Hagia Sophia Mars 2013

Is Allah God?

The answer: Yes! I mean, No. Well, okay, possibly.

The problem with answering difficult questions is that the answers don’t fit on a bumper sticker. So, we have to fully engage our minds and hearts in answering a question like this.

It’s like so many other questions I get – like: Do you think if the Palestinians had their own sovereign state that there would be peace in Israel? Or…Does the Qur’an encourage violence?

You would only think these are all simply yes or no answers if you haven’t thought deeply about the questions. So here I go – giving you my best answer to the question “Is Allah God?”

Three points:

The Sociological Argument
All of you reading this know me in one way or another. You know my name. You know I have interesting thoughts about Jesus, about the Middle East, about how to interact with culture, etc. How would you answer someone who asked you, “Do you know Carl Medearis who lives in Denver and used to live in Beirut?” You would probably simply say “yes.” But do you really know me? Even my Chris and my three kids find out new things about me fairly often. (Once in a while, those things are even good!)

So at one level, we’re asking this question of Muslims: Do they REALLY know God? And I would ask: Do we? Of all the percentage of God there is to know (presumably 100%), how much do you know of Him? Think about it. Maybe 1%? I think I’m probably up to .000001% of knowing all there is to know about God. We’ve just decided that we know the right .01%. The bit that is “good enough” and the .000001% that Muslims know about God isn’t good enough. (Which may be true, by the way. I’m not arguing against the point of “knowing enough” as it’s a good point.)

So to begin the discussion, we need to jump off our high horse and humble ourselves so we’re not thinking we have one less zero in front of the decimal…We all see through a glass darkly. Is the glass darker for our Muslim friends when they “see” God? Probably.

What clears the glass a bit? Jesus. We see God as clearly as we see Jesus.

The Etymological Argument (Study of Words)
“Allah” is simply the word for “god” in Arabic. Kind of like Dios is his name in Spanish. We would never say that “Dios” is the Catholic or Spanish God. We would say that that is his name in Spanish – big difference. All Arab Christians have used “Allah” in Arabic for God.

Remember when Jesus cried out at the crucifixion “My God my God….” The word in Aramaic (an early version of Arabic) was “illahi.” To say “my God” in Arabic today, you would say “Allahi.” When an Arab simply says “God” he uses the word “illah.” Same root. Same word.

Some have heard that “Allah” was the Moon God in the Arabian desert. Other than the fact that there is no evidence of this, if you were to ask any Muslim from any time in history if they worship the “Moon God”, they would be highly offended. Do we worship a pagan deity called “God?” Of course not. But our English word comes from the Germanic pagan deity of water called “Guut.” Or did Paul encourage us to worship the Roman God Zeus when he Hellenized that word and turned it into Theos? Of course not.

So on the most basic level of how we use words, the only word for “God” in Arabic is “Allah.”

The Theological Argument
Perhaps the deepest of all the issues when we discuss whether the God of the Muslims, called “Allah” in Arabic, is the same as “our God” is this: When they think of “God”, are they thinking of or praying to the “right” God? This, in my opinion, is the real issue. (And my guess is, it’s your real issue as well). Here are several thoughts on that:

A. There is only one God. There aren’t several. In one sense, unless you’d say that Muslims are worshipping an idol or the devil, then there is only one possibility anyway. It’s simply whether or not they are seeing him correctly or not. But it’s not the question of whether he is God or not. This is a huge deal. It’s one thing to say that Muslims don’t see God clearly; it’s quite another to say that it’s not the real God.

B. The 99 names of God that they use would all agree with our definitions of God.

C. Here’s the “God” that Muslims believe in: He is the creator of the heavens and the earth. He created and loves us. He is the All-powerful (omnipotent), the all-knowing (omniscient), and the all-present (omnipresent). He is the eternal judge. He is fully holy and righteous. And he is the God who saves, heals, comforts, offers compassion and mercy – and the God who’s wrath needs atonement (Although Muslims do not believe that is provided through Christ). So is it the same God? Of course it is. Do Muslims have full revelation of who he is and who Jesus is? No. Do they need that understanding? Yes. See, those two questions are easy to answer with one word.

The Missiological Argument
My final point, and the most practical, is this: to reach the heart of our Muslim friends with the good news, we need to meet them where they are. They also see through a glass darkly. They are trying to find access to the One True God. All the Muslims I know who take their faith seriously, want to know God and follow Him. Why would we not give that to them? Maybe it’s because we’re mad at Muslims and we don’t want them to “share” our God (as if he’s “ours” anyway).

When a Muslims says they believe in God or in Jesus (which they would all say), why not start out with a simple “Great, and so do I. So how about we walk together and get to know Him more.” That opens every door!

Comments

  1. Brian Pugh says:

    While I admire your love for the Muslim people, and desire to reach them with the gospel, I have to heartily disagree with this approach. If you asked the question, “Is Allah a god?”, then the answer would be yes. Just like Baal was a god. The scriptures make many references to the false gods worshipped by the people of the earth. God’s response to these false gods was never friendly. He called for the destruction of their places of worship. He sent Elijah to do battle with the prophets of Baal. He judged Israel for turning from the one true God to worship these false gods. I respect your attempt to “believe the best” about the Muslims when your say that they are “trying to find access to the One True God.” However, you can’t know that. You don’t know what is in their hearts. For the ones about whom that is true, I believe that they WILL find the One True God. That is why the Lord has sent people like you to work among them. But to make a blanket statement that they are all just sincere believers who haven’t got their terminology quite right doesn’t line up with the revelation of scripture. The unredeemed human race is in rebellion against God. We have to remember Romans 1. He is calling all men everywhere to repent. All paths do lead to God; we will all stand before the judgment seat. The fork in the road comes when we leave the judgment seat. Islam and Allah provide a moral religious framework with a legalistic hope for eternity, but they do not provide a means for the redemption and salvation of man. Jesus is the only One who can bring us into a reconciled relationship with the One True God. That is a tough pill to swallow in these intellectually sophisticated times, but it is the simple truth of scripture.
    “When a Muslims says they believe in God or in Jesus (which they would all say), why not start out with a simple “Great, and so do I. So how about we walk together and get to know Him more.” That opens every door!”
    This is a great approach to beginning a relationship with a Muslim. But, to equate what we believe with what they believe is downright dangerous. Some would use the term blasphemous, but I think your intentions are good. False gods are false gods, and believing in Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean that what you believe about Him is true. They think He is coming back to straighten out the world by telling them that what the Christians believed about Him was all wrong. I could go on and on, but I won’t.
    I think your heart of compassion for Muslim peoples is wonderful, but I think this is a very wrong approach.
    Blessings.

    1. Joe Watkins says:

      Brian,
      I’m not sure that the point of this is to say that what Muslims believe about God or Jesus is exactly what Christians believe about God or Jesus, but rather to say that the beginning point for conversations and relationships are closer than people often think.

      From a scriptural standpoint, to begin with the Islamic belief that they serve the one true God is more akin to Paul’s speech in Athens (Acts 17) than it is to the commands in the Old Testament about the surrounding cultures and their tribal gods. Paul (myself, and I believe Carl as well) most certainly would agree with your statement, “Jesus is the only One who can bring us into a reconciled relationship with the One True God,” but the question is more about how we approach people in our roles as ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-20). We can be so focused on our differences from the outset of our relationships that we destroy any hope of playing the role God intends in helping Muslims (or anyone) know Jesus as he really is – Messiah, Savior, Son of God, and Lord.

      Carl’s Etymological argument is important to this conversation as well. To ask does Allah = God is a muddy question because, as he points out, it’s simply the Arabic translation of the English word “god” and it is still the word that Muslims would use in prayer should they believe in Jesus as the crucified Son of God and the means of reconciliation between human beings and God. Where the conversation requires us to be more unwavering in our beliefs is if the question were to be changed to “Is Allah the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” or “Is Allah the Father of Jesus?” The answers to those questions begin to shine a light on the differences between what Muslims believe and what God has revealed about himself in scripture. In the course of one’s relationships with Muslim men or women I assume that these questions and answers would come up. However, to start there is to ignore that Muslims are also people first, God’s own creation and at least for me if I am to treat Muslims as I would want to be treated I need to begin there, at their humanity, and as the opportunity arrises find a loving way to point them to Jesus and the life and reconciliation that he has to offer.

      Whew, that’s awful long for a reply to a comment, but you were so gracious in your response to Carl’s post (a trait I wish more believers would live out in their desire to also be faithful) that I wanted to join in the conversation with my 2 cents. I hope it was taken to be every bit as respectful as your initial comment came across when I read it.

      God Bless

      Joe

    2. Louai says:

      Thanks for this, obviously am a Muslim, and in what you are trying to approach remind me by your intro that you live in Lebanon for a while, unfortunately if this is the way you want to approach Muslims I don’t think this is going to work!! You start in a logical way are so logic till you tried to explain and comparations,
      You Christians try to put theories and answer it, reply to it, explain it regardless the real people who should be engaged in this! really respect your views but as you may know or not, which am not here to explain, that Christianity has more controversial parts than any Islamic branch from the birth of Jesus which no one agreed when exactly, and so on so forth… I would really appreciate that you focus in your religion controversial before focusing in anther religions, think about your views before trying to understand the god of Muslims..
      Wa salam

    3. Julie says:

      Hi Brian,

      A question came to mind as I read your response. What do we say to the profound, deeply believing Arab Christians in the Middle East who pray in the name of Allah? That is THE only word in Arabic for God. I have joined in intense times of prayer and intercession with powerful believers. Our prayers have been in the name of Allah.

      According to your viewpoint, they are praying to a false God. I know for a fact they are not. The moving of the Spirit in their midst testifies to that. I have been the recipient of God’s intervention as a result of their prayers.

      As other responders have mentioned there are amazing theologians who would encourage you in exploring another possible understanding. I have studied under Colin Chapman and Gary Burge. They have been formative in mending my perspective. I was brought up with impressions similar to yours. I now realize, through hands on experience, that we serve an amazing God who is more real to many peoples of the world, than I originally thought. True, some of the ways they have been taught about God may not be correct, but how can we share the Truth without first building bridges and finding common starting points?

      I pray for your search for answers.

      Blessings,
      Julie

  2. Susanne says:

    Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe they worship the same God for the most part. Yet Christians are kind of the odd man out by equating Jesus with God. So if we are going to say the Muslims don’t have the right God, do we also say the same about Jews?

    I have Christian Arab friends and as Carl mentioned, they use “Allah” for God just as my Mexican friends use “Dios.” By the way, my grandfather was a missionary in Africa and to this day he uses “Allah” for God when he sings a Hausa song. 🙂

    Enjoyed this!

    1. Wesley says:

      “Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe they worship the same God for the most part.”? I’ll push you a bit here: try, ‘i’ve been completely faithful to my wife … for the most part.’ or how about ‘everyone in the ladies’ changing room is female … for the most part. The Bible is emphatic that one either knows and is known by God or they are not. Surely, the ‘sorting’ is not as easy this side of heaven, but none the less …
      This is not about what name we use for God or linguistics as though we need to use the right name or it’s not the right God. And as for your comment, “if we are going to say the Muslims don’t have the right God, do we also say the same about Jews?”, read John 8 and see who Jesus says those who reject Him follow.
      So much i’m reading on this post is opinions based on what seems like a very young, surface understanding (reading even) of the Bible. I’m all for building friendships to introduce EVERYONE to Jesus, but let us not be guilty of twisting or even ignoring the Sriptures to make a point or make someone feel more comfortable with what we believe which IS exclusivist. Hard in the 21st C i know, but that’s what you’re a part of.

      1. Elizabeth Taylor says:

        Excellent comment Wesley.

        Carl’s articles are fabulous on the Loving, but a little lacking on Truth — The Jesus of the Bible did both.

  3. Hey Carl,
    I’ve just recently begun following your blog, but I’ve handed out some of your CDs to as many people as I can concerning “following Jesus” in the Middle East. I REALLY appreciate your ministry and this blog. I fully agree with your appraisal of the use of “Allah” and have personally shared this hundreds of times in different settings in the U.S. and Canada. It is sometimes quite disheartening to hear the response of many in the Church towards Muslims and Islam in general and I pray that we not only pray for Muslims, but love them as Jesus loves them. Thank you for this post (and for your many others)…keep following Jesus brother!!!

  4. Ed Learn says:

    Brian – people “in the know” would disagree with you… people (I think you’ll know these names) like Greg L, Ralph W, Brother A, Colin C. And people I personally know (lesser known) who live in these areas have told me the same.

    I think your comments are very typical… and “western”. May we all seek proper ways of dealing with our muslim friends.

  5. Nick Estelle says:

    I agree that this is a good place to start, but I hesitate to equate the god of Islam (“Allah”) with the god of Judaism/Christianity (“God”) for very long. Doesn’t Allah claim to be the greatest deceived of them all?
    Though the words mean the same thing in different languages, the two persons they have come to represent ask different things of humanity.
    I’m not the middle-east expert here, but it seems to me that this could get theologically messy.

  6. Nick Estelle says:

    Agh. I have trouble typing on this thing. That should have said “the greatest deceiveR of them all.”

  7. Jon says:

    I am working with university students in a Muslim country right now. I live with Muslims all around me. They live in the same dormitory as I do, they eat at the same cafeteria, and we all walk down the same sidewalks on campus. Everyday, I wake up with the intention of starting conversations about God with students. The other day I sat in on a culture club meeting where they were discussing God and religion. One young man said, “people all over the world want to believe in God, but they don’t know who he really is.” I asked him if he knew, and he just shrugged his shoulders. Carl, I love your advice on ways to dialogue with Muslims. Allah is God..and so is Esa and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Let that mess with one’s theology. lol.

  8. Brian says:

    All Arabic bibles use Allah in their translation! Is it cut and dry? No! The JW’s (Jehovah witnesses) pray to Jehovah but do we ever tell them their Jehovah is not Jehovah? No but we do tell them their Jesus is not Jesus. But what do we really mean – we mean that they do not understand Him truly or actually, so why isn’t it the same with Allah they (Muslims) do not know Him truly and actually. Are the Gideons, Wycliffe’s, etc wrong when they use Allah for Jehovah? Thus are the JW’s correct when they say we dishonor God when we use LORD instead of Jehovah. To clarify they are wrong in my view (JWs). When confronted by them I ask them if they accept the Septuagint as correct in its translation of the Hebrew text. They always answer yes. So I then show them how it changed Jehovah to KURIOS and so for the English to say LORD is the same thing and thus OK! I also point out how in Rev. ch 1 where in the Greek it is KURIOS they write Jehovah in English. So they are committing the wrong they preach or are in agreement with the wrong we do as not being a wrong. I teach them to think. Though I suspect they put Jehovah to take away from the deity of Christ. I no longer point this out I wait for God to do it. Carl thanks for you word I am currently reading your book. It is doing a good job of cleaning my lens. I didn’t realize how dirty it was. I have been taught by men to be offensive with my apologetic. I now know this is wrong. Yesterday I had the opportunity to put into practice 2 Tim. 2:24-26 as the man tired to drag me into an argument and to rile accusation against me public to other believers I just sat in silence….this ended his anger and reviling- he chose to leave on his own since I would not respond. Wow how the teachings of men have made me a Pharisee! Lord forgive me and teach me! I beg Thee! – Brian

  9. Jakob says:

    All there is to say:

    For the Christian- Jesus is God.
    For the Muslim- Jesus was a prophet.
    For the Jew- Jesus was a good teacher.

    If you don’t worship Jesus as God, you don’t worship God.

  10. Jakob
    No….you would then be worshiping God ineffectively. And that’s different than worshipping a different God.

    1. Elizabeth Taylor says:

      What do you mean worshiping “ineffectively”?

      “Ineffectively” is an adverb you are using to describe HOW one worships. Your blog post is about WHO one worships.

      HOW vs. WHO is apples and oranges

  11. Jakob says:

    While I put Jews in the original comment, I have been corrected to some extent. Jews hold to the God that Jesus worshiped. They believe that there will be a messiah, they just don’t know it was and is the man, Jesus, who is God. So I could concede to them almost being there.
    However, Muslims reject the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Christian New Testament. They don’t hold to the coming of a Messiah Just because the Muslim Allah has the same name and many same qualities as the Christian Allah (to use your very good linguistic point), it does not mean that they are simply worshiping ineffectively. Whenever we worship God outside of His revealed word, we are putting our own idols over Him. Augustine put it nicely: If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. Not serving/worshiping Jesus as God is more than ineffective worship, it’s worship of a self-made God. The demons in James 2.19 believe in God, but don’t worship Jesus as God. Is their worship ineffective?

  12. Michael says:

    The question is: Was the being that Mohammed encountered the Angel Gabriel as he wrote about, or a messenger from Satan claiming to be from God?

    Questions to ask a Muslim: if Jesus was born of a virgin birth, lived a sinless life, and ascended into heaven to be with Allah – as stated in your holy Qur’an….. why is Mohammed, who was a purely mortal man, sinned repeatedly, and is dead and entombed in Medina awaiting the judgement – as stated in your holy Qur’an? When Jesus taught peace and Love, and Mohammed’s writings tell you to kill all infidels, why do you chose to follow the hatred instead of the Love?

  13. Brian Pugh says:

    Joe Watkins,
    Thank you for the gracious reply to my comments. I appreciate your desire to approach Muslims with respect, humility, and a gentle spirit. I truly respect Carl’s desire to overcome the contentious spirit that so often characterizes our interactions with other faiths/cultures. I just wanted to voice a concern that we don’t become so accomodating that we cross the line into compromise. Thanks for your input.

  14. DO YOU KNOW CARL,I WAS WITH YOU IN THE WASHINGTON HILTON HOTEL IN NATIONAL BREAKFAST PRAYER ,YOUR NAME MEDE-ARIS IS FROM PERSIA PROCEDENCE OF MEDES TRIBU,AND ARIS ,SURFACE,IN THE MIDDLE OF SURFACE YOUR ROOTS MOST PROBABLY COMES FROM PERSIA,IRÀN.HUGE FROM ME ,YOU HAVE BEEN POLITE WITH ME ,EXCUSE ME MY BAD ENGLISH.LEND ME A E.MAIL.

  15. i should like that you send a e.mail to me, about talking your surname is very interestign,your surname mede is medes persian tribu, aris ,greck your surname is from persia ,Iràn surely,e.mail me

  16. medes was a tribu from persia, Iràn,in latin medium,and aris is area,surface,your surname is near of river tigris.

  17. Jon Black says:

    I hate to turn a dead horse into glue…but would you say Paul worshipped a “different” god before he met Jesus on that fateful road or would you say he worshipped “ineffectively”?

    I guess many think of the “end-game” in all of this as seeing people “saved.” So if that’s the case then I can understand where one believes that Muslims and Jews worship the wrong god (to be saved Paul says you must confess that Christ Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead).

    But if the end game is more along the lines of “knowing God” or “loving God and enjoying him forever” then I can see where one might consider Jews and Muslims as merely worshipping “ineffectively.” (As scripture can also attest to people loving God long before they knew Jesus). So what’s your end-game?

  18. […] and theological attributes of god for individuals from a Muslim background. In your blog  ( See:http://www.carlmedearis.com/blog/2010/02/is-allah-god/ ) you wrote “So is it the same God? Of course it is.”  Our concern with this is your […]

  19. Nicole says:

    Carl, what is your REAL agenda? You seem to have a thinly veiled disdain(very thinly) for your Christian brothers and sisters, western culture and the Church in general. That is your right of course(it is nice living in country where you can voice your opinion without getting beheaded). So I have some questions: 1)Do you believe that Muhammed was a prophet who was inspired by God(YHWH) and if so how do you reconcile the inconsitencies between the Bible and the Q’ran?
    2)I realize that Jesus is mentioned in the Q’ran but according to it he is: a)not the Son of God b)he was not crucified(according to the Q’ran the story of the crucifixion was a mean joke that was played on Mary). c) Allah was sooooo holy he could never have had a son. d)Christians are under the curse of Allah for believing in the Trinity, the diety of Christ and the crucifixion.
    3)How do explain Galatians 1:6-9.
    In case you forgot what it says,

    No Other Gospel
    6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you,let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received,let him be accursed.(ESV)
    We are to love our enemies, I will agree with you on that. Where does love end and pandering begin?

  20. Tricia says:

    Looks like I’m a little late on the scene here so I’m not sure if anyone will read this, but I don’t think I saw anyone bring up Paul’s words to the worshippers of “an unknown god” when he introduced them to this God. We can introduce Muslims to their unknown god, who is called Allah, who they actually think they know but don’t really, as our God, also called Allah if you happen to speak Arabic.
    One other note, in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, Allah is the name of God in the mosques but in Christian churches the name of God is Tuhan.

  21. Elizabeth Taylor says:

    I have to agree with Nicole a little, sorry to say. You took it a tiny bit too far here, Carl.
    I think most Muslims will tell you that Allah does not equal Jesus. That’s a big difference that you’re just kind of glossing over.

    Interestingly, I had some Christian missionary friends doing Bible translation in Papua New Guinea and they took the name of the pagan god worshiped there as the name for YHWH in the Bible, so it is a discussion point

    1. Elizabeth Taylor says:

      I’m replying to correct myself. The god I referred to as the “pagan” god of Papua New Guinea may have actually been YHWH by another name. Possibly, He had been revealing himself, and the truth of His son who is the Answer for humanity — all along. The “missionaries” came to “complete” the story in a sense.

      I do believe there is evidence that God works this way in cultures that do not have the Western understanding. Calling them “pagan” is a mistake on my part.

      In any case, I do not think it applies with “Allah” because there is a direct denial of Jesus as God and Answer.

      I see what Carl is getting at but it doesn’t apply in the case of Islam.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking post!!

  22. Elizabeth Taylor says:

    I agree that this is a worthy approach:

    When a Muslim says they believe in God or in Jesus (which they would all say), why not start out with a simple “Great, and so do I. So how about we walk together and get to know Him more.” That opens every door!

    But you don’t need to convince us that Allah is YHWH (when he’s not) in order to legitimize it! 🙂

    1. yaccad says:

      Good to see that you agree with yourself Elizabeth LOL.

      1. Elizabeth Taylor says:

        Well, I guess I had that one coming, Yaccad.
        Thanks for lightening things up for me! 🙂

  23. John says:

    Act 10 is a great book to read on this. Cornelius loved God, but still he needed to know about the good news of Jesus. Also Peter’s vision about only ministering to Jews is tied in this story. God loved Cornelius very much and put Peter in his path so that he would hear the complete gospel
    Continually in the Old Testament it makes mention of the enemies of the Israelites recognizing the power and majesty of God. God has revealed himself through his creation, but the good news of Jesus cannot be displayed this way though. People can worship the supreme creator without someone sharing with them. The problem is that they will not be able to enjoy his presence without knowing about Jesus.
    Allah, Dios, Ginoo, YAHWEH, God. The way I see it each one allows us more ways to try and give a worthy praise to the big guy up stairs. Jesus came so that all may spend eternity with him