I received a question from a Muslim asking about Christian claims that Allah is morally deficient.
I’ve summarized his points and my response below:
It seems that your question has three parts. First, why is it the case that the Muslim conception of God is deficient? Second, why are the Muslim theologians incorrect if they define love as, “intending to reward someone for their good deeds”? Third, if morality comes from God then how can any conception of God be morally deficient?
You have rightly identified one of the ways in which the Muslim conception of God is criticized by Christianity. The Christian claims that a being which is all-loving is greater than a being which is not all-loving. Since the Muslim conception of God is that he is not all-loving, this conception seems to be deficient compared to the Christian conception. Islam conceives of God as loving not the unbeliever, for example.
We can take this one step further as well. Dr. Imad Shehadeh of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary makes another argument.* He points out that any monadic (one person) conception of God cannot ground the moral value of love. If God is monadic then apart from creation he would not love anyone or anything, as there would not be anyone or anything to love. Love is giving away of oneself for the sake of another. If God is a single person and exists alone, then there is no one to whom he may give himself. The Christian trinitarian conception of God is immune to this problem since each person of the trinity is eternally pouring out himself to the other members of the trinity. The Muslim, however, must maintain that God is not essentially loving. Rather God may love if he chooses to, but it is not essential to God’s nature to love. A being who is essentially loving is greater than a being who merely may love if he chooses to.
Additionally this makes the moral value of “love” merely arbitrary. On the Muslim conception it seems that Allah may have just as easily chosen that we should hate rather than love, and then hate would be morally obligatory. In our moral experience, however, it seems that love is necessarily good (that is to say that it is not even possible that “love” could have failed to be morally good). Since on the Muslim conception of God there is a possible world in which “hate” is the moral good, and yet in our moral experience it seems to us that in no possible world can “hate” be morally good, then the Muslim conception of God is inconsistent with our moral experience. We may formalize our reasoning in these steps:
1) If the Muslim conception of God is true, then it is possible that “hate” could have been morally good.
2) It is not possible that “hate” could have been morally good.
3) Therefore, the Muslim conception of God is not true.
You suggested the Muslim definition of love as, “intending to reward someone for their good deeds,” but this seems clearly inconsistent with our moral experience. You may, for example, love a family member who has wronged you. In that case there is no good deed for which you may intend to reward them and yet you do love them. We also love our children even before any good deeds are done for which we may intend a reward.
Finally, you suggest that since God is the standard for moral goodness that therefore it is impossible that God is morally deficient. This is absolutely true, and since the Muslim conception of God entails that God is morally deficient then the Muslim conception of God cannot be true. You may have noticed that I continually refer to the “Muslim conception of God” rather than simply referring to “Allah”. Hopefully this point demonstrates why it is important to make this distinction. The very question we are asking is whether the Muslim conception of God is consistent with who God actually is. Since we find in our moral experience reasons to think that the Muslim conception of God is morally deficient, we should reject that conception and rather prefer a conception of God which is consistent with God’s possessing a morally perfect nature. It certainly is true that, as the very standard for goodness, it is impossible for God to be morally deficient. This is the very reason we should reject the Muslim conception of God, as it seems inconsistent with a morally perfect God.
*Shehadeh, I.N. “The Predicament of Islamic Monotheism.” Bibliotheca Sacra, 2004: 142-162.
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