God and Allah: Different Gods or Different Beliefs

In the book Answering Islam, authors Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb wrote:
Allah is the personal name for God in Islam. We make no distinction in this book, as some do, between the word “Allah” and the English word “God.” As one well-known Muslim author puts it, “Al Lah means ‘the Divinity’ in Arabic: it is a single God, implying that a correct transcription can only render the exact meaning of the word with the help of the expression ‘God.’ For the Muslims, al lah is none other than the God of Moses and Jesus.”
In agreement with this warning, Kenneth Cragg, the noted Christian scholar of Islam, also claims that “since both Christians and Muslim faiths believe in One supreme sovereign Creator-God, they are obviously referring when they speak of Him, under whatever terms, to the same Being. To suppose otherwise would be confusing. It is important to keep in mind that though the apprehensions differ, their theme is the same. The differences, which undoubtedly exist, between the Muslim and the Christian understanding of God are far- reaching and must be patiently studied. But it would be fatal to all our mutual tasks to doubt that One and the same God over all was the reality in both.” Arab Christians use the term “Allah” for God. Of course, their understanding of what this term means differs from that of Muslims, but both have the same referent in mind.[1]
Campus Crusade’s Jesus Film in the Urdu language uses “Allah” for God throughout the movie. The New Urdu Bible also uses the term Allah for God. However, on 2 January 2014, Islamic authorities in Malaysia seized 321 Bibles from a Christian group because they used the word Allah to refer to God after a Malaysian court in October ruled that the Arabic word was exclusive to Muslims.[2] When the Catholic Church sought to overturn the ban, its challenge was rejected by Malaysia’s highest court. However, the government released a more moderate statement. Reuters reported:
…after the Federal Court announced its verdict on Monday, the government released a statement saying that the ruling would only apply to the Church’s newspaper, which has been at the center of the court battle since Malaysian authorities ordered the publication to cease using the Arabic word in 2007.

Malaysian Christians will still be able to use the word “Allah” in church, the government’s statement said.

Christian leaders argue that the word “Allah” predates Islam, and has long been used in Malay-language bibles and other texts to refer to God.[3]
Obviously, in Malaysia having a Muslim background, Christians unhesitatingly referred to God as Allah. However, the authorities were alarmed as they felt that this could influence Muslims to convert to Christianity.

On the contrary, Muslims in America continue to favor the idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God and Allah and God are one and the same. However, Christians have felt that this threatens Christianity. On December 15, 2015, Wheaton College placed Larycia Hawkins on administrative leave for making theological statements that implied that Muslims and Christians worshipped the same God. She had stated, “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.” Of course, without addressing the question whether this “same God” means the one God above all interpreted differently or meant that the two varying interpretations were equally valid, it would be too early to judge a statement about the one God. However, the issue stirred a heat of controversy.

Nabeel Qureshi of RZIM responded saying, “for years after leaving Islam and accepting Jesus as Lord, I believed that Muslims worshiped the same God as Christians but that they are simply wrong about what He is like and what He has done…. but I no longer do. Now I believe that the phrase “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” is only true in a fairly uncontroversial sense: There is one Creator whom Muslims and Christians both attempt to worship. Apart from this banal observation, Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.”[4]

Of course, Nabeel doesn’t narrow down the discussion into the controversy surrounding the use of the name “Allah”. But, Sham Shamoun,  in his article on answering-islam.org, “Is Allah the God of the Bible?” concludes after a brief examination of “Allah” as presented in the Quran that “he cannot possibly be the same God worshiped by Abraham and as described in the Holy Bible. The contradictions in attributes and nature between Yahweh and Allah are too numerous to pass over, and cannot be reconciled.” However, at the same time, he also notes:
We are well aware that the name Allah is used by Arab speaking Christians for the God of the Bible. In fact, the root from which the name is derived, ilah, stems from the ancient Semitic languages, corresponding to the Mesopotamian IL, as well as the Hebrew-Aramaic EL, as in Ishma-el, Immanu-el, Isra-el. These terms were often used to refer to any deity worshiped as a high god, especially the chief deity amongst a pantheon of lesser gods. As such, the Holy Bible uses the term as just one of the many titles for Yahweh, the only true God.
Yet the problem arises from the fact that Muslims insist that Allah is not a title, but the personal name of the God of Islam. This becomes problematic since according to the Holy Bible the name of the God of Abraham is Yahweh/Jehovah, not Allah…. Therefore, Christians can use Allah as a title or a generic noun for the true God, but not as the personal name for the God of the Holy Bible.”[5]
Albert Mohler, in his article “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” published in Decision Magazine by BGEA wrote in December 2013:
… in recent years… some Christians, including some serving with mission agencies, have argued that Christians can use the name “Allah” in talking about God. In some languages, especially those based on Arabic source, there is no generic word for god. In such a situation, it might be necessary to begin a conversation by using this word, but the Christian cannot continue to call God “Allah.” It is hard to imagine that anyone can hear the name “Allah” without thinking of him as claimed in the Quran…. Indeed, Muslims who speak languages other than Arabic use “Allah” as the name of god. But as soon as the Christian begins to explain that the true living God is the Father of the Jesus Christ the Son, the Christian is making clear that the true living God is not Allah, but our Heavenly Father.
Continuing to use the name “Allah” to refer to the God of the Bible in such situations invites deep confusion.[6]
However, I think Matthew Stone of Columbia International University has a more sagacious observation in this regard. He writes:
… if one says Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God because Muslims reject Jesus as God, as well as the doctrine and reality of the Trinity, then we must also say Jews and Christians do not worship the same God.
…In Acts 17, Paul at the Areopagus declares Athenians who are confused about the true attributes of God to be very religious. He beautifully states that the true God is very close to them and that they live, move, and have their being in Him.
I like Paul’s approach, which is loving, philosophically adequate and practical in terms of correcting confused individuals who believe in the shadow of God but need to know His fullness.[7]
We understand that the New Testament doesn’t use the name “Yahweh” for God. We also understand that by this time, the Jews had started referring to God mainly as Adonai. In recent times, however, there has been a lot of controversy over the name not only of God (even its pronunciation, whether Jehovah or Yahweh) but also the name of Jesus (some turning to the Hebrew Y’shua). Certainly, such trends have more to do with the flesh (language, culture, etc) and nothing to do with the spirit. Certainly, Biblical believers will agree that neither Hebrew nor Arabic nor Sanskrit is the language of heaven, exclusively speaking. In a polytheistic setting such as India, we can find generic words such as Parmeshwar in Hindi and Deva in Telugu (but, Hindi doesn’t use Deva for God as it may connote devatas, gods). We also can choose between the Arabic Allah or Rab and Persian Khoda (Iranian, Khuda) in Urdu. While Urdu speaking people would usually choose Khuda or Rab, they are also usually receptive of Quranic names for Jesus such as Kalimatullah (Word of God) and Ruhullah (Spirit from God), though some are cautious. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Christian holds to whatever various interpretations one makes of God (and there are varying views among Muslims as well). Paul thought that the Athenians were very religious, and he found that they also had an altar to the Unknown God. Using this as a Launchpad and also the writings of their own poets that talked about humans as being children of God, he proclaimed to them the nature of God as that which cannot be like gold or silver (Acts 17:29).

If there is a choice, of course, it is always better to use a generic term that would be more open for use by every community. As pointed out, most Urdu speaking Christians prefer Khuda or Rab over Allah. Yet, at the same time, it more looks like burning bridges than building them when we say “Christians worship a different God from Muslims”. It would be more proper to say that “The Christian view of God is different from the Muslim view of God.” This, at least, allows room for discussion and prevents caricaturing. How do you know that there was never an Epimenides among the Muslims? Also, is the Calvinist view of God the same as the Arminian? Isn’t it possible that an Arminian may go to the extremity of saying that the God of Calvinism is not the God of Bible or vice versa? Disagreeing views about Obama don’t prove that the views disagree because they are referring to two different persons. Also, if Allah predates Islam and is more personal to Christians in a particular region, because they now are convinced that they know Allah better and in a more accurate and personal way through the Bible, who are we to fix the rules for them? Certainly, when the Arabic Christian opens Genesis 1:1 in his language, he always reads "In the beginning Allah created the heavens and the earth."

[1] Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 13-14
[2] “Malaysia’s Islamic authorities seize Bibles as Allah row deepens”, Reuters, Thu Jan 2, 2014. Reuters.com
[3] “Malaysian court to Christians: You can’t say ‘Allah’” CNN. June 24, 2014. Cnn.com
[4] Nabeel Qureshi, “Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?” December 27, 2015. Rzim.org.
[5] Sam Shamoun, “Is Allah the God of Bible?” answering-islam.org
[6] Albert Mohler, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” Decision Magazine, December 1, 2013, billygraham.org
[7] Matthew Stone, “A Messianic Jew and Former Muslim on the Allah vs God Debate”, Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, zwemercenter.com