It is frequently claimed that Islam worships the same God as the One worshipped by Jews and Christians. Even the Second Vatican Council, in it Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (#16) asserted apparently as a dogmatic teaching that the god worshipped by Moslems is the same God worshipped by Jews and Christians. But the assertion that, because they worship one god and allege that god to be the God of Abraham, they worship the same God as Jews and Christians, is not necessarily born out by the facts.
It is analogous to asserting that, because many men are monogamous,such men are necessarily all married to the same woman. From my limited understanding of Islam, I notice that there seem to be major differences between the revelation of God in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and that in the Koran. And these deviations found in these differences, as indicated below, could gradually prove to be the downfall of Islam, unless they are reverently, respectfully and rationally addressed.
First of all, in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, God is clearly proclaimed to be a covenantal God. Among the Jews, His relationship to Creation is appreciated as being integrally covenantal, while Christians appreciate His nature itself to be integrally covenantal in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. In direct opposition to these perspectives, it seems the Moslems appreciate Allah as being totally free of all constraints. He is thus seen as being awesomely powerful and beautiful, but absolutely free to be capricious in His dealings with humanity, even when He acts in ways that are gracious and merciful. Thus it is that the contradictions within the teachings of the Koran itself are seen by many Moslems as merely the legitimate exercise of the unquestionable divine prerogative to change his manner of dealing with humanity whenever and however He chooses to do so. This perspective, though, can raise serious issues with regard to the Koran itself.
For if Allah is so transcendent that he is not bound by any covenant commitments, would he not remain perfectly free to renounce even the validity of the teachings found in the Koran itself? Is he is not free to choose to make such teachings valid for only a limited period of history? This would be consistent with what He is alleged to have done, when He supplanted the validity of the teachings He gave in the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures by His recitations recorded in the Koran. And it is clearly affirmed in Islamic theology in its
teachings concerning abrogation of certain teachings in the Koran itself. Such a portrayal of God, though, from our human perspective, would, as I indicated above, make Him seem to be rather capricious, if not outright fickle in His dealings with His creatures. It seems, then, that there is a need for the Islamic community to clearly discern whether God has irrevocably bound Himself to be faithful to His revealed Word, or does He forever retain His option to renounce the validity of His revealed Word - even as that Word has been recorded in the Koran?
A related issue that needs to be addressed is found in Creation itself. If, as Islamic tradition seems to imply, God totally transcends Creation, we must ask if Creation itself is intrinsically alienated from Him. It would seem that, while the Judaeo-Christian perspective sees God as investing Himself into Creation and into human history itself, the Islamic tradition asserts that, aside from sustaining Creation and arbitrarily, in His mercy, bestowing blessings as he deems fit, Allah is basically aloof from Creation. If this is the case, it would seem that his act of creating was also an act of self-alienation, since he would have to possess within himself a mysterious potential for alienation in order to create a universe completely alienated from himself. Yet, since he is perfect integrity itself, such an act of self-alienation should not be possible for him.
Or is it?
Another problem that my limited knowledge of Islam raises in my mind is the nature of worship. If God is so transcendent and free as to be incapable of covenantal love toward His creatures, it seems that the nature of worship becomes, at best, appeasement, or at worst sycophantic. Whereas the Jewish and Christian Scriptures affirm that God wills to be loved by humanity, the Islamic tendency to view God's absolute transcendence as alienation from His Creation seems to degrade the quality of the worship he is to be given. Islamic tradition is true in its affirmation of the graciousness of the transcendent God in revealing himself and his holy will to humanity. But to view such transcendence as a denial of his ability and commitment to intimately love his creatures eliminates the prospect of a true believer ever being able to truly love Him in a way that transcends merely self-aggrandizing manipulation.
For if God wills not to love us, how can we authentically love him. As a consequence of this dilemma, we could see a faithful Moslem carefully and reverently submitting in obedience to all His commandments. However, such obedience would not be alive with love, but more like the "obedience" of a slave or of a robot programmed to do certain things. Likewise, any worship that is not motivated by love, but rather imposed by fear, would be insulting to him. It would be nothing more that a sycophantic pandering to the arrogance of power. It would be about as sincere as the
weeping at the funeral of a Mafia boss, who had arranged to have a little tear gas sprayed in a funeral home, so as to ensure that people there would cry at his funeral. Such "honor" is insulting at best, and blasphemous at worst. In addition, such manipulated or forced worship would tend to poison the worshipper with the idea that Allah, because he is awesomely majestic, must be arrogant and aloof in his divinity. Such a perspective is quite at odds with that presented by the Jews and Christian Scriptures, which tend to accentuate His loving, wondrous and gracious kindness.
A further problem with the Islamic portrayal of God is that the absolute freedom and integrity of God would seem to prohibit any commentaries on the Koran by Islamic scholars. Just as the Koran prohibits the artistic portrayal of God (since, in His holiness, He totally transcends all of Creation), it would seem that it would be even more sinful to dare to proclaim or write any addition, interpretation or commentary on the Koran. The reason for the sinfulness of such interpretations or commentaries is that they, by their very nature, imply that either Allah failed to perfectly reveal His holy will in the Koran or the Prophet Mohammed failed to properly recite the sacred teachings given to him directly by Allah. In either case, whoever would dare to go beyond reciting the verses of the Koran would seem to be asserting either 1) that God has not communicated His will perfectly, completely and intelligibly to Mohammed through the words recorded in the Koran or 2) that Mohammad did not faithfully recited the words he received from God.
Thus it would seem that even the smallest attempt to comment on or interpret the Koran would be blasphemous. It would indicate that a mullah, a mere creature, is better able to express the teaching of Allah than Allah himself did through his chosen prophet. It is not without reason, then, that the Islamic Scriptures are known as the Koran, or the Recitation. And it would seem that authentic Islam would prohibit anyone from denying the absolute perfection of Allah's revelation by any commentary on or interpretation of the actual teachings of the Koran. Anything beyond such a faithful recital in the original Arabic texts of the Koran would thus not be inspired by God, but by the evil one.
Finally, I am fearful that the tendency in Islam to assert the absolute capriciousness of God may be used so as to undermine the very spirituality of Islam. By way of analogy, we have seen over the years how the foundation of Marxism, dialectical materialism, has been embraced by secular Western capitalism. The spiritual absolutes are thus increasingly rejected by the doctrines of relativism and expediency proclaimed by secular society. Thus, even the transcendent value of authentic worship and of objective morality have been called into question for the sake of catering to the subjective values of capricious individuals. Sad to say, in spite of vigorous protests by many devout Moslems, this spirit has started to insinuate itself into Islam. By promoting a tendency to view the alleged unfettered capriciousness of God as the norm for healthy human development, the spirits of Western secularism and relativism seems to be subtly drawing Moslems into reasoning that they should seek perfection by becoming capricious.
After all, if God, in His absolute perfection, is intrinsically alienated from any lasting covenantal commitments, it would be wrong, if not blasphemous, to emulate a spirit of permanent fidelity in one's life and relationships. If Allah is perfect in his capriciousness exercise of power, true perfection can only be reflected by humanity through a similar capricious exercise of power. As one Democratic leader put it, "If we cannot use the power of persuasion, we will use the persuasion of power". It sounds a bit like the operating philosophy of ISIS. Once convinced of the legitimacy of this way of thinking, it will not be long before slavery to one's subjectivity, proclaimed as “liberation” by secular Western culture, will become seen by Moslems as one of the best ways to honor an intrinsic quality of God Himself. Thus, ironically, the very perversions of the West denounced by radical Islam may insidiously come to seduce the minds and hearts of even devout Moslems.
While I pray that my understanding of Islamic theology is erroneous, I must honestly state that the observations I have made here do reflect the concerns of many people. And rather than allow these concerns to fester in my soul, I believe it is best to bring them into the light of public discourse, so that our understanding of the theology of Islam may be based on the a respect for the truth and for the good will of those who are committed to worship God in purity of heart.
Spero columnist Rev. Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest in the service of the people of Virginia.