Christians, Muslims, and the "One God"

March 25, 2013 | 4 comments

Last week, Pope Francis received a collection of world religious leaders in his first ecumenical and interreligious event. His address to them contained diplomatic niceties and specific expressions of good will aimed at Orthodox, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.

His remarks to the latter recognized that Muslims “worship the one living and merciful God, and call upon him in prayer.” In this he echoed the 1964 dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, which gave a nod to “the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.”

Now, both Lumen Gentium 16 and Pope Francis’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. That said, Lumen Gentium is an exercise of the ordinary magisterium, and even casual statements from a pope (be it this one from Francis or similar ones made by his predecessors) shouldn’t be taken lightly.

So, what does it mean to say that Muslims adore the one God along with us—to say, as can be reasonably drawn from these statements, that Muslims worship the same God as Catholics? We can consider the idea in several senses.

I think we can say with confidence that any monotheist who calls out to the Lord is heard by the Lord, whether it’s a Muslim, a pagan philosopher seeking the God of reason, or a Native American petitioning the Great Spirit. As Lumen Gentium 16 continues, God is not “far distant from those who in shadows and images seek [him].”

Likewise I think we’re on solid ground in saying that the subjective intention of Muslims is to worship the one God—moreover, the one God from the line of Abrahamic revelation. Whether or not their version of that revelation is authentic or correct, that’s what they “profess to hold” to. Furthermore, some of the attributes of the God to whom they address their worship are comparable to the Christian God’s: He is one, merciful, omnipotent, and the judge of the world.

Just as clearly, though, we cannot say that the God in whom Muslims profess to believe is theologically identical to the Christian God. For the most obvious example, their God is a “lonely God,” as Chesterton put it, whereas ours is a Trinity of persons. Beyond that difference, in the divine economy our Gods are also quite different: most pointedly in that ours took human nature to himself and dwelt among us on earth, whereas the Muslim God remains pure transcendence. To Muslims the idea of an incarnation is blasphemy.

And so perhaps we can distinguish between worship of God and belief in him, the former being more about the intent of the worshiper and the latter being more about the object of belief himself. Thus could Gerhard Müller, bishop emeritus of Regensburg and since last year the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, assert in 2007 that Muslims and Christians “do not believe in the same God,” and yet not contradict any magisterial teaching.

Of course, Jews believe in an utterly transcendent and “lonely” God, too; the idea that Jesus was God’s son, Yahweh incarnate, was likewise blasphemous to the Jews of his day. Is their theology as deficient as Islam’s? Ought we to put them in the same category as Muslims: subjectively worshiping the one God but believing in him, as least partly, in error?

Well, at least one difference suggests itself. Muslims “profess” to hold to the faith of Abraham but really don’t; their version of Abrahamic faith is false. (Of course, they believe that our version is the false one, a corruption of the Qur’an.) Jews, on the other hand, know and believe in their God according to his authentic self-revelation—what they have received from him is true, just incomplete. To be fully true, Jewish theology just needs to be perfected by Christian revelation, whereas, although we can identify many truths in it, Islamic theology needs to be broken down, corrected, rebuilt from an authentic foundation.

Now, it can be a bad practice to judge ideas by their sources. But if, as Benedict XVI has said, faith is at root a personal encounter with God, then the authenticity of God’s personal revelation of himself is of the utmost importance. In other words, the source of God-knowledge becomes the very question. We worship and believe in God because and to the extent that we know him. And we know him, above all other reasons, according to how he revealed himself to us.

In this sense, then, I suggest that we can correctly say that Jews worship and believe in a God who is qualitatively truer, closer to the God of Christianity, than the God of Islam. Both Jews and Muslims lay claim to the same revelation, but where Jews have an accurate record of it (and thus of the God it reveals) Muslims have a fictionalized adaptation.

This question of the theological similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam is perhaps more important than it ever has been. With religious folk of all kinds increasingly beset by secularism and moral relativism, we look across creedal lines for friends and allies—comrades-in-arms in the fight for unborn life, traditional marriage and morality, religious rights, and a continued place for believers in the cultural conversation. It can be an encouragement and a temptation, then, to look at Islam and see not warriors of jihad against Arab Christians and a decadent West, but fellow-soldiers of an “ecumenical jihad” against an anti-theist culture.

Can Islam be that reliable ally? (Shameless product plug alert.) That’s the subject of the newest book from Catholic Answers Press: Not Peace but a Sword by Robert Spencer. The evidence he presents will help us understand Islam’s God more clearly, and make us examine more shrewdly the prospects for any future alliance with followers of the Prophet.


Todd Aglialoro is the editor for Catholic Answers Press. He studied theology at Franciscan University, the University of Fribourg, and the International Theological Institute. A New York native and New England convert, Todd now lives in the San Diego area with his wife, seven children, and zero dogs.

Not Peace, But A Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity And Islam
Some Christians view Islam as a sister religion, a branch of the same Abrahamic tree—lacking the fullness of revelation but nonetheless a religion of peace. Others are more critical of Islamic teachings but still see Muslims as valuable partners in the global fight against secularization and the Culture of Death.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Patience Reeder - Westminster, Colorado

Great article! I think you have more insight than these emergent church people who try to bring God down to their level than trying to rise to His. What is interesting is that the picture of the building in the middle of Mecca looks like an attempt to duplicate the New Jerusalem---- a cube in shape. This, however, is a shadowy evil image----Satan is always trying to create his own kingdom in the image of God's kingdom. His triune Beast, False Prophet and AntiChrist is a sick attempt to mirror the Holy Trinity. He's duped so many---and there will be many more to follow.

Really, the entire idea of us worshipping the same God is insulting. I don't and never will worship Allah, and you can bet the Muslims will never worship The Holy Trinity. They are a monotheistic religion that does not understand that we need a Savior and His name is JESUS. That's all there is to it. So sad that they are lost, but I think the Lord is appearing to some Muslims as He would love them to be saved.

Keep up your good writing!
PJR

March 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm PST
#2  Eugen Ellefson - Newbury Park, California

The pope has made a grievous error in his statements. He has lost a lot of credibility with me and many, many others. Evangelicals who know the Truth will see this political posturing by the pope as I do, that it is better to live with the devil than to die for God. There is NO WAY, NO HOW you as a Christian can accept ANYTHING in the Quran as being truly coming from God. For a Catholic to accept anything like that is completely DENYING the truth of its own beliefs. If Christ was God and there is a Trinity, there is NO WAY you can believe that God would show Himself to Mohammed 600+ years later and reveal a different NATURE of Christ, PERIOD. To accept that is to say God is a liar and a deceiver. It is clear that "ALLAH" is just what Mohameed described, "the angel of light", whom we all know to be satan, the first and foremost deceiver. For the pope to NOT say unequivocally and emphatically that Allah is NOT Jehovah is one of two things...ignorance (and I don't believe he is ignorant), or willingly complicit in the deception put forth by satan. For the pope to be willingly complicit in this deception is unacceptable to me. I guess I will have to continue what I have been doing, relying on my understanding of the Bible and the Truth and not relying on the Church for answers.

May 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm PST
#3  Paul Sampietro - Porterville, California

I agree with Eugen. I'll add that since the inception of Islam, the Muslims have been unwavering in their determination to violently oppose all "unbelief" within or without (Jihad). We are fools to pray together for peace (Vatican June 8, 2014) while they bathe in the blood of the saints. This is nothing new, it is only that the world, myself included, are waking up to this falling away of faithful Christendom. I do consider protestants brothers in Christ, but not Muslims who deny that Jesus died on the cross in the Koran:

(Sura IV.157-158). Here is the text in full:

“That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus The son of Mary, The Apostle of God’; — But they killed him not, Nor crucified him, But so it was made To appear to them, And those who differ Therein are full of doubts, With no (certain) knowledge, But only conjecture to follow, For of a surety They killed him not: — Nay, God raised him up Unto Himself; and God Is Exalted in Power, Wise”

The world needs Christ, not peace at the cost of truth. Jesus said he came to bring the sword, not peace.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
a man against his father, a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household." - Gospel of Matthew Chapter 10 verse 34-36.

The news that Jesus is the only way to heaven is going to bring us into opposition to the rest of the world, even members of our own family. I believe Pope Francis's willingness to set aside the truth of the gospel in the name of peace is a sure sign of the falling away Jesus spoke about in the gospels. What fellowship does the light have with the darkness?

Thank you,

Paul

July 16, 2014 at 9:24 am PST
#4  Maria Case - Glen Ellyn, Illinois

From what I have read, (and if it is false and anyone has a cite to give me better info, please do), Mohmmed was in a cave with an occult woman who had been teaching him her ways with the other side. Then, one day in the cave, this "angel of light" calling himself Gabriel appeared, Mohammed felt a great pain and weight on his chest which threw him violently to the ground and back and forth. Then, though he couldn't write before (which is stated by Islam to be a miracle proving the Qua'ran is of "Allah"), he began to write the Islamic "holy book" down. Now, compared to the angels sightings in the Bible, and comparing to the movie Exorcist, what does Mohammed's angel of light sound like to you? And his state of mind? It sounds like demonic posession to me.

No, we do not worship the same God; their symbol is a moon because that was the one Mohammed chose from that area's own pantheon - a moon god, rather than a fertility, sun, or whatever. All condemned in the Old Testament as abominations when worshipped by man.

Do I think the Pope is evil for preaching as best he can to those far from the True Light? No, he is reaching out as the disciples did to the gentiles and pagans. Is he evil for acknowledging a thread of truth, that being the character of God (merciful, judge, etc.), that exists in both religions' descriptions of God? No. Each of them prayed from their own hearts, which only God can read. He reads the hearts of Muslims who are appalled by the Jihadists' actions. He said he would "turn and hear" anyone who called out to Him. For the quite damning naysayers here, I ask you this:

What if you had been raised in a country where Bibles are illegal? If you had never heard of Jesus Christ, or if you did it was only lies. How would it affect you to know that one of your religion's great leaders was invited by a so-called infidel who happened to be the great leader of the infidel religion to their biggest, most important temple to pray with him to the one merciful God for peace? For all the world to see?

First of all, Christianity might be on television in your country, and you would actually get to hear of it, perhaps for the first time. Now that is evangelizing, and it is shrewd, but not evil.

Secondly, you might be impressed, and if you had only heard the lies, you might think, hmmmmm....I wonder what it is they have, that their leader would reach out a hand of freindship and ask to seek the one true God together with an age old "enemy" of his faith? I am seeing my leader....ACCEPT the invitation, hmmmmmmmm.....

You know, the Pope has a lot of background and a lot of heart and courage, and he prays constantly, and has a lot of prayers said for him, constantly. He has a lot of responsibility and power to breech the chasm between Christendom and those who are born into the entrenched, enforced lies of Islam and other religions. Here he is, trying to reach them, praying for, and yes, with, the enemy...Didn't Jesus tell us to pray for our enemies? Didn't he visit the house of the sinners?

What do you think the Pope was praying for? That they all find the true God he knows and serves. The Pope might know something we don't, may have prayed for discernment we don't understand, and may have something up his sleeve that will win over many.

If what he did turns Christians away from his true desire to share the Gospel, that is the decision, and perhaps fault, of the one turning away in fear and distrust. My favorite quote from this is:

"As Lumen Gentium 16 continues, God is not “far distant from those who in shadows and images seek [him].” "

Do the people taking shots at the Pope here truly believe that every human who has ever walked on this planet that never heard of Christ, all the Native Americans, African tribes not heard of until recently, peace seekers who were never raised to know Jesus, non religious heroes who sacrificed their lives to save others, and all are bound for Hell for eternity? For one, how does that jive with the merciful God you say you believe in? Secondly, if you do, you have even more reason to try to do something to reach out to them. And before you line the Pope up with devilry, I hope you have really weighed whether you are doing a better job than he.

By the way, "Jesus didn't come to write a book - He came to found His church." +Msgr. Stewart Sweatland Maybe Pope Francis does what he does knowing that "the gates of Hell will not prevail against it," and so after much prayer and asking for the Holy Sprit's help, he did this.

I think it's okay to question it, but don't throw it in the worst light possible and ignore any good it may do for God's Kingdom. What have you personally done lately to reach the people who live in countries where they will be killed for becoming a Christian? I am sure you prayed; do you know for certain that the Pope's action was not an answer to those prayers? Do you know the mind of God better than this servant who sought out the poor his whole life and still does?

July 23, 2014 at 10:41 am PST

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