Do Catholics and Muslims worship the same God?

The concerns reflected in my title are often based on a great misunderstanding. When the Church has referred to Muslims worshiping the one God, it is meant in the sense of both Christians and Muslims being monotheists. Monotheism includes Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The Second Vatican Council, in its document, Nostra Aetate, states:

“They [Muslims] worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.”

In practicing interfaith dialogue and ecumenism, the Church seeks to build bridges with those who profess other beliefs by identifying areas of common ground. It is good to do apologetics and defend what one believes to be the truth, and also to rejoice in actual common ground (ecumenism), in order to foster peace and better mutual understanding. The Catholic Church holds that both are good and worthwhile endeavors, and harmonious.

If you read closely, the council isn't saying that “the Muslim God [Allah] and the Christian God are exactly the same.” Indeed, the document could not possibly be equating Allah and Yahweh, because we Catholics believe God is a Trinity (One God in Three Persons), and Muslims (and Jews) do not.

The context of the statement is supremely important in determining the meaning intended. Moreover, one must distinguish between two notions: 1.) A Muslim worshiping the One he believes to be the true God, and 2.) The recipient of God-directed worship, even if erroneous in some respects, being the God Who Really Is.

As an analogy, imagine a child who was adopted but didn't yet know it. He or she might say, “I am really thankful that my mother gave me birth.” Now, this person thinks that his or her birth mother is the woman who in reality is only the adoptive mother. But nevertheless, the attitude of thankfulness for having been given birth in a sense “transfers” over to the real birth mother.

In other words, it has to be the birth mother who is truly receiving praise because the person giving it intends it for that person who gave him birth: and that person is who she is whether the child knows this or not. The fact that there is a mistake concerning the actual person regarded as the birth mother does not change the factuality of it.

Likewise, a committed Muslim is worshiping what he sincerely believes to be God. He is mistaken, of course, as to the actual definition and ontological reality, but he is worshiping in common with Christians, insofar as he is also a monotheist.

Yahweh is receiving that praise in reality because He is the true Creator. In that sense the Muslim is indeed worshiping God, but in relative ignorance.

I believe that God (that is, Yahweh!) takes this into account, and the person gets some credit for what he does know and Who he wants to worship, even though he is mistaken in his theology.

The point is that words have to be read in context and in accordance with an overall worldview. No one seriously maintains that the Catholic Church has stopped believing in the Trinity. Therefore, when the Church says that Muslims and Jews worship the one God, it cannot possibly mean that “Muslims and Jews are trinitarian.”

Therefore, it must mean that “Muslims and Jews are also monotheists, as we are, and worship the one God.” Context (and the writer's purpose) are supremely important.

It sounds a lot better and is infinitely more positive in nature to say:

“Catholics and Muslims both worship the one God of Abraham,” etc., than to say, “We believe that Muslims worship a false God, because Allah isn't trinitarian; therefore, He doesn't exist at all, so that Muslims worship a figment of their imagination; the only true God is the trinitarian Yahweh of the Bible.”

That would rather defeat the ecumenical, diplomatic purpose, wouldn't it? That purpose is precisely to find things in common (monotheism being one). The language is necessarily different, because the purpose and goals are different.

Dave Armstrong has been a published Catholic apologist since 1993. Dave has written or edited 48 books on apologetics, including several bestsellers. If you’d like to help keep his influential teaching apostolate going as a much-needed monthly supporter, write to Dave at [email protected].