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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

March 23, 2003

God =? Allah =? YHWH =? etc. .

It's a common question - is "Allah" the same as "God" ?

The answer is yes and no. Islam explicitly recognizes Jesus AS as a prophet before Mohammed SAW, as well as Moses AS. Islam therefore asserts that the God that those earlier prophets (and Abraham AS, and Noah AS, and Adam AS) interacted with, and whose message they promulgated to mankind, is Allah.

Of course, a Jew or Christian will find it a trivial, moot question as to whether the god they believe in today is the same god that Moses AS or Jesus AS believed in. I confess to ignorance about Jewish concepts of God, apart from an aversion to vowels in representing the deity with words. In Ismaili theologic texts, there is a similar recognition of the limitation of mere words in trying to describe Allah (which is beyond the scope of this post). However, I think I am reasonably familiar with the Christian concept of God - briefly, a trinity of representations, of which Jesus AS was considered to be only one. This is quite blasphemous from an Islamic perspective. The concept of trinity violates several Qur'anic principles, notably that of tawhid (the one-ness of Allah) and taqwah (a more difficult concept to define, but which is often oversimplified as "fear of God"). The violation of tawhid is clear - Allah does not need or have sons, wives, dualities, avatars, or any other intermediate form. The violation of taqwah is more difficult to define to a non-muslim audience, but where it becomes relevant is in the basic Islamic postulate that the nature of Allah is abstracted beyond human comprehension. Ultimately, the trinity is a reduced concept of God, and the very necessity of taqwah itself is undermined.

Therefore, since Jesus AS was considered to be a Prophet of Allah, then the concept of trinity cannot be compatible with God from the Islamic perspective. It is a logically impossible for a prophet of Allah to mislead the very people he was sent to enlighten! It ultimately hinges on how important to Christian theology that Jesus AS be both the son of God and God himself. As long as Jesus is God, then to claim that Allah = God would be equal to claiming Allah = Jesus, which is impossible within the Islamic theological framework.

This suggests that YHWH = Allah? maybe. But God = Allah? no. However, I take a more pragmatic view. Christians do identify themselves as montheists - they argue that the trinity is not a polytheistic feature, but rather multiple aspects of the same single deity. While this is not sufficient to preserve your monotheistic credentials from an Islamic perspective, it is by definition valid with the Christian one, so it must be accepted on that basis. Therefore I do not make the claim that "Christians are polytheists" because that would imply that Christians believe in polytheism.[1]. SO, when a Christian invokes God (or Jesus AS, wince), they are praying to a single monotheistic deity. Since it strikes me as pointless to argue "no, MY god is the only god", I prefer to assert " there is one god - that much we agree on - but we disagree as to the nature of that God". This suggests that God = Allah? yes. I suppose the final answer to the question hinges on what context it is asked.

[1] However I do assert that Christians violate tawhid. This is admittedly a semantic difference, and I do not argue with Muslims who assert that Christians are polytheists. This distinction I have made is tantamount to defining degrees of violation of tawhid, for my own personal purposes of classification. I doubt anyone else would need or bother to split these hairs in the precise way I am doing. My real theological interest is how these issues relate to taqwah (which I am unprepared and unwilling to discuss here)

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About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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