It seems that on almost any given night in the United States you can turn the television to CNN or Fox News and see the image of an Islamic militant yelling, “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest). Throughout the world, Islamic terms—Allah, jihad, Qur’an—are becoming increasingly commonplace as the religion grows.
Yet there is still much mystery surrounding Islam and Allah—the God whom Muslims worship. Many have asked, “Is Allah God? The same God as the God of the Bible—the one whom Christians worship?”
Unfortunately, this is not as simple a question as it may seem. To understand fully whether Allah is God, we must answer three underlying questions. The first is linguistic: Can the Arabic word “Allah” be used to refer to the God of the Bible? The second and third questions are theological: Do Muslims and Christians believe the same things about God? And finally, do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
Let’s dive in.
1. Can the Arabic word “Allah” be used to refer to the God of the Bible?
The word “Allah” comes from the Arabic al-ilah, meaning “the God.” It is closely related to the Aramaic Alaha and the Hebrew Eloah. Eloah is the singular form of the more common Elohim, which is the Hebrew word used for God in Genesis 1:1.1
Within the Arabic language, Allah is the only word for God. In fact, its use among Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians predates Islam itself. Allah is the word used for God in all Arabic translations of the Bible, as well as all translations of the Jewish scriptures.
By contrast, the English word “God” is derived from the Germanic Gut, which refers to a pagan god or idol.2 Theos, the Greek word for God, which was used by the writers of the New Testament, also has pagan roots. It was originally used to refer to Zeus and the other gods of Greek mythology.
It’s clear from a linguistic point of view that the word Allah is a closer representation of the original Hebrew word used in the Bible to mean God—Elohim—than the English word God. It is also closer linguistically to the Aramaic word Alaha, which Jesus would have used when speaking of God the Father.3
So this first question can only be answered with a yes. The truth is that when Christians in the Arab world today speak of the God of the Bible, they use the word Allah. When they pray, they pray to Allah—and they have done so even before Islam existed as a religion.
However, this does not completely answer our main question, “Is Allah God?” To do that we must tackle the theological issues.
2. Do Muslims and Christians believe the same things about God?
There are some definite similarities in the Christian and Islamic understandings of God. Christians and Muslims believe in one all-powerful, all-knowing God who created all things. Both agree that God communicates with people through both his spoken and written word. They also both believe in heaven and hell, angels and demons, and sin and forgiveness.
Christianity and Islam even share a common heritage. Both are monotheistic religions that claim to worship the God of Abraham. Each religion traces its origins all the way back to Adam, the first man. Christianity and Islam share more than twenty prophets and embrace many of the same stories and traditions, including the great flood and the virgin birth of Jesus.
However, when we look beyond these foundational issues, Christianity and Islam diverge greatly. Christians believe in a Trinitarian God (one God existing in three persons). Muslims believe in an absolute monotheism—God is one and indivisible, without distinction in persons. Islam maintains that God is unknowable and completely free—not bound by rules, covenants, or even his own word.4 Christians, on the other hand, believe in a covenant-making God who is true to his word and always keeps his promises. He is a God who can be intimately known and who reveals himself personally to his people.
These differences in regard to both the nature and character of God are major. To Christians around the world who worship Jesus Christ as God, the Islamic concept of God is not only inadequate but is in many ways inaccurate—as is the Christian concept to Muslims.
So far we have determined that linguistically the word “Allah” and the word “God” have the same meaning and are used by Muslims and Christians alike. However, when it comes to understanding who God is and what God is like, the adherents of these two religions disagree.
But when we ask, “Is Allah God?” we’re not asking simply whether the words mean the same thing, or even if Muslims and Christians believe the same things. We’re really trying to determine if Muslims and Christians worship the same being.
3. Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
Is it possible for people to have different beliefs or understandings about God but still worship the same deity?
Within Christianity alone, Protestants and Catholics have many different beliefs and understandings about God. Actually, even various Protestant denominations have differing beliefs about God. Yet few would argue that they are worshipping different gods—all are Christians.
However, Christianity and Islam are not merely different denominations; they are entirely separate religions. Accordingly, they have much more significant differences. Can people of two religions worship the same God?
Christians and Jews practice separate religions and hold substantially different beliefs about the nature of God. Yet most Christians—even though they believe that they have a more “complete” view of God than the Jewish understanding—still hold that they worship the same God: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So if Christians and Jews worship the same God, is it possible that Christians and Muslims also worship the same God? For many Christians this is a sensitive subject surrounded by much disagreement, but to most Muslims around the world it simply isn’t an issue at all.
In fact, the Prophet Muhammad himself—the founder of Islam—believed that Muslims were worshiping the same God as the Christians and the Jews. He saw himself as the last in a long line of prophets stretching all the way back to Adam.
Muhammad claimed that Islam was the true religion of the God who had been revealed to the Christians and the Jews.5 He believed that his message, recorded in the Qur’an, was God’s final revelation to mankind following previous revelations, including the religious texts of the Christians and the Jews contained in the Bible.
But as we discussed earlier, Christians and Muslims are monotheists. They believe in one true God. So the real question isn’t whether or not Christians and Muslims worship different Gods—after all, according to both faiths, there can be only one God. The real issue at hand is whether or not one group worships a false god.
In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at a well, and she turns the conversation to the topic of worship. She compares the worship practices of the Samaritan religion with those of the Jews, questioning him about their differences. Jesus responds, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.”6
Though the opportunity presented itself, Jesus never told the woman that she worshiped the wrong God or a false god. He said only that she did not know the God whom she was worshiping. In fact, Jesus said that more important than where or how we worship is the need to worship in the Spirit and in truth. God was and is looking for worshipers who know him relationally and understand the truth about him.
What is that truth? According to Jesus, he is. He informs the woman at the well that he is the Messiah, the one she is waiting for—the one who “will explain everything to us.”7 Later, he famously says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”8 Jesus offers the way to be the kind of worshipper who knows God and understands the truth.
In the end, whether or not you believe that Muslims and Christians believe in, follow, and worship the same God, the Bible clearly teaches that the only way to worship God in Spirit and in truth is through faith in Jesus Christ.
In the dialogue about whether Allah is the same as the God of the Bible, we find parallels with Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. It comes down to knowing the God we are worshipping. For Christians, this means knowing God deeply and personally through the person, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—a personal knowledge that simply isn’t a part of the Islamic faith.
- Dr. Edward J. Hoskins, A Muslim’s Heart (Colorado Springs, CO: Dawson Media, 2003), 2.
- Carl Medearis, Muslims, Christians, and Jesus (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2008), 30.
- Rick Brown,“Who is Allah?” International Journal of Frontier Missions volume 23:2, (Pasadena, CA: IJFM, Summer 2006), 80.
- John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988), 24.
- Ibid., 26.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, John 4:22–24.
- Ibid., John 4:26.
- Ibid., John 14:6–7.
- Photo Credit: Brandon Alms / Stocksy.com.