Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD
The third verse of the Holy Quran is, ‘the Gracious, the Merciful.’ The equivalent in the New Testament of this verse could be:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
The Christians emphasize frequently, the Divine attribute, ‘God is love,’ especially when they hit a vulnerable spot in an argument or debate. We fully agree with the emphasis that it is one of the most important attributes.
In addition to describing this attribute in some detail, the Holy Quran also says about Christians, “And thou shalt assuredly find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ to be the nearest of them in love to the believers. That is because amongst them are savants and monks and because they are not proud.” (Al Quran 5:83)
So, the scripture of Islam wants to inculcate love not only among the believers but also between humans of different faiths, especially the Muslims and the Christians.
Having said that, let me now develop the understanding of the Divine in the two religions further. The following are the verses that follow the above quoted verses from 1 John:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:9-12)
Here, I will need to take an exception with one of the claims in these verses. A God, who offers his son for a grudging suicide is not a loving God! Bear with me. Read on and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.” Many a thought leaders in the West have expressed opinion that a God, who offers his son for a half hearted suicide is not only not loving but also not wise, including President Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. An All Knowing God could certainly come up with a better prescription. A God, who cannot forgive a genuinely contrite person without a material atonement and blood of his son, is not Gracious or Merciful and certainly should not be called all love. However, if we take vicarious atonement out of the Christian theology then God of Muslim and Christian traditions is more loving than a mother or a father.
If some of the dogma of Christianity are given up then understanding of the Divine and the moral teachings of Christianity and Islam become very similar. Here is an example which illustrates the common teaching of compassion between the two religions. First a quote from the Gospel of Matthew:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-45)
In the Islamic paradigm by the King in the above parable, we should understand God Almighty, Himself. There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran emphasizing kindness and the teaching of being service minded and the teachings are illustrated with different metaphors. Here I would like to reproduce a Hadith which is very similar to the presentation of the Gospel of Matthew:
Indeed, Allah will say to his servant when He will be taking account of him on the Day of Judgment, ‘O’ son of Adam, I was hungry and you did not feed me.’ He will answer: ‘How could I feed you? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so who is the son of so and so felt hunger, and you did not feed him. Alas, had you fed him you would have found that (i.e. reward) with Me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink.’ He will reply: ‘How could I give You drink? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so, the son of so and so was thirsty and you did not give him drink. Alas, if you had given him, you would have found that (i.e. reward) with me.’ ‘O’ son of Adam, I became sick and you did not visit Me.’ He will answer: ‘How could I visit You? You are the Lord of the worlds!’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that my servant so and so, the son of so and so became sick and you did not visit him. Alas, had you visited him, you would have found Me with him.’
Incidentally, the detailed parable or metaphor from the Gospel of Matthew also illustrates that our works count and the Christian emphasis on ‘Faith alone,’ in Protestantism, more than in Catholicism, is one more paradox or dogma that needs to be replaced with the Islamic teachings, with constant emphasis on belief as well as actions. (Al Quran 103:1-4) As an aside, the futility of the ‘Faith alone,’ has been exposed by me in a satire: As long as I can believe my wife is the most beautiful …
Now, let me present a few excerpts from the writings of the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in commentary of the third verse of the Holy Quran, ‘the Gracious, the Merciful!’ The Messiah, may peace be on him, wrote:
The general grace of the Lord of the worlds envelops everything and nothing is deprived of that grace. He is the source of all grace, the ultimate cause of all lights and the fountainhead of all mercies. His Being is the support of the universe and is the refuge of all high and low. He it is Who brought everything out of the darkness of nothingness and bestowed upon everything the mantle of being. No other being than Him is in himself present and eternal or is not the recipient of His grace. Earth and heaven, man and animals, stones and trees, souls and bodies, have all come into existence by His grace. [Brahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 1, pp. 191-192, footnote]
Despite God being love and mercy, we see suffering, at times, in this world and both Christianity and Islam share the concept of hell, even though it is not eternal in the Islamic teaching. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani explains:
The basic attribute of God Almighty is Love and Mercy and that is the mother of all attributes. It is the same attribute which sometimes comes into operation in the shape of the attributes of Glory and Wrath for the purpose of human reform, and when the reform has been effected then Love appears in its true form and remains in operation forever as a bounty. God is not like a short-tempered person who loves to torment. He wrongs no one, but people wrong themselves. All salvation lies in His Love and all torment is to draw away from Him. [Chashma-e-Masihi, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 20, pp. 369-370]
Read additional excerpts by him about Allah in Essence of Islam.
To read excerpts about the commentary of the first chapter of the Holy Quran: Al Fatiaha.
Now let me link a half hour speech by Maulana Azhar Haneef, Vice President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, titled: Loving God of Islam – Mercy and Grace: The Principal Attributes of Allah. The speech was delivered at the time of annual gathering of the community in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to an audience of 12,000:
The debate between the Muslim and the Christian understanding of loving God is age old and was especially intense, when the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, may peace be on him, started his work of renaissance of Islam. Mr. Sirajuddin, a professor at Forman Christian College Lahore, became a Christian under the influence of Christian missionaries. The four questions he submitted to the Promised Messiah relate to the teachings of Islam regarding Salvation, Oneness of God, Jihad, Love and Compassion. He answered these questions in a book: Four Questions by Mr. Sirajuddin, a Christian, and their Answers
The first question was:
According to Christian belief, Jesus’ mission in this world was to show his love for mankind and to sacrifice his life for their sake. Can the mission of the Founder of Islam be said to possess both these qualities, or can it be described in better terms than ‘love’ and ‘sacrifice’?
You can read the whole of the book online in Alislam.org