After two weeks of plunging into the waters of the Koran, I can finally come up for air — fresh air. After taking time to plow through the repetitive and garbled “revelations” given to Muhammad in the name of Allah, I can now proceed to rejoice in my Christian faith knowing with metaphysical certainty that Allah is not God. In fact, if Allah were truly God, I would be led to despair and self-destruction, for he is a tyrant and marauder of goodness, no matter what his “ninety-nine names” are. Praised be Jesus Christ!
I knew that I had to read the Koran, in all fairness, in order to proceed with a book project which now consumes me. Having spent twenty years writing about Christianity and women, I wanted to see how women have fared under Islam, since stories of honor killings and death threats to Muslim apostates have relentlessly filtered through the self-policing media in the West. What is this faith that triggers such a reaction when attacked from within or without?
Is Allah God?
If we learned anything from the Banner Art Years of CCD, we learned that “God is Love.” It may not have included the excellent detail of Fr Hardon’s Catechism — the most recent to carefully list and explain the fifteen attributes of God – but we got that central point. We’ve been told that this was the one thought that captivated the apostle John — exiled to the island of Patmos, because once a person really delves into love, all the world is new. One falls in love with Love.
If you consider those classic attributes of God as understood through Christianity, the premise is that he is all those things simultaneously and can never contradict Himself. On one level, it’s like a detective game that posits some clues: the culprit was a left-handed woman, wearing glasses and a red sweater, etc. so that a variety of suspects have to be sifted through and eliminated. (Even a child knows that you have to abide by the rules, and cannot say in the end, “She was wearing a green sweater because, well, she changed.”) The challenge is to combine God’s attributes – such as personal and omnipotent, omnipresent and invisible — so that one can serve him with an informed conscience. To understand God is to understand man in His image and likeness.
Islam insists on no such inner logic, allowing Allah to be “Life-Giver” (Al-Muhyi ) simultaneously with being “Bringer of Death” (Al-Mumīt ). He can even capriciously contradict himself, if he feels like it, being both the “Truth” (Al-Haqq ) and the “Best of Deceivers” (al-Makr ) [i] Despite having all those creative and poetic names by which to describe him, not one names him “love.” Muhammad says that Allah does love (Al-Wadūd — “The One Who Loves His Believing Slaves and His Believing Slaves Love Him”[ii] ) but that explanation is rather limited in scope and even recognizably human in its confines. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”[iii]
So if Allah is not Love, then what is he? The entire Koran is firm in making the point — Allah is very, very powerful. Despite his inconstancy, he can do whatever he wants and will only smile upon those who commit to the Five Pillars of Islam. He is merciful and forgiving to Muslims alone. Those outside the fold will be subject to everlasting torment. So this leads us to another striking difference.
There is no grace in Islam
Despite the age-old debates about faith vs. works, or the nature of salvation, Christians understand that the good we do is contingent on our openness to God, and a result of inviting him to work freely through us. The Catechism explains:
The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism. It is in us the source of the work of sanctification: ‘Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.[iv]
This is the communion we strive for, the hope we bear that God’s will can be done despite us and the limits we place on grace.
Not so in Islam. After having accepted that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet, one must prove his devotion through good works. In essence, from then he is obliged to work for his salvation. Objectively, it may look similar to Christianity but the premise is very different. A Muslim and a Christian may both begin with fearing God, but in Islam it ends there as well — for a Muslim is essentially alone. The Christian moves beyond fear (which is an appropriate premise given his inadequacy to save himself) and appeals to the salvific work of Jesus on his behalf. He does what he can to echo the loving work of his Creator, but knows that his works are nothing compared to the work of the Incarnate One. And this leads to the ultimate difference between the two creeds.
Adoration versus Submission
If God is love, than we can be assured that everything that He permits will be for our good — despite ourselves — and will culminate in the means of eternal happiness. Love requires a personal encounter on the deepest, purest level possible — and what is stilted and compromised on earth will be consummated in heaven. There, those who love will encounter perfect Love, which is to be adored for eternity.
If Allah is not love but power, then there will be no personal encounter either here or in afterwards. Romano Guardini summed it up this way:
In adoration angels bow before their divine Lord, the creature before his Creator. But how and why? Not as a man who journeys on the sea in a frail boat and is compelled to bow before a storm. Not as a physician who has fought for the life of a man and is obliged to acknowledge himself helpless before the advance of disease. In both cases this would mean bowing to a superior force, but certainly not adoration. If God were mere power, man, because of his natural dignity, would have to refuse to render Him complete homage, even if God were to destroy him for his refusal. The angels, the elders, the four living creatures prostrate themselves before God for a very different reason, only because He is all-powerful, but because He is worthy.
This thought it is which determines our relation to God, and we must understand it well. We are as nothing before Him, nevertheless we have the dignity of our personality. Not from ourselves, but from Him – yet a dignity which is really ours. And it places an obligation upon us. Before a God who were only power, we could not bow low, we could only submit.
But God is not mere power, He is Mind as well. As great as God’s power, just so great is His truth. As perfect as is His sovereignty, just so perfect is his justice. As truly as He is real, just as truly He is holy. God’s being, His power and His sovereignty are in every way equal to His integrity and His goodness. If the expression may be allowed, He is not simply God, He is worthy to be God. [v]
Islam means “submission” for a reason – because there is no room for adoration. “And unto Allah maketh prostration whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth of living creatures, and the angels (also), and they are not proud. They fear their Lord above them, and do what they are bidden.”[vi]
Whereas the West has often proven itself incapable of deep reflection and mature restraint, the threat of Islamic aggression is different than other questions. It doesn’t require an understanding of medical principles, sexual ethics or theological disputes among Christians. It throws us back on our primal understanding of God and His essence. Will we choose submission to Allah or the God of love? And if we can answer correctly, God grant the grace to live it every day.
[i] This verse (Surah 3:54) is often deliberately mistranslated outside of Arabic, perhaps as part of the deception. Honestly, it should read: “And they cheated/deceived and God cheated/deceived, and God (is) the best (of) the cheaters/deceivers.”
[ii] Surahs 11:90, 85:14
[iii] Luke 6:32
[iv] Catechism of the Catholic Church , 1999
[v] Romano Guardini, The Faith and Modern Man , p. 8
[vi] Surah XVI, 49-50