By Sam Solomon with Atif Debs, Wilberforce Publications, 2016
Book Review by Tim Dieppe, Director of Islamic Affairs, Christian Concern
The Qur’an claims that the Allah of Islam is the same as the God of the Bible, “our Allah and your Allah is one” (Surah 29:46). The prevailing atmosphere of religious relativism would like us to agree and to believe that all religions are essentially the same, with similar ethics and foundational beliefs. To point out differences is viewed as divisive and distasteful. Some Christians are also keen to emphasise the similarities between Islam and Christianity, and argue that there is “sufficient similarity” to assert that they both worship the same God. Former Islamic Jurist, Sam Solomon, disagrees and seeks to expose this claim as utterly false and without foundation.
In this book, Sam Solomon submits the ‘same God’ claim to objective enquiry. It is true that Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic faiths, asserting that there is only one God. Does that therefore mean that their gods are the same? To assess this claim we need to look at what the Qur’an teaches about the nature of Allah and compare that with the nature of the Lord God of the Bible. Sam Solomon finds that apart from apparent monotheism, there is little else the same about the Allah of Islam and the God of Christianity.
Sam Solomon starts by showing how fundamental to the Qur’an’s doctrine of Allah is the assertion that: “There is nothing like Him (i.e. Allah)” (Surah 42:11). This verse is understood by Islamic theologians to mean a complete rejection of any ‘likeness’, ‘image’, ‘partner’, or any form of direct revelation of Allah. Allah is therefore fundamentally unknowable. The only thing that can be known about him is his will as revealed to selected ‘messengers’, culminating in Muhammad. This ‘unknowability’ of Allah is so strong that for a Muslim to claim that they could “understand anything about Allah’s actual nature … is a legally punishable offence” (p34). This contrasts sharply with the God of the Bible who is knowable and desires to be known. Indeed, he has created mankind in his ‘image’ and incarnated himself as a human being in order to reveal himself to mankind.
In full, Surah 29:46 reads as follows: “And do not argue with the People of the Book, except with means better than mere argument, unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong, but say ‘We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and to him we submit as Muslims.’” Sam Solomon explains that “the Book” refers to the Bible, but that the Qur’an teaches that the Bible has been seriously corrupted and originally contained many explicit prophecies of Muhammad by name. The Qur’an holds Jews and Christians accountable for the alleged corruption of scripture in spite of there being no evidence of such corruption, and in spite of the existence of Biblical texts pre-dating Muhammad confirming the text as it stands today. Islamic commentaries show that rather than affirming the sameness of Allah and the God of the Bible, this verse is actually saying that Allah is the same as the God of the alleged ‘original’ Bible which contained all the prophecies about Muhammad. Therefore, Islamic theologians would agree that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible that we read today.
Sam Solomon shows how the Qur’an also claims Biblical corruption in its retelling of Biblical stories. The Qur’an ‘corrects’ many Biblical stories in significant ways. For example, Jesus was not crucified, Noah asked God to punish the disbelievers, Abraham was asked to sacrifice Ishmael not Isaac, Abraham rebuilt the shrine in Mecca, and all the Biblical characters were Muslims. The Qur’an explicitly denies Biblical teaching such as the trinity, denying that Allah has a son, and saying that Allah never reveals himself. Thus the claim of ‘sameness’ functions to link Islam to the Biblical narrative whilst simultaneously claiming corruption of the Biblical narrative and therefore the need for ‘correction’.
Sam Solomon discusses the two major components of the doctrine of Allah: Tawheed and Tanzeeh. Tawheed is the doctrine of the absolute oneness of Allah. Tanzeeh is the doctrine of the incomparability of Allah. From these doctrines, the unknowability of Allah is very clear. Surah 20:110 says “but they will never encompass anything of his knowledge.” Allah is thus so transcendent as to be non-relational and utterly unknowable. The Qur’an even says that it is “not fitting” for Allah to speak directly to a man, person-to-person (Surah 42:51). What is more, Muhammad is so closely associated with Allah that obedience to Muhammad is obedience to Allah and denial of Muhammad is blasphemous. In Islam, love of God is reduced to obedience to Muhammad. Furthermore, nowhere in the Qur’an is love of non-Muslim neighbours taught.
It is very clear from this book that the nature of Allah is categorically opposed to the nature of the Lord God of the Bible. The God of Christianity is fundamentally relational, existing for all eternity in a Trinitarian relationship, and desiring relationship with humanity. Allah, by contrast, is non-relational and unknowable. Allah is therefore not the same as God. This much is evident, even without comparing the very different commands of Christianity and Islam in regard to ethics and attitudes. To argue that Allah is the same as the God of the Bible is to grossly misrepresent Islam and the nature of Allah.
Sam Solomon has written an important and timely book. He firmly and conclusively rebuts the sameness claim, and explains the significant differences between Christian and Islamic theology. True tolerance requires a correct understanding of our differences. We start by agreeing on where we disagree. Allah is not the Lord God of the Bible. The true God has revealed himself to humanity and desires relationship with the people he created. This God is not Allah.