Desert Monotheism:
Are Allah and God the Same?

Thoughts and Comparisons on Desert Monotheism

Judaism and Christianity  served as a sort of starting point for a vastly different desert monotheism. Yet even God — or Allah, meaning “the God” — ends up looking different in Muhammad’s Islam.

Just as Shariah law and the larger Umma (community of believers) define a different kind of salvation in Islam, in contrast to Christian concepts of salvation through the grace of a loving God, so the Islamic God changes. Not only do we confront the question: Is Jesus God? We simply meet a God of a different character, colored by the land that embraced him, as Muhammad adopted the old polytheistic god Allah and created something new and decidedly monotheistic — quite other than the deity had been.

This Allah becomes more distant ... inscrutable ... unknowable. He is colder ... a lawless force of nature like the sweeping sandstorms squeezing the heart of the desert, rather than a loving creator who would sacrifice himself for the sake of relationship with his people. 

That God would become human or abide by any law (even those created by Himself) is a virtual sacrilege in Islam. No. Humans are at the mercy of the good and bad forces of life and bound to whatever fate Allah decrees, as their deeds are recorded and balanced, for good or ill, with no way to atone.

Instead in Islam most of the faithful will spend some time in Hell before being admitted to Paradise ... while ALL infidels, or non-Muslims, will remain eternally in Hell, this latter aspect paralleling the beliefs of other monotheistic faiths, but not the former. And the path away from hell is not offered as a free gift, available to all who come. In this way, both Muhammad’s description of the character of God and his assertion of eternal fate, as recorded in the Quran, mirrors the harsh life of the desert and the ways of a harsh desert people.  

The desert does not dispense unearned grace, nor does the faith it birthed. So although Muhammad looked upon Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as related faiths made up of People of the Book (the Dhimmi) early on, he later asserted that the Jews and Christians had distorted the message along the way and that where they differed, only Islam expressed the undefiled truth. As such, Dhimmi were/are treated as second-class citizens in Islamic countries, to varying degrees. They may have to pay special taxes and not have the same legal rights as Islamic citizens, and Muslims who later convert to another faith, such as Christianity, may experience persecution or, at the extreme end, a death sentence. That’s not to say that all Muslims condone such extremities — they don’t — but certainly conversion is regarded as a very serious thing, more in the light of apostasy than a personal choice. 

And while this desert monotheism’s persistent unity makes for a strong body with a largely common ground of beliefs, it sometimes swallows individual souls and leaves them feeling hollow ... at the mercy of a God they give themselves to but who is incapable of loving them ... like the desert that swallows the lives of the uncareful.

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