By Nihad Awad
[Nihad Awad is national executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org]
A Christian professor at an Illinois college is now facing being fired by that academic institution because she sought to show solidarity with American Muslim women by wearing an Islamic headscarf, or hijab. Perhaps her greater “sin” in the eyes of college officials was the professor’s repetition of a quote by Pope Francis saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Wheaton College in suburban Chicago recently began termination-for-cause proceedings Professor Larycia Hawkins, a Christian and an associate professor of political science at the college. Professor Hawkins on paid administrative leave since December of last year.
In its statement, the college said in part: "Dr. Hawkins' paid administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seem inconsistent with Wheaton College's doctrinal convictions, which she voluntarily agreed to support and uphold when she entered into an employment agreement with the College."
It is clear that Wheaton College has the right to its own theological stance on the nature of God, but from an Islamic perspective, there is only one deity worshiped by Muslims, Christians and Jews.
In fact, the Muslim declaration of faith (shahada) states: “There is no god but God.”
Now one might claim that Muslims worship “Allah,” not “God,” but that would be in willful ignorance of the fact that “Allah” is merely the Arabic translation for “God” and that all Arabic-speaking Christians refer to “Allah” in their prayers.
Muslims commonly use either “God” or “Allah” when referring to the single deity. Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”
In the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, God clearly states the unity of monotheistic faiths:
“Say: ‘We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been vouchsafed to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them. And it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.’” (The Holy Quran, 2:136)
God also states: “(Rest assured that) those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians. . .whoever believes in God and the last day and performs good deeds - will be rewarded by their Lord. They will have nothing to fear or to regret.” (The Holy Quran, 2:62)
Of course there are theological differences between Christians and Muslims, but worshiping God differently does not mean we worship a different God.
Throughout history, rigid – and inaccurate - theological positions on the nature of God and on the beliefs of other faiths resulted in conflict and lost opportunities for mutual understanding.
We see such extremism today in the anti-Islamic actions and beliefs of ISIS and its ilk.
We also see similar forms of religious and political extremism in the statements of public figures like Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
The purveyors of different forms of extremism feed off each other to reinforce their own bigotry and to gain unthinking and uncritical support.
It is up to the mainstream followers of all faiths to reject rigid and extremist ideologies and to come together to marginalize extremists of all stripes.