God, Allah, George Washington, and Eric Clapton
My seven year old nephew believes that once upon a time the young George Washington chopped down a cherry tree.
For my part, I don’t think that happened. I believe that the cherry-tree story is a myth.
Therefore, when my nephew talks about “George Washington” he’s not referring to the same guy I’m referring to when I talk about “George Washington.”
Once, this nephew overheard me opining that George Washington never chopped down any cherry tree, and he piped up with “Yes he did! My teacher said!”
But I explained to him that he simply could not disagree with me, because we’re not talking about the same guy. My “George Washington” didn’t do that. I don’t care if some other guy whom we can call “George Washington” did that. That’s irrelevant to who I’m talking about.
Christians and Muslims disagree about whether God has a Son, right? Then, they’re talking about the same (alleged) being. They may disagree about “who God is” in the sense of what he’s done, what attributes he has, how many “Persons” are in him, and whether Muhammad was really his Messenger, etc. But disagreement assumes one subject-matter – here, one god.
Arabic-speaking Christians referred to God as “Allah” (= the Greek ho theos) before, during, and after Muhammad’s career, and even today Arabic Bible translations, except when forbidden by Islamic governments, translate some of the Greek and Hebrew words for the one God as “Allah.”
Could it possibly confuse some people if Christians talk about “Allah”? Yes! But Christians haven’t quit the word “God” just because Mormons, New-Agers, and Eric Clapton fans (“Give God a solo!”) use it.
Christians never have accepted the prophetic claims of Muhammad. But he explicitly said that he meant by “Allah” the God whom Abraham served. Isn’t that sufficient to refer to the God in whom Christians believe? It’s enough in the case of Jews, isn’t it, even though they reject Trinity and Incarnation theories? Why should it be different, then, in the case of Muslims?
Muhammad: By “Allah” I mean the being worshiped by Abe, Moses, Jesus.
Muslims: we mean by “Allah” what Muhammad meant.
It’s no good to come along and just pound that table that the word “Allah” somehow magically can’t be used in this way. Obviously, as demonstrated by the Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews, it can!
This is conceding very little. It doesn’t imply or even suggest that Islam is as true as Christianity, or that Islamic worship is as valuable to God as is Christian worship, or that the two are equally effective routes to salvation, or that there are no significant differences between these religions. Nor does it imply that Muhammad really received revelations from God.
It’s an interesting question why some many Christians like Franklin Graham and the leadership of Wheaton feel a need to employ this “not the same god” rhetoric. Perhaps they dislike Islam so much that they don’t want to concede even this similarity with Christianity.
Perhaps the case is like that of the Islamic governments who forbid Christian groups from using “Allah.”
It’s possible too that both are over-sensitive to claims of religious pluralism…
Still, I do see how the other side can be argued. In another post soon, I’ll try to work through some reasons for thinking that “Allah” (when used by Muslims, in an Islamic context) can’t refer to God.