THE most important teaching of the Bible is its teaching about God. The Bible not only teaches us to worship One God but also tells us about His character; and it is the character of God which gives meaning to all that the Bible teaches on other subjects. In the light of God’s character we understand the nature of sin and our need for the salvation which Christ brings. Because God’s character is gracious, we understand how He gives of Himself to men through Christ and His Holy Spirit. All depends upon what God is in Himself, so much so that, as we shall see in a later chapter, man’s nature and destiny find their meaning in the light of the character of God.

We believe that God is One, but even a heathen worshipping his idol could say that. We also believe that God is righteous, holy and self-giving, and these words give significance to our belief in One God. This question of God’s character is very important when we study Islam. The Muslim also believes that Allah is One, and because he believes that Allah is One, he says that Allah and the God of the Bible are the same. ‘We worship the same God,’ he says to the Christian, and this belief that Allah and the God of the Bible are identical is the very foundation of Islam. We have therefore to decide whether we Christians really do believe in the Allah of the Quran; for if we do not, we cannot assume that the Muslim will understand us when we speak of Christ as the Son of God, or when we preach about the Holy Spirit and sin and salvation. Our teaching about such matters depends on what the Deity is like in His nature and activity.

Before discussing the question of the nature of Allah, it is advisable first to ask, ‘How did the Arabs, to whom Muhammad the Prophet preached, understand him when he spoke to them about Allah?’ It is not difficult to answer this question for, fortunately, the Quran itself tells us a great deal about the way in which the idolatrous Arabs thought about Allah. In Surah 53 vv. 19 to 21 we read of the heathen goddesses whom the Arabs regarded as the daughters of their deity Allah. Again in Surah 52 v. 39 the heathen Arabs are asked, ‘Hath Allah daughters and you sons?’ This question was asked because angelic beings were also regarded as ‘daughters of Allah’ (Surahs 37 vv. 149 to 153; 16 v. 59; 17 vv. 41 to 42), and they, with Satan and the Jinn, were worshipped along with Allah by the pagan Arabs (Surahs 4 vv. 116 and 117, and 6 v. 100). The pagan Arabs used to set aside a proportion of their harvest and cattle for their chief deity Allah, and then other portions for the other deities associated with Allah (Surah 6 v. 136). The Meccans said of Muhammad, ‘Does he make the gods to be one God?’ (Surah 38 v. 4), and this was the way in which they objected to Muhammad’s teaching. They knew of and worshipped Allah, but wished to retain their other deities also. This desire is referred to in Surah 17 v. 75, where Allah warns Muhammad when the prophet was tempted to ‘forge something else.’ The Muslim commentators state that this verse refers to Muhammad’s temptation to accede to the request of the tribe of Thaqif that they become Muslims, but be allowed to retain their idol Allat (feminine form of Allah) for a certain time.

We also find the prophet Muhammad complaining of the heathen Arabs that when they were in danger or distress they called upon the name of their supreme deity, Allah, but when they gained security, they associated others with Allah in their worship (Surahs 6 v, 64; 17 v. 69; 29 v. 65; 30 v. 33; 31 v. 31; 39 v. 11). The Arabs even went so far as to say that Allah physically begot the female angels (Surah 37 v. 152; Surah 43 v. 14). ‘Allah begets not and he is not begotten,’ states the Quran (Surah 112 v. 3) in refutation of the statement that Allah physically begot these angelic beings. Allah was undoubtedly worshipped by these heathen Arabs, but was not given pre-eminence as the only deity. That Allah was the deity of the Meccan Arabs, the protector of Mecca’s ancient temple the Kaaba, is also made abundantly clear by Surah 105 of the Quran. According to this Surah, this Meccan temple with its idols was protected by Allah against the attack of an army led by an Abyssinian Christian. Calamity befell the attackers, and Surah 105 celebrated Allah’s defence of His temple (about A.D. 570).

From the above statements it is therefore quite clear that the Arabs associated Allah with the worship of the Kaaba and worshipped Him along with such goddesses as Allat and with female angels, with Satan and with the Jinn. He first appears in this setting, and it was the task of Muhammad to rid Him of these associate deities and spirits. In order to give greater force to his teaching Muhammad then identified Allah with the God of the Bible, made the Meccan Kaaba the House of God, and declared that Abraham and others in the Old Testament and New Testament worshipped Allah as the Supreme God. Some, states the Quran (Surah 6 v. 91), said that Allah ‘never sent down anything to a mortal’, but Muhammad declares that Allah had sent down the Quran, as He is also reported to have sent down the Torah, Psalms and Gospel. Thus Allah is not only identified with the God of the Bible, but the Quran and the Bible are declared to have come from the same source, and to have been given by the same God. ‘The Allah of the Quran and the God of the Bible are the same’ is the basic assumption of all the teaching of the Quran, and all Muslims believe this. Muhammad made this assumption the basis of his appeal to idolatrous Arabs, Christians and Jews.

Is this really true? Do we feel that we can read the Quran in our churches? Do we think of God and His character as the Muslim thinks of Allah? We believe in One God, and we should always say this to the Muslim, for Islam states that we believe in three gods and associate others with Allah (Surah 5 v. 76f). But do we think of Allah when we speak of the Father’s only Son and of the Holy Spirit of God? What is the nature of Allah? The Quran emphasizes His creative Power, and teaches that not only the moral and material good of the world, but also its moral and material evil are His creation. When therefore Muslims speak of the Unity (tawhid) of Allah, they combine in that Unity some creative activities which we declare are contradictory and cannot be reconciled. It is interesting to compare Muslim teaching on this question with that of the Manichees, who believed that there were two powers in the Universe, one being the creator of good and the other of evil. Allah combines these two creative activities in Himself. The doctrine of the unity of Allah is a unified dualism.

On the other hand the God of the Bible is righteous. He abhors evil, and it would be blasphemy for us to say that God creates moral evil.[1] The central doctrine in the Biblical teaching is its emphasis on a unity in God’s moral character, but Islam does not think of Allah in this way. There is no law of righteousness in the being of Allah. Allah does ‘as He pleases’, states the Quran; He guides men aright or He leads men astray.[2] When we read, in Surah 15, vv. 29 to 43 and elsewhere, of the legend concerning Satan, we find that Satan says to Allah: ‘As Thou hast beguiled me I will beguile them,’ and the same verb is used of Allah’s beguiling Satan as is used of Satan’s beguiling men. But Christians would regard it as blasphemy to think of the God of the Bible in terms of Satanic activity. The God of the Bible is conditioned by His holy nature. He sets before man life and death, and says to man ‘Choose.’

In a later chapter, when we discuss the question of man and his destiny, we shall find that Allah cannot be conditioned in any way, nor is Allah’s power obstructed by human sin. Allah creates all men’s acts, both good and evil, and only allows man the power to appropriate[3] the acts which He has created for him. This appropriation, moreover, is not even a free acceptance on man’s part, for man cannot of himself say, ‘I don’t want to act thus.’ As we shall see later on, man’s every thought and act, his every intention and purpose, are created by Allah.

Man creates nothing, whether it be by thought or action, whereas Allah not only creates all man’s thoughts and actions, but is the direct and immediate cause of all man’s sensations (e.g., if a man feels burning, it is because Allah creates that sensation in him). Moreover, in the interest of the dogma of Allah’s continuous creative activity, early orthodox Muslim theologians held that there are no ‘stable natures’ in the Universe. All orthodox Muslim theologians speak of what appears to be a habit in the functioning of things, but maintain that, in reality, Allah is the direct and immediate cause of everything which takes place and exists. Some Muslims have said that He creates all the atoms of existing things moment by moment. It follows therefore that the actions of a saint, the excesses of a libertine, the flight of a fly, and the movement of a star in the heavens, are all the direct creations of Allah, moment by moment.

Allah is the sole Creator, and Islam, of necessity, sets forth a Deity who is unconditioned in His creative activity, teaching that man is uncreative and passive in His hands. It is, therefore, not surprising that Islam holds not only that man is completely unlike Allah in that he is incapable of creating an act or thought for himself, but that between the nature of Allah and that of man there is an absolute ‘opposition’. Allah remains inaccessible and man can know nothing of His nature. By contrast with the language of the Bible this means that man may not ‘participate in the divine nature’ (see 2 Peter 1:4); as the Quran says, ‘There is no participation is Him’ (‘la sharik lahu’). Moreover, even if a man appears to keep Allah’s laws, Allah is not obliged by any disposition of justice to put such a man into Paradise. Orthodox Islam firmly repudiates the suggestion that Allah is conditioned by a disposition of this kind and declares that it would be heresy to speak of His justice.[4] There is a Tradition (hadith) in which we are told that Allah produced from the hairs of Adam’s back all the generations to come. These generations were divided into two camps, and some were laughing and the others were crying. Allah indicated those who were laughing, and said: ‘These are for Paradise, and I care not!’ He then spoke of those who were crying, and said: ‘These are for Hell, and I care not!’ Allah creates all, decrees all, and He cares nothing. Is this Allah (the Immediate Cause of all that occurs or exists, the Creator of good and evil, the One who indifferently consigns to Hell or Paradise) the same as the God of the Bible? Is He the same as the God who spake by the prophets, the God who holds out His hands all day long, the God of truth and grace? These are the questions which the Christian must first answer before he can hope to speak intelligibly to Islam.

The reader has no doubt heard that if, when we are preaching to Muslims, we repeat the Biblical phrase, ‘God is a Spirit’, Muslims will regard it as the most terrible blasphemy. Why do they regard it as a blasphemy? we may ask. Is not the word spirit used in the Quran? It is, but when the Muslim thinks of a spirit he thinks of it as a created thing. The word ‘spirit’ is used in twenty places in the Quran, and in every case the Muslim believes that it is used of a ‘subtle body’ which has the capacity to penetrate coarse bodies. The angels and Jinn are such subtle bodies, and to speak of Allah as a Spirit would, according to Muslim thought, imply that He is a created body. When we read in the Quran that Allah aided Jesus with His Holy Spirit, it means that He sent an angel (Surah 2 v. 81). The Holy Spirit in the Quran is thus a subtle body, created by Allah, and sent by Him to men in certain cases. This angelic Holy Spirit is the angel Gabriel, the angel who announced the birth of Jesus to Mary (Surah 3 v. 40) and brought the Quran to the prophet Muhammad. There is therefore no place in the Quran for the Holy Spirit who is co-eternal with the Father and the Son; but, on the basis of Surah 61 v. 6, the promised Paraclete of John 16:7 is identified with the prophet Muhammad, and Jesus is supposed to have foretold the coming of the Praised one (ahmad)[5]. The Christians are accused of having changed the supposed original Greek word Periklutos (‘Praised one’) to Parakletos (‘Comforter’). Such charges may, of course, easily be refuted by reference to Greek MSS of the New Testament which were written over a hundred years before the birth of Muhammad (e.g., the Codex Alexandrinus in the British Museum).

We have already seen that the Muslim believes that Jesus was aided by the Holy Spirit (Gabriel). What do Muslims believe about Jesus? There is a good deal written in the Quran about Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary). We are told that He performed miracles of healing, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead by the permission of Allah (Surah 3 vv. 40 ff.). We can read the Quranic story of His birth in Surah 3 vv. 30 to 54 and Surah 4 vv. 168-170, where we are informed that He was born of the Virgin Mary. (Mary was sinless according to Muslim tradition.) Isa is only an apostle of Allah and His Word, which He cast into Mary, declares the Quran (Surah 4 v. 168 ff). Isa was therefore a direct creation of Allah, like Adam (Surah 3 v. 52); He is only a creature and the slave of Allah (Surah 43 v. 59). Isa is called ‘Spirit (ruh) from Allah’, and ‘Word (kalimat) of Allah’, but both these expressions imply that He was a created being. However exalted the titles given to Jesus in the Quran may appear to be, they really degrade Him. Moreover, the Quran even revives an old Christian heresy, in that it states that He did not die on the cross, but was taken up to heaven and an ‘appearance’ was crucified in His place (Surah 4 v. 156). Tradition states that He will come again on the Last Day, will marry and beget children, slay the Antichrist and perform other wonders before dying and being buried beside Muhammad and Abu Bakr in Medinah.

If we receive Christ at the hands of Islam we receive Him degraded and deprived of His true nature, and must admit that some day He will die like any other mortal and be buried. The Jesus of Islam is neither the Son of Man of the Scriptures nor the Son of God, and despite the unusual titles which are given to Him in the Quran, He remains a mere mortal, only a prophet of Allah.

The Christian preacher must therefore realise that there is no place in Islam for the living Christ, co-eternal with the Father, but only for a semi-angelic created being who will ultimately be buried in Medinah, the city of the prophet Muhammad. The Christian preacher must also recognise that if he tries to find a place in Islam for the Holy Spirit he must first regard Him as a created angel. Finally, if, on the grounds that there can be only One God, the Christian is pressed to identify God the Father with Allah, he must first examine all the relevant facts which a study of this kind seeks to place at his disposal.

Moreover, can we, in the light of the foregoing statements, expect Islam to understand the Christian doctrine of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? It is to be regretted that although Christian scholars have written standard works on Muslim theology, Islam has never troubled to apply itself to the study of Christian theology, and no Muslim book, from the time of the appearance of the Quran until now, contains a true statement of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Tahanawi, the author of a famous and standard work on Islamic religious and philosophical technical terms called Kashshaf,[6] says of the Christians, ‘One sect says that Jesus is the Son of Allah, and these we call the Malkites.[7] Another sect says that Jesus is Allah who came down and took the form of humanity and then returned to heaven. This means that Jesus took the form of Adam and then returned to His exalted state. This sect is called the Jacobite. Then there are those who say that Allah in Himself implies three — Father, who is the Holy Spirit; Mother, who is Mary; and Son, who is Jesus.’ In yet another article, where Tahanawi discusses the word used for the Persons of the Trinity, he says: ‘According to the Christians the Persons (aqanim) are three of Allah’s attributes, and these three are Knowledge, Being and Life. The significance of Being is “Father”, that of Life is “Holy Spirit”, and that of Knowledge is the “Word” (kalimat). And the Christians say that the Person (aqnum) of the Word became Jesus.’

Why is it that from the time of Tahanawi, as before him, no single Muslim author has told the whole truth about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity? One reason is that a statement containing the truth would require an enquiry into the assumption that Allah is the God of the Old and New Testaments. Another reason is that to tell the truth would demand a repudiation of the teachings of the Quran.[8] The Quran first taught Muslims to ask: ‘How can Allah have a son when He has not a wife?’ (Surah 6 vv. 100 ff and Surah 72 v. 3). ‘The Jews say Ezra is the son of Allah and the Christians say the Messiah is the son of Allah . . . Allah fight them! How they lie;’ so reads the Quran in Surah 9 v. 30; and the word which is also used in other passages to assert that Allah has no offspring, implies that He has no physically-begotten child (Surahs 2 v. 110; 10 v. 69; 18 v. 3; 17 v. 112; 19 v. 39 and vv. 91 ff.; 21 v. 26; 39 v. 6; 43 vv. 82 f; 112 v. 3). Some of these verses were originally levelled against the Arabs who ascribed offspring to Allah, but all are used by Muslims in refuting the supposed claims of the Christian Church concerning the Sonship of Christ. The Christians are supposed to believe that God became the Father of Jesus by physical procreation.

The doctrine of the Trinity is expressly mentioned in Surahs 4 v, 169 and 5 vv. 76 ff. In Surah 5 v. 116 Mary is declared to be one of the Persons of the Trinity (see also Surah 5 v. 19); and in Surah 23 v. 93, Muhammad declared in the interest of his teaching of the Unity (tawhid) of Allah: ‘Allah never took a son, nor was there ever any deity with Him; — then each god would have gone off with what he created and some would have exalted themselves over others.’ (See also Surahs 17 v. 44 and 21 v. 22).

Have Christians ever believed that God has a wife and physically begot His Son? We have never been guilty of such blasphemy, nor has the Christian Church ever believed in three gods or in the plurality of divine beings referred to in the more serious argument of ‘mutual impediment’ in Surahs 17 v. 44; 21 v. 22; and 23 v. 93. The Quran places in the mouth of the Church a blasphemy of which it has never been guilty, and then makes the doctrine of the Trinity incredible by putting Allah in the place of God.

It is, on the other hand, equally deplorable that Christians have attempted to make the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation acceptable to Islam by appealing to Muslim ideas about the ‘Word’ of Allah. ‘If speech, the eternal attribute of Allah, can become a Book (the Quran), is it not reasonable to suppose that God’s eternal Word could become a man?’ This has been a common question proposed by Christians in order to suggest the feasibility of the Incarnation; but to speak of an impersonal attribute becoming man (and Muslim terminology can convey no other ideas to a Muslim) is itself to revive the Christian heresy of Adoptionism, and to deny the dignity of the eternal Son. It must be realised that the doctrine of the Person of the Christ can only be understood in its own light, and that it lacks meaning and relevance apart from the Biblical doctrine of God. Any attempt at a transference of terms from Islam to Christianity in this field automatically robs them of their Christian significance.[9]

The activity of a gracious, redeeming and sanctifying God is the source of the doctrine of the Trinity. God gave Himself in His Son, and sanctifies us through His Spirit. God thus reveals Himself, His very self, not that we should be presented with a puzzle to solve, a ‘mystery’ of Three Persons in One God, but that we might find salvation and become His new creation in Christ as partakers in the divine nature. In the light of that gift of redemption and grace, man sees the true nature of sin, and also God’s nature, as He, in His Son, provides the means of redemption. These are the terms in which we should speak to Islam. This is the whole Gospel, the glad tidings of the Truth of God and of His gift of Grace: ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.’

From a purely logical point of view this chapter might more fittingly have been placed at the end of this book. It summarizes many of this book’s conclusions — as will appear in due course —, and also anticipates much of that which will be stated in detail later on. This material has been presented by way of introduction, firstly because all studies in theology must begin with a definition of the nature of God, and also because the writer wishes to impress upon his readers at the very beginning of their study that the teachings of Islam and Christianity stand in radical opposition because Islamic theology and Biblical theology think of the Divine Being in very different terms. We experience difficulty in explaining ourselves to Islam, not because of our doctrines of the Trinity, of man, sin and salvation, but because the very foundation of our faith is our belief in the God of the Bible. We are not concerned primarily about the name used for God — whether we speak of Him as Allah or Jehovah makes little difference — but we cannot ignore, and dare not ignore, the central teaching of the Bible concerning the nature of God as Grace and Truth.

The present writer believes that the unique Biblical doctrine of God must always be present in our thought as we speak to the Muslim. To ignore it is to invite confusion; and in order to be faithful to our task, we will have to invite our Muslim friends not only to consider what we both mean by the statement, ‘God is One’, but also to answer with us the question, ‘One What?’

This first chapter therefore sets forth our theme. The premiss of Christian Faith in a God of Grace and Truth is placed in contrast to the Muslim premiss which states that there is no deity but Allah, the God of unconditioned omnipotence, whose messenger is Muhammad the Prophet. The following chapters will, I trust, persuade the reader that only by making all our enquiry illustrative of these first premisses can we hope to interpret the Christian faith to Islam.


1 Such passages as Isaiah 45:7 (‘I make peace and create evil’) do not imply God’s creation of moral evil, but refer to His ordering of the world which provides both security and calamity (cp. Amos 3:6). This fact is quite clear from the context in both passages.

2 Islam held to this doctrine in spite of Christian objections, as we may see from the well-known account of the sermon preached by the Khalifa Umar after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem. Umar quoted Surah 17 v. 99: ‘He whom Allah shall guide shall be guided indeed; and whom He shall mislead thou shall find none to guide.’ A Christian monk interrupted him twice, crying, ‘God forbid; the Lord doth not mislead any one but desires rather the right direction of all.’ Umar silenced him by threatening him with death.

3 The word used for this ‘appropriation’ is iktisab; see the note on al Ashari on p, 47.

4 The unorthodox Mutazila (who also declared that if Allah were the creator of moral evil then He Himself would be vile: see page 45), insisted on Allah’s justice. The statement in the text represents the strict Asharite position. The Mutazila were opposed on the grounds that no obligation may be laid on Allah. The orthodox al Ghazali, however, affirmed that Allah is ‘just’, but that this divine justice cannot be understood by analogy with human justice. Allah’s right is absolute and therefore He cannot be held to be unjust (Ihya ulum al Din, Vol. I., Bk. 2, chap. 1, sect. 8). Prior to al Ghazali, the orthodox al Maturidi had opposed both Asharite and Mutazila on the grounds that Allah, by nature, is above injustice.

5 The word ahmad means ‘the Praised One’ in Arabic.

6 Kashshaf istilahat al funun, ed. Sprenger (Calcutta, 1862).

7 The Malkite, or Greek Orthodox, Church of Byzantium.

8 It is for this reason perhaps that a convert from Christianity to Islam writes in the Ahmadiya periodical, The Light (pub., Lahore, Dec., 1st, 1953; page 6, col. 1): ‘Throughout my schooldays, I received regular religious instruction, being taught that God begot a son of a virgin named Mary.’ The new convert here echoes the teaching of the Quran. No Christian school teaches such things.

9 It has been suggested that al Ghazali’s teaching about ‘spirit’ affords a ‘point of contact’ for the Christian preacher. This teaching is certainly well-known in India and is important from the point of view of this present study.

al Ghazali (see Kimiya i Sa‘adat, printed by the Fatah al Karim Press, Bombay, A.H. 1300, Persian text, page 7) states that spirit has no extension; in one sense it is of this creation, and yet, in another sense (in that it is of the ‘world of command’), it is not of this created world. ‘Yet,’ says al Ghazali, ‘those who understand the spirit to be eternal have erred, and whoever says that spirit is an accident is in error, for an accident does not subsist by itself but is subject to another. Those who have called the spirit a body (i.e., rigidly orthodox opinion; see page 8 of this present work) are also in error, because a body is divisible. . . There is another thing which they also call “spirit” which is divisible, but that spirit is found in animals also, and the spirit which we call the “heart” is the locus of the gnosis of Allah, and such a spirit is not of animals. So this spirit of which we speak is not a body and is not an accident, but it is a substance which is of the genus of the substance of angels. It is difficult to understand its quiddity and we have no permission to comment upon it.’

al Ghazali thus agrees with the traditionally orthodox in holding that the spirit is not eternal, but he adds that, in man, this spirit is like that of the angelic substance created in an extra-terrestrial realm and is the locus of the (Sufi) gnosis. al Ghazali would, of course, deny that Allah could be a Spirit. There appears to be some suggestion in his teaching of the New Testament affirmation that there is a special discernment which is ‘spiritual’, but al Ghazali holds that this discernment is latent in all men and is a gift which has to be ‘cultivated’ by ‘effort’ (see Kimiya i Sa‘adat, page 7).

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