The Holiness of Allah
A Christian student of the Quran may inquire why Allah is called ‘the Holy’ (al Quddus) if He is the creator of evil. Muslim theologians would reply that this term when used of Allah, denotes His transcendent nature. The epithet ‘Holy’ means, according to Islam, that Allah’s nature is essentially different from ours and is free from the physical weakness of human nature. This interpretation of Allah’s holiness is alone sufficient to rob the Muslim of any real significance of the conception of sin from a Christian point of view. The Biblical teaching concerning the defilement of sin follows from its doctrine of the holiness of a God who abhors evil. According to the Bible, the action of God expresses His righteousness and undimmed moral perfection, and man is called to be holy as God is holy. Sin therefore, is that attitude or act which alienates man from God. To deem Allah holy and righteous in the Biblical sense would be to place limits on His power.
Moreover, no Muslim would ever consider sharing in Allah’s holiness, since this is the very condition of exalted superiority which marks Him off from man. This clearly indicates one of the main tasks of the Christian preacher as he speaks to his Muslim friend. He must proclaim the holiness of Almighty God as essentially a righteous holiness; for only when a man accepts this and believes that the moral destiny of mankind is to share in the holiness of the divine nature, can he also recognise the true nature and tragedy of sin.
The Righteousness of Allah
In the Quran there are also numerous references to righteousness, and various terms are used which may be classified under this heading. The Christian reader may feel that the ideas which he finds in many such passages of the Quran are similar to those which he finds in the Bible. We would agree for the most part with the teaching of the Quran that certain acts of man are to be thought of as ‘righteous’ from an ethical or legal point of view, yet Quranic righteousness rises no higher than the levels of conduct and beneficence.
It is however, doubtful when the Christian who attempts to compare Muslim teachings on righteousness with those of his own theology will be helped by making those comparison because he looks beyond legal righteousness. However, the Quran expressly repudiates the Christian view of righteousness which seeks to be clothed with a righteousness not his own but with the righteousness of the Holy One. The Muslim himself from the legal point of view might question the Christian’s right to evaluate such acts of righteousness, since he would maintain that they have value only as acts of Muslim faith. They have no religious significance outside Islam, for only the people destined for Paradise perform the actions of the people of Paradise.
Moreover, does not the Christian deny his own heritage, if he admits a legal standard of righteousness? St Paul writes (Philippians 3:9) of ‘not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith.’ From an ethical point of view also, the Christian will find it difficult to understand how the Islamic doctrine of divine creativeness could permit any ethical comparisons at all to be made, since according to Islamic doctrine Allah is believed to be the continuous Creator of all man’s intentions, his will and his actions.
There remains another apparent similarity between the two views of righteousness as in Muslim and Christian theology alike man is an ‘unprofitable servant’. The difference is however, considerable. Allah creates even men’s acts of sin and is glorified thereby, but the God of the Bible is magnified for His moral holiness; his truth and righteousness are His glory. Furthermore, Allah’s glory is His unconditioned creative will, and Islam magnifies Him for His power and dominance The distinctive Biblical emphasis is upon God’s righteousness and this righteousness is that which is imputed to man by faith in Christ, and indeed on no other terms could the Christian hope to participate in fellowship with the Divine. The Muslim does not have this hope, nor is there any such righteousness in Allah.
Orthodox Muslims assure us that they regard this Christian doctrine as both false and artificial. The Muslim will inform the Christian that, if Allah wishes to forgive a man He does so, and therefore none need die for the sins of men. Moreover, to think of the deity as being committed to a method of redemption which involves self-committal, self-emptying, suffering and death is blasphemy in the eyes of Islam. The Christian can understand such a point of view and admit its reasonableness, if the Deity is regarded as a sovereign unconditioned power, acting at will. Allah’s holiness is not a righteous holiness, but an infinite aloofness from the demands of human weakness and human nature, and therefore a Muslim cannot believe that he is called to be holy as Allah is holy. Sin does not grieve Allah nor is it something He does not will. Islamic thought prefers to think of Allah and man as being, by nature, in ‘opposition’ to each other, and therefore cannot admit that man must be reconciled to his Maker, or that the end of man is fellowship with God. Quite naturally therefore, the Muslim finds no reason for a doctrine of reconciliation with God, for the divine sacrifice, or for man’s justification by faith. Allah stands at the centre of Islam, Allah is the essence of Islam and, in accordance with His unconditioned omnipotence, He creates and disposes of all things.
Message4muslims 2014 – Article by Herbert Spencer