I recently had a discussion with a friend about whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians. At first glance, one might be tempted to answer “no”: different religions, therefore different Gods. Christians don’t believe in Allah, Muslims don’t believe in Jesus, end of story. But such a snap judgement fails to do justice to theistic belief in general and to the specific beliefs of the major monotheistic faiths.
Any discussion about the nature of God risks getting bogged down in theology and philosophy — accurately describing God is a complex and ultimately futile task — but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to clarify matters a bit. Let’s take a look at some standard definitions of God:
The Oxford English Dictionary defines God as:
(in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.
Merriam-Webster offers this definition:
the supreme or ultimate reality: as
1. a : the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe
Anselm defined God as:
the being than which no greater can be conceived
The Qur’an says of God in Sura 112:
He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.
Deuteronomy 6:4 says:
Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.
All of these understandings are entirely consistent with the Christian, Muslim and Jewish conceptions of God. This consistency alone should be sufficient grounds for accepting that Christians, Jews and Muslims, in worshiping a single, all-powerful, all-good and all-knowing creator of the universe, are in fact worshiping the same being.
Obviously Christians, Jews and Muslims understand the specific characteristics of God differently and believe in different revelations of God. Jews believe that God is uniquely revealed in the Tanakh. Muslims believe that God is uniquely revealed in the Qur’an. Christians believe that God is uniquely revealed in the person of Jesus. But do these disagreements mean that they’re worshiping completely different beings? Or simply that they have different (and incomplete) understandings of the same being?
In the end, we must acknowledge that any attempt to completely describe God is necessarily going to be incomplete and that any specific revelation of or from God doesn’t capture the totality of who God is. But in that uncertainty the Abrahamic faiths share a unique common ground for theological discussion — we all believe in and worship the same God. When we eschew that commonality and instead engage in divisive and marginalizing rhetoric, we not only do a disservice to each other, but also to the very God in whom we profess faith.