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Which God do Muslims pray to according to Catholic, Orthodox and main-stream Protestant tradition?

They believe that God cannot be One and Three at the same time. They believe that God can only be One. They believe that God cannot have a Son equal to Him. Consequently, they believe that God could not have sent His Son (which they believe God doesn't have) to the world to give salvation to those believing into Him (they take Jesus only as a prophet from God). That makes their "God" quite different from Christian God. In fact, if you tell this description of God to any Catholic, Orthodox and main-stream Protestant believer, he would tell you that that kind of God does not exist. I know of at least one council that took place in Christian circles (the Orthodox council in 1180) that has declared that "God of Muslims is not the God of Christians, but rather a distorted concept of God created in Muhammad's mind". Perhaps, same declaration might have been made in the Catholic and Protestant camps of main-stream Christianity.

Now, here is my question: if that kind of God does not exist - especially given the fact that there is only One God in this universe - then which God do all Muslims pray to? Of course, we can say that they are praying to a non-existent God, which is not the God, but rather merely their idea of God, their concept of God. Simply put, they are praying into the air, emptiness. At first, this kind of answer looks fine to me, but if you give it a second thought, then you could tell that their description or their concept of God is in fact the same as the concept that some humans (including Jews) had about God before the coming of Christ. Of course, we can discard all the cases of those humans who believed in the existence of many gods, but Muslims believe in the existence of only One God. Does that mean that all people who lived prior to Christ's coming and believed in the existence of only One God also prayed into the air? A case of the Gentile Cornelius comes to my mind who was praying to God and whose "prayers came up for a memorial before God" (Acts 10:4) and the following words of Peter in his regard: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him" (Acts 10:34-35). From this I gather that the Gentile Cornelius did not pray into the air.

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Just a small comment, the word Allah is an arabic word meaning God. As a lebanese christian that speakes arabic, i'd have to mention that the bible in arabic version uses the world Allah referring to God. I don't know why it became popular that Allah is just a muslim thing, its an arabic translation of the word God. –  shadesco May 26 '12 at 18:46
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@shadesco I'd say the reason the word Allah has been associated, in the minds of most of the Western World, with Islam, is because it's a name people haven't heard before except in the context of Islam. Most Americans never heard the word Allah until they heard it from a Muslim. And I too am Lebanese. Well, half, anyways. –  David Morton May 26 '12 at 19:34
    
The God of Judaism. –  Gulshan Jun 4 '13 at 8:08
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5 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Muslims believe Allah and Jehovah are One

From the perspective of the Muslim, when they are praying to Allah, they believe they are praying to the same person whom Christians would call God.

And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit. [Quran 29:46]

And there are, certainly, among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), those who believe in God and in that which has been revealed to you, and in that which has been revealed to them, humbling themselves before God. They do not sell the Verses of God for a little price, for them is a reward with their Lord. Surely, God is Swift in account. '(3:199)'

Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve . [Quran 2:62]

Add to the concept of "the people of the Book," the fact that the most important thing for Muslims is the fact that God is one (as you said), and the fact that Muslims recognize the Old Testament as Scripture, albeit a corrupted one, and it is clearly fair to suggest that Muslims believe that Jehovah and Allah are the same person.

Christians Have a radically different understanding of God's character

Unlike Allah, however, Christians see God as far more full of mercy, compassion, and grace. Additionally, while we believe in God's perfection, glory, and holiness, fundamentally we disagree about God's willingness to pursue his people. Much like "the Return of Martin Guerre," there is some question as how radically different the character of an individual can still be and have it actually be "the same person"

Christians, for example, believe that God had a son. Muslims say that Allah cannot "beget". Muslims say that Allah cannot become a man. In short, while Allah could be reconciled with God the Father, there is no way to reconcile Allah with God the Son, in the form of Jesus the Christ.

Indeed, Muslims are explicit in denying the deity of Christ. They say:

They (Christians) allege: The Gracious One has taken unto Himself a son. Assuredly, you have uttered a monstrous thing! The heavens might well burst thereat, and the earth cleave asunder, and the mountains fall down in pieces, because they ascribe a son to the Gracious One; whereas it becomes not the Gracious One to take unto Himself a son. There is no one in the heavens and the earth but he shall come to the Gracious One as a bondman…. … So We have made the Quran easy in thy tongue that thou mayest convey glad tidings to the righteous, and warn thereby a contentious people. How many a generation have We destroyed before them! Canst thou perceive a single one of them, or hear even a whisper of them? (Surah 19:88-99)

Furthermore, the concept of Trinity is anathema, because it violates the supreme confession of faith, both for Jews "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One" and the "oneness" of God that is demand is the statement "There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet."

Biblical Understanding of Other Gods

While Muslims think they are praying the same God, Christians would disagree. Their understanding of the nature, composition, and character of God is so different, that we do not recognize their understanding to be anything close to our conception. It is as god based not on revelation that Christians accept, but rather is a man-made revelation.* It would be no different than a Christian's response to any of the gods to which Hindus pray - they are no gods at all.

Throughout the Old Testament, prophets of "the One True God," regularly derided idols as "man made gods, capable of neither sight nor hearing." They were not true gods at all.

In the New Testament, (in Acts 19), there was even a riot in Ephesus - the New York City of its day, when Paul came to down. Note the objection of the pagans, when it says:

A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty

Note that Paul himself, while clearly not recognizing the divinity of idols, is not himself calling for an intolerant public response - rather he for himself denies the divinity of other gods. He was not being disrespectful, just not accepting divinity. (Indeed, just two chapters earlier, at Mars Hill, Paul openly praised the Greeks for their religiousity in their 'Altar to the Unknown god,' and used that to bring them to a "right knowledge.")

A side note about revelation

*Yes, Muslims believe that Gabriel revealed the nature of God to Mohammed. Likewise Mormons believe that Moroni revealed the nature of God to Joseph Smith. In both cases, Chalcedonian / Nicene Christians reject the revelation given because in general consensus the alterations to the nature of the pre-established God is so different as to make many not accept it. Christianity is organic in its understanding of who God is, but it is also not uncritical of any revelation. Christians are in fact exhorted in 1 John 4 to "test every Spirit", for as it says:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.his is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

Nicene Christians dismiss any understanding of God that does not accept that Jesus is not God. Since Muslims reject this, Christians reject them.

Prior to the incarnation (e.g. the OT Jews), there was no incarnated Jesus, and hence this was not a valid test. In the OT, the test was whether or not a prophet was backed up by Jehovah's power (hence Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 and other miracles). As Hebrews 1 says:

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

But, now that he has come, it is for Christians, a definitive test.

tl;dr

Christians would thus say, the God to which they pray is not the same God they know, and as such are praying merely to a god made in their image, rather than the other way around.

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Not all Christians would say that. Please make sure you acknowledge that the answer you give only reflects a particular perspective. –  Steely Dan May 26 '12 at 23:02
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I identified this as all Chalcedonian Christians. And yes, this perspective would adhere to that group. –  Affable Geek May 26 '12 at 23:34
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@SteelyDan: It is not a requirement to acknowledge other view points when an answer has already covered the range of viewpoints specifically requested by the question asker. In this case covering non-chalcedonian views would be completely beside the point, and considering the breadth of this view it is hardly fair to call it "a particular perspective". –  Caleb May 28 '12 at 10:11
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Does that mean that all people who lived prior to Christ's coming and believed in the

existence of only One God also prayed into the air?

People who knew about the true God before Christ did not pray to the air. (If they knew about the true God through missionaries)

then which God do all Muslims pray to?

I, however, believe that the Muhammad did not stumble upon a new God, but actually borrowed Christian beliefs. (and then changed them) So, technically, the Islamic God, Allah, should be a changed form of the Christian God.

From this I gather that the Gentile Cornelius did not pray into the air.

Gentile Cornelius did not pray into the air since Paul told him about the one and only true God.

Does that mean that all people who lived prior to Christ's coming and believed in the 
existence of only One God also prayed into the air?

If you are talking about Allah, the Islamic God, then yes. If you are talking about Jesus, then no.

I hope this helps. (These are my beliefs)

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"Gentile Cornelius did not pray into the air since Paul told him about the one and only true God" - I think you meant to say Peter here as we know of no record of conversation between Cornelius and Paul. However, my question was about Cornelius's prayers before he even met Peter. Angel told Cornelius that his prayers had been heard by God, and that had happened before he met Peter. –  brilliant May 26 '12 at 14:53
    
"If you are talking about Allah, the Islamic God, then yes. If you are talking about Jesus, then no" - but how could anyone have prayed to Jesus at that time if this name had not yet been revealed to them? Did you mean to say "Jehovah" instead of "Jesus"? –  brilliant May 26 '12 at 14:56
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The Church’s relationship with Muslims. The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 841, quoting Lumen Gentium 16, November 21, 1964).

...

Islam denies the Trinity:

Certainly they disbelieve those who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve (Sura 5:73).

O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not 'Three' - Cease! (it is) better for you! - Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son (Sura 4:171).

Islam denies the Father and the Son:

The Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them (Sura 9:29-30).

It does not befit GOD that He begets a son, be He glorified (Sura 19:35).

Islam denies the Deity of Christ:

The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than God’s apostle (Sura 4).

They do blaspheme who say: Allah is Christ the son of Mary (Sura 5:72).

And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right (Sura 5:116).

In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary (Sura 5:17).

Clearly then, the Quran denies:

  1. The Trinity;
  2. The Sonship of Christ;
  3. The Deity of Christ.

http://www.justforcatholics.org/islam.htm

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Thank you very much for your answer, but I am a bit confused. The first paragraph of your answer says that Muslims are included in the plan of salvation, but the rest of your answer states that the Muslims in fact deny all the major points of that saving faith. It looks a bit contradictory to me. Am I missing something here? –  brilliant May 27 '12 at 1:53
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Realistically, there are just 4 possibilities:

  1. Christians and Moslems are praying to the same God. We all basically believe the same things and believe in the same God.

  2. Christians and Moslems are praying to the same God. One or the other (or both) have wrong and confused ideas about God, but God is understanding of our ignorance.

  3. There is more than one God, and Christians and Moslems are each praying to their own.

  4. Christians are praying to the true God, and Moslems to a false and non-existant God, or vice versa.

Number 1 is very popular today, but is objectively and provably false. One need only read the Bible and the Koran, or listen to Christians describe their faith and Moslems describe their faith, to see that the two contradict each other on many important points.

Number 3 is logically impossible. Both Christians and Moslems believe there is only one God. If there is more than one God, then both Christianity and Islam are false and both are praying to a false God. We can't both be right. Either one is right and the other wrong, or we are both wrong.

That leaves 2 and 4. As this is christianity.stackexchange.com and not islam.stackexchange.com, let me proceed based on the assumption that Christianity is true. Then either Moslems are praying to a false, non-existant God, or they are praying to the true God even though they have many inaccurate beliefs about him.

Clearly God hears the prayers of Moslems in the literal sense, that is, he is aware that they are praying and knows what they are saying. But does he accept them as addressing himself?

I think that's very hard to say. Suppose you sent a letter to the president of the United States in which you made some request or suggestion. Would he reply positively? If you mis-spelled his name or showed ignorance about some unimportant fact about him, I doubt it would make a difference. If you indicated that you thought he was a Republican rather than a Democrat and asked him to do things to further Republican policies and hurt the Democrats, I don't think he'd agree to it just because you wrote him a letter. He'd recognize that the letter was intended for him, but so misunderstanding of his actual self, his plans and goals, as to be largely irrelevant.

In any case, Christians believe that salvation is through Christ and Christ alone. So whether God hears the prayers of Moslems as being to him and not to a false god, if Christianity is true Moslems are not saved, because they very clearly and explicitly reject Christ. That's surely the important point. If a Moslem prayed for God to lead him to truth, I think God would honor that, just as he would if a pagan or an atheist made such a prayer.

Addendum to my answer

After writing this, I happened to read the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. At one point: 'The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "... You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.' [John 4:19-22, NKJV]

Note that Jesus didn't say that the Samaritans worshipped a false God or that their worship was in vain because they had important facts about God wrong, he said, "You worship what you do not know". This seems to imply that God accepted their worship as sincere and legitimate despite their ignorance. I think that indicates that at least some cases of my option 2 above are possible.

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Very logical. And I like logic :) Thanks. –  brilliant May 27 '12 at 2:38
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I'm not sure that positions 2 and 4 are actually distinct. Is there a substantial difference between a God who isn't there and a God who is there, but isn't like I think he is? –  TRiG May 28 '12 at 17:06
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@TRiG Sure. Suppose you're trying to identify a person. If you mis-spell his name but describe him correctly, give his correct occupation, etc, then anyone who knows him would likely still know who you're talking about. Say you also get his address wrong. And you say he's 6'2" and has black hair when he's really 5'4" and blond. At some point your description is far enough off that we'd be unsure if you're talking about the same person. Further still and we'd say no, he has a similar name but that's not him. –  Jay May 29 '12 at 7:15
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I'll answer for the Catholic position. According to the Catholic position, Muslims can be said to pray to the one God. For example, the Catholic Church will say the following about Jews, Muslims and all others who are unaware of the Trinity but worship One God -

"Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh (Rom 9:4-5). On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues(Rom 11:28-29). But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25-28), and as Saviour wills that all men be saved(1 Tim 2:4)."

-Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.

There are also other passages in the Bible that support this idea. I already mentioned Jews (the entire Old Testament is an example of that!). Here I will show examples from non-Jews who worshiped the one God:

  1. The one you yourself mentioned - Cornelius praying to the one God without any knowledge of Jesus and God answering his prayer (Acts 10:1-4).

  2. "For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, `To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this (the unknown God) I proclaim to you." (Acts 17:23)

  3. "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." (Acts 10:34-35)

  4. The people of Nineveh praying to God and God being pleased with them. They weren't Jews, but they prayed to the one God (Jonah 3:5-10).

In order to pray to the one God, there are some basic criteria that should be satisfied - 1. God is one. 2. He is eternal. 3. He is invisible (that rules out idolatry of any kind). 4. He is not a created thing but is the creator of all things.

These can be found in Romans 1:19-20

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse"

This means that just by looking at the things God has made, people can come to know certain things about God, even without anyone having preached anything to them. These people can worship the one God so long as they believe that above mentioned things about God.

That is only the starting point. These basic beliefs are necessary to pray to the one God. The Catholic Church holds that it has the fullness of the truth about God, whereas other faiths like Judaism, Islam and others who believe in the one God know God partially and might even have distorted ideas about him.

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(1) Thanks for your answer, but it seems that it only covers those who are unaware of Trinity, but worship the One God. But what about those who ARE aware of the Trinity? Especially those who do meet those 4 criteria (1)God is One, (2) God is eternal, (3) God is invisible, (4) God is not created, but add one more very evident criterion: (5) God cannot have a Son (Jews don't have it, but Muslims have this criteria explicitly articulated in their Scripture and in their teaching)? –  brilliant May 28 '12 at 8:06
    
(2) Another thing that kind of puzzles me is this: if those 4 criteria were enough for salvation of those people, why was there such a need then to preach the Gospel to them? Why did Jesus explicitly tell Nicodemus about the need of believing in the Only-begotten Son of God lest he should be condemned (John 3:18)? Didn't Nicodemus already perfectly met those 4 criteria? –  brilliant May 28 '12 at 8:06
    
(3) By the way, those in Acts 17 did not worship only One God. Bible tells us that Athens was full of idols (Acts 17:16), and history tells us that it boasted the biggest collection of altars set up for worshiping to "all gods of the world" including an altar to the God of Jews, whose name Jews refused to tell the Greeks (the result of one of the Old Testament commandments). –  brilliant May 28 '12 at 8:07
    
(4) Greeks frequently referred to that God as "the God of Jews" or simply "the unknown God" or "the unspeakable God". It is very likely that the altar that Paul was talking about in Acts 17:23 was an altar set up to the God of Jews. Greeks believed at that time that the more gods they worshiped the better it was for them. –  brilliant May 28 '12 at 8:07
    
(5) "It would have been better if you had started three different threads for this question - one for the Catholic position, one for the Orthodox and one for mainstream Protestantism" - I tried to do so in the past, but the questions came out so similar that the system deemed them as duplicates and blocked all my attempts to post them. –  brilliant May 28 '12 at 9:04
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