Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

News Abroad

Mr. Miles is a MacArthur Fellow and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, God: A Biography.

A week or so ago, President Bush scandalized some of his evangelical fans by innocently asserting, during his trip to England , that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Evangelical theologian Richard Land, speaking for the scandalized, rebuked the President for what Land calls playing “theologian-in-chief.” In Land's view, “When President Bush concludes that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, he is simply mistaken.” In my view and that of some evangelicals as well, notably Fuller Theological Seminary's Glen Stassen, Bush is, at least on this point, a better theologian than his evangelical critics.

Though Richard Land neither confirms nor denies that Jews and Christians worship the same God, surely he would concede that the first Christians, Jews all, did not understand Christian discipleship to entail switching to a new God. But what of the first Muslims? If they too understood themselves to be worshipping the God of the Jews, then were they not necessarily worshipping the God of the Christians as well?

The Qur'an identifies Allah as none other than the God to whom Abraham offered “submission” (‘ islam ) in the episode Jews and Christians know so well from Genesis 22, the story of the binding of Isaac. As the paradigmatic Muslim or “submitter,” Abraham then made the original, paradigmatic pilgrimage to Mecca , Muslims believe, accompanied by the very son, Ishmael, whom Allah had rescued so dramatically.

Jews and Christians have always believed that Muhammad got this story wrong. It was Isaac, not Ishmael, who was bound, they believe, and Abraham made no such pilgrimage to Mecca . But have Jews and Christians also believed, historically, that Muhammad had the divine protagonist wrong as well—to the point that he was referring to another deity altogether?

This, it seems, is Land's assumption when he writes: “There is only one true God and His name is Jehovah, not Allah.” As it happens, however, centuries of Jewish and Christian thinkers have assumed just the opposite. When Muhammad first preached to the Jews of Arabia, the Jews definitely thought he had got their God wrong, but they just as definitely did not think he had got the wrong God. As for the name, ‘allah in Arabic is a contraction for ‘al-‘ilah, “the-God,” and as such is cognate with Hebrew ‘eloh, “god,” (plural of abstraction, ‘elohim , “deity”). In both languages, the common noun meaning “deity” or “god” can function in monotheistic context as a proper name for the only actual instance of such a being. (Note that neither Hebrew nor Arabic employs capital letters to make a God/god distinction.) Linguistic technicalities aside, what matters is that back in the seventh century, the first Muslims were using the same kind of word in Arabic that the Jews were using theologically in Hebrew and using it in the same way. Much the same could be said of the many seventh-century Christians who spoke and wrote of God in Syriac or Coptic, Semitic languages then still widely used.

That Jews, Christians, and Muslims have always assumed their differences to be about the character rather than the identity of God is abundantly witnessed in late medieval Spain where the three religions mingled freely and the best scholars were bi- or even trilingual in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew . During that era, a number of famous theological debates took place in which all participants transparently assumed that all other participants were speaking of—and, of course, disagreeing about—the same divine subject. Perhaps the most strenuous of all such medieval wrestling matches was the silent, private bout between Thomas Aquinas and Ibn Rushd, the earlier Muslim philosopher whom the West knows as Averroes. Aquinas wrote his immense Summa Contra Gentiles in good part to refute Ibn Rushd, but the Angelic Doctor never saw fit to take what would have been the terribly convenient shortcut of claiming (in the manner of Richard Land) that whatever his Muslim forebear had said about God was irrelevant because the man was simply speaking of another god.

Muslim assumptions on the same point are, if anything, even more formally enshrined in tradition than Jewish and Christian assumptions. Muslims battled those who worshipped false gods, beginning with the Arab polytheists of Mecca and Medina , but they officially tolerated Jews and Christians because they understood the latter to be worshipping the one true God, the God or, in Arabic, Allah. Regrettably, or so Muslims believed, Jews and Christians had adulterated the primeval, pure ‘islam of Abraham with an assortment of pagan errors, but all the same these “peoples of the book” were not worshipping a false god.

I do not mean to deny either that theological differences exist among Jews, Christians, and Muslims or that these differences matter. The theological differences are many, yet there remains an immense common holding as well. One need only view the three Abrahamic religions from Benares or Kyoto to realize this. All three believe that God is the Creator and that God will someday end the world that he created. All three believe that God is a judge as well, that he will show himself as such on the last day, and that the criterion for his judgment will be not worldly greatness but moral integrity. And this list can be extended just as easily as the list of differences.

As for the political context of the President's remark, it has to matter to all Americans that, thanks in part to evangelical aggressiveness, much of the Muslim world believes that the American war on terror is a war on Islam or, worse, an American-led Christian war on Islam. The President—in his proper capacity as political rather than theological leader—ought to miss no opportunity to repudiate this view. His London remark, however impulsively made , put him squarely in the Christian mainstream and should be welcomed as a small step in the right direction.

This article was first published by BeliefNet and is reprinted with permission of the author.

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Jonathan Dresner - 1/23/2004

Mr. Howard asks "Do you have the same objections to Muslim attacks on other faiths?"

Of course I do. But Islam at least has a theological basis to accept other faiths as having some validity, whereas Christianity is an all-or-nothing proposition.

And the quotation you cite was reportedly said by Arnald Amaury, abbot of Citeaux, at the massacre of Béziers, France, 1209. The city was a stronghold of Albigensian heresy, which was obliterated as a run-up to the Crusades.

Clyde W. Howard - 1/23/2004

Do you have the same objections to Muslim atatcks on other faiths? Because history certainly reveals, in practice if not theory, a considerable hostility toward any other faith (including those of the other "Peoples of the Book") in Muslim lands - special taxes for the right to worship, etc..

A pretty good look at some of the actual historical practices can be found in the (admittedly polemical but as far as i can tell accurate) ISLAM UNVEILED (sorry, i can't recall the author at the moment).

I admire some of the tenets of Islam, and certainly know some thoroughly admirable follwoers of that religion - though as previously stated, as a committed Christian i cannot but feel they are misguided. I stand by my comments about the pronouncements of some mullahs - while admitting the same can surely be said about the pronouncements of some contemporary and historical Christian figures. Who was it who, during one of the religious conflicts in Europe said (in reply to a comment that there were surely some good Catholics in a city that was about to be put to the sword for resisting) "Kill them all. God will surely know his own"? Sadly reminiscent of comments i heard while I was in Vietnam - "Why don't we just kill 'em all and let God sort them out". Not a sentiment I subscribed to then, or now.

Nor do I think that those who follow Islam should be prevented from practicing their belief - but I surely object to any follower of Islam either attempting to prevent me from practicing mine (or for that matter others - say Jews - theirs), or of encouraging attacks on my nation or co-religionists.

And as far as our recent action in Iraq or Afghanistan are concerned, I do not think they are aimed at Islam (however often mullahs or political figures may claim it) in any sense other than those countries had leaders 9or sheltered folk) who were hostile to and had or (on reasonable evidence intened and desired to) attack us. The fact taht the nations in question have majority Islamic populations has nothing to do with it beyond the fact that some of the hostile leaders attempted (and continue to attempt) to use religious differences as a basis for hostility toward the United States (and in some cases Christians or Jews generally). Probably too much said.

C.R.W. - 1/22/2004

Why not start shrieking about how they abridged your freedom of speech in preventing you from screaming "Fire!" in a crowded theater - in peacetime, for crying out loud!

And your "police state" rhetoric rings hollow when you only decide to bring it up now. For how long has the NSA worked with the governments of the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia in having access to ALL your telephone conversations? You probably wouldn't even know, but since the propaganda hit the fan, "police state" now becomes the only words you know.

If only you really knew... what you were talking about.

C.R.W. - 1/22/2004

You speak on behalf of your own ignorance when you life in American in 2004 to being anything close to a "police state."

Right to privacy is NOT absolute, (as are, pretty much all of our rights), and not even in the constitution or amendments - unless you want to SSSSTTTTTRRRRREEEEEETTTTTCCCCHHHHHH the wording of the 4th amendment.

As I said, if you want to put the viability of the republic on the chopping block in order to maintain your extremist, (and I suspect, disingenuous), perception of your rights, take it up with Abe Lincoln and all the Supreme Court decisions and precedents protecting the right of the government, and especially the executive branch, to prevent itself from being overthrown in a state of war or potential national crisis.

C.R.W. - 1/22/2004

Caleb - 1/21/2004

a) I don't know what "Zionist butchers" you are talking about.
b) Israel does not commit crimes against Palestinians any more than America committed crimes by going in Afghanistan to find OBL.
c) Neither Israeli leaders, nor the general population of Israel base anything on biblical claims.

Frank Little - 1/20/2004

Right. And the zionist butchers justify their crimes against the Palestinians today with claims based on what THEIR tribal deity 'promised' them in the 7th century... BC!


Frank Little - 1/20/2004

Wow. Some of his best friends are Jewish! YOu don't say...

Gee. What was I thinking?


David - 1/20/2004

Maybe, if you're dealing with ancient history. But christianity has gone through 2,000 years of reformation. Unfortunately, islam has not had similar periods of reformation, and remains stuck in the 7th century, with all the evils that go with that mentality.

Caleb - 1/20/2004

I must say, whenever I read a post that begins by childish insults, I tend to dismiss the author as simply a fool. In any event...

It is true, John Paul II has remained consistant with basic Catholic principles of birth control and abortion. This is simply an ideological conviction that you may disagree with, but it hardly deserves such contempt.

The Pope has always fought for human rights, especially against communism during the Cold War.

A major theme of his papacy has been his attempt to reach out to other faiths, in search of reconciliation after centuries of hostility and suspicion. He has travelled to Islamic countries, becoming the first pope to set foot in a mosque as a gesture of religious tolerance.

The Pople has also done more to combat anti-Semitism than any other Pope besides John XXIII. For more on this, I would recommend "The Hidden Pope: The Secret History of John Paul II" which documents his lifelong friendship with Jerzy Kroger, a Polish Jew he grew up with and remains close to this day.

Abdullah Hakim - 1/19/2004

Yes this is an interesting point. Raised in a muslim family I have been told that Mohommed was the perfect example of how a human should live and behave. But it is also important for a muslim to remember that he was a human, not a god.

If a human is capable of mistakes and not perfect,then the above two beleifs conflict and we have to try to figure it out. Is there an example where Mohommed made a human error and demonstrated how to behave in that situation?

Josh Greenland - 1/19/2004

"Frank, maybe you're worried that John Ashcroft will accidently stumble across all the porno DVDs you've been checking out from the local video store, but the rest of us could care less."

"C.R.W.", speak for yourself. You may be a good little police state citizen who is happy to give up all his rights and make his affairs transparent for any petit government official to look into at any time, but many Americans like Frank Little and I are opposed to Ashcroft and the USA PATRIOT Act and the other big and small attacks on our freedoms that the Bushies are pushing in the name of fighting terrorism. You may want our country to become Kafkaland, but many of the rest of us don't.

C.R.W. - 1/18/2004

I could, but I have. Why not take it up with Bernard Lewis if you disagree?

Islam has never sanctioned a secular state. The fusion of Islam with available political and social institutions has been intrinsic to the religion since its inception and Muhammad's conquests and political pacification of lands and the widespread conversion of their inhabitants outside the Arabian peninsula. The stated relegation of Islam, by theologians, to a non-political role, would be an innovation that has yet to occur.

Frank Little - 1/18/2004

One wonders what planet Mr. Caleb has been living on...

Wojtyla suitably began his term by raising a giant cross in Auschwitz, at the time the only religious symbol at the deathsite of over a million European Jews. This was his first shot at rallying the forces of clerical antisemitism in Poland which later formed the CIA-backed "$olidarnosc" movement. His much ballyhooed "repentance" for the obscene collaboration of the papacy with the nazi holocaust was nothing but a figleaf hiding the nasty reality of rampant anti-semitism actively promoted by the Church to this day in Poland and elsewhere.

Wojtyla has used the vast resources of the catholic church to eliminate wherever possible women's access to safe abortion, to prevent the spread of sex education and the most elementary measures permitting women to control their own sexual and reproductive lives. This has resulted in countless thousands of deaths of desperate women and girls ready to do anything to terminate unwanted pregnacies...

Or how about using the Vatican's diplomatic standing in the U.N. to block the distribution of condoms in AIDs-wracked African countries - assisting this horrifying disease to rage unchecked among the poorest populations on the planet?

Then we can recall the worldwide campaign of orchestrated bigotry against the recognition of any and all human rights for Gays and Lesbians...

Or the promotion to sainthood of cynical charlatans like "father Pio," who made a career of bilking the poor and desperately ill with promises of miraculous healing, or the albanian "mother Teresa," who forbade the administration of pain-killers to those dying in agony in her wretched Calcutta hospices (The same Teresa who, while ever crying poor, was never short of cash to travel the globe promoting sexual ignorance and anti-abortion bigotry).

In general, Wojtyla has spared no effort to promote ignorance, credulity, shame and fear at every opportunity -- but particularly among those already mired in poverty and suffering. It's no accident that his brand of catholicism has been hailed by the wealthy and powerful everywhere.

It's only unfortunate that he won't live long enough to ever face retribution at the hands of his victims.


Jonathan Dresner - 1/18/2004

Mr. Livingston is correct that the Christian missionaries who blended Christian teachings with existing traditions were clever. And he is also correct that I have some contempt for Christians who incorrectly believe their tradition to be a "pure" one, as a cursory examination of the religious traditions of Europe and the Mediterranean around the time of the origins and spread of Christianity will demonstrate otherwise. (I have some contempt for Jews and Muslims and Hindus, etc., who believe the same thing, in direct proportion to the volume with which they proclaim their purity and historical ignorance.)

I think he is at least partly wrong about the source of Christian syncretism: it is syncretic from its origins -- theological foundations and original practices -- in addition to the diversity it encountered in its missionary expansion.

I don't hate Christianity because it is syncretic. I object to Christianity's relentless attacks on other faiths and non-faiths, a tradition of which Mr. Livingston is clearly quite proud.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/18/2004

Your interpretation of Pascal's wager is based on a fallacy: that the choice is Christianity or nothing. In fact, it is possible that someone else's version of God (or non-God) is, in fact, in charge and the choice to accept Christianity produces a *worse* result than to choose nothing.

And while I sympathize with those who are persecuted for their faith, I still don't know what would be a particularly Christian response to those situations.

But if you really want to be tolerant and subdue intolerance, give me neither pity nor prayer for choosing to live my life without the guidance of your Gospels.

Caleb - 1/18/2004

You make a very serious charge against the Pontiff. Would you care to back up such slander with some examples or evidence?

While I am not a Catholic, it is difficult for me not to be impressed with the progressive and compassionate words AND DEEDS of the current Pope.

Caleb - 1/18/2004

All excellent points, Dave.

Frank Little - 1/18/2004

...proof positive, if any more is needed, that both indeed worship the same brutal, primitive and vindictive god.


Frank Little - 1/18/2004

As clearly demonstrated by Mr. Livingston, the forces promoting ignorance, fear and superstition -- most clearly exemplified in hatred of women -- are complimentary, and in all countries reinforced by the imperialist world order.

Fourier powerfully observed that the degree of women's emancipation in a society is the natural measure of the general emancipation.

The catholic church under Karol Wojtyla (J2P2) has certainly declared war on this central tennet of the Enlightenment rationalist tradition. In this it speaks a common language with political Islam.



Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

Yes, it merely is a first baby step in the right direction. But as our Chinese cousins say, "A trip of a thousand li begins with one step." And if that first step insn't taken, none will be.

Granted, Moslems generally appear to be so dreadfully insecure it very difficult for them to accept others on an equal level. Caleb, you refer to Indonesia. Remember what a tussle, 250,000 dead, thousands more brutalized & thousands imprisoned in Catholic East Timor's decades long struggle for freedom from conquering Islamic Indonesia. Evn today Christian Indonesians, approximately 4% of the population, are daily being murdered, burned out of home, church & business in predominately Muslim Indonesia.
The only place in recent decades that I recall Christians being so brutal toward their Muslim neighbor was in Yugoslavia, where Serbs especially were vicious toward Moslems (& toward Catholics as well)and Croats & Muslims frequently treated each other & their fellow Serbs with little kindness or courtesy, to put it mildly.

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

"Forward-looking secular forces have been blocked..." Amen! There indeed is one area the Vatican & various Catholic states have successfully made common cause with some Islamic states to resist some of the more grotesque evils promoted by secularism, evils such as abortion and birth control pills pushed by the UN bureaucracy.

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

"Forward-looking secular forces have been blocked..." Amen! There indeed is one area the Vatican & various Catholic states have successfully made common cause with some Islamic states to resist some of the more grotesque evils promoted by secularism, evils such as abortion and birth control pills pushed by the UN bureaucracy.

Caleb - 1/18/2004

That is a comforting story, but rather hollow given the pathological anti-Semitism expressed throughout the Muslim world. Just last night, CNN ran a program on Indonesia, in which all the people could talk about was Jews (not Israelis, not even Zionists- simly the Jews).

Sadly, while I know that there are many brave Muslims willing to speak out against this blind hatred, there are few in the Islamic world who have enough of a voice to warrent any media attention or recognition of any kind.

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

1) = Saturday
2) = title

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

To quote an AP story appearing in our paper, "The Gazette," Colorado Springs, today, "Jewish and Muslim clerics joined Pope John Paul II for a concert Satursy to encourage reconciliation among faiths in a word torn by religious violence.
Gilbert Levine, an American Jew who has been guest conductor at the Vatican before, led the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere of U.S. composer John Harbison's choral work "Abraham." The tiutle refers to the Bibical patriarch considered the father of the three faiths.
The Ankara State Polyphonic Choir from Turkey...also performed. The audience of hundreds included Catholic, Jewish and Muslim religious figures and representatives of Protestant and Orthodox churches."

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

For those whom I pity for refusing the gift of faith I of course pray as well.

In the end, if us Christians are mistaken, what does it cost to us? But if those who reject Christianity for the sake of pride or for the freedom to live a life of hedonistic license, what may it end up costing them? Pascal's Wager may not be reason enough to accept the Faith, but Pascal certaintly made a down-to-earth point.

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

How should Christians express intolerance? While tempted to say, "Ignore those who fail to agree with us," I'm not permitted to do so, because we are bidden to spread the Gospel & that requires social intercourse. But my guess is you are thinking of the social environment of a peaceful society such as we have in the U.S. today, I was thinking more about the situation in places like the Sudan & viet-Nam, where the Faith is under violent assault by the established government.
But to come to the nitty-gritty of your point, I pity those who refuse to accept the gift of faith, which each of us has been offered.

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

Thank you, C.R.W. for bringing the "political" aspect to my attention, I one who sometimes needs to be beat over the head to see the obvious. If the Christian Right has burned itself out as a political force, & it looks it may, that isn't a bad thing from a traditional Christian point-of-view. The political arena isn't where we should be expending our reources. Politics as often as it is compromise and adjustment is force. In short, it isn't Christian to evangelize by force of arms, albeit it may be O.K. to defend ourselves via force of arms if necessary. The efforts of Julius II to blend the faith with secular power did not bring bring the long-term fruitfulness that the preaching of St. Francis did, for instance.

Frank Little - 1/18/2004

"I wasn't aware that political Islam of the 20/21st century is that much different from that of centuries past. I was not aware... I was not aware ... etc."

Indeed, perhaps Mr. CRW should actually study something about the history of Arab world and the development of political Islam since WW2 and its relationship to U.S. foreign policy before holding forth on this topic.


Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

To me the subject of Christian history in relation to Islam & Judaism is interesting rather than trivial.

LA Dude, I couldn't agree more with with your implied crictizism of Jimmy Carter. As far as I'm concerned the only good thing to come out of the Carter Administration, those salad days of 21% inflation & a 20% prime rate, was Billie Beer. Also in agreement with you I remain a bit of a fan of Ytzhak Rabin, a soldier who made good.

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

Johnathan Dresner is certainly correct that Chrianity is syncrtic. But his contempt for uninformed Christians is strangely at odds wwith the frequrent expression of hatred of Christianity BECAUSE it is syncretic, the unhappiness of some with Christianity because it successfully co-opted various pagan festivals as tools of evangelism. Myself, it seems very clever of the early missionaires to have slowly & gentlely led people to the complex & complicated Faith via blending with then existing pagan holidays. What was wrong with doing that?

Dave Livingston - 1/18/2004

Mike Yak makes a point with which I strongly agree, after a fashion. He said, "I believe most Christians are geniunely nice people, as are most Moslems."

While Ralph Luker may not agree with the means by which I reach my conclusion. It evidently is Ralph's position that an historian rejects personal experience and common sense as tools of evaluating a subject. For instance, he objected to my claim that had Michael Besellies but lived as do Iin a rural environment he instinctively would have realized that European man could not have successfully spread across this continent without a widespread distribution of firearms, that he needed firearms to support himself by hunting until agriculture & ranching were well established and he needed them to defend himself from the Redman. In short, Bellesiles' theory is plain stupid.

The point is, in my travels & living abroad, in Africa, in SE Asia, Australia, Europe & in Latin America one thing I noticed was that all men love their children and most folks are decent, given the opportunity.

C.R.W. - 1/18/2004

" that 20/21st century political Islam is a product of the impasse of Islamic and other nations in which forward-looking secular forces have been blocked at every turn in their economic, social and political development by the capitalist world order dominated by U.S. imperialism."

I wasn't aware that political Islam of the 20/21st century is that much different from that of centuries past. I was also not aware that U.S. imperialism is forcing Hosni Mubarak to censor his press, jail his dissidents, and prevent elections. I was not aware that U.S. imperialism created the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance that forms the basis of the repressive modern Saudi state, or that it forces the ruling clan to prevent women from driving or leaving the house without an escort or voting, or that it will threaten sanctions against it for attempting political reforms, even if of the innocuous nature that has been successfully achieved in Jordan.

But I see your point, Frank. But why not go all the way back to when George Washington conquered Arabia w/Muhammad in 610 A.D., sailing across the Red Sea as he set off to push back the British, that's when it all started. The problem is much more long-standing than we realized. Just ask the Spanish. They still resent us for giving the go-ahead to the hordes that took over the Iberian peninsula way back in the day. Oh yes, that was before Spain became the empire that was replaced by Britain, and later America, but chronology doesn't really matter now, Frank, does it?

Fred Ferrel - 1/17/2004

The Civil War occured because slaveowners were unwilling to contemplate the eventual end of their inhuman livelihood.
We are not going to take Lincoln off the five dollar bill and put a picture of Jeff Davis whipping an African American. When half of America secedes and raises the Taliban flag over their state capitols then you can compare Ashcroft and Lincoln.

Jesse Lamovsky - 1/17/2004

Mr. Little,

With all due respect, if you think the Lincoln Administration prosecuted the States War on progressive grounds, you're wrong. I won't argue that the offensive against the seceding states was dressed up with progressive trappings, and that aspects of the North's policies were influenced by progressive elements, but that's not why the war was fought. It was fought so the Washington government could continue collecting the tariff revenues from the South, to hasten the victory of the mercantalists of the North over economic affairs, and to strengthen the centralized state as it sought to build a continental empire in North America (and beyond). The same progressives who burned out the South burned out the Plains Indians a decade or two later.

I do wonder why progressives, when discussing the States War, lose themselves in the details of the Southern social structure and seem to deliberately ignore the fact that this war enhanced the power of the American state like no other war before or since, with the possible exception of WWII. You seem to hold the imperial American state in unvarnished contempt. Why do you make an exception for the States War? Just because it destroyed slavery? Slavery wouldn't be around today anyway- it was on the wane even then. But the imperial state remains, thanks in no small part to the events of 1861-65.

You have no regard for John Ashcroft, and you shouldn't, either- I certainly don't. But don't pretend that you hold the Bill of Rights or the Constitution in such high esteem, and then applaud Lincoln's wholesale trashing of both documents, proclaiming his actions to be "regrettable", but of "unarguable necessity". Come on, now. Do you value the Bill of Rights or not? Is is sacrosanct or not? If it isn't- and you admitted it isn't- don't be surprised when someone like Ashcroft comes along and applies your logic in a way you don't like.

Frank Little - 1/17/2004

Once again with apologies to Voltaire, if OBL didn't exist the U.S. imperialists would have had to invent him... which, in point of fact, they did.

This is literally true - in that the CIA was bin Laden's initial paymaster and trainer in Carter/Reagan's proxy war against the USSR in Afghanistan.

But it is also true in a broader political sense: in that 20/21st century political Islam is a product of the impasse of Islamic and other nations in which forward-looking secular forces have been blocked at every turn in their economic, social and political development by the capitalist world order dominated by U.S. imperialism.


C.R.W. - 1/17/2004

If you don't consider yourself at war with terrorists/terrorism, and bin Laden is not your ally, then what is he to you - a neutral bystander?

Brian P. - 1/17/2004

Johnathan is correct I believe. All religions are syncretic to some degree. Christians who believe their religion isn't syncretic at all are simply uninformed. A few examples: 1) Christianity's major holidays were previously pagan seasonal festivals. 2) The Christian symbol of the fish you may have seen on people's cars was previously a Pythagorean mathematical symbol called 'vescia piscis'. 3) The idea of a fiery end to the world, a final battle between the forces of good and evil and a last judgement are all prefigured by the beliefs of Zoroastrians in Persia. - The list goes on but that ought to suffice to illustrate the point. New Religions which emerge always try to take advantage of pre-existent religious symbols, rites and customs while introducing newer theological ideas/approaches. It seems to me that Christian evangelicals who assert that Allah is a deity seperate of Jehovah are just being spiteful and myopic.

Frank Little - 1/16/2004

"Why not take it up with that great shredder of the Bill of Rights who established the precedent we're following: Abraham Lincoln."

Abraham Lincoln led the last progressive war ever fought by the U.S. government. Apparently unbeknownst to Mr. CRW the Civil War was a WAR; and Lincoln suspended habeas corpus out of regrettable but unarguable necessity.

In contrast, the spurious "War on Terror" or "War on Evil" is not a war but a PRETEXT for the U.S. ruling class to fast track a wholesale assault on the rights of citizens (even the right to have such rights) which has been long in the works.

But clearly, the people who provide Mr CRW with his daily talking points do have a civil war in mind; hence the constant cries of "treason" in response to even the mildest critics of their program.


C.R.W. - 1/16/2004

If you think the Bill of Rights is too absolute to allow for the consideration of any mitigating circumstances, why not rally against that facist injunction preventing the yelling of "fire" in a crowded theater? Why not get the ACLU to get the courts to retract that Nazi throwback - the doctrine of probable cause - as contrary to the fourth amendment?

Why not bomb Guantanamo Bay, incapacitating all those horrendous gas chambers and human incinerators, so we can liberate all the "dissident U.S. citizens" being held there on what is obviously our own U.S. soil?

Frank Little - 1/16/2004

A moment ago Mr. CRW was touting the virtues of 'liberal democracy' to be introduced into the Islamic world with the Pentagon cluster bombs, depleted uranium and Israeli torture chambers.

Now he admits that he's not bothered if realizing this program requires Ashcroft to shred the consitution and set up concentration camps for dissident U.S. citizens at home.

He even uses the line of all "Good Germans" in 1933: "If you have nothing to hide, you needn't worry."

Indeed, why should a little thing like a domestic police state be problem for consistent champions of "liberal democracy" like Mr. CRW?


C.R.W. - 1/16/2004

Frank, maybe you're worried that John Ashcroft will accidently stumble across all the porno DVDs you've been checking out from the local video store, but the rest of us could care less.

A right to a reasonable level of privacy is not defined merely by what you're too ashamed someone will find out about you. Not being ashamed about your peccadilloes is something you either choose or do not choose to grant yourself - you don't need the government for it. Freedom from shame or embarrassment is not specified in the Bill of Rights.

If it bothers you that credible attempts to take down the U.S. Government are treated in a more sensitive manner than almost anything else, why not take it up with that great shredder of the Bill of Rights who established the precedent we're following: Abraham Lincoln.

Frank Little - 1/16/2004

Bill of Rights... hmmm. You mean that piece of paper Ashcroft has been using to wipe his #$@!?


Caleb - 1/15/2004

You are absolutely right. There are numerous theological similarities between Judaism and Islam.

For example, both prevent the image of God from being depicted in art (hence no fancy paintings in most synagogues and mosques). Both Islam and Judaism view God as a paternal judge (firm but fair), more than a loving forgiver of all transgressions.

Of course, many of the literacy and dietary laws are the same. Finally, both Judaism and Islam put ultimate judgment on actions. In other words, good and bad depend on how you act and what you do. Scriptureally, there is little focus on one's thoughts and feelings. In Christianity, on the other hand, judgment is based on faith, not deeds.

None of the three are any better or worse from a normative perspective. All are fundamentally similar in certain respects and different in others. In terms of comparison however, Judaism and Islam is far closer theologically, than Christianity is to either.

Nemo - 1/15/2004

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? I imagine a Muslim would say yes, since the Muslims claim descent from Abraham, revere Jesus as the pentultimate prophet and have an afterlife reward/punishment concept that is similiar to Christianity (though it could be argued it derives ultimately from Zoroastrianism). Islam also takes certain things from Judiasm (prohibition of pork; circumcision) that are rejected by Christianity.

Of course a Christian sees his religion as the ultimate and any later additions or subtractions as heresy and thus believes the Muslim worships a different God.

You might as well ask if Christians and Jews worship the same God. Virtually every Christian will say yes (apart from ancient Gnostics and that latter-day Gnostic, Simone Weil). I would expect most Jews take a different view of the matter (I'm not Jewish). If you believe the Hebrew Bible is the last word of God, then the additions and subtractions in its doctrines in Chrsitianity are heresy, thus Christians worship a different God.

When you base your religion (in part)on an older religion you claim to be worshipping the same God as the older religion. When a newer religion is based (in part) on your religion you claim that adherants of that religion are worshipping a different God. That's an oversimplificiation to be sure, but I think it is basically correct.

C.R.W. - 1/15/2004

Frank, no bumper sticker could allow me to address your confused and conflated attacks so effectively.

To clarify, my support - as you take it to concern you, is for liberal democracy and U.S. national interests (particularly security interests). Fortunately for everyone, the two goals coincide more than those who fear the U.S. want to admit. Your pejorative use of the term "imperialism" to erroneously describe what I support, notwithstanding, as it smacks of Roman connotations that I don't recall having ascribed to. Maybe the circumstances surrounding our action in Iraq was different than those surrounding what we did to Germany, Japan, etc., but I don't believe the intended political outcome of our ultimate goals to be any more inherently imperialistic.

Once the Islamists ascribe to the ideals of the Bill of Rights, I'll be certain to accept their attempted empire as similarly benign.

Frank Little - 1/15/2004

"All the more reason to vigorously oppose the Islamist-inspired attempts at instituting Sharia"

My apologies, Mr. CRW only opposes these attempts if they are "Islamist-inspired." If U.S. imperialism is repressing women in the name of religious obscurantism to further its interests, this must by definition be a good thing.

Since Mr. CRWs posts only repeat again and again his unwavering support for U.S. imperialism, wouldn't he save time and effort by simply applying a suitably worded bumper-sticker to the back of his SUV and leaving it at that?

Jonathan Dresner - 1/15/2004

Actually, as a Jew, I have always felt that Islam and Judaism were closer to each other than Christianity was to either. The liminal nature and intercessory role of Jesus Christ is a major theological difference from the "God is God and Humans are Humans" distinction in Judaism and Islam.

But your point that the monotheisms are more similar to each other than to non-monotheistic faiths is tautological but reasonably sound.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/15/2004

Mr. Livingston says: "Granted, us Christians in America perhaps have been too tolerant of those who hate us."

As The Citizen said, I was speaking of Christianity as a component of political authority. Whatever I think of Christianity, I can't deny that it is the world's most popular religion at the moment (if you ignore sectarian division, of course). And it is entirely possible that someone will reestablish a "Christian Nation" somewhere, possibly even here, which will then have the chance to prove to the world whether Christianity really is a more responsible religion than the others.

I'm quite curious, though: what specific intolerance would you recommend against those who dislike or disdain the Christian faith?

C.R.W. - 1/15/2004

Given the current strength of Islam as a social force, it is unlikely that we will be able to completely do away with the specter of Sharia anytime soon. What we can do, however, is to encourage a model not unlike English common law, which is a collection of customary court rulings dating way back before the American constitution and still in force today. The most reasonable next step is to encourage a model where Sharia ceases to be the final arbiter, but only as a back up in matters where constitutionally outlined legislation is vague or absent. This is probably a much more appropriate fit to the stage of democracy and law at which most Arab societies have become stuck, and has been advocated by legal experts who understand the field.

It is easy as a Westerner fond of one's liberal democracy to become overly excited with the prospect of challenging Sharia to the point of eviseration (given its many repressively backward stances and the cultural and political challenge it represents among immigrant societies here and in Europe), but a constitution outlining a legislative process amenable to sufficiently democratic means provides enough of a fulcrum against which to curb the power of a previously inviolable code.

C.R.W. - 1/15/2004

I have the utmost confidence that Jonathan Dresner is perfectly capable of defending himself, but if you read the post, he refered specifically to Christianity burning "itself out *as a political force.*" (Emphasis added).

As for tolerance being an important force for good in American life, I have nothing but respect for Christians who feel this quality is driven by their faith, (or for anyone who is so driven by similarly genuine convictions, for that matter).

C.R.W. - 1/15/2004

Nice link. Nice agenda and nice lack of depth in reporting, too. But I did notice how it spoke of women being able to protest and speak out to their rights - a development I take it you missed.

Seeing as how I was 5 years old when the 1980s began and 15 years old at the conclusion of the decade, I find it a bit presumptuous for you to tell me what I supported. But since your impotence in gaining ground in an argument without changing the subject compells me to pity you I would say the following. At the same time, I see a difference between supporting a warring faction in an armed conflict and supporting the way its government treats its own people, especially after a decade and the collapse of the Soviet empire. Of course, we could have supported the Soviets in Afghanistan; do you really suppose that a communist Afghanistan would have done anything more for freedom and democracy? You unwittingly bring up an interesting consideration, since after the collapse of its benefactor something less repressive might have emerged. Although looking at the remaining Central Asian post-Soviet republics, this hardly looks to be the case.

I'm not sure they could have won, in either case, and the population would have resented us much more for supporting the institution of a government that, aside from being at least as repressive as it was everywhere else, would have been completely foreign to them.

Nice try, now back to the sloganeering!

LADude - 1/15/2004

Alfred Nobel invented dynamite so that left leaning Palestinian terrorists could blow up pizza parlors in Brooklyn. Good thing those turban-headed Jihadist Norwegians don't manage to get their Piece Prize winners, such as Al Qaeda supporter Jimmy the Greek Carter, on HNN. Any group that would honor a Hamas Marxist like Ytzhak Rabin deserves no voice at all.

Dave Livingston - 1/15/2004

Mr. Dresner wishfully bleats that Christianity burned itself out. Do tell? Then why were there more than a dozen folks present this Thursday morning for Mass at our little country parish (a four mile drive for myself)? Why too has this parish of 75 families in 1975 now a parish with more than 650 families registered and needing to build a new churh facility to accommodate the continuing growth of the parish? This regardless in 1988 an annex was built onto the little church, but the annex has proven inadequate in size.

But then, nearly all churches in Colorado Springs are growing, a reflection of our rapid population growth. Whether or no pathetic secular types approve, Christianity is far from a dying force in America.

Granted, us Christians in America perhaps have been too tolerant of those who hate us. But heeding the challenge "What would Jesus do," abiding by the Golden Rule, isn't easy for some of us. Nonetheless, one is obligated to make the attempt. Still, I took heart from our Jesuit parish priest's homily this morning, when he said, "It's O.K. to become angry at God. Becoming angry at Him is [in a manner of speaking] prayer."

Dave Livingston - 1/15/2004

Herr Doktor Little,

Please cite specific objections, point-by-point to Christianity rather than proclaiming your bigotry against it via a dead European's bitter whimper.

Frank Little - 1/15/2004


You were no fan of Sharia except when Washingtons Osamas were skinning schoolteachers alive for teaching little girls to read and write during the 1980s. Reagan's mujahedin "freedom fighters" were splashing acid in the faces of unveiled women, sure. But hey, "life in a democracy requires compromises" as you say, the goal at that time was to destroy the USSR.

U.S. imperialism right or wrong!
Heads U.S. imperialism wins, tails women lose!

The link is


Dave Livingston - 1/15/2004

From the point-of-view of a not particularly well-informed Catholic layman it long has been my understanding that (A) Judaism, Christianity & Islam are the three "Peoples of the Book," all three monotheistic faiths having the same roots, (B) Islam is sometimmes considered a Christian heresy, (C) we all worship the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, (D) the three faiths are each far, far closer to one another than any one is to Hinduism or any of the other Eastern religions, (E) there is much common ground between the three, (F) Nonetheless they ARE different faiths, or at least Islam is more different from Christianity than Christianity is frim Judaism. & yes, Moslems revere the B.V.M., the Blessed Virgin Mary & they honor Jesus as a prophet, but for us Christians He Is God made incarnate, a very basic divide between the two faiths, as it divides Christianity & Judaism.

C.R.W. - 1/15/2004

Provide the link.

Despite the second-hand nature of editorials, Thomas Friedman is hardly ignorant about MidEast affairs:

"Islamists will have to accept being unhappy that the system does not mandate Sharia law as the constitution, but only "reasonably" unhappy, because Islam will be the official religion of the state and respected as an important basis of legislation and governance. Secularists will have to accept being unhappy that Iraq's new basic law gives Islam an important symbolic place in governance, but only "reasonably" unhappy, because this secular law and judges will still provide the basis for a new rule of law."

- NYT January 15, 2004.

I understand that you might be distressed to learn that life in a democracy requires you to occasionally make compromises in your ideology, Frank. I'm certainly no fan of Sharia, but as long as it is not inviolably superior to a legally sanctioned constitution, that's a sign of success. Given the popularity of Ayatollah Sistani and his willingness to challenge the decisions of the Council, I'd say we did ok. In this regard we even made out better than in Afghanistan.

Frank Little - 1/15/2004

I suppose all these bold patriots will be happy that the U.S. imperialists' puppet "Iraqi Governing Counsel" has now decreed the dissolution of the Iraq's secular legal system and imposed Islamic law -- against the protests of thousands of Iraqi women.


C.R.W. - 1/15/2004

"Do you know why we don't have Christian governments in the West anymore? Because the revolutionaries were right: politicization of religion is oppressive and narrow-minded and counter-productive and dangerous; private prayer and public worship are all very well, but a diverse population deserves a secular government. Otherwise, once industrial technology was available to Christian theocracies, I have no doubt that they'd have been used. Christianity was lucky enough to burn itself out as a political force before it could do that kind of damage."

All the more reason to vigorously oppose the Islamist-inspired attempts at instituting Sharia and governments committed to maintaining the dignity of dar al Islam in these "infidel lands."

Jonathan Dresner - 1/15/2004

OK, I was curious enough to do a little googling to see where this odd idea came from: or you can see the same article reprinted at

You know, the same logic would prove (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that Christianity is a revival of the Persian sun-god cult of Mithras.

As I said: all religions are syncretic to some degree.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/15/2004

... because comparative atrocities is a loosers game. How about Atlantic slavery, with it's 25% death rate in transit to a life of degradation and suffering? (and how about the near-total obliteration of American civilizations on contact with Christian Europe?) How about the slaughter of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, when Muslim and Jewish blood ran ankle-deep in the streets? How about the use of WMD against civilian urban populations, the most popular pasttime of Christian nations in WWII? How about two hundred years of warfare in Europe after the Reformation, fueled by Christian fervor and intolerance, killing hundreds of thousands of Christians (and not a few Jews and a lot of old herbalists). Then there's the Jews: expulsions, Inquisitions, forced conversions, pogroms, Crusade warm-ups, ghettoes....

Do you know why we don't have Christian governments in the West anymore? Because the revolutionaries were right: politicization of religion is oppressive and narrow-minded and counter-productive and dangerous; private prayer and public worship are all very well, but a diverse population deserves a secular government. Otherwise, once industrial technology was available to Christian theocracies, I have no doubt that they'd have been used. Christianity was lucky enough to burn itself out as a political force before it could do that kind of damage.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/15/2004

Though there are very few examples of truly original religions (syncretism is common to all revelation) and Islam did retain a little more of the pre-revelation past (transformed, in discourse at least) than its adherents would probably admit, you're going to have to cite some sources before the most uncomporomisingly monotheistic faith gets "refuted" as a pagan revival.

Or, to put it more plainly, everything I know about Islam suggests that you are either wrong or.... wrong.

David - 1/15/2004

The Muslim's claim that Allah is the God of the Bible and that Islam arose from the religion of the prophets and apostles is refuted by solid, overwhelming archeological evidence. Islam is nothing more than a revival of the ancient Moon-god cult. It has taken the symbols, the rites, the ceremonies, and even the name of its god from the ancient pagan religion of the Moon-god.

David - 1/15/2004

I don't expect you'll be hearing from Frank Little anytime soon (unless it's to deliver a cheap slogan posing as a substantive answer.)

Jesse Lamovsky - 1/15/2004

Easy for you to say it, while you sit comfortably in the most free, most prosperous nation in the history of civilization- a nation won, built, and defended by Christians.

Very intelligent, too, considering we just got through a century in which over a hundred million people were shot, worked, gassed, burned, tortured and starved to death by their own governments- governments that violently rejected religion (particularly Christianity) and promised heaven on earth, only to deliver hell.

Pop quiz, Mr. Little: name one Christian nation that ever committed atrocities that were even remotely on the scale of those perpetrated by the Christian-hating Jacobins, the Christian-hating Soviets, the Christian-hating Nazis, or the Christian-hating Khmer Rouge. Just one, please. This inquiring (Jewish agnostic) mind would like to know!

C.R.W. - 1/14/2004

if that were the case, they'd feature articles by NOBEL Prize winners, not Pulitzer Prize winners.

Frank Little - 1/14/2004

I like the way Voltaire phrased it:

"Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world."

"Every sensible man, every honest man, must hold the Christian sect in horror."


Dutch - 1/14/2004

That is true...but I was not trying to analyze Islam, perhaps it came across that way. It may depend whom you talk to how the Prophet is percieved, but the OT describes David as a man who sinnned and then re-found God (or maybe God found him). On the Islam on line board I have never seen anyone admit that Mohammad may have commited excesses, or had normal human male desirers

Paul N. Lewis - 1/14/2004

Is HNN going for sensationalistic and trivial quantity over
historically informed quality ?

Mike Yak - 1/14/2004

But...just out of curiousity. Why didn't you jump on Mr. Howard's post and ask him for specifics and imply he may be a bigot?

Mike Yak - 1/14/2004

You're right...I was merely replying in kind to Mr. Howard's very specific "Looking at some of the things Muslim mullahs proclaim, I sometimes feel that they have fallen into a trap and actually follow Satan..."

The word was proclamations not beliefs...

Of the top of my head here are a few proclamations made by Christians, that I consider somewhat dubious. All are paraphrased as I don't really feel up to researching this silliness:

Oral Roberts "God told me he would strike me dead if I don't raise $1 million"

Pat Robertson's recent proclamation that God has told him George Bush will win the next election in a landslide.

NFL/NBA/MLB players proclamation that Jesus wants their team to win.

Evander Holyfield proclamation that it is the will of God that he beat Mike Tyson (I have to admit the outcome of that first fight nearly sent me to church)

Assembly of God teachings that criticize any use of alcohol when Jesus' first miracle was providing wine at a wedding

Please don't drag this out in a debate...anyone would know that some Christians proclaim some wild stuff. I am not, in any way, attributed those statements to all Christians or to Christ himself.

At the same time, don't attribute the proclamations of some muslims to all muslims and conclude they must be following Satan. Certainly, some so-called Christians would fall into the same category, but I don't believe that to be true of most Christians. I think most are genuinely nice people, as are most muslims.

Caleb - 1/14/2004

Your analysis of Islam is incorrect.

You say that "Followers of Islam speak highly of the prophet as being the most perfect of humans." This is only party true. Muhammad is speaken very highly of, as is King David by Jews, yet neither was considered to be perfect in the same sense as Jesus was. In fact, Muslims do not even allow paintings of Muhammad in order to prevent him from ever being worshipped. To Muslims, the message is clear: There is no other God but Allah.

You are correct when you say that "There is no comparison between the message of Jesus and that of Muhammad." However, it was never meant to be the same. While the message of Jesus is more philosophical in nature, the message of Muhammad was also very political. While Jesus was content to build his kingdom of heaven, Muhammad was worrying about a kingdom, a government, and civil laws here on earth. They are 2 very different messages for different purposes.

William Monroe - 1/14/2004

Well, there are at least two accounts of the annunciation to Mary in the Qur'an, and the angel declares clearly that it is Allah who is making this miracle happen. Is this not the same God the Christians worship? Richard Land probably is not aware of this, but he seems to be a theologian who knows nothing about God, an oxymoron. It's good to see Bush get something right.

Dutch - 1/14/2004

It's late and I dont have the energy for an informative post but for me it's not whether we worship the same God; it's the issue of Muhammad as the final prohphet which is of utmost importance. Followers of Islam speak highly of the prophet as being the most perfect of humans, yet the stories about him in the Koran and Hadiths speak of a highly conflicted man. A man who spoke of peace and justice on one side, and allowed fellow warriors to have sexual relations with captive slave girls as long as they did not complete the act. There is no comparison between the message of Jesus and that of Muhammad.

John Kipper - 1/13/2004

Now, that was a really informative and insightful post. Why not explicitly state what are the whack beliefs of Christians? You probably have several good points, but they should be stated. Otherwise, you lood like a bigot.

Mike Yak - 1/13/2004

Christians proclaim some pretty whack stuff, too.

Clyde W. Howard - 1/13/2004

Well, the answer is - I don't know. However, I can't (as a Christian) feel other than that Mohammed and his followers are seriously deluded, at best, in the direction they have taken.

Looking at some of the things Muslim mullahs proclaim, I sometimes feel that they have fallen into a trap and actually follow Satan, who successfully disguised himself (if not to Mohammed, then to those who followed his teachings in subsequnt generations).

I suppose I will, eventually, get a chance to find out the true answer. To that as well as several other questions...