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Christians and Muslims: can we live in peace?

There are now many books on the relationship between Christianity and Islam. Most cover similar ground, but this one is different. It is Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf (HarperCollins 2011. ISBN: 978-0-06-192707-2).

The author is the son of a Pentecostal minister. He is also a theologian with a solid grasp of history and has been a prime mover at international level in negotiations between Muslims and Christians. He writes, therefore, with a more comprehensive grasp of the issues than most.

His primary question is, ‘Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?’ and his unequivocal answer is yes. The reasons he gives for this conviction are, to my mind, not easily dismissed—though you must decide for yourself by reading the book.

He also brings a lot of wisdom to counter the over-polarised views of Islam held by many Christians, backing up his proposals with detailed facts and statistics. To me, this is the book’s most helpful aspect.

The quotations below will hopefully give you the flavour. [I read the book in Kindle format, so the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers.]


Muslims and Christians together comprise more than half of humanity.  (64)

The claim that Muslims and Christians worship radically different deities is good for fighting, but not for living together peacefully.  (183)

Can it be said of Muslims and Christians, today caught in deep conflicts, that they…worship the same God? Yes, it can. That is exactly what I argue in this book.  (230)

What the Qur’an denies about God as the Holy Trinity has been denied by every great teacher of the church in the past and ought to be denied by every orthodox Christian today. I reject the idea that Muslim monotheism is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  (284)

Because they worship the same and similarly understood God, Christians and Muslims have a sufficiently robust moral framework to pursue the common good together. I reject the idea that Muslim and Christian “civilizations” are bound to clash.  (292)

The prohibition against compulsion in religion is binding in Islam, the “Open Letter” insists. All those who have acted against it and engaged in forced conversions in the course of history have “violated Islamic tenets.”  (448)

At least since the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), the Catholic Church has affirmed that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  (460)

If it is true that the dual command of love [for God and neighbour] is the common ground of the two faiths, the consequences are momentous. We no longer have to say, “The deeper your faith, the more you will be at odds with others!” To the contrary, we must say, “The deeper your faith, the more you will live in harmony with others!” A deep faith no longer leads to clashes; it fosters peaceful coexistence.  (544)

The issue is not: Do Muslims and Christians have exactly the same beliefs about the one God they worship? Clearly, the answer is no. Nobody disputes this. Even among themselves Christians disagree—how would they then not disagree with Muslims?  (575)

Can we say that Muslims and Christians have a common God if they differ about God’s love? The question is particularly important today, as many Westerners think of the God of the Qur’an as a fierce deity, issuing unbending rules and brutally enforcing them.  (1048)

Three issues—negative stereotyping, refusal to assign positive significance to clear overlaps in understandings of God, and seeing Muslims as objects of God’s wrath—seem incongruous with the main emphasis of Luther’s theology: God’s unconditional love.  (1281)

The way you think about others and act toward them should not clash with the beliefs about God you espouse and seek to commend to them. If you say that God is unconditional Love, you should show unconditional love toward Muslims.  (1291)

For Muslims, the question of whether Christians worship the same God they do is in one respect settled. The Qur’an, considered to be God’s very Word, clearly states that they do.  (1330)

“Arab Christians and Arabic-speaking Jews since long before the time of Muhammad have used the name ‘Allah’ to refer to God. . . . Thus all Arabic Christian Bible translations of John 3:16 say, ‘For Allah so loved the world . . .’” Today, all Arabic-speaking Christians use “Allah” for God.  (1386)

Jesus tells [the Samaritan woman in John 4]: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (v22). Jesus assumed that the Samaritans and the Jews worshipped the same God, the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim and the Jews in Jerusalem. But the Samaritans’ worship was not pure. According to 2 Kings 17:41, it had an admixture of foreign worship in it, because Samaritans “served their carved images” as well (or served the Lord by means of worshipping those carved images14). So they worshipped God, but without true knowledge of God. Now apply this model to Muslim worship.  (1451)

If differences are decisive and similarities don’t count, then to Christians the God of the Qur’an will appear as an alien deity, a false god. If similarities are important and differences matter when they signal major incompatibilities, then we will possibly conclude that Muslims have a common God with Christians.  (1559)

Muslims and Christians agree on the following six claims about God: 1. There is only one God, the one and only divine being. 2. God created everything that is not God. 3. God is radically different from everything that is not God. 4. God is good. 5. God commands that we love God with our whole being. 6. God commands that we love our neighbors as ourselves. For Christians, from the agreement on these six claims, it follows that Muslims’ and Christians’ object of worship is the same.  (1872)

Only a minuscule fraction of 1.6 billion Muslims are suicide terrorists and only a small minority of Muslims approve of their acts.  (1906)

Normative Islam condemns suicide as well as the killing of the innocent. It therefore also condemns suicide terrorism, and doubly so when it is directed against civilians.  (1909)

A Crusader shouts Christus dominus (“Christ is the Lord”) while cleaving the head of an infidel. A terrorist shouts Allahu Akhbar (“God is the greatest”) as he pulls the fuse of the bomb strapped around his waist. They are naming God very differently, and yet they are, alas, worshipping the same god—a bloodthirsty god of power, not the God of justice and mercy of the normative Christian and Muslim religious traditions.  (2033)

As with all religions, some Christian believers are religiously illiterate or simply mistaken; they know as much about their faith as the average nonscientist knows about astrophysics or neuroscience. In statements that address the doctrine of the Trinity, the Qur’an may well be targeting the beliefs of such Christians, for what the Qur’an rejects in this regard, Christians ought to reject as well.  (2298)

Nicholas of Cusa [argued] that God is not just beyond concepts, but also beyond numbers. “One” and “three” do not apply to God the way they apply to human beings or to any other thing in the world.  (2393)

In Islam, theologians do not play nearly as central a role as they do—or used to—in Christianity. Jurists are much more influential with regard to the practice of the religion.  (2598)

Almost universally, Christians consider the God of Israel to be the same God as the one they worship (even if many Jews beg to differ with them). But Christians don’t consider Judaism and Christianity to be the same religion.  (3257)

The most pressing problem among religions today is not the blurring of boundaries by mixing and matching; it’s the propensity to engage others with disrespect, hostility, and violence.  (3381)

Understanding will prevent me from concluding: “Issuing death threats and killing people for advocating views deemed unacceptable proves that violence is at the heart of Islam.” Instead, I will more likely conclude that people with violent proclivities and beset by fear use Islam to justify violence or erroneously think they are defending Islam by being violent.  (3428)

As witnesses, Christians were at their worst when zealous preachers followed in the wake of expansionist traders, businessmen, and conquering soldiers (for example, in 2003 evangelical preachers arrived in Iraq immediately after the soldiers).  (3495)

In Muslim perception today, the fall of the Ottoman Empire was the conclusion of the Crusades, triumphant for the West and humiliating for the Muslim East. On December 11, 1917, the British-led force overcame the Turkish defenders of Jerusalem and ended eight centuries of Muslim rule over the Holy City of Jerusalem.  (3507)

When Christians and Muslims turn from each other and look around, they quickly realize that the problems they face together are bigger than the problem they present to each other—abject poverty of millions, scarcity of freshwater, irreparable degradation of the environment, widespread disease, and more.  (3601)

Can religious exclusivists be political pluralists? That’s the decisive question. By political pluralism, in its pure form, I mean the view that all religions, though not considered to be equally true by those who embrace them, are equally welcome in a given nation or state.  (3809)

Many Christians and Muslims are committed to the following three propositions: 1. The one benevolent God relates to all people on equal terms. 2. Love of neighbor demands that we grant the same freedoms to others that we claim for ourselves. 3. There should be no coercion in matters of faith. If Christians and Muslims accept these three propositions, they will be logically committed to political pluralism.  (3917)

Most Christians today consider Islamic laws of apostasy to be inhumane. In the light of these laws, the statement in the Qur’an that there is “no compulsion in religion” (Al Baqarah, 2:256) rings hollow.  (3945)

To be consistent in their convictions about God, Christians and Muslims must embrace two simple principles: 1. All persons and communities have an equal right to practice their faith (unless they break widely accepted moral law), privately and publicly, without interference by the state. 2. Every person has the right to leave his or her own faith and embrace another.  (3972)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of political wisdom in a multireligious state.  (4078)

Even more so than in the past, today the principle of “one rule, one religion” is unsustainable. In the wake of globalization, people of different faiths increasingly share the same political space. There are still pockets of relatively homogenous religious spaces, like Christian Croatia and Muslim Oman. However, in an interconnected and interdependent world, societies are irreversibly becoming more and more pluralistic.  (4117)

Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, more than one-third of all Muslims in the world live as minorities in non-Muslim states.  (4121)

Though gratuitously offending others may be our right as citizens of liberal democracies, the exercise of that right hardly counts as a mark of a well-lived life.  (4251)

I reject military approaches to combating extremism, though I support nonmilitary coercive measures, such as policing and economic sanctions.  (4334)

The ire of the extremists is often inflamed when others insult the sacred symbols of the Muslim faith. The command to love neighbors demands that we refrain from such disrespect. We don’t need to agree with the views of Muslims; we just need to be civil rather than mean-spirited as we disagree.  (4417)


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