The question of whether the Qur’an’s Allah is the same as the God of the Bible divides Christians. But in one sense, the answer is very simple. Because by Muhammad’s time, Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians had been using the word Allah for God for centuries. And the Qur’an’s use of Allah came with the claim that its component messages came from the God of the Bible. But comparing the two scriptures’ theology calls the simple answer into question.
For while the God of the Bible and that of the Qur’an are similar in many respects, the two are also profoundly different.
That’s why Christians are divided over Allah and why Muslims explain the differences by saying that the Bible has been seriously corrupted.
Most basically, the Qur’an claims God is the source of its messages as well as the earlier biblical scriptures. God also speaks non-verbally in sun, rain and other powerful displays of his goodness. The Qur’an combined this idea of revelation with other key theological ideas to combat the thinking of Muhammad’s pagan hearers.
For the pagans too believed in Allah, but as the High God who created the world and then became too self-preoccupied to bother with humankind. They said Allah
- Had fathered several gods
- Was remote and unseeing
- Had no interest in judging humankind
The pagans thus reduced Allah to the level of a glorified man.
Against this reduction of God, the Qur’an stressed that there’s only one true God, who, though highly exalted, sees all we do.
The Qur’an says God is all-powerful and needs nothing. It warns rebels of his nearness and of the reality of the Last Day, when he’ll judge everyone, small and great. It also encourages believers to call on him when in distress since he’s near and responsive (Q 2:186, 11:61). But having said that, it also presents God’s uniqueness, nobility and grandeur in such a way that they leave no room for him to come down and interact with mortals, let alone live among them, as the Bible says.
The Qur’an describes God as “compassionate,” the “justest of judges” and “most merciful of the merciful” (e.g., Q 7:151, 95:8). Hence, it encourages us to forgive and condemns such sins as theft and adultery. But since God is so much greater than we are, it offers the individual believers no certainty that he will welcome them to Paradise and never states on what precise basis God will grant or withhold mercy on the Last Day.
In fact, the Qur’an seems to limit itself to disclosing about God only what his servants need to know to obey him.
Emphasizing God’s otherness, the Qur’an says there’s none at all like him and that he couldn’t possibly have a son. Surah 112 says,
He is God alone.
God, the eternal refuge.
He neither begets nor was he begotten
Nor is there anyone like him.
Thus, though it honors Jesus as a great prophet, no standard reading of the Qur’an leaves room for Christian belief in the Trinity.
The Qur’an uses six professional images of God found in the Bible, presenting him as:
The Qur’an presents itself as divine guidance. In fact, this is one of its primary emphases. While the Bible makes God’s role as deliverer central, the Qur’an mentions it only peripherally and only in relation to temporal dangers. Equally striking is the Qur’an’s avoidance of the Bible’s more personal images of God—for example, the central New Testament images of father and lover/husband of his people. The Qur’an refers to God’s being a friend only once and makes the New Testament’s casting of him as a servant seem utterly unthinkable.
In the Qur’an, God makes covenants with humankind, but he answers to none and never invites us to hold him to his word. In keeping with this, the Qur’an does not
- root God’s ethical attributes in his holiness
- base its entire call to moral renewal on our need to be morally like him
- mention divine atonement
These are key biblical emphases.
All this makes God’s relationship to humankind in the Qur’an most basically that of an all-powerful Master to his servants and us rather disposable to him.
Muslims are united in deeming this theology God-honoring to a degree that nothing else is—certainly not the Bible in its present form. As noted above, that’s one of the main reasons they contest the Bible’s authenticity. By contrast, qur’anic theology divides Christians. Some claim that the Qur’an makes room for belief in the Trinity, emphasizing those parts of the Qur’an that agree with the Bible and explaining all the discrepancies away. But most Christians lament that, though it conveys so many other great truths about God, the Muslim scripture rejects what they prize as the very best of revealed theology.
 It specifically names the Torah (Tawrat), the Psalms (Zabur) and the New Testament (Injil). It also names various biblical prophets, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist and Jesus.
 Q 50:16, for example, warns that he’s nearer to Muhammad’s enemies than their “jugular vein.” This implies that he could effortlessly snuff out their lives in a second.
 It also says his likeness is the “loftiest of likenesses” (Q 16:60; 30:27). This means that, while qur’anic descriptions of him stretch language to its limits, we must still give the words used their normal meaning.
 The Qur’an clearly promises paradise to believers generically, and it does so repeatedly. What it does not do is give individual believers the assurance that they’ll be admitted to paradise. It does not do this because the path it sets out for those admitted to paradise involves a lifetime of faithful Muslim practice. Since no one is perfect, no Muslim can claim to meet God’s requirements perfectly, and each believer’s deeds will be weighed against her misdeeds on the Last Day (Q 7:8-9, 21:47, 101:8-11). But it doesn’t say how much one deed will weigh over against another. (A single act of performing one’s prayers or giving alms would presumably weigh the same as its opposite—omitting requisite prayer or almsgiving. But would giving alms be equal in weight to adultery or murder?). Furthermore, we have no way of knowing how many misdeeds our good deeds must outweigh. Ultimately, everyone hopes that her balance of good deeds will be enough to merit God’s mercy.
Hence, most Muslims consider it highly presumptuous for anyone to claim that he’ll go to paradise. The Qur’an refers to a bridge (sirat) over hell which everyone must traverse en route to paradise (Q 37:23-24, 19:70-72). Another picture of the Last Day shows everyone who has ever lived awaiting the moment when they will discover their eternal destiny, underscoring the point that no one will know for sure until that day (Q 19:66-72).
 At first glance, the statement made by some that God reveals his will in the Qur’an, but not himself may seem right. But it’s actually contradictory since any revelation of one’s will also implicitly reveals oneself. (Forbidding adultery, for example, expresses one’s values, unless one’s command is purely arbitrary, in which case it would still reveal that.) Hence, we should rather say that God’s self-revelation appears to be incidental to his revelation of his will. The Qur’an reveals God to have no interest in having his subjects get to know him personally in a relationship of mutual intimacy and love, which is in sharp contrast to biblical theology.
That is certainly not to say that the Qur’an is devoid of love. On the contrary, it presents a God who is compassionate toward his servants (Q 19:96) and repeatedly emphasizes our need to worship him alone. Being omnipresent, he may be described as always near in some sense. In the Qur’an, however, God always maintains what might be called his “professional distance,” as our Master, Guide, King, Provider, etc. He sometimes stoops to deliver us from trouble. And he seeks our loyalty and devotion, but not our friendship or love.
 The Qur’an’s rejection of divine sonship typically comes in blanket statements without specific reference to Jesus. This could mean that it refers to the pagan Arab concept of divine sex and procreation. However, Q 4:171 denies that Jesus is God’s Son and Q 5:116 declares that Jesus is not to be worshipped as divine.
 There’s no evidence to suggest that Muslims ever understood the Qur’an in any other way. Put positively, all the earliest Muslim commentary on the Qur’an shows that they have never believed God became incarnate in Jesus. In fact, the Qur’an makes associating anything created with God the unforgiveable sin. In keeping with this, the Qur’an’s creation accounts, which are similar to the biblical account in many other respects, omit the biblical account’s key feature of humankind’s being made in God’s likeness.
Nevertheless, some today interpret the Qur’an in such a way as to allow for belief in the Christian Trinity. They do this out of a desire to build bridges between Muslims and Christians. However, most Muslims consider their interpretation of the Qur’an perverse in much the same way that Christians do when members of the Bahai faith tell them they have seriously misunderstood Jesus.
 The Qur’an says, for example, that God delivered his people from Pharaoh under Moses (e.g., Q 26:65). But unlike the Bible, it presents the human race in need of no salvation beyond the guidance the Qur’an affords.
 Q 4:125 refers to God’s friendship with Abraham. But since it supplies no explanatory context, it leaves us to supply as much or as little meaning as we like here. Biblically, by contrast, Abraham’s friendship with God was marked by the intimacy and mutuality of God’s informing Abraham of his intentions and even allowing Abraham to bargain with him over how he would effect his plan (Gen. 18:16-33).
Central to the New Testament is the concept of God’s serving his people even to the point of laying his life down to redeem them. Hence, the Bible presents God as simultaneously both servant and king.
 Both mentions of holiness leave us unsure if the Qur’an has God’s existential or ethical holiness in mind (Q 2:1, 59:23).
 We are sometimes called to imitate God. For example, Q 28:77 tells believers to “be kind in the way that God has been kind to you.” However, the Qur’an does not make imitating God the central purpose of humankind’s moral renewal as the Bible does.
 This implies that Muslims have historically misinterpreted their own scripture and need Christians to dispel their confusion and show them its true meaning. After all, the theological discrepancies I refer to are both pivotal and ubiquitous in the Qur’an. But so narrowly focused on bridge-building are those who take this approach that they seem to be unaware of both the implication and how paternalistic their approach is.