not sure we can unambiguously take a side at this point.”
Hawkins’ social media post revived important discussions about academic freedom, the theological integrity of Christian institutions, racial diversity, and other issues. But more important, it shed fresh light on a centuries-old debate: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
It’s an important question for which influential people across the religious spectrum offer a variety of answers.
People of the Book
The Qur’an asserts that the Torah and the Gospels are inspired Scripture and that Jews and Christians are “People of the Book.” The Qur’an instructs Muslims to say to them, “our God and your God is one, and unto Him we surrender” (29:46). If the Qur’an says Muslims, Jews, and Christians worship the same God, doesn’t that settle the matter?
Not quite. Pope Francis, indeed, said Muslims “worship the one living and merciful God, and call upon him in prayer.” But as Todd Aglialoro of Catholic Answers explains, the pope’s words “have a pastoral rather than doctrinal purpose. Their aim is to build interreligious bridges by generously acknowledging whatever can be found to be true in other faiths – not to make precise pronouncements about their theology.”
Some evangelicals like J.D. Greear draw a distinction between the God Muslims seek to worship and the true, revealed identity of that God.
In other words, Muslims claim to worship the God of Adam, Abraham, and Moses, just as Christians do. Yet, as Greear points out, “There is no doubt that Muslims believe blasphemous things about God, and their beliefs about Allah grew out of a distorted view of Christianity.”
There are many differences between Allah (the god revealed in the Qur’an) and Yahweh (the God of the Bible). The most obvious is that Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Qur’an flatly denies this and condemns Jesus worshipers to hell (5:72).
Muslims have a high regard for Jesus, believing Him to be virgin-born, sinless, and a miracle worker. But they reject His deity and renounce as a distortion of Scripture the claim that Jesus died on the cross, explaining that Allah took Jesus off the cross and put in His place either Judas Iscariot or someone made to look like Judas.
The bottom line is that Jesus either is divine, or He’s not. The Muslim and Christian views are not merely a matter of semantics but of deeply held theological convictions.
Tawhid vs. Trinity
Another key difference is that Muslims adhere to Tawhid: the absolute oneness of God. Allah is singular, monolithic, and unapproachable. To ascribe “partners” to Allah, such as calling Jesus the Son of God, is to commit the unpardonable sin of shirk, which damns a soul to hell.
The Qur’an specifically denies that Allah is a father (112:1-4). Further, Surah 5:18 instructs Muslims to rebuke Jews and Christians for calling God their loving Father because people are just things that Allah created.
In contrast, Christians worship a triune God. Scripture tells us there is one true and living God who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This triune God is personal, relational, knowable, and approachable – so much so that the eternal Son of God left the glory of heaven, added to His deity sinless humanity, and laid down His sinless life so we can enjoy an everlasting, unbreakable, covenant relationship with Him.
Some may cry foul at this point, arguing that Christians believe they worship the same God as Jews, though the Jews do not worship the Trinity. How can Christians accuse Muslims of worshiping a different God without also indicting Jews of doing the same?
As Christian apologist and former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi explains, “The Trinity is an elaboration of Jewish theology, not a rejection. By contrast, Tawhid is a categorical rejection of the Trinity, Jesus’ deity, and the Fatherhood of God, doctrines that are grounded in the pages of the New Testament and firmly established centuries before the advent of Islam.”
The Trinity is antithetical to Tawhid, but that truth does not establish grounds for demonizing those who believe otherwise. We should love Muslims. They are sincere people seeking the truth, and they believe they have found it in Islam.
A winsome exchange on the nature and attributes of God may encourage our Muslim friends to keep seeking God, who is not far from each of us (Acts 17:27).