Is the Islamic conception of God a conception of the greatest possible being?

Typically I have argued that the Muslim and Christian are able to join hands when arguing for the existence of God, and that, for all intents and purposes, they can help themselves to the same arguments for God’s existence. However, it only recently occurred to me that the Islamic conception of God may not allow a Muslim to help herself to the ontological argument which concludes to the existence of a being that than which no greater being is conceivable. Though that is merely one argument among many arguments for the existence of God, this point is relevant because the reason why the Muslim cannot help herself so easily to the ontological argument (which is classically a peculiarly Christian argument, and not one popular among Muslim theologians), is precisely because the God described by the religion of Islam falls short of being the greatest possible being. How so? Well, precisely in this respect: that God, according to the religion of Islam, is not all-loving. He is all merciful, and all just and so on (the Qur’an contains 99 attributes of God, all of which [and more] are contained in the Bible), but he is not a God who unconditionally loves all persons. Instead, the God of the Qur’an never loves sinners or evildoers. By contrast the Christian conception of God is of a God who not only loves unconditionally, but is love; which is to say that he is the ontological foundation of love (and Christians typically explain this by appealing to the doctrine of the Trinity, which is another resource Islam lacks – but that’s not as serious a point as the one I’m currently making). In other words, on the Christian conception of God, it is literally impossible for God to fall in love with somebody, in just the same way as it is impossible for the ocean to get wet. God is love, in a robust sense, and all of our experiences of love merely intimate the divine nature by participation (which is precisely why Christians are accustomed to saying things like ‘I am in love’ rather than ‘I have the property of loving so-and-so’).

The argument might go something like this:

  1. God is a being who has all the great-making properties maximally.
  2. The Property ‘being loving’ is a great-making property.
  3. Therefore, God must have the property of being loving maximally (i.e., must be unconditionally loving).

The Muslim might try to argue that they need not reject the first premise necessarily, as it is still possible for them to reject the second premise, but the second premise seems to be obviously true.

Either the Muslim does not believe in what Christians call ‘God’, even though Jews, Deists, Hindu’s and others do, along with Christians, or else the Muslim has to argue that being loving is not a great making property, which seems equally incredible, especially to the Christian who believes that God is love, and that it is this fact that explains the act of creation, as I have elsewhere argued. Thus, the Islamic doctrine of God seems to fall short of an intelligible conception of God to the extent that God, according to the religion of Islam, is not all-loving, and therefore is not a maximally great being (since I can imagine a being exactly like the being described by the religion of Islam, except that it is different in one respect given which my idea would be better if it were actual than the idea proposed by Islam).

If this is true, then it may be one of the most powerful and direct points which a Christian thinker can use to challenge her Muslim friends to think deeply about the inadequacy of the Islamic conception of God when compared directly to the Christian conception of God.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Natural Theology, Philosophical Theology, Philosophy of Religion, Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Is the Islamic conception of God a conception of the greatest possible being?

  1. Hi there, may I respectfully and kindly ask you from where did you obtain the belief that Muslim’s regard their God to not unconditionally love all His creations?

    • asalaam alaikum [Peace be with you]
      Hello Single Muslim girl,

      Yes, that’s a great question and I thank you for your consideration in approaching the issue kindly and with respect. I get this information from the Qur’an, though indirectly, as this point was made and brought to my attention by a Christian philosopher and theologian named Dr. William Lane Craig. First, you can see this short video I was watching not long ago when he tried to make the point to an overly eager Muslim student:

      However, for a more serious treatment of this same issue, where Dr. Craig refers directly to the Quran, I might recommend a talk Dr. Craig gave recently which you can find on the ‘Unbelievable?’ podcast. I’ll provide a link to it here: http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={0B7E55DB-D910-4C44-8C56-DF1E5835FB79}

      You can also find this same recording through the iTunes store, for free, by simply subscribing to the ‘Unbelievable?’ podcast from Premier Christian Radio.

      Though I would refer you to Dr. Craig’s arguments, I can certainly rehearse them in substance. Basically what Dr. Craig noticed about the Qur’an was that it over and over again affirms that God loves not the sinner, and loves not the unbeliever (the very people the Bible is so quick and adamant to affirm that God does love), but loves the one who does His will. Moreover, there are no verses in the Qur’an which affirm God’s love for unbelievers or evildoers. Take an honest survey of all the verses in the Qur’an which tell us who God, as described by the religion of Islam, loves, and one will find that sinners and unbelievers are not included.

      As somebody who, in a previous lifetime (meaning long ago) was impressed with the religion of Islam and nearly became a Muslim, and what prevented me was taking a serious look at Christianity in comparison to Islam, I can well imagine that this point is one not often made in Christian-Muslim dialogue, and so seems like a disagreement that Muslims and Christians don’t really have, but are merely purported to have. However, taking Dr. Craig’s argument seriously, I have come to think that he is (unfortunately) correct. The God described in the pages of the Qur’an does not, as far as I can tell, love unbelievers and sinners, and insofar as God, according to the religion of Islam, does not do this, he fails to be maximally great.

      If you don’t mind my asking you, as a Muslim believer and practitioner of the religion of Islam, I would like to know what you think of this argument, and whether you can think of any verse in the Qur’an which affirms God’s love of unbelievers and sinners. Thank you for your comment, and feel free to peruse the blog and offer any and all criticisms you might have.

      God bless.

      • And may peace and guidance be upon you my dear brother in humanity!

        Thank you for your thorough answer to my question. Do you know whether the sources your post is based upon derive their information from the study of the translation of the Quran or the Quran in its arabic language?

        I should probably admit that I am not well versed in the religion to engage unequivocally in a theological debate. I merely love knowledge from all sources regardless of whether I agree with them or not- there is always something to learn (I am frustratingly inquisitive and your post drew my attention). 🙂

        However that being said, I must say that you have overlooked a fundamental belief which has profound implications. This is that Muslims believe that God loves the sinner… who seeks repentance. Certainly, this is repeated all over the Quran. Everyone is a sinner as humans are imperfect. Perfection is for God alone. Therefore by neglecting this fact that I highlight- that God loves the sinner who repents- you are stating that according to Muslims God loves none of his human creations- which is quite obviously not the case- who will fill paradise? God constantly reminds us in the Quran that the sinner will face a recompense but He always follows this by saying that He is All Forgiving and All Merciful- that we only have to seek His forgiveness and He will grant it. Furthermore, God states in the Quran that we will enter paradise not upon our good works but upon His mercy towards us. Is that not an expression of love in itself?

        Peace,
        Leila.

        PS. May I cheekily ask you a question that is entirely separate to the subject of this post? Before you agree to it I should mention that it is a little contentious and I absolutely would not want to cause you any offence!! After all, Allah tells us in the Quran to respect others by the rules of their faith whilst protecting ones own, irrespective of our differences. (Unfortunately this is something that so may muslims today seem to overlook). However, I would like to ask you because it is something that I have always wondered about but have never known anyone educated in the Christian faith to offer an answer to my question.

  2. Peace be with you, Leila.

    As the Qur’an says:
    “Do not dispute with the people of the book except in the best way”
    ~Surat Al-`Ankabūt 29:46
    So also the Bible says:
    “Don’t have anything to do with stupid and mindless arguments… the Lord’s servant must not quarrel”
    ~2 Timothy 2:23-24

    As such, I think you and I both can be confident that neither of us will insult or offend each other by open and charitable conversation. I would gladly hear your question – it might give me a chance to roll up my sleeves as a Christian theologian and provide you with an answer (which, after all, is part of the vocation of being a Theologian in the first place). Please, don’t worry about pretense, because I guarantee I won’t be offended; feel free to ask whatever you like.

    Also, in response to what you have said above insofar as it pertains to the post, I would say this: first, though I have heard Dr. Craig rehearse the Qur’an in Arabic (or rather, some passages, not the whole thing) I don’t think he has studied the Arabic language, and so I expect that most of his research was done with the best translations he had available to him at the time. This is part of the reason why I asked you if you could find any verse in the Qur’an which affirms that God loves sinners. If there is some verse which is possibly translated from Arabic to English such that it insinuates or indicates that God does love sinners, then that would be a perfect verse to bring up in defense of the conception of God according to the religion of Islam. However, I have become convinced that there is no such verse.

    Moreover, I hope it was clear (though apparently not) that I did not mean to insinuate, even for a moment, that God, as described by the religion of Islam, did not love anybody! Surely the God of Islam does love some people, such as sinners who repent of their sins. However, the Christian believes that God loves even the unrepentant, even those in judgment in Hell (which is why, for example, Dante could write over the door of his hell ‘me too made eternal love’). According to Christianity, God is love, and thus always and everywhere loves everyone infinitely. According to Islam, God loves some, but not others, and thus fails to have the property of ‘being loving’ maximally. Thus, while I agree with you that the God of Islam is a God of love for the faithful servant of Allah, still the God of Islam falls short of the God of Christianity in this seminal respect: that his love is not unconditional.

    In the Bible it says:

    “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
    ~Romans 5:8

    Whatever reservations you may have as a Muslim with the idea that Christ was crucified, still it is hard not to see that the character of God reflected here in this passage contrasts sharply with the God of Islam. The Christian God loves sinners so much that he was willing to take upon himself the meekness of the human condition (without spoiling or taking anything away from his divine nature at all) and allowed us men to ridicule him, to beat him, to nail him to a cross, and all the while he prayed for us and loved us with a violence the world had never seen before nor has it seen since. His love was fierce – it is the love reflected by Christ on the cross itself that broke the heart of the Roman empire and made it Christian, it broke the heart of the people who knew him, it broke the heart of all the early Christians, and it breaks the heart of people who meet Christ today and invite him into their lives to have a loving relationship with him. In all this I am not intending to simply preach Christianity to you (that would be presumptuous of me), but to show you why Christians are so deeply and madly in love with Christ, and why Christians cannot imagine a God who did not love sinners the way Christ loved sinners. That God, the God who loves sinners before they repent, is not the God (according to Dr. Craig) which one finds described in the pages of the Qur’an, and this difference is important because it means not only that the Muslim conception of God is different in some way from the Christian conception of God (we all already knew that, for example, given the trinity, or consistency over time with respect to his covenants – i.e. in Christianity he never abrogates previous covenants whereas in Islam he does etc.). Rather, this particular difference is important precisely because it means that Muslims do not even believe in a maximally great being, because unconditional love is a great-making property. Not only can Muslims, therefore, not use the Ontological argument, but even more significantly Christians cannot recognize the God of Islam as the God of Christians and Jews.

    I welcome and look forward to your future comments, and please be as inquisitive as you like. God bless.

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