IS IT WRONG for a Christian to pray to Allah? When a Muslim worships Allah, is she worshiping God?
Questions like these have arisen with more urgency than usual in the months since a Malaysian lower court ruled in October that the word “Allah” was exclusive to Muslims and therefore the Herald, a Malay Catholic newspaper, could not use the word “Allah” in print. (The decision is currently under appeal.)
Many Christians lament the lower court’s decision. They see it as an infringement on the rights of religious minorities. But other Christians welcome the ruling. They claim that it actually helps Malaysian Christians by protecting them from confusion and preventing them from making a grave mistake.
For example, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary here in the U.S., has argued that Christians should not call upon the God of the Bible using the word “Allah,” because “Allah” refers only to the god of the Quran, a god who is radically different from the true God of Jesus Christ.
Whether Mohler and those who agree with him are right carries dramatic implications. If they are, then prospects for respectful, trusting cooperation between Christians and Muslims are slim. There is one and only one God. If Christians believe that Muslims do not worship that God, then we must believe that Muslims worship nothing, an empty, created idol, or else something demonic. The claim to worship the one and only God is one of the most central claims of Islam. No matter how respectfully a Christian denied that claim, it would be difficult for most Muslims to receive that rejection. Mutual respect is an important ingredient in public cooperation. Thus cooperation between Christians and Muslims would be impeded. Even more disconcertingly, if the bulk of Christians held, as some do now, that Muslims actually worship a demonic force, then those Christians would have compelling reasons not to cooperate with Muslims. To do so would be to cooperate in opposition to God.