At the risk of opening the complete can of worms on this discussion, I have an observation that might relate to the perennial debate of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and on the matter of prayer in Muslim and Christian practice.
Let me get this right into the open: it is my belief that Muslims seek to worship (ie. have the intention of worshipping) the same God that we Christians do. When we talk of “God” we mean basically the same divine being – even if what we say of the nature of that divine being and his self-revelation are quite different in respect to Allah and the Triune God.
In part this is granted by the crucial question that stands between us as Muslims and Catholics: Is Jesus God? That question only has meaning if we grant that we have similar understandings of who “God” is.
Take, for instance, our discussion of the same question with (for eg.) Hindus. If we were to say “Jesus is God” and they were to say “Jesus is not Krishna”, well, we would have no arguement. Jesus is not Krishna. (For the sake of heading off a different argument, I am aware that there are Christian writers who suggest Jesus IS Krishna – or vice versa – but I don’t think this can be called orthodox Christian theology.) Krishna is a different God from the God we mean when we say that Jesus is God.
But with Muslims (and for that matter, with Jews), the argument only has meaning if we give the same value to “God”.
Again, I stress that this does not mean that Muslims and Christians say the same thing about this one God. Yet when they pray, they pray to the One God who created heaven and earth. They explicitly reject all pagan gods and all idols. They identify the God they seek to worship with the God of Abraham, Moses and all the prophets – even with the God of Jesus.
This has, of course, implications for how we regard the prayer of Muslims. In my experience, their way of praying differs from our way of praying in one essential factor: namely, that when Christians pray, we pray “in the name of Jesus”. Whether we explicity say this as a part of our prayer or not is not the point; as those who have been baptised into Christ, all prayer we offer will automatically be through the mediation of Jesus.
Let me take this one step further and say that I believe that it is therefore possible (I do not say advisable, just possible) for us to pray the words of (for eg.) the first Surah as legitimate Christian prayer. Those words are as follows:
In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, the compassionate, the merciful, Master of Judgment Day. You alone we worship, and to You alone we pray for help. Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favoured, not of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.
The words of such a prayer – which forms the core of daily prayer for Muslims – are not alien to Christian prayer.
A similar example might be the way in which Christians pray the Jewish psalms. Christian tradition “christianises” these psalms with the addition of the “Glory be” at the end, precisely to say that we are praying these psalms not as Jews but as Christians. And yet it is possible for Jews and Christians to pray the psalms together.
Of course, an argument might be mounted that the psalms come from the Scriptures which are accepted as Word of God by Christians as well as Jews, whereas the First Surah comes from a book which is not accepted as Scripture by either Christians or Jews. For this reason I agree that it is probably advisable for Christians not to make a practice of praying Koranic verses. But many of our prayers do not come from scriptural sources, and the validity of Christian prayer depends on praying in the name of Jesus in a way that is in accord with God’s will and promises, not on the fact that the prayer form is found in Scripture.
Anyway, I would be interested in your reflections. Please try to be reasonable and moderate in your responses – good and precise argumentation is what we are looking for here.