Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
I recently disagreed with a seasoned Christian about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and ‘disengaged’ before the discussion took-off.
I would like you to first understand my ‘religious roots’ before digesting views of my school of thought.
Christianity was introduced in parts ofUgandamostly in ‘rivalling’ pairs of Catholicism and Protestantism. The first place of call in my tribal district was in neighbouring villages – Nyondo (Catholics) and Nabumali (Protestants). The two churches are hardly three miles apart.
Most of my primary education was in Nyondo – a local word meaning ‘hammer’, i.e. the sound of hammers when rocks were broken, and nails hit to build the church.
Nyondo comprised what I call an ‘institutionalised sectarian society’. It was a large integrated complex governed by Missionaries from the UK. The Mission was the central piece – comprising the Church building, accommodation for priests, and a convent where the nuns both trained and resided. There was also a health centre managed by the nuns, which comprised an in-patient maternity unit, and out-patient unit for other health concerns.
The rest of the complex comprised four independently governed schools. Two were primary schools, one for boys and one for girls. Each had three classes for each year (P1 to P7). The other two were teacher training colleges (TTCs), one for boys and one for girls. The primary schools were ‘demonstration schools’ in which students from the TTCs practiced their teaching.
Each of the above ‘institutions’ had its own compound, play fields and physical land boundaries. Staff houses for the respective ‘institutions’ surrounded this entire complex, which had its own piped water supply system.
One criterion for becoming a ‘member’ of this society was being a practicing Catholic. At least 90% of the student enrolment and staff were Catholics. It was mandatory for primary pupils to attend the 9:30am Sunday service – commonly known as the School service. We went to school after service, where the head-teacher explained the readings and the gospel. This was followed by a roll call and then ‘dismissal’.
Consequently, I engaged with an entirely Catholic community from Sunday to Friday. This was made worse/better by the fact that almost all my immediate relations were also Catholics. I was able to integrate with people from other faiths only on Saturdays while ‘working the land’ with ‘villagers’.
Catholicism was imbedded into me to an extent that about 90% of my current bible knowledge was acquired during my primary education. The 10% is added value through personal adult challenges which I have undertaken to synthesise and philosophise particularly on some of the biblical issues that appear to be abstract.
I left Nyondo after Primary 6, and thereupon integrated into a secular society and made friends with people from other faiths. One of my best friends, who doubled as an academic rival during our ‘O’ level was a Muslim – he in-fact attained a distinction grade in Christian religious studies. He is currently a politician in Uganda.
Both my immediate line manager and the overall boss at my first post-graduation job were Catholic priests. I learnt two important lessons from both of them.
During one discussion, my immediate line manager commented that, ‘the Muslims have started their Holy month of Ramadan’. My answer was, ‘Oh, have they?’ His response was a casual, ‘Anthony, you are a Christian (emphasis – “Christian”, not “Catholic”). You should know’. I was of course taken aback and embarrassed (a bit) at the time, but understood the message when I got back to my ‘senses’. He was politely telling me to both understand and respect other (traditional) faiths.
From then on, I took it upon myself as a Christian, not only to learn about Ramadan, but to try and understand some of the doctrines the Islamic faith stands for.
I was also privileged to witness two separate occasions when Protestant Bishops visited my overall boss. On both occasions, he addressed each (Protestant) Bishop as, ‘My Lord Bishop’ – evidence of respect for leaders of other (traditional) faiths.
My parents also taught me one or two things. Whenever their Muslim friends visited and chicken had to be slaughtered, they (Muslims) were given the honour to slaughter in accordance with their faith. Each time we had a major celebration (i.e. funeral rights) a Muslim was called upon to slaughter the animals.
I therefore started respecting other traditional faiths and the doctrines they stood for, and began making friends with Muslims – Muslim emphasis because I believe there isn’t much difference between the traditional Christian faiths, Judaism inclusive.
During my post-graduate studies in the UK, my wife and I shared both accommodation and meals with ‘moderate’ Muslim friends during one of the summer holidays – one of them is currently the Deputy Governor of Bank of Tanzanian. ‘Moderate’ in the sense that they didn’t for instance mind me drinking a pint of beer in the same room they were seated – an act some sects within my own Christian faith won’t allow! As a mark of respect, we never cooked/served pork or any food items with pork ingredients.
Back to the disagreement – This is a rough summarised account of our exchange about God: Seasoned Christians (SC), me (A).
SC – Be wary of the ‘Gods’ certain religions worship.
A – Which religions?
SC – Muslims and Hindus for example.
A – I don’t know much about the Hindus, so I can’t defend them. However, I have read the Quran, and understand what the Islamic faith stands for. Christianity and Islam share the same God.
SC – Which God are you talking about?
A – All you need is to trace the roots of Isaac and Ismail.
SC – He is talking the ancestral roots, not the God worshipped.
A – Either you don’t understand the Quran and/or haven’t read it, or you are in self denial and being disrespectful to the Islamic faith.
SC – I understand what Islam stands for. We don’t worship the same God.
I ‘disengaged’, or to put it in the seasoned Christian’s own words, I ‘snapped’.
My disengagement resulted from a mixture of issues – passion, annoyance, emotion, etc. I sincerely didn’t expect this to be a topic of contention, particularly from a seasoned Christian. To me, what I experienced appeared to be calculated disrespect for another traditional religion, bordering stereotyping – an intellectual dishonesty in its own right and potentially an attack on my personal integrity. That is truly how I felt and it is partly why I saw no reason to continue with the discussion.
However, there was another angle to it. Disengagement is also a good strategy in its own right, particular when passion, emotions etc appear to be taking an upper hand – it automatically refrains you from making (passionate/emotional/etc) statements, and potentially indulging in physical engagement that you can otherwise live to regret!
If you have read both the Bible and Quran and understood them, then you need not go further than Abraham. Ismail and Isaac were Abraham’s first children. Abraham’s God tested Abraham to sacrifice his son. Christianity contends that the sacrificial son was Isaac, the founder of Christianity; while Islam argues that the sacrificial son was Ismail, the founder of Islam. The converging point here is that each faith believes that its founder was the sacrificial son for Abraham’s God. Therefore, both Christianity and Islam worship Abraham’s God – the same (One) God! The two sons continued worshiping their father’s God, and this never ever changed.
We can also examine what the Quran says about Jesus’ resurrection to complement evidence from Abraham. … ‘Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them [Surah 4:158-9]… ‘Behold!’ Allah said: ‘O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself’ [Surah3:55]. Surely, even a hard-core sceptic will agree that this extract relates to the same God. Otherwise, why would a different (Islam) God resurrect (rise thee) Jesus, who was preaching and worshiping a different (Christian) God?
There are six articles of faith in Islam – i.e. the basic beliefs that one must have in order to be considered a true/genuine Muslim. They are belief in: A) the One God. B) all the prophets of God (including Adam, Jesus and Muhammad). C) the original scriptures revealed to Prophets Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad. D) the angels. E) the Day of Judgment and the Hereafter. F) the divine decree (or destiny).
Muslims accept the original ‘unaltered’ Torah (the Gospel of Moses) and the original Bible (the Gospel of Jesus) because they believe that they were revealed by God. However, they contend that since none of those original scriptures are in existence today, in their entirety, they follow the subsequent, final, and preserved revelation of God, the Holy Quran.
The Torah is the official book for Judaism, the Bible is the official book for Christianity and the Quran is the official book of Islam. The Islamic faith acknowledges all of them because of their link to the same (One) God.
As far as I am concerned it is the ‘means’ that distinguishes the traditional religions and the genuine believers their-in. However, the ‘end’ is the same – the same God.
Every human being is selfish, a hypocrite and stereotypes. For example, much as I respect other traditional religions, I would love my children to get married to fellow Catholics. This demonstrates the above three traits in me. However, it is the scale/magnitude at which the above attributes are practiced that matters.
Although there is no definite black and white demarcation line, there is an acceptable tolerance range. Cross the acceptable range and you will enter an extreme zone. In my example, the bottom line is to accept my children’s choice when the time comes. Interfering unreasonably is entering the unacceptable zone.
I have used the words ‘traditional’ and ‘moderate’ because there are extremists in each faith. We have seen Christians for example burn Qurans and attack mosques, and we have seen Muslims burn Bibles and church buildings. We have also heard extreme believers, basically cults from the different faiths exhibiting stereotype traits. Because of their extremist approaches their acts are highly noticeable, particularly in this globalised telecommunication era. They tend to focus on issues that have a high likelihood to anger/antagonise a cross-section of the ‘opposition’. They thrive from creating enmity and hatred among/between societies. Their acts can trigger counter actions – and for that matter can be highly contagious!
There appears to be a new tendency for the public to focus on what the extremists stand for and generalise across the faiths, overriding what the true/genuine believers and hence the traditional faiths stand for – a sign that the extremists could be achieving their objectives! That is why there is need to sieve the good from the bad.
Despite our individual selfish, hypocritical and stereotyping weakness, I believe it is important to not only respect what the other traditional faiths stand for, but to move a step further and understand their doctrines. This can partly be achieved if Christians spare some time and both read the Quran and engage with true/genuine Muslims – and vice-versa.
The bottom line and therefore the bare minimum a true/genuine Christian, Muslim or Judaist can do is to both understand and respect the other traditional faiths – and most importantly, to acknowledge that those faiths worship the same God.