How Islam has Influenced the Christian understanding of God

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Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

When Baylor University researchers asked their 1700 participants about what they think God looks like, 60 percent drew abstract or nature scenes.[1]

Stated in another way, the sons and daughters of the Abrahamic faiths, believe in a Deist God, Who is the Creator of our universe and is Transcendent, beyond time, space and matter.

Pope Francis has been making headlines recently by some of his liberal yet controversial remarks.  In a recent interview he talked about God, which was covered by International Business Times, with the heading, Pope Francis: ‘I Believe In God, Not In A Catholic God.’

The Pope said in the interview with  the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, as quoted by the Inquisitr. “Jesus is my teacher and my  pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my  Being. Do you think we are very far apart?”

The Pope did equivocate and hedge his bets, in his interview, but, if we go with the statement quoted, he is describing Islam rather than Catholicism and the heading covering the news, certainly talks about Unitarian understanding of God.

However, this Islamic influence is not a recent phenomenon, rather it dates to the very first interaction between the Muslims and the Christians, in the seventh and the eighth centuries.

The Holy Quran presents and demonstrates pure Monotheism and repeatedly stresses humanity of all the prophets, especially of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and the Prophet Jesus, may peace be on both of them.

It is said that a third of the Holy Quran is about describing and illustrating Monotheism of Islam and the Jewish and other prophets.

Since the time of Umar Farooq (Caliph from 634-644 CE), the Christians had constant interaction with the Muslims in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia Minor and gradually the pure teachings of Monotheism in Islam, influenced some of the Christians.

The Islamic influence is most apparent, in the life history of Emperor Leo III (c. 685 – 18 June 741), who was Byzantine Emperor from 717 until his death in 741.  According to a three hour documentary, Christianity, the First 1000 years:

Byzantium fails to take note of the rising giant from the sand of the desert.  … As the Islamic conquest sweep over North Africa, the Middle East and Asia Minor, Byzantine Empire seems helpless to stop the on slaught.  As he watches his dominions fall away, the newly crowned Emperor Leo searches for answers.  He seizes up on the notion that his imperial misfortunes are due not to strategic problems but to spiritual deviation.  The Emperor comes to believe that the Islamic conquest is God’s retribution, for the blasphemous worship of icons, images of Jesus, Mary and other saints.

The icons had long been the staples of Byzantine religious life.  But, now the Emperor convinces himself that the worship before an icon is actually bowing to wood and paint and is therefore, guilty of the sin of idolatry.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, as it describes Pope Leo III’s efforts against the idolatrous practices among the Christians, in the early eighth century:

The origins and nature of his policy of Iconoclasm, the most singular religious development in his reign, are obscure and controversial. He was deeply religious and seems to have become genuinely convinced of the sacrilegious character of religious pictures and relics as objects of veneration in worship services. It is uncertain whether any boyhood experiences in northern Syria, including contact with Muslims, influenced his Iconoclastic views, as his critics often charged. The Iconoclastic opinions of certain bishops in western Asia Minor did, however, have some effect upon him. Thus, in 726 he began to speak out publicly against the use of sacred pictures.[2]

After an apparently successful attempt to enforce the baptism of all Jews and Montanists in the empire (722), Leo III issued a series of edicts against the worship of images (726–729).[6] This prohibition of a custom which had been in use for centuries, seems to have been inspired by a genuine desire to improve public morality, and received the support of the official aristocracy and a section of the clergy. A majority of the theologians and all the monks opposed these measures with uncompromising hostility, and in the western parts of the Empire the people refused to obey the edict.

A revolt which broke out in Greece, mainly on religious grounds, was crushed by the imperial fleet in 727. In 730, Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople resigned rather than subscribe to an iconoclastic decree. Leo had him replaced by Anastasios,[7] who willingly sided with the Emperor on the question of icons. Thus Leo suppressed the overt opposition of the capital.

In the Italian Peninsula, the defiant attitude of Popes Gregory II and Gregory III on behalf of image-veneration led to a fierce quarrel with the Emperor. The former summoned councils in Rome to anathematize and excommunicate the iconoclasts (730, 732); In 740 Leo retaliated by transferring Southern Italy and Illyricum from the papal diocese to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople.[8] The struggle was accompanied by an armed outbreak in the exarchate of Ravenna in 727, which Leo finally endeavored to subdue by means of a large fleet.

Iconoclausts also called “icon-smashers,” were suspicious of any art depicting God or humans; they demanded the destruction of icons because they saw icons as idolatry.  They in general and Emperor Leo in particular seemed to have taken clues from the Muslims, in recalling prohibitions against idolatry and making of images of God, in the Old Testament.

The conflict around worship of the relics grew so strong that an Ecumenical Council needed to be called, to resolve the issue.  This is referred to as the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which took place in Nicea in 787 AD, and is also known as the Second Council of Nicaea.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

Council of Nicaea, (787), the seventh ecumenical council of the Christian church, meeting in Nicaea (now İznik, Tur.). It attempted to resolve the Iconoclastic Controversy, initiated in 726 when Emperor Leo III issued a decree against the worship of icons. The council declared that icons deserved reverence and veneration but not adoration. Convoked by the patriarch Tarasius, the council was attended by delegates of Pope Adrian I, and the pope confirmed the decrees of the council. Its authority was challenged in France as late as the 11th century.[3]

So, by saying, ‘icons deserved reverence and veneration but not adoration,’ the Council moved a step away from worship of icons and a little closer to the pure Monotheism of Islam.

There was a pope in the tenth century, who received his early education in the Muslim Spain: Sylvester II or Silvester II: A Pope, Who was Educated in Muslim Spain.

Let us now fast forward to the twenty first century.

In 2006, Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion published the results from their extensive study on religion and spirituality. More than 1,700 people participated in Baylor’s study, and each of them answered nearly 400 questions about religion and spirituality.

According to the results of the survey, the American public described four primary types of God: an authoritarian God, a critical God, a distant God, and a benevolent God.

It remains unclear why we think anything exists or does not exist, but through research, we can explore questions such as: What does God look like? What does God feel like? What is God’s personality?  How are these attributes related to our own?

For example, when researchers asked participants about what they think God looks like, 60 percent drew abstract or nature scenes, 20 percent drew faces, and 15 percent were blank. However, a blank response did not always mean “no answer.” Among the atheists, 50 percent left it blank.[1]

The results are telling, no one tried to paint a picture of a Triune God, three persons and one being, because the Christians cannot simply, picture, imagine or conceive a Triune God.

Holy Trinity II

Holy Trinity, fresco by Luca Rossetti da Orta, 1738–9 (St. Gaudenzio Church at Ivrea). Artist’s depiction of God the Father, Jesus and Holy Ghost. But, there was no way he could represent them together as one, as some sort of hybrid

Due to the near impossibility for human mind to comprehend a Triune God, as presented by Trinitarian Christianity, the day to day usage, of  the concept of God, by the Christian masses, reminds us of Judaism and Islam and the saying, ‘imitation is the best form of flattery.’

The Messiah , Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, explained that the Christians have written a lot about God, but, whatever genuine account they have given is about the true and the Living God of Islam and not about a dead, crucified and a humiliated god:

The Holy Quran is replete with wisdom and insights and does not contain any portion of babble or frivolous. It explains every necessary detail and provides for all human needs. It is a miracle from every aspect. I am ever ready to demonstrate the miracle and beauty of the Holy Quran to anyone who denies it. These days, concept of God and genuine understanding of monotheism are under fire. The Christians have written a lot about God, but, whatever genuine account they have given is about the true and the Living God of Islam and not about a dead, crucified and a humiliated god. I can declare it with fullest confidence that whoever, will attempt to write about the attributes of God, his or her hand will be forced to come to the God of Islam. This is because each and every particle of our universe gives testimony of this God and the imprint of the God of Islam is also in every human heart and conscience. So, whenever humans endeavor to find God, they are led to the concepts of Islam.[4]

Epilogue

The reader will recall that in the Baylor University study some sixty percent when asked to represent God, drew scenes from nature, to perhaps allude to God the Father, the Creator of our universe and twenty percent drew faces, perhaps recalling Jesus Christ, but, no one drew a dove or any representation of the Holy Ghost.

Trinity is the union of three divine persons in one being, according to the Christian dogma, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, but, in day to day life, in our times at least, the Holy Ghost finds little coverage in most denominations of Christianity.

So, in a manner of speaking the Triune God has become Bi-une.

However, given the Christian constant obsession with the memory of Jesus of Nazareth, we do hear a constant chant about Jesus along with genuine worship of God the Father.

Nevertheless, they have dropped one person out of the three, in the Triune conception, to an extent and it is not long before all the Christians will follow President Thomas Jefferson’s vision of pure Unitarianism, believing in God the Father to be the only God.

After his presidency years, Jefferson expressed general agreement with his friend Joseph Priestley’s Unitarianism, that is, the rejection of the doctrine of Trinity. In a letter to a Ohio pioneer he wrote:

I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its conscience to neither kings or priests, the genuine doctrine of only one God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.[5]

His dream, however, of large scale conversion to the belief in One God was not to come true in the time of his contemporaries. Perhaps, it had to wait until the advent of Islam in the West, with millions of Muslims constantly interacting with their brethren and sisters, the children of Abraham, the fellow Christians.

Reference:

1.  The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience.  Taught by  Andrew Newberg  University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.  The Teaching Company Course, Guide Book, 2012. Lecture 20, Pages 139-144.

2.  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/336200/Leo-III/4137/Religious-policies

3. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/413843/Council-of-Nicaea

4.  Malfoozat volume I.  Page 51-52.  Published in Rabwah.

http://www.alislam.org/urdu/sermon/FST20090911-UR.pdf

For reference details see the Friday sermon of Khalifatul Masih V of 9/11/2009.

5. Letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse June 26, 1822.

Related readings

God of Islam: God of Nature and the Creator of our Universe

Is God the Father the Creator, the Trinity as a whole or are there three Creators?

President Thomas Jefferson — Was he a monotheist?

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12 replies

  1. With in 300 years of the claim of founder of Ahmaiyyat, the revivial of real Islam is prophesied. All such acts and happenings are indicators towards the fulfillment of this prophecy. Very well written article.

  2. wonderful article dr zia. i pray for you, certanly to write an essay of this caliber need better understanding and presentation. jazakmullah.

    please, do not for get writing to hazoor weekly for prayers. so advice your son. with my prayers….

  3. Jazakallah for the kind words and prayers.

    I want to add another of the verses of the Holy Quran on the subject at hand here:

    Say, ‘Who is the Lord of the heavens and the earth?’ Say, ‘Allah.’ Say, ‘Have you then taken beside Him helpers who have no power for good or harm even for themselves?’ Say, ‘Can the blind and the seeing be equal? Or, can darkness be equal to light? Or, do they assign to Allah partners who have created the like of His creation so that the two creations appear similar to them?’ Say, ‘Allah alone is the Creator of all things, and He is the One, the Most Supreme.’ (Al Quran 13:17)

  4. WHY DO WE WORSHIP GOD, AND WHERE IS GOD AT?

    God in Tourat / Bible
    Warning against Forgetting the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8.17.18)
    You must never think that you have made yourself wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who give the power to become rich.
    Never forget the Lord your God or turn to other gods to worship and serve them. If you do, then I warn you today that you will certainly be destroyed. If you do not obey the Lord, then you will be destroyed just like those nations that he is going to destroy as you advance.

    God in Al Quran
    Say Muhammad: He is God, the One. God the self-Sufficient Master, whom all creatures need, He neither eats nor drinks. He begets not, nor was He begotten, and there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him “.(QS.112:1-4).
    Join not in worship others with God. Verily joining others in worship with God is a great wrong indeed “.(QS.31:13).

    Why we worship God?
    He Who has made everything which He has created most Good. He began the creation of man with (nothing more than) clay (7) And made his progeny from a quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised: (8) But He fashioned him in due proportion, and breathed into him something of His spirit. And He gave you (the faculties of) hearing and sight and feeling (and understanding): little thanks do ye give! (9) And they say: “What! when we lie hidden and lost, in the earth shall we indeed be in a creation renewed?” Nay they deny the Meeting with their Lord! (10) Say: “The Angel of Death, put in charge of you, will (duly) take your souls: then shall ye be brought back to your Lord.” QS 32: 711.

    He is Allah, besides whom there is no god, the Knower of the unseen and the seen. He is All-Merciful, Very-Merciful. (22) He is Allah, besides whom there is no god, the Sovereign, the Supreme-In-Holiness, the Safe (from all defects), the Giver-Of-Peace, the Guardian, the All-Mighty, the All-Repairer, the Sublime. Pure is Allah from what they associate with Him. (23) He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor, the Shaper. 10 His are the Most Beautiful Names. His purity is proclaimed by all that is in the heavens and the earth, and He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. QS 59;22-24.

    MOST CHRISTIAN AND MUSLIM FALL INTO SINFUL SYRIK.
    Warning against Idol / Clerics / Pastor / Rabbi.etc
    They have taken as lords beside Allah their Clerics/ Pastor / rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God. There is no god save Him. Be He glorified from all that they ascribe as partner (unto Him)! Quran 9;(31).

    These days, most of Christian and Muslim place their trust on Cleric, Pastor, Rabbi/ idol etc, blindly, and they kiss the hands of Cleric, Pastor, rabbi or idol and serve him, What ever their idol tell them they follow without hesitation at all. Some Muslims, Christian, Jews want to die for their idol.

    From my observation; no wonder if our world is not saver anymore, because most of people (Muslim, Christian, Jews ), forget the Lord your God or turn to other gods(idol) to worship and serve them without hesitation.

    If their idol such as imam Muslim and Bukhari order to kill blaspheme, apostate, Gay-Lesbian and those who do not share their beliefs, kill them. If you do suicide bomb to kill innocent, children, women and old people you will enter paradise, you are martyred. Whereas if they follow a true God, they are not allowed to kill them Quran.3;53; If you kill one innocent, as if you kill whole mankind, if you save one, as if you save whole mankind. It is very cool.

    Another warning; Do not place your trust on cleric, Idol, Pastor, rabbi without hesitation at all, your idol is human, he can make a mistake , and then bring disaster on you Quran.3;159, 7:3-5.

    : Follow that which is sent down unto you from your Lord, and follow no protecting friends beside Him. Little do ye recollect! (3) How many a township have We destroyed! As a raid by night, or while they slept at noon, Our terror came unto them. (4) No plea had they, when Our terror came unto them, save that they said: Lo! We were wrong-doers. (5)

    MY ADVICE TO YOU ALL HERE;
    Do not place your trust on your cleric, pastor, (your idol), beside God alone who created you and this world beautifully.
    God love very much if you place your trust on Him alone Quran 3;159.

    READ MORE; WHY DO WE WORSHIP GOD? WHERE IS GOD AT
    http://ilovemodrenislam.blogspot.com/p/advice-to-young-men-girls_17.html

    With my love

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