Every Christian ought to be a muslim (but not the way you think)!

OK, take a deep breath.  Trust me when I say I’m not asking anybody to throw away their Bible and start planning their pilgrimage to Mecca.  I am, however, going to attack some truly damaging language that I hear from many of my fellow Christians on the subject of Islam…language that I maintain is neither edifying nor honoring to God, and actually flat-out wrong.  There are many issues that need to be addressed in Christian attitudes toward Muslims (and, I’m sure, vice-versa), but one of the first we need to face is our sloppy language.

So I repeat my title statement:  Every Christian ought to be a muslim.  Note, first of all, that I used a lower-case “m” in the word “muslim.”  I am not suggesting that any follower of Jesus should change faiths.  In fact, I hope it’s clear to any reader of my blog that I wish for more, not fewer, people to follow Jesus.  But while capital M “Muslim” is the name for a follower of the organized religion of Islam, lower-case m “muslim” means simply “one who submits;”  by implication, one who submits to God.

I don’t speak Arabic.  I do, however, speak Swahili, which has significant Arabic roots, and while I’m going to explain in terms of the language I actually know, friends of mine who do speak Arabic have confirmed the truth of what I’m about to say.  In Swahili and in Arabic, if you take a verb and put either an “m” or “mu” prefix onto the front of it, the resulting word is a noun that means “a person or creature who does that verb.”  So for example, the Swahili word “kuzunguka” means “to spin or turn around,” so “mzungu”  means “one who spins around” (which hilariously is the term Africans coined to describe white Europeans and Americans).  In Arabic, the word “islam” simply means “submission.”  A “muslim” is just a person who does “islam,” that is, a person who submits.

Islam is, of course, not the only faith that calls its followers to submit to God.  In the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the original temptation and sin of Adam was not the fact of eating the forbidden fruit, it was the desire to “…be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5)  In deliberate contrast to the human desire to usurp God’s position in Genesis, followers of Jesus are exhorted to “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil. 2:5-6).  Jesus’ example is further illuminated in Phil. 2:8 to be his humility and obedience even “unto death on a cross.”  Jesus is our ultimate example of submission, “islam,” to God.

Of course, the objection many Christians will immediately raise leads me to my second point of language:  submission to WHICH God?  While this may be a hard truth for some to grasp, the answer is “the God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad.” 

Time for another deep breath, folks.  Please note that I have not said that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all equal, identical, one religion, or anything of the sort.  There are plenty of places where Jews, Christians, and Muslims disagree, and some of them are highly significant.  But Christians have got to get off their pigheaded high horse (dare I mix animal metaphors?) and face the reality that, whatever other important differences exist, the God of Islam is NOT a different God than that of Christians and Jews.  He is the God of Abraham; among his names are Elohim, YHWH, Father, and Allah.  Do you notice that “Elohim” (a plural of “El”) and “Allah” actually have a similar sound?  There is a reason for that…both Hebrew and Arabic are Semitic languages; that is, they come from a common ancient root.  The names “El” and “Allah” are the same.  Furthermore, Arabic-speaking Christians (at least those who haven’t been corrupted by fundamentalist American ideologues) have been using the name “Allah” to refer to the Father for many centuries.  When Christians in America make the claim (and I heard this in a church as recently as a month ago) that “Allah is an idol and a false God,” they are at best displaying breathtaking ignorance, and at worst blaspheming the very God they claim to worship.

Many Christians will raise the objection at this point “well, Muslims say Allah is not the Father of Jesus, so he must be a false god.”  Funny thing about that claim, it doesn’t seem to apply to Jews, who also do not believe that God is Jesus’ father (unless they’re what we call “Messianic Jews”).  If that criterion renders Islam a false religion, it must do the same for Judaism.  You can’t have it both ways…and yet the most conservative Christians do not doubt that Israel in particular and Jews in general are still God’s special, chosen people.  That’s another discussion, and not for this time, but for now, accepting the deity of Christ cannot be a criterion for otherwise worshiping the “right” God unless the same criterion is applied equally to both of the other Abrahamic faiths.

There is much more to say with regard to Muslim-Christian relations, and I expect some day to take on more of it.  But at the very least, let us please acknowledge that Allah is the God we Christians also worship, and may we all strive to be small-m “muslims” to Him.


29 thoughts on “Every Christian ought to be a muslim (but not the way you think)!”

  1. thepangeablog.com

    Dan… you like pissing folks off hahaha

    Great usage of words and language and tying together the reality that Jews and Muslims both deny Messiah Jesus and if we are ill toward one, we ought to be ill toward the other. I say, why don't we be generous to both while trusting that Jesus is the true God of the universe… the very incarnation of YHWH!

  2. Robert

    Great post Dan. I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of somebody claiming that a group of people follow a "different God". I often hear it about Mormons as well. I even hear it within Protestantism nowadays, based on things like theological differences. I heard a pastor on CNN a while back say that a group of more "social-minded" Christians must be "following a different God". Cuz the God he follows couldn't possibly be about the supposed handouts that the group was advocating. I have to watch myself when it comes to the street corner, turn or burn types. It is very easy for me to try and distance myself by claiming that I follow a different God.

    I think this has always seemed weird to me because it seems like you are saying that God is an accumulation of everything you believe about him, rather than a real, existing being who is much bigger than our understanding of him. It would be like if two people worked for the same boss named John. One thought John was kind and reasonable, the other thought he was harsh and thoughtless. Then one day the first employee was explaining why he loved John as a boss, and the second employee says, "That's not the John I work for!" That works as a figure of speech, but surely we would think that he is insane if he meant it literally.

    Unfortunately, I think this is exactly what some people think about Muslims, Mormons, Catholics even! "They understand God differently, therefore they believe in a different God." This isn't to say that one of these understandings of God isn't more correct than the others (I think you and I happen to believe that the Protestant one is more correct), but that doesn't mean that they believe in a different God.

    Hope things are going well in Atlanta Dan!

  3. Dan Martin

    I say, why don't we be generous to both while trusting that Jesus is the true God of the universe… the very incarnation of YHWH!

    Be careful with that part…I do say we should be generous to both, and I believe the Bible makes it clear that God has made Jesus "Lord" of the universe, but throughout the gospels, Jesus made it very clear that he considered the Father his own superior and not himself. Divine, yes. Lord and king, yes. But "God of the universe" is a title Jesus himself reserved for his Father. See this post for more detail.

  4. Dan Martin

    I think this has always seemed weird to me because it seems like you are saying that God is an accumulation of everything you believe about him, rather than a real, existing being who is much bigger than our understanding of him.

    Robert, this is a profound observation, and you are right on target. Thanks!

  5. Dan Martin

    Kurt, as I said in more detail on the email, I suggest that the New Testament witness that the Word became flesh is not necessarily synonymous with YHWH becoming flesh. For the rest (at least for now) I point back to my post on Christ in "Rethinking the Trinity."

  6. Robert

    Btw Dan, Robert = Robbie. As in Robbie Ernst. Haha, it automatically called me Robert when I logged in, and I just realized that it might be a little vague. haha

  7. Dan Martin

    I wondered if it was you, Robbie, but your profile was hidden so I couldn't be sure! Shoot me a note offline and let me know how you're doing!

  8. Anisah of South Dakota

    Dan, thanks for a wonderfully articulate post. You state here many things I've been perplexed with when I listen to today's Christian community justify their hate toward Muslims.

    As a Muslim, I have never started believing in "another god". When did Christians start believing there are other gods? That's the flip side of their claims against Muslims. If you deny a people's belief in God because you don't want to accept they worship God — then you are testifying to polytheism — not they.

    "Muslims" are anyone who submits to God. It is like saying BELIEVER. So we say Christians and Jews are not BELIEVERS of God? No, that would be insane. Yet for some strange reason, its what Christians seek to claim against other Christians and against those who follow Islam.

    Its time to face the fact that some seek to promote hate and are using the peaceful theology of Christ's teachings to promote their own agenda and to accept war and hate. Its time radicalization be stopped on all fronts. Its time we practice the teachings of Isa — and deny hate and war even within our own faith communities.

    So thanks for speaking up within your own community.


  9. Joyce Lighari

    EXCELLENT! My husband and I have done programs on Islam. He is Muslim; I am Christian (Charismatic/Pentecostal, now non-denominational Wesleyan)and we've been married for 33 years tomorrow. We pray together and he has always been a "learner" and a "seeker."
    Thanks for speaking out on this!

  10. broimannsfsd

    thank you for bring this out,as I see it if people would worry more about how they are doing in what they beleive in stead of tring to prove others wrong we all would be better off too see a true beleiver of the three books in action makes you know why we are all brothern

  11. Stephen

    Thanks, Dan, for this excellent article. I began 'investigating' Islam about a year ago as a result of reading one of the Muslim bashing chain e-mails. I rapidly found that Islam is actually being misrepresented and slandered. The God of Islam (known as 'Allah' in Arabic) is indeed the One and Only Creator and Sustainer of the worlds; the God of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, David, Jesus, and the apostles.

    Muslims believe that Jesus is God's Christ, and he is specifically so named in the Qur'an. But 'Christ' is not the same as God; rather 'Christ' means that Jesus is the MAN whom God has 'anointed'.

    I appreciated your article on reexamining the 'Trinity' doctrine, also. I repudiated that teaching many years ago, as I find it to be a 'doctrine of man'.

    I personally find that using the "I am" argument is really stretching things, and winds up proving way too much. If Jesus' use of "I am" (ego eimi) indicated that he identified himself with God (the Great I AM), then the angel Gabriel also identified himself with God in Luke 1:19 when he said "I am Gabriel" ("ego eimi" Gabriel); the man born blind also called himself God when he identified himself in John 9:9, "I am he" (in the Greek, simply "I am" – "ego eimi"); Peter called himself God when he said to the messengers from Cornelius in Acts 10:21. "I am the one you are seeking" ("ego eimi" whom you seek); and Paul in Acts 26:29 called himself God when he said that he wished all his hearers would become "such as I am" ("ego eimi") "except for these chains".

    There are other instances where the personal pronoun 'I' is used with the verb 'am', but the order is reversed ("eimi ego"); and instances where the identifying noun is placed between 'I' and 'am'- as in Acts 21:39 where Paul said "I am a man – a Jew – from Tarsus" ("ego anthropos eimi").

    No, the use of the pronoun 'I' with the verb 'am' is not 'forbidden' or rare in Greek New Testament usage. The pronoun is not necessary, but when it is used, it's simply for emphasis and doesn't identify the speaker with God, the Great I AM! 🙂

    I have come to believe that I am indeed 'muslim' if not Muslim; perhaps a unitarian Christian who believes Muhammad is also a prophet sent from God (as in Rev.1, God gave the message to His servant Jesus, who sent it to Muhammad by his angel [Gabriel]).

    Thanks again for your fine article. More people are needed to speak out against the slanders against Islam.

  12. Dan Martin

    Stephen, I give you the literal reading of ἐγὼ εἰμί ("I AM") and I appreciate you calling me out on the fact that the usage in Greek does not always correspond to the burning bush statement. You are correct, and I thank you for pointing out my oversight.

    However, that does not let us fully off the hook with regard to Jesus' claims of divinity. Linguistics are not the only point in evidence. Perhaps the strongest reference would be John 8:58 "Before Abraham was, I am." The use of present tense here, as well as Jesus' claim to precede Abraham, do call the burning bush "I AM" to mind, I believe. They certainly called some blasphemous notion to the minds of the crowd, who promptly attempted to stone him in verse 59. John 10:22-39 is another such passage, where "the Jews" (obviously religious leaders, not just anybody that happened to be Jewish–which was basically everyone at the scene) explicitly accuse Jesus of blasphemy for "making himself God."

    I stand by my previous statement that Jesus, though clearly and unequivocally differentiating himself (and subordinating himself to) the Father, still claimed divinity and pre-existence to his incarnation. This is still paradoxical and not something we can completely fit in our little minds, but I think it's indisputable that if the testimony of the Gospel of John is to be trusted, Jesus represented himself as more than *just* a prophet and Messiah-king, even as he still considered God the Father to be *his* God as well.

    And I would not get too twisted up in the father-son language either, since he repeatedly refers to God as our Father too. This is clearly *not* the kind of sonship claim to which Muslims rightly object. Nevertheless, if Jesus' own testimony in the Gospel of John is to be trusted, then even as I object to the classic doctrine of the Trinity, I cannot accept that Jesus was strictly and only human, either.

    All that said, we are in absolute agreement that the way Christians represent Islam is laden with slander and false representation, and we must stand against it.

  13. Stephen

    Dan, thanks for your reply. I hope you won't think anything I said or say is a personal attack against you or what you believe. I think I can sound a bit abrasive at times (in what I write); but that is not intended. Since I know that you are quite open to challenging traditional beliefs, I occasionally like to offer a different perspective for your consideration.

    For instance, just because some of Jesus' hearers in the John 10 discourse thought Jesus was claiming to be God (or "a" god) does not mean Jesus was actually doing so. According to the New Testament, the Jewish leaders were notorious for misunderstanding and misrepresenting Jesus. They wrongly accused him of advocating nonpayment of taxes, and claiming that he could rebuild the Jerusalem Temple in 3 days. Those accusations were based on actual statements of Jesus – but those statements were misunderstood (perhaps deliberately).

    The same is true with regard to the accusation against Jesus in John 10 – that he made himself out to be divine – as Jesus himself clearly demonstrated in his reply. He pointed out that in calling God his Father (and therefore making himself a son of God), he only said of himself what their own Scriptures said of men in general.Psalm 82:6 said that those being addressed were 'gods' and sons of the Most High. So Jesus, whom God had set apart and sent into the world, could not be blaspheming in claiming for himself what the Scriptures claim for men in general. Jesus claimed nothing for himself which was not true of humankind. He is our brother.

    I delightfully admit that Jesus statement – "before Abraham was, I am" – is very intriguing. I agree with you that Jesus seems to have definitely taught his preexistence there. But this is another example of something Jesus claims for himself, which is also common to all of humanity.

    His statement is very similar, if not precisely the same, as what the Hindu Bhagavad Gita records of a conversation between Krishna and his disciple Arjuna. Krishna made the claim that he had taught yogic meditation to several men who had lived centuries before Krishna was born. Arjuna questioned how that could be (though not in an antagonistic way as Jesus' hearers did). Krishna replied that he and Arjuna both (as well as all other people) had lived many lifetimes. The difference between Krishna and Arjuna was that Krishna was aware of his previous existence and lifetimes, while Arjuna was not.

    And this is where my beliefs obviously diverge from both traditional Christianity and traditional Islam. The 'Eastern' teaching of preexistence and reincarnation is very much a part of my belief system, and I believe Jesus' statement was one of the times he himself referred to it.

    So I agree with you that Jesus taught his own preexistence; but I don't believe that Jesus was thereby claiming that he was 'divine' in any sense which was not true of the rest of humanity also – just like his calling God his Father did not distinguish him from the rest of humanity.

    So I'm a 'heretic' already. Tell me something I didn't know! ( 😀 )

  14. Dan Martin

    Well, Stephen, I'll gently (and I hope gracefully) agree to disagree with you on preexistence being common to all humans! ;{)

    However, as I have written elsewhere on this blog, I remain convinced that the choice to follow Jesus is the one that matters, not so much the creeds one thinks in one's head. While I would share the Buddhist notion that "right thoughts" matter, they need to be balanced with "right deeds" and "right speech" and the rest as well. Where I differ with Buddhists, of course, is that all of these need to be in the context of the "right Lord," who I still believe is uniquely Jesus Christ.

    But as I've also written, I repudiate the practice of humans deciding who they think is going to bask or burn, based on these or any other criteria. We are called to make disciples, not to obsess about the consequences that may or may not occur to non-disciples. And in that vein, I can (and must) engage you in gentleness.

    So no, you did not insult me, and I likewise hope I have not insulted you. Stick around and let's dialog some more! I may not be the same kind of heretic as you, but there are plenty who'd agree we're both "out."

  15. Angel

    Salaam, Lovely post. You touched on the double standard that bothers me so much when I talk to Conservative Christians. I've heard many times Muslims are evil because we don't see Jesus (AS) as God but when I bring up that Jews (for the most part) don't either, they find ways to rationalize it.

    I don't think Christians and Jews follow a different God than me. I think we all follow the God of Abraham the best way we know how to.

  16. El.Ingles

    This is not as clear cut as many would like to think. There is a range of opinions even amongst converts from Islam with many saying that they have found through Jesus the God they always believed in whilst others have the firm view that Allah is not the same person as the God of the Bible, and disallow the use of the name Allah as a general term for God by non-Muslims. For this reason in countries like Malaysia it is a criminal offence if non-Muslims use the word Allah for their God, even in the Bible

  17. Dan Martin

    @El.Ingles, this is an interesting objection to raise. I refer you to this 2009 article in Christianity Today, in which, quite interestingly, Evangelical Christians are among the strongest advocates for the RIGHT to use the name "Allah" when referring to God.

    Fascinating quote in that article: "Christians and Muslims sometimes misunderstand Allah to be purely Islamic. Instead, it is the Arabic word for God and a close semantic relative of the Hebrew El. In many Central Asian countries, Muslims use Khuda, the Persian word for God, rather than Allah. Christians in Palestine and other Arabic-speaking communities also refer to God as Allah." (please read the whole article, not just my quote).

    I am under the impression the controversy to which you refer (whether or not non-Muslims may or should use the name "Allah") is actually a fairly novel issue rather than one with any significant historical legs. I would be indebted if you could show evidence to the contrary.


  18. Stephen

    @El.Ingles – Peace be with you.

    Since I was under the impression that the flap in Malaysia had been settled about a year ago, I wrote to an "electronic acquaintance" there to ask him about the current situation. He is a young person from the UK who converted to Islam and (I believe) is currently attending a University in Malaysia.

    He said that as far as he is aware, the Government resolved the issue in favor of the Christians who were referring to God as "Allah". He, as I understand it, moved to Malaysia within the past year and he wasn't personally involved in the controversy. Like me, he can't understand the reasoning of those Muslims who wish to assert that "Allah" is only "the Muslim God". It would seem that Muslims ought to be pleased that non-Muslims would want to acknowledge that the One God Muslims worship is indeed the One and Only God of all the earth. 🙂 However, this acquaintance did say he would check into the matter further and let me know if it is still not legally resolved (or was in fact resolved against Christian usage).

    Personally (and I believe Jack – the acquaintance in Malaysia – agrees with me), it seems to me that for a Muslim to claim that Allah is exclusively a "Muslim God" is to succumb to polytheism – something to which Islam is supposed to be intensely opposed. It would amount to making Allah a tribal deity, with other religions having their own 'private' deities!

    Regardless, what Dan and the Christianity Today article said is undoubted fact. Muhammad (PBUH) did not invent the name "Allah". It has been the Arabic name for God for "time immemorial". It is simply an indisputable fact that Christians and Jews in Arabic speaking countries were using the name "Allah" to refer to YHWH and "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" long before Muhammad came on the scene. Arabic versions of the Bible used that name well before the religion known as Islam came into being. Even in Malaysia, Christians have been using the name "Allah" to refer to God for a long time; it's not a new innovation there in order to deceive Muslims into conversion to Christianity.

    May God's light shine on you constantly. — Stephen

  19. Stephen

    @El.Ingles and anyone else who's interested in the "Allah" flap in Malaysia: Peace be with you all.

    I just came across this update on the situation in Malaysia at a site called "The American Muslim". The article, entitled "Malaysia, Allah, and God – updated 3/16/11" ( http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/malaysia_allah_and_god/0017793 ) was apparently originally written sometime in 2009, and contains several updates since then.

    It seems that the hullabaloo over the Christian use of the name "Allah" is not entirely over. The 3/16 update said this: "The government of Malaysia this month impounded a shipment of 35,000 Malay-language Bibles because they used “Allah”. It is amazing, and morally repugnant that they have continued to press this non-issue. It was reported yesterday, that they have now released the shipment.

    Rev Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, welcomed the government’s decision to release the Bibles, but said more needed to be done. “We maintain the position that it is an inalienable right for Christians to read their scriptures in any language,” he said, adding this was a “basic human right”.

    He is certainly correct."

    Keep in mind that this is a site (and article) published by a Muslim in the USA. The writer pointed out, in the original article, that those Muslims who are opposing the Christian use of the name "Allah" are acting contrary to the very Revelation in which they claim to believe. The Qur'an, in Sura 29:46, says this: "And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner – unless it be such of them as are bent on evildoing -and say: We believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you: FOR OUR GOD AND YOUR GOD IS ONE AND THE SAME, AND IT IS UNTO HIM THAT WE (ALL) SURRENDER OURSELVES." Literally, it reads: "Our Allah and YOUR Allah is one and the same". Unless they are ready to deny their own Holy Book, they have no excuse to oppose Christians calling God "Allah".

  20. Dan Martin

    @Stephen, thank you so much for updating us on this point. The citation you quote from the Quran is a perfect illustration of my precise point, from the Muslim perspective. Unfortunately, chronology prevents the Jewish and Christian scriptures from having a similarly blunt statement of this truth, so we have to resort to history and linguistics.

    Peace to you and all like-minded servants of the living God!

  21. AJ

    I appreciate your post. As Muslims, we have always thought of Jews and Christians, as “Believers” or as “those before you” or “People of the Book” whenever these terms come in the Quran. Its good to hear from a Christian that we all worship the same God.

  22. Dan Martin Post Author

    Thanks for your comment, AJ. I believe I’ve heard that it says in the Quran that all of us should challenge each other to obedience to God, and in the end he will sort out where we’ve missed it. May this be each of our prayer for the other. Salaam!

  23. SKhan

    great post! But FYI…Muslims do believe that Jesus peace be upon him was a prophet and the Messiah. [3:46] When the angels said, ‘O Mary, God gives thee glad tidings of a son through a Word from Him; his name shall be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, honoured in this world and in the next, and of those who are granted nearness to God;
    We believe that Jesus peace be upon him will have a Second Coming in which G-d will send him to save the world from the Anti-Christ. But anyway, great post. I wish more people understood this like you 🙂

    1. Dan Martin Post Author

      Thanks, SKhan, and salaam aleichum!

      I agree that the Quran teaches a much higher view of Jesus than most Christians realize. I think it remains that even when we get past the misunderstandings and misinformation, Islam and Christianity still teach different things about Jesus. However, I truly believe that if more of us were to sit down together and carefully consider what is said in both the Quran and the Bible we’d find that there are truths about Jesus that are consistent with both…and they’re not (all) what either most churches or most mosques are teaching. But the first step is for us to stop seeing each other as the enemy. May God bring this to pass! Thank you for your contribution…

  24. SKhan

    For the record, I sometimes I feel as though that there are Christians and Jews who are more Muslim than some of the self proclaimed Muslims out there. The Quran itself says that there are believers among the Christians and Jews, therefore Muslims (submitters).

  25. Pingback: Do Christians and Muslims Believe in the Same God? | Mystic444's Blog

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