Often times, the articles in this blog compare theological differences between Christianity and Islam that display an amazing degree of irony. Sometimes the differences are more straightforward. Still, such routine differences are no less useful to discuss. One such difference is just what it means for humans to be created in the image of God.
In Genesis 1:26, God relates that He creates man in His image. There is a fair amount of discussion among Christian scholars about what this means. Obviously we humans cannot be compared directly to God in that we exist as matter, whereas God is spirit (John 4:24). Yet there is something about the way God created us as humans that is special and is in His likeness (Psalm 8:5; Psalm 139:14).
Just how are we created in God’s image, and what does this have to do with the Allah of Islam? In the first place, we are created as eternal beings. We are not eternal in the complete sense, since we each have a beginning date of creation. However, we will live forever, either with God in heaven or without Him in hell. This is a choice we must each make, and this brings us to another way in which we are like God. We all have free will. As volitional agents, we can each affect the world around us by means of the choices we make. In still another sense, we are like God in that we have a triune makeup. We each have a mind, a body, and a spirit. Somehow, these three operate as one (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Of course, this is nowhere near an exact analogy to the trinity, but how my spirit, my mind and my body interact is a question too wonderful for me to fully grasp.
Throughout the Bible, we find that God has a great deal of regard for His created humans (Psalm 8:4, 2 Peter 3:9). He even gives us the free will to reject Him! When you think of it, that is quite an amazing fact. God loves us so much that He gives us the power to assert our independence to such a degree that we can choose to refuse His free gift of eternal life. Of course, doing so results in the most dire of all consequences, an eternity separated from Him.
So how does Allah see humanity? On the surface, it seems Islam and Christianity are similar, in that Muslims also believe Allah created Adam in his form and shape.[i] Yet deeper investigation reveals something more as the Qur’an relates a story of how Allah treated some disbelievers in an unnamed town at an unspecified time.
[2.65] And certainly you have known those among you who exceeded the limits of the Sabbath, so We said to them: Be (as) apes, despised and hated.
[5.60] Say: Shall I inform you of (him who is) worse than this in retribution from Allah? (Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine, and he who served the Shaitan; these are worse in place and more erring from the straight path.
Tafsir, commentaries on the Qur’an, make it clear that this metamorphosis was not allegorical, but literal.[ii] In fact, Maulana Mufti Muhammads Hafi’, in his tafsir Ma’ariful-Qur’an, adds an extended footnote stating that any non-literal interpretation is a deviant view of modernizing Muslims. He has this to say about Muslims who claim the passage is not literal: “To say such a thing is to deny an explicit statement of the Holy Qur’an, which no Muslim can do,…”[iii]
According to Islam, Allah has in the past destroyed the very humanity of his created creatures. This is something YHWH would never do. True, God gives us the right to reject Him, but God gives us this ability as an act which in a sense upholds our dignity of free will as human beings. In Islam, one of the punishments given to some of his creatures before going to hell is to be turned into an unreasoning animal. Would God, who grieves when we reject Him, ever punish us by turning us into an animal and thereby taking away our very ability to accept Him before our death? That’s not the God I know.
The God that I know only disciplines us for our own good (Hebrews 12:10, 1 Corinthians 11:32). It is true that sin has consequences, and often times bad things happen because we bring it upon ourselves (1 King 8:32). Yet this ties back into the whole issue of free will. Our own choices can boomerang on us to our own destruction. Yet in all this, God never curses us and then maims or mutilates that which He created in His own image by turning us into primates or other mammals. Allah does.
This is just another difference between YHWH of the Bible and Allah of the Qur’an.