Posts Tagged ‘Christian’
Christian & Islamic Views of God: Our differences don’t change who God is
One student, in a last effort to refute the presentation, conceded “Islam may be referring to the same God as the Jews and Christians linguistically, but Islam sees God very differently than Christianity.” In a similar vein, I received through a friend a recent email from Ravi Zacharias’ ministry. The email from Ravi’s staff confirmed that we don’t disagree on the name of God, but rather His character. I agree that this is true; yet in my work I have found that those differences are much narrower than we might first suppose.
There are indeed differences in perception of the character of God, just as there are many views people may have of you! Some view you as a friend, others as an enemy. Some may look at you as someone who is fair, others as a scoundrel. My wife views me as a partner, lover, etc, much differently than my children; they in turn see me differently than my siblings. Moreover, each of them has their individual understanding of me; my character, nature and directives. But I am the same person, viewed differently by different people.
Christians demand that Muslims view God in the context of their particular doctrine alone as evidence of following the “true” God. One needs to be careful, as this premise negates Jews of the Torah from believing in the same God. After all, Jews do not accept Jesus as Messiah, let alone see Him as God’s Word, Spirit and supernaturally conceived like the Muslims do. Perhaps enforcing our respective dogma on others is why Christians are themselves so divided into what Bill Hybels has counted as 36,000 sects and denominations. Do any of the 147 varieties of Baptists view God exactly the same? What about Pentecostals, Catholics, Methodists, or Quakers, let alone Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.?
From another standpoint, one cannot assume that current struggles with extremism within Islam represent the whole of its history or its future. Who did the Christian church claim as God while engaged for centuries in the Crusades; enforcing the Inquisition; or rising up in violence, Protestant against Catholic? Those behaviors were unconscionable, but do Christians say that those being misled at that time did not pray to the same God as they do now? Clearly, the performance of the human family does not define who God is.
However unlikely it seems, a careful review of the Muslim Holy Book reveals Christians share much more with Muslims in their concept of who God is than any of our respective religious dogmas might dictate. After reading the Qur’an, most would agree we are both referring to the one God: magnificent and omnipresent, omnipotent creator of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. He is the God of the prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Noah and John the Baptist.
He is the same God who in both the Gospels and Qur’an sent the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, who birthed a sinless Messiah named Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The same Jesus, who could heal the sick, raise the dead, was taken up to God and is coming back on Judgment Day. There is of course much more to discuss, but what other God could all this be referring to?
In the end, the seminary students were nearly unanimous, agreeing that the three major faiths do pray and refer to a monotheistic god, and that linguistically they are the same “God.” While many left changed in attitude, most confessed discomfort using Allah in place of “God.” Western bias against it is difficult to break.
I must confess that after extensive Western/Christian training myself, it has taken time for me to feel comfortable using the Arabic term, Allah, for God in conversations. My mentor Rev. John Booko, who has been a pastor for 50 years, helps me break my dogmatically negative feeling about Allah when he prays in the name of Alaha in his Aramaic language.
Do we not all fancy ourselves on a path seeking revelation of the “true” God? None of us has to scratch very deeply to find out that our concept of God is different from another’s concept of God. My concept of God is not the same as when I first believed. Some days it is not even the same as it was the day before. God does not change, but I do! God is revealing himself from day to day through dialogue, reading of the Scriptures and through experiences. Because some have not arrived at what each of us might believe is His true nature, let us not condemn another, and cut ourselves off from others in the process of their search.
What I have hoped to outline here is evidence that the Abrahamic faith traditions share the same linguistic name for God and describe God similarly. While we feel there are profound differences in our view of His character, our journey of discovery has revealed many of these “differences” that seem daunting are minimized with careful reading of the Holy Books in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. When people open a door to explore common ground we should not slam it in their faces.
I have run out of space, but allow me to share one last thought. In interfaith relations, the nature, person and mission of Jesus of Nazareth is often seen as the crux of the problem, when ironically, he is in fact the extraordinary solution.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. 1 Cor. 13:12
In a recent message to my email list subscribers I touched on the fact that we need a new strategy for interactions between Muslims and Christians, whether in America or in other countries throughout the world. I suggested Jesus of Nazareth as a model for our interactions. He demonstrated how to respect and strengthen relationships with those who were like him and those who were very different from him. He pointed people to God and painted a picture of what God’s Kingdom is really like.
One of the ways we begin to be able to connect to others different from ourselves is to understand them; eliminating barriers or unnecessary misunderstandings between us. An issue I hear over and over from Christians who struggle to understand Muslims is the belief that we worship two different Gods and that Allah is a false god.
This is one of the most painful misunderstandings. Many Christian laymen and leaders feel that Allah is not the same God as the God of the Hebrews, or Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. In fact, they will often argue Allah is a moon-god. Televangelist Benny Hinn has commented, “This is not a war between Arabs and Jews. It’s a war between God and the devil.”
It would be wonderful if Christians and Muslims could get beyond the basics of respecting another’s name for God and reach a consensus. It would open doors to desperately needed dialogue and communication, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal common ground as to the nature of God. Let us make sure this “feeling” towards Allah is not merely a trained cultural response and/or an emotional one, but instead cultivate a view founded on fact and linguistics, seated in an understanding of the history and culture surrounding the origins of the names for God. Let us also approach this issue asking God to reveal the truth to us, as much as we are able to understand.
Seminary Students Consider: Is Allah a moon-god?
I recall speaking to an assembly of seminary students in Lancaster, PA a few years ago. When questioned, their view was unanimous that Allah was a false god and in fact, derived from a moon-god of ancient times. They were ready and had a prepared statement to read:
During the nineteenth century, then later in the 1940’s, and finally during the 1950’s, archeologists’ digs gathered from both North and South Arabia depict evidence of a moon-god (called Hubal during pre-Islamic times). This deity was worshiped even in the Prophet Muhammad’s day. According to inscriptions, while the name of the moon-god was not Allah, his title was al-ilah, i.e. “the deity,” meaning that he was the chief or high god among the gods.
The moon-god was called al-ilah, “the god.” However, this name (Arabic: Il or Ilah) did not originate as a title for the moon-god. Thousands of years before that, Semites used variations of Il/El and Alah to refer to their high gods.
Noted Christian historian Philip Hitti also feels the designation of Allah as a moon-god is not correct.  The Islamic symbol of the crescent moon is often raised as evidence reflecting a moon god. However, history reveals that the Ottoman invaders of the Byzantine Empire simply adopted their defeated Christian foe’s symbol of the crescent moon and continued using it.
Muhammad viewed monotheists in history such as Abraham and those in his time as haneef, believers in the One Supreme God, creator of the heavens and universe, inspirer of the prophets through the Rouh Qudus, the “Holy Spirit.”And the word he used for this God was Allah.
I shared with the seminary students,
“If Allah was indeed one of the 360 gods represented in the Kabba in Mecca prior to Muhammad, it does not preclude one of them being the One True God of the Old and New Testament. It could be considered similar to Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17, identifying the true God from all the false idols. Muhammad did the same by destroying all the other idols in the Kabba, leaving the one ilah. The Apostle Paul faced similar push back with the Greek pagans as Muhammad did with the Arab pagans. After gaining their attention by quoting various Greek philosophers, Paul announced that he knew the name of this ‘unknown god’ and proceeded to teach of the one true God. The scripture says that while ‘some mocked…many followed and surrendered’ to God. The point being, that the origins of a name do not always reflect on the later application.”
The seminary students were listening, but I could tell they were not with me yet.
To further emphasize and explain this topic, I will delve further into the origins of the name “God” from a linguistic viewpoint on this blog in the coming weeks. Please feel free to follow along with us in exploring this issue.
Shalom, Shlama, and Salaam,
 Amaud, Halevy and Glaser went to Southern Arabia and dug up thousands of Sabean, Minaean, and Qatabanian documents that depict Allah as a moon god. Robert Morey, The Islamic Invasion: Confronting The World’s Fastest-Growing Religion (Harvest House Publishers, 1992)
 Archeologists G. Caton Thompson and Carleton S. Coon made discoveries in Arabia. Morey.
 Wendell Phillips, W.F. Albright, Richard Bower made similar discoveries as they excavated sites at Qataban, Timna, and Marib. Morey.
 Tracing the origins of ancient gods is often tenuous. If the name Hubal is related to an Aramaic word for spirit, as suggested by Hitti, then Hubal may have come from the north of Arabia. Philip K. Hitti, History Of The Arabs (1937), 96-101.
 Welllhausen indicates that Hubal was regarded as the son of al-Lat and the brother of Wadd. Wellhausen (1926), 717, as quoted by Hans Krause, Hans Krause’s Research Reports, http://hanskrause.de/HKHPE/hkhpe_32_01.htm.
 Attempts to identify Hubal with Allah have been notably popular among evangelical Christians, but even they acknowledge that this hypothesis is speculative, and it is contradicted by the Islamic-period texts from which most knowledge of pre-Islamic Arab religion derives. Answering Islam, Moon God, http://www.answering-islam.org/Index/M/moongod.html (Jul. 29, 2009).
 Rick Brown, “Who is ‘Allah’?” International Journal of Frontier Missions, 23:2 (Summer 2006), 80 (http://www.commonpathalliance.org).
One of the core ways for misunderstanding to build up is by receiving incomplete information about something someone else has said. I believe this is a big part of the distrust between the Abrahamic faiths, and indeed, many of our broader misunderstandings today. For example, the media can emphasize one particular phrase a person says, and build a completely different story based on that statement than what was intended.
In some cases, we simply lack the information to understand what a person is saying. Consider some of Jesus’ phrases, which sound familiar to the Western mind, but perhaps we have not fully understood. It is cases like these where studying the text through the Eastern lens reveals perspective we have not seen before.
Did Jesus Really Say, “I Come to Bring a Sword”?
“Do not suppose I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” At first blush, this verse seems to be in total contradiction to all the of Jesus’ teachings. How could the man who taught us to “turn the other cheek” and “love our enemies” by claiming that he came to bring a sword? In fact, this verse has even been used by some to justify violence against “non-believers.”
The truer meaning here is not sword, but division. This is more accurately rendered in the common English translations of the corresponding passage in Luke: “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? I say to you no, but divisions.”
The teachings of Jesus were so revolutionary and contrary to the political, social and religious order of the day that when people followed them, divisions among families, friends and institutions inevitably ensued. Dr. Lamsa comments that the Eastern idiomatic aspect of these verses were not known by the Greeks. Jesus never suggested that his followers ought to “take up the sword,” but rather that following him would inevitably cause “divisions” and persecutions-as history has in fact shown to be the case.
[The Aramaic example is excerpted from Appendix 3 of A Deadly Misunderstanding.]
If we realize we can misunderstand our own text without careful study and prayer for God to reveal the truth to us, how much more might we misunderstand a related but unique text of a neighboring faith?
A panel of friends and fellow peacemakers was the focus for Saturday’s afternoon session hosted by Dr. Abdel Azim Elsiddig, including words from Dean Koldenhoven, former Mayor of Palos Heights, IL; Pastor Bill Devlin of Manhattan Bible Church; Jeff Burns, Founder of Peace on Earth Initiatives; Dr. Rick Love, Consultant for Christian-Muslim Relations at Vineyard USA and Founder of Peace Catalyst Intl.; Carl Medearis, author of “Muslims, Christians and Jesus”; Hal Runkel, author of “ScreamFree Parenting,” Rick Jackson, Colorado Springs businessman, developer and peacemaker in Sudan; and Jay Moses, Presbyterian Church USA and Muslim-Christian Coordinator at Wheaton College.
The speakers each shared from their life and journey as peacemakers and encouraged listeners to rise to the challenge of building bridges across the faith divide. Featuring such diverse stories and experiences all at once allowed a picture of God working in each one by means of the various and unique paths that each individual has taken in their life.
Speakers were also invited to attend a dinner that evening where others shared from their work, including Islamic Relief, a worldwide leader in alleviating poverty. Mark was invited as the keynote speaker and offered encouragement and examples of the common ground that can be found between Muslims and Christians, but also issued a challenge that we must move beyond niceties and cultivate an openness and willingness to discuss and wrestle with areas of difference.
Many thanks for the generous hospitality of the Muslim American Society’s staff and organizers for hosting this delegation, especially to Dr. Elsiddig who has personally befriended each panel speaker, and to Convention Chairman, Mr. Hussein Ata.
A friend I met in Minneapolis this past summer, Mr. Tamim Saidi, recently sent me a link to his article, My God or Your Lord: Whom Should We Worship? where he offers his experience and perspective as a Muslim speaking on this important question that many ask regarding Islam and Christianity, “Is Allah the same as God?” If you’ve read A Deadly Misunderstanding, you are familiar with how I answer this question. Though I once believed wholeheartedly that Allah was a false god, through my experience and research I have found “Allah” simply the name for God in Arabic, used by both Christians and Muslims through the Arab world and moreover, Jesus our Lord used the nearly identical “Alaha” in his Aramaic language. I thought you would be interested in hearing a similar perspective from a Muslim point of view. He begins:
“I still vividly remember one of my very first Islam 101 presentations shortly after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It was in a school auditorium in one of the northern Twin Cities suburbs.
Immediately after the teacher introduced me and before I had finished my first sentence, I noticed a hand raised high from a young man who asked, “Why is your God better than my God?”
I was rather surprised by this question so early in the presentation, as I had planned to talk about the Islamic understanding of God around the middle of my presentation. I tried to explain that Muslims believe in the One and the only God, the Creator of the universe–the same God that Jews and Christians believe in. I further explained that Muslims believe in the same God that the Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him (p) believed in. We worship the same God that spoke to Moses (p) and we pray and prostrate to the very same God that Jesus (p) prayed to and prostrated to; the same God that created Adam and Eve and the same God that saved Noah (p) from the flood.
So my God is your God and your Creator is my Creator, even though we might explain God in different terms. Understanding this could have saved thousands of lives, and could have helped people of different faiths grow closer together.”
Tamim goes on to offer several examples from language, culture and religion that help to demystify the questions that cause many to ask if Allah and God are one and the same. If you have lingering questions on this topic, you will find his perspective helpful.
Because of so much misunderstanding, I often find myself pointing out through various means that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Can there be more than one Creator of the Universe? The misunderstanding of who we believe the other to worship often sets us up from the beginning with feelings of discomfort and mistrust which derail friendships before they begin! In all our striving to understand, we may miss the first thing God teaches us: to love our neighbor, to treat others as ourselves. Tamim finishes with a story reminding of the value of embracing humility when attempting to understand the infinite King of Kings:
“There is an ancient and very interesting Muslim understanding, perhaps another analogy or another parallel about understanding God. It is said that, when visiting a King, a peasant will have to ride his ass or horse (or, in our times, his Avalanche or his Honda) to the door of the castle, then leave his ass behind (or park his Avalanche), and meet the King on his own. Even though our super-smart brains are designed to get us pretty far in understanding our Lord; at a certain point, it cannot get us any closer to understanding the King of kings. So we have to check our brains at the door of the castle. At that point, our heart and our intuition might get us a bit closer, if allowed by the King.
Thus God is beyond our imagination, and better than the best of the best that our super-smart brains can envision.”
Once again the country recoils from the violence that occurred last week at Ft. Hood. I am deeply saddened to see this violence once again being linked to Islam, raising concerns against Muslims living in the US and in the military. As always, I hear from my Christian friends, “Why don’t we hear condemnation from the Muslims for such horrific acts?” There are many Muslims who denounce the violence every time it occurs, as demonstrated by Muslim leaders in a press conference on November 5. On the other hand, some Muslims feel others must know they are people of peace and lament how the minority of extremists are causing the name of Muslims to be tarnished as a whole. Some of them spoke out in the Indianapolis Star this week:
“There is no room in Islam for this kind of behavior. These people keep doing it, and it is unfortunate,” Siddiqui said. “We can only do our part and live our lives and live what we believe is true.”
One of the two Muslims in Congress, Rep. Andre Carson, expressed concern for those impacted by the violence, but followed up with a further concern:
“[He] finds hypocrisy in the fact that faith has been at the heart of the discussion of the Fort Hood shootings when little has been said about the faith of a man who is accused of killing one person and injuring five at an office in Orlando, Fla., on Friday.”
We are wrestling as a nation; it is so tempting to pigeonhole religious beliefs as a motivator for this violence. In reality, both religion and unnumbered other factors are possible motivators in a person’s decision to inflict such horrible destruction on himself and others. Do we oversimplify to make quick sense of the unexplainable?
I must repeat that in all my relations to those of the Muslim faith, the few I have encountered who think violence and God go together have twisted the truth. It is a perversion of Islam, and a pervision in other religions or belief systems as well. As a Sudanese sheikh once told me, true religion is a state of being. A state of submission to God.
Yet where does this leave us? We would do our best to view Muslims just as any others, free to live as any other American. This is essential and a core of our Constitution. Does this mean we ignore warning signs of extremism? No. But a warning does not indicate you to intern an entire people, but to aggressively fight to undermine the ideologies that influence a human to do evil against another person. In the aftermath of Ft. Hood, my friend Dr. Tawfik Hamid commented on the importance of addressing the ideologies of violence that, in certain cases, infiltrate religious education:
These educational or ideological factors must be addressed in an honest manner to avoid further calamities and to protect young Muslims from the damaging effects of these forms of teaching.
This battle for the heart and mind is a battle only God can truly win. We do well to both leave it to God and actively become his emissaries. Not emissaries of judgment or ridicule, but emissaries of grace and mercy. We love because he first loved us. Do we have the right to any other option?
I would also like to share an excerpt from A DEADLY MISUNDERSTANDING that seems particularly apt and helpful in light of recent events. You can find it on pages 219-222.
“Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to spend some time with two former prime ministers of Somalia, a nearly 100 percent Muslim country so torn apart by its warring clans that it hasn’t had a functioning central government since 1991. Their comments echoed the same thoughts: as one lamented, since civil war seized his country the late 1980s, there had been endless division, lawlessness and interminable violence. He was now in the United States, he said, on a mission to find some kind of solution to his people’s seemingly interminable crisis.
I asked him what he thought was at the root of the problems in Somalia. Was it a religious division?
“No,” he replied, “we are all Muslims.”
Did he think it came down to a conflict based on ethnicity?
“No,” he repeated, “we are all essentially the same ethnic background.”
Was it tribal? He shook his head. Cultural? He sighed, and shook his head again. Grasping at straws, I asked if there were differences in language or dialect?
“No,” he said, “we mostly all speak the same language.”
Why would the Somali people stay so alienated for so long, and over what? What would drive the rage, mistrust, and wanton killing of neighbors and friends if they are all essentially the same people? As we talked, the prime minister and I came to the same conclusion: the center of the problem was simply the dark side of human nature.
While this book focuses on bridges between the Muslim East and Christian West, the issue at its core is humanity’s historic compulsion to be at war with itself. Our excuses for war are endless, but the truth is that war and conflict, division and mutual hostility need no more basis than the stubborn human tendency that is forever splitting our world into bitterly opposed camps. Whether Arab against Arab (Iraq), Christian against Christian (Northern Ireland), or Arab, Christian, and Jew against each other (Lebanon), it is at its core the same conflict. Beirut’s Green Line, Korea’s 38th Parallel, Germany’s Berlin Wall, the United States’ Mason-Dixon Line, and all the hundreds of thousands of similar partitions that we have erected throughout history and around the globe-they are all echoes of the same barren line of separation within the human heart, the same deadly misunderstanding.
In ancient Egypt, the heart was considered the seat of thought and emotion, and was the only organ not removed during mummification. The heart is mentioned in the Bible more than any other topic, and is discussed more than 150 times in the Qur’an.
“If we could just find a way to influence the human heart to love rather than to hate,” said my Somali friend, “then there may be hope for Somalia.”
Indeed, if we can find a way to do this, then there is hope for the rest of the world as well.
The concepts Jesus taught are as radical today as they were two thousand years ago, because they run counter to our divisive human nature-a nature that is perennially finding new Green Lines to create and then shooting across them at each other. It seems clear to me that these concepts represent the only hope of bridging the Muslim-Christian divide and subduing the shrill escalation of rhetoric, resentment and retribution between East and West. We know that most foreign ministries and formal diplomatic bodies (certainly including the U.S. Department of State) will not likely engage a policy of “loving” their enemies. But you and I can do exactly that.
How do we do this? What does this kind of love look like? Again, Paul’s first letter to his little community in Corinth provides a vivid picture of both what this kind of love is not (envious, boastful, proud, focused on its own agenda, readily provoked, always keeping a tally of the other’s wrongs, or relishing trouble and misfortune) and also what it is: patient, kind, truthful, protecting, trusting, hopeful, enduring, and finally, consistent and never-failing. I have witnessed first-hand how friendships based on these aspects of love can yield power beyond imagination, penetrating the hearts of even the most hardened despot.
Can we do this? Of course we can, and we must. The alternative is to do nothing and see our world consumed by an irrational maelstrom of hatred and violence.”
Thousands gathered in Khartoum today in an interfaith effort to see unity between the North and South of Sudan. Mark Siljander presented a lecture “Spiritual Values that Lead to National Unity” at the event where Muslims and Christians gathered to show their support towards peace. The public rally concluded with prayers with President Al Bashir for the peace of Sudan. The event then continued on with top scholars presenting papers to an audience of several hundred.
Mark’s lecture opened with these words:
A Salaam alechum. In the name of God who is compassionate and merciful, I want to thank the Ministry of Guidance and Bridges International for their courage in sponsoring this event, particularly in light of the momentous events surrounding this occasion. The Obama Administration has announced a new direction in dealing with Sudan, Darfurian rebels are seriously considering a willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations in Doha and critical aspects of the CPA are poised to be implemented. While this event was not planned around these historic events it is amazingly fortuitous; elhamdulillah!
Serving in politics at three levels (local, state, and federal) and as a diplomat at the United Nations, my new paradigm led to an approach which begins with building a spiritual camaraderie, which can lead to practical resolution of conflict and political challenges. It is called the “Fifth Track of Engagement.”
The “Fifth Track” approach works through facilitating the sharing of a multicultural spiritual paradigm powerful enough to foster trust, and empower influential leaders to replace radicalism with reconciliation and peace.
Fifth Track works to bridge cultures by following a successful and proven peacemaking model based on the teachings of the Holy Books, drawing on the thoughts of Jesus of Nazareth. Why? His teachings regarding reconciliation of offended parties are some of the most powerful in human history.
We hope to share audio and video of the conference soon!
If you would like to read what Aljazeera posted for the show,
Reviewer David Pendleton of Spectrum Magazine, a publication of the Seventh Day Adventist community, highlighted five books that feed the discussion on the way towards Peace in the Middle East and the understanding of Islam (or lack of) in the West. One of those five was A Deadly Misunderstanding:
Siljander’s summoning contribution is not so much his linguistic discussion but the clarion call to seeking ways to bridge cultural divides. He points out that the three monotheistic faiths share not only an Abrahamic lineage but a commitment to life and peace.
The conscientious diplomat in Siljander can be heard in his earnest plea: “if we’re going to find any viable common ground between our faiths, cultures, and nations, if we are going to build workable bridges across the Muslim-Christian divide, it has to be personal. … Negotiating with an enemy may be a professional act; loving one’s enemy is personal.” click here for more
Mark will be a guest speaker at the Seventh Day Adventist Muslim Summit in Riverside, CA, September 25, 2009. More information available here.