God as Father in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

April 15, 2006 at 12:23 am (Uncategorized)

Christians and Jews are very familiar with addressing God with familial titles. “Our Father in Heaven” is a very common title used by both Jews and Christians. In Hebrew prayers, “Avinu” (“our Father”) is used quite a bit. Christians are quite wont to refers to themselves and others as children of God, sons and daughters of God. Indeed, it is common for Jews and Christians to view the relationship between humanity and God as between children and a Parent.

Such a view is anathema in Islam. It is interesting that God is never referred to as “Father.” The concept that God could be a father is strongly condemned in the Qur’an itself. Of course, this is mainly in the Christian God-is-the-Father-of-Jesus sense but despite this Muslims cannot call God the father of humanity or humanity the children of God. Such an intimate relationship is considered to be completely improper.

The proper relationship with and conception of God in Islam is reflected by the abundance of names using the construction of ‘abd + one of the 99 names of God. Some common names of God used this way are allaah, ar-raHman, ar-raHeem, al-malik, al-‘azeez, al-qaadir, and ar-razzaaq, among others. Technically, any of the 99 names can be used, although many are not used at all. (I have yet to hear of anyone having been named ‘abdu dhoo-l-jalaali wa-l-ikraam, for example.)

In Arabic, “‘abd” means “slave.” “Servant” would be a more modern, softer translation, yet it really means “slave.” Humans are God’s slaves because He is their master (maalik) as He is their creator (khaaliq). Humans owe Him their unconditional obedience. The relationship between humanity and God is necessarily like that between a slave and his master. Anything more intimate, such as that of a child and a Parent, is anathema: it robs God of His majesty.

In Islam, God’s involvement has been through humans (ostensibly, mediators). Even in the case of revelation, it was never from God directly to the prophets. Revelations were sent via the angel Gabriel (jibraa’eel). Only Muhammad is said to have seen God, and that too when he had his Ascent and Vision of Heaven. If this was only a dream or vision, even this would have to thrown out. In contrast to this, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are full of descriptions of how God had contact with humanity. Indeed, this becomes even more dramatic in the New Testament when God Himself became human for the sake of humanity.

It should not be so difficult to imagine why Islam is so different. Even though, theologically, it can be said that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God, the Muslim understanding of God is radically different from that of Jews and Christians.

inna naHnu-l-a’lam.



  1. adolfo velasquez said,

    A lot of Islam seems, to me, to come back to slavery. Unless I’m mistaken, it was almost entirely spread through conquest, rather than conversion – conquest is certainly is a trait of slave owning societies. The Muslims sold, and continue to sell Africans into slavery. They treat other religions as dhimmis or slaves. And, in accordance with this post, their relationship with God is as his slave.

    I wonder if a study of the problems faced by recently freed slaves after the Civil War would shed any light on how we could break Islam’s hold on much of the world.

    In any case, it’s certainly ironic that the US has the largest population of willing converts to Islam, with the Nation of Islam claiming to free people from their slave past.

  2. Christopher Taylor said,

    The biggest difference between Allah of Islam and the God of Christianity is redemption. The Christian God condemns all sin eternally and all men are born in sin, they are not condemned for sinful acts, but rather sin because they are in a state of condemnation: sinners.

    In Christian theology, God condescends to save mankind who cannot save themselves because of this “original sin” which condemns all humanity to hell. The cross and the work of Jesus Christ saves, not the efforts of mankind, and faith is a gift, not a duty.

    Islam is entirely about submission and obedience, about law and living a right life – in this sense it is like every other religion on earth except Christianity in which one is accepted or achieves paradise (however it is defined) by personal effort and behavior.

    This is a stark difference, and partly why Islam views God as almighty tyrant and master rather than Christianity’s God as daddy, as well as master and Lord.

  3. urbansocrates said,

    The conception of God you describe is in keeping with the Islamic idea of God’s transcendence. I spent part of my youth in Florida, and met a great many Christians who described Jesus as their “personal savior” and saw a personal relationship with Jesus as the crux (excuse the pun) of their belief system.

    Ultimately, though, all the Abrahamic religions and their offspring are perforce intolerant of other religions. That’s what you sign up for when you are a monotheist. The bizarre part is that currently so much of Islam is so intolerant now, and that the West is Christian and secularized. Historically the reverse has been notable (Akbar the Great, the Islamic kingdoms in Spain are two examples that come to mind).

    What so many Westerners fail to realize is that Enlightenment thinking is at the root of it anti-religious in its orientation. Most tend to think of Christianity as somehow embodying Enlightenment ideals simply because the Enlightenment took place in the Christian West. A great many fundamentalist Christians believe that because Christianity is the dominant religion in the US, the US is a “Christian nation.” This group makes up the most intolerant wing of the Republican Party, but they are pandered to precisely because of their political organization and strength in what used to be the Democratic stronghold of the southern US.

    That the US now has a fundamentalist Christian running the country is an accidental result of this political alliance. Even so, George W. Bush can’t even reach the political ends that the right wing of his party wants — precisely because of the Enlightenment principles on which the US government is based — while in an Islamic country, typically the political leadership either controls the religious leadership or is controlled by it. Perhaps that relationship between governed and government is an extension of the conception of God you describe. Either I am the government’s master or its slave, with no room for another way of looking at government as springing from popular sovereignty.

  4. Major John said,

    As much as I have dealt with Muslims, and spent some time in the Islamic world – I am not afraid to say I just learned a whole lot. Thanks for this post. Very enlightening.

  5. Christopher Taylor said,

    President Bush is not a fundamentalist Christian. He is an evangelical, but not a fundamentalist, not with his “all religions lead to heaven” nonsense and not with the denomination he belongs to.

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