Jimmy Akin explains what the Church means in teaching that Muslims worship the same God that Catholics do, despite their incomplete or erroneous understanding of Him.
Host: Let’s go now to Rose-Marie, in Reno, Nevada, listening on Immaculate Heart Radio. Rose-Marie, you’re on with Jimmy Akin.
Caller: Hi, I want to say God bless you both.
Jimmy: Thank you! You too.
Caller: And Jimmy, here is my question: at mass yesterday, one of the men that I served with was talking to me about something, and then he said the Muslims have the same God as we. And I answered very quickly and I said, “They do not.” Then when I walked out, I thought I had to call you in order to get my facts straight. Okay. So I’m gonna hang up and listen to you.
Jimmy: Okay. Well, I’m glad you called, and—I mean, we always enjoy talking with folks and fielding their questions—but in this case, the Church’s understanding is that Muslims do worship God. Now, they don’t understand God the same way we do; for example, they don’t believe that Jesus is God, and they don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is God. So they have an incomplete understanding of the divine nature, and in some degree an erroneous understanding of the divine nature.
But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t genuinely directing their prayers towards the Creator of the universe—they are. That doesn’t mean they’re not genuinely directing their prayers toward the God who appeared to Abraham—they are. And so in that sense they are worshiping God, and they’re worshiping the true God, they just have some incomplete and to some extent erroneous understandings about God, such as if they were to deny that Jesus is God, which they do. That’s an error. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a genuine understanding or relationship with God any more than it means Jewish people don’t; because Jewish people also typically—unless they’re Christian Jews—they don’t understand that God is a Trinity. They don’t believe that Jesus is God. But that’s never stopped the Church from recognizing that Jewish people do worship God. They’re worshiping the Creator, they’re worshiping the God who appeared to Abraham, and God knows that when he receives their prayers. God knows that they’re talking to Him, even if they have some incomplete and even potentially erroneous ideas about God.
It’s kind of like—there are various analogies I could use here, one of them is, it’s kind of like…addressing your prayers to God, in a way, is kind of like sending somebody an email. In order to get your email to somebody, you just need their correct address; and as long as you know that, then the email will get there. But that doesn’t mean you know everything about that person. Sometimes I’ll email people, I’ll know very little about that person, but—I may even have some erroneous ideas about the person—but as long as I address it correctly, then that person will get my email and potentially can respond. As long as you, thus, send your email to [email protected], God will know you’re talking to Him, and so you can have erroneous or incomplete ideas about God and He’ll still know that you’re trying to reach out to Him and contact Him by prayer.
Another analogy that is sometimes helpful—you know, Cy, you know I like superheroes—suppose, Cy, that you were Batman.
Host: Oh wait, oh this is good. I’m enjoying this one already.
Jimmy: So you get off the air, you go out at night and you fight crime.
Host: Yes, I do.
Jimmy: Well, I would know you as Cy Kellett, mild-mannered radio host; but I wouldn’t know that you’re Batman. And in order to throw people off the trail of your secret identity, you might even have arranged for—to mislead people, so that you might have another person in the Batman suit appearing one day alongside you so people like me would form the belief “Cy Kellett is not Batman, because I’ve seen them together.” Well, in that case, you really would be Batman, but I would only know you as Cy Kellett, and I might even have erroneous ideas about you, like “Cy Kellett is not Batman.”
Well, I would still have a genuine relationship with you when I talk to you, like here on the air; I’m genuinely talking to Cy Kellett, even though I have an incomplete and even erroneous view of Cy Kellett because I don’t realize and don’t believe that he’s also Batman.
Host: This is hitting awful close to the truth, Jimmy. About me. This is coming awful close.
Jimmy: Yeah, well, that’s why I picked this analogy. I knew you’d be able to relate to it. And that’s just another illustration of how people can have incomplete or even erroneous ideas about someone, and yet have an actual relationship with them. And so that’s the Church’s understanding of the relationship that Muslims have with God. If you read in the Second Vatican Council, it talks about this, and that passage from the Second Vatican Council is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Host: Thank you, Rose-Marie.