Christian Theology in a Sudanese context. Theology is to be considered and experienced.
Some Christians believe that Muslims worship a different ‘God’ from Christians. Orthodox Islam usually says that Christians are worshipping the same ‘Allah’, but in the wrong way. I take a different view to both these groups. There are sufficient common beliefs about God in Christianity and Islam to accept that we believe in the same God. But since proper Christian understanding of God is based on the Bible, while Muslim understanding is based on the Qur’an, many essential differences arise. (See chapters 21-23). In Arabic ‘Allah’ means ‘the God’ as opposed to ‘a god’. To Muslims who use Arabic, ‘Allah’ is the ‘Ism adh dhat’ – the ‘essential name of God’. In the centuries before Islam existed, Arab Christians normally used the word ‘Allah’ as the name for ‘God’. ‘Allah’ was the all-powerful creator God, high over all, including over the many lesser gods of polytheism. ‘Allah’ is the name used by Arab Christians today in their Arabic language Bibles, for the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have personally heard many Sudanese Arab Christian friends use ‘Allah’ in their own prayers. The majority of Arab linguists understand the word ‘Allah’ to be “a contraction of the definitive article ‘al’ and the Arabic name for God, ‘ilah’. Hence the name ‘Allah’ refers to God as the only God, ‘the God’”. Some Arabic linguists prefer to see ‘Allah’ as a noun, the proper name of God (as my name is ‘Colin’). ‘Allah’ is similar to nearby Semitic languages: Aramaic – Elah; Syriac – Alaha; and Hebrew - El, Eloah, Elohim. I take the view that Christians do believe in the same God as Muslims do, but we have a different understanding of this God because of our acceptance of the way the Bible uncovers Him to us. It shows God, consistently and in everything, working out our salvation through Jesus Christ. I also believe that our different, Christian, understanding is right, and not wrong! When Pastor Samwiil Janguul was first translating the gospels into Nuba Koalib during the 1960’s, he began by using the local tribal name ‘Thiru’ for God. (He rightly did not want Christianity to be confused with Islam). However, when he began talking to his people about this ‘Thiru’, (his people were followers of traditional religions), he found that they already knew a lot about him and that he lived in a local hill! After he went on to explain what the Bible teaches about God, everyone understood that he was telling them about ‘Allah’, the universal God.
The Forum of Bible Agencies around the world, have developed ‘Basic Principles and Procedures for Bible Translation’. Point 4 reads that translation should “represent faithfully the original historical and cultural context. Historical facts and events should be expressed without distortion. At the same time the translation should be done in such a way that the receptor audience, despite differences of situation and culture, may understand the message that the original author was seeking to communicate to the original audience”.
Perhaps this principle is best seen in Paul’s preaching to followers of “an unknown God” in Athens. He began by saying: “What you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:16-34). We should do the same to people we often hear saying: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Apostle of God”. The God Whom some others worship as ‘Allah’, we must reveal from the Bible.
In our worship and in our witness we must be careful to express accurately, as best we can, “..our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us..” (Titus 2:11-15). This book is offered to help us all in doing this.
Thinking it through.
(a). When you talk with someone about God / Allah, how can you be sure you are talking about the same Divine Being?
(b). From Acts 17:16-34 only, how did Paul define God?
(c). Is there anything you would add to Paul’s definition if you were talking to your friends?If there is, why?