Muslims and Christians can work together to depose dictators and assert the power of the people. We’ve seen it happen on the Tahrir Square in Cairo during the 2011 revolution in Egypt, with devout Muslims and Coptic Christians protesting side by side. But can Muslims and Christians work together to build a democratic society in which rights of all are respected, the rights of minority Coptic Christians no less than the rights of majority Muslims? They can, if they have a common set of fundamental values. But do they? They do, if they, both monotheists, have a common God.
Ever since 9/11, the most common question I am asked when I speak about these two religions is whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Muslims don’t push the question. But Christians do, vigorously — in Europe, Asia and Africa no less than in North America. Maybe that’s not surprising. In the manual of the terrorists who flew the planes on a suicidal mission it read: “Remember, this is a battle for the sake of God.” In the name of God and with expectations of glory in this world and rewards in the next, they killed themselves and thousands of innocent civilians. To many Christians it seems obvious that the God who spills the blood of the innocent and rewards suicidal missions with paradisiacal pleasures can’t be the God they worship.
The question, however, isn’t mainly about the terrorists and their God. It’s about Muslims generally. It draws its energy from a deep concern. To ask: “Do we have a common God?” is to worry: “Can we live together without bloodshed?” That’s why whether a given community worships the same god as another community has always been a crucial cultural and political question and not just a theological one.