By Sam Shamoun
Despite the fact that in the following articles and rebuttals,
I have thoroughly addressed the issue of Jesus worshiping and praying to God, and showed how this does nothing to undermine the clear and explicit biblical witness to his essential Deity, I have nonetheless decided to tackle this objection from a different angle, one which actually turns the tables against both Muslims and disbelieving Jews who use this argument as a means of casting doubt upon Jesus’ perfect Godhood and essential coequality with the Father.
In this article, I will seek to demonstrate how this objection actually backfires against them by showing that their very own argument ends up proving that the being they worship cannot be God.
In Christianity, God is Tri-Personal, meaning that God eternally exists as the Father, his eternal Word/Son, and his Holy Spirit. These three are not the same divine Person, nor are they three separate Beings, but rather are three eternally distinct, yet inseparable, Persons or relationships that love and adore one another.
As such, it is perfectly understandable to see why Jesus would pray to and worship God and still be God, since the God-breathed Scriptures teach that he is the eternal divine Word of the Father who is personally distinct from him, and therefore able to enjoy perfect communion and fellowship with God (cf. John 1:1-4). The NT further teaches that the eternal Word became flesh, i.e., an actual human being, in order to become the kind of man that God intends every human creature to be (cf. John 1:9-11, 14).
Now the perfect man would not be an atheist or a rebellious transgressor, but an individual that flawlessly obeys God’s will and renders perfect worship and service to him. Therefore, since Jesus was such a man it shouldn’t surprise us to find him worshiping and perfectly obeying his heavenly Father, always doing only that which pleases him:
“They went out of the city and came to Him. Meanwhile His disciples urged Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat of which you do not know.’ Therefore the disciples said one to another, ‘Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.’” John 4:30-34
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. For whatever He does, likewise the Son does… I can do nothing of Myself. As I hear, I judge. My judgment is just, because I seek not My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me.’” John 5:19, 30
“So Jesus said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing of Myself. But I speak these things as My Father taught Me. He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I ALWAYS do those things that please Him.’” John 8:28-29
“For I have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. I know that His command is eternal life. Therefore what I say, I say as the Father tells me.”” John 12:49-50
“But I do as the Father has commanded Me so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.” John 14:31
“As the Father loved Me, I also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love.” John 15:9-10
Moreover, since God’s beloved Son and eternal Word/Wisdom became a man, and since God is said to be the God of all flesh,
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27
It should therefore come as no surprise that the Son made flesh, Jesus Christ, would identify and honor the Father as his very own God. This is in fact what we would expect the Incarnate Son to do if the Holy Bible’s teaching is consistent with itself.
It may come as a surprise to some to discover that the Quran teaches that Muhammad’s god actually prays and worships in the same way that his creatures do.
Note, for instance, what the following verse says regarding Allah and his angels praying for the believers:
He it is who prays (yusallee)1 for you and His angels too, to bring you forth out of the darkness into the light, for He is merciful to the believers. S. 33:43 (Edward Henry Palmer, The Qur’an, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1880)
The late translator Palmer has a rather interesting footnote here regarding the Quranic usage of the Arabic word for “prays”, namely salla:
145:1 The same word is used as is rendered ‘pray’ in ALL THE OTHER PASSAGES in the Qur’ân, though the commentators interpret it here as meaning ‘bless.’ So, too, in the formula which is always used after Mohammed’s name, zalla ’llâhu ‘alâihi wa sallam, ‘may God bless and preserve him!’ is literally, ‘may God PRAY for him and salute him!‘(source, bold and capital emphasis ours)
Palmer’s comments show that Muslims have no way around the fact that their deity prays much in the same way that creatures like angels do, since the Arabic word used here always means prayer whenever it is used in the Quran.
Nor is this the only text which depicts the Muslim deity worshiping along with his creation:
Verily, God AND His angels PRAY (yusalloona) for the prophet. O ye who believe! PRAY (salloo) for him and salute him with a salutation! S. 33:56 Palmer
Here we have Allah, his angels and believers praying for Muhammad!
Even the hadith reports agree that Allah actually prays along with his creation:
1387. Abu Umama reported that the Messenger of Allah said, “ALLAH AND His angels AND the people of the heavens AND the earth, EVEN the ants in their rocks AND the fish, PRAY for blessings on those who teach people good.” [at-Tirmidhi] (Aisha Bewley, Riyadas-Salihin (The Meadows of the Righteous), Book of Knowledge, 241. Chapter: the excellence of knowledge: capital and italic emphasis ours)
1397. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As reported the Messenger of Allah says, “Anyone who says a prayer on me, Allah will PRAY on him ten times on account of it.” [Muslim] (Ibid., 243. Chapter: Book on the Prayer on the Messenger of Allah; italicized and underline emphasis ours)
2685. Abu Umamah al-Bahili narrated: “Two men were mentioned before the Messenger of Allah. One of them a worshipper, and the other a scholar. So the Messenger of Allah said: ‘The superiority of the scholar over the worshipper is like my superiority over the least of you.’ Then the Messenger of Allah said: ‘Indeed ALLAH, His Angels, the inhabitants of the heavens and the earths – even the ant in his hole, even the fish – SAY SALAT upon the one who teaches the people to do good. (Hasan)
[Abu ‘Eisa said:] This Hadith is Hasan Gharib Sahih… (English Translation of Jami‘ At-Tirmidhi, Compiled by Imam Hafiz ‘Eisa Mohammad Ibn ‘Eisa At-Tirmidhi, From Hadith no. 2606 to 3290, translated by Abu Khaliyl (USA), ahadith edited and referenced by Hafiz Abu Tahir Zubair ‘Ali Za’i, final review by Islamic Research Section Darussalam [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, First Edition: November 2007], Volume 5, Chapter 19. What Has Been Related About the Superiority Of Fiqh Over Worship, p. 80 – listed as number 70 in the ALIM online version of at-Tirmidhi’s hadith collection: capital and underline emphasis ours)
Despite the fact that the verbs employed in these specific texts always mean prayer and/or worship every time they appear in both the Quran and ahadith, Muslims still wish to argue that they do not have this meaning when used in reference to Allah. They claim that when salla and its related terms are applied to their deity then they refer either to Allah’s mercy or his blessings, which he bestows upon his creatures.
There are two main problems with this assertion. First, the citations we quoted all describe Allah as joining along with his creatures in performing salla/salat/salawat. As such, they must carry over the same meaning when they appear in the same context, irrespective of who the subject of these verbs may be. Seeing that no Muslim denies that salla/salat/salawat means prayer/worship when used of angels or the other creatures that are mentioned, whether humans or ants, they must therefore be consistent and accept the fact that this same meaning must apply in respect to Allah, who is described as performing this same exact action alongside these other entities.
Second, the Islamic sources distinguish the salla/salat/salawat of Allah from both his mercy (rahmah) and blessing (baraka). Notice, for instance, this next verse:
Upon them rest the prayers and mercy from their Lord (salawatun min rabbihim warahmatun), and those — they are the truly guided. S. 2:157 Our translation
Contrast this with the following English version:
They are those on whom are the Salawat (i.e. blessings [sic], etc.) (i.e. who are blessed and will be forgiven) from their Lord, and (they are those who) receive His Mercy, and it is they who are the guided-ones. Hilali-Khan
Here we have Allah bestowing both his prayers (salawat) and mercy (rahmah) upon believers, showing that they do not have the same meaning.
Moreover, the hadith literature itself differentiates Allah’s prayer (salah) from his blessing (baraka), as we find in the following cases:
The Command to say Salah upon the Prophet
Al-Bukhari said: “Abu Al-`Aliyah said: “Allah’s Salah is His praising him before the angels, and the Salah of the angels is their supplication.” Ibn `Abbas said: “They send blessings.” Abu `Isa At-Tirmidhi said: “This was narrated from Sufyan Ath-Thawri and other scholars, who said: `The Salah of the Lord is mercy [sic], and the Salah of the angels is their seeking forgiveness.’” There are Mutawatir Hadiths narrated from the Messenger of Allah commanding us to send blessings on him and how we should say Salah upon him. We will mention as many of them as we can, if Allah wills, and Allah is the One Whose help we seek. In his Tafsir of this Ayah, Al-Bukhari recorded that Ka`b bin `Ujrah said, “It was said, `O Messenger of Allah, with regard to sending Salam upon you, we know about this, but how about Salah?’ He said…
<<Say: ‘O Allah, send YOUR SALAH upon Muhammad and upon the family of Muhammad, as You sent YOUR SALAH upon the family of Ibrahim, verily You are the Most Praiseworthy, Most Glorious. O Allah, send YOUR BLESSINGS upon Muhammad and upon the family of Muhammad, as You sent YOUR BLESSINGS upon the family of Ibrahim, verily You are Most Praiseworthy, Most Glorious.’’>>” Imam Ahmad recorded that Ibn Abi Layla said that Ka`b bin `Ujrah met him and said, “Shall I not give you a gift? The Messenger of Allah came out to us and we said, `O Messenger of Allah! We know how to send Salam upon you, but how can we send Salah?’ He said…
<<Say: ‘O Allah, send YOUR SALAH upon Muhammad and upon the family of Muhammad, as You sent YOUR SALAH upon the family of Ibrahim, verily You are the Most Praiseworthy, Most Glorious. O Allah, send YOUR BLESSINGS upon Muhammad and upon the family of Muhammad, as You sent YOUR BLESSINGS upon the family of Ibrahim, verily You are Most Praiseworthy, Most Glorious.’’>>” This Hadith has been recorded by the Group in their books with different chains of narration. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Q. 33:56; capital and underline emphasis ours)
Allah sends down both his salah and blessings upon Muhammad and his family. The fact that Muhammad clearly distinguished between the words salah and baraka (“blessing”) proves beyond any reasonable doubt that they have two different meanings. As one Muslim authority candidly admitted:
Allah makes the merit of His Prophet clear by first praying blessing on Himself, and then by the prayer of the angels, and then by commanding His slaves to pray blessing and peace on him as well. Abu Bakr ibn Furak related that one of the ‘ulama interpreted the words of the Prophet, “The coolness of my eye is in the prayer,” as meaning Allah’s prayer, that of the angels and that of his community in response to Allah’s command until the Day of Rising. The prayer of angels and men is supplication for him and that of Allah is mercy.
It is said that “they pray” means they invoke blessing (baraka). However, when the Prophet taught people the prayer on himself, he made a distinction between the word salat (prayer) and baraka (blessing). We will return to the meaning of the prayer on him later. (Qadi ‘Iyad Musa al-Yahsubi, Muhammad Messenger of Allah (Ash-Shifa of Qadi ‘Iyad), translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K. 1991; third reprint, paperback], Part One. Allah’s great estimation of the worth of His Prophet expressed in both word and action, Chapter One: Allah’s Praise Of Him And His Great Esteem For Him, Section 8: Concerning Allah instructing His creation to say the prayer on the Prophet, His protecting him and removing the punishment because of him, p. 25; bold emphasis ours)
The Prophet made a distinction between salat (prayer) and baraka (blessing) in the hadith in which he taught about making the prayer on him. This indicates that they have two separate meanings. (Ibid., Part Two. Concerning the rights which people owe the Prophet, Chapter Four: The Prayer On The Prophet And Asking Peace For Him, And The Obligation Of Doing It And Its Excellence, Section 1: The meaning of the prayer on the Prophet, p. 250; bold emphasis ours)
In light of the foregoing, Muslims have no choice but to accept that their god prays and worships much like they do. As such, Muslims must contend with the fact that, according to Badawi’s reasoning, Allah cannot be God or divine “since God doesn’t pray to God.” They must also come to terms with reality by acknowledging that Allah is limited and finite, and cannot possibly be the greatest conceivable being in existence since, according to the words of one Muslim scholar and polemicist, “we pray to a power greater than us” (Dr. Jamal Badawi, Radio Al-Islam Channel RA 200, “Jesus: Beloved Messenger of Allah”, K16. Did Jesus Claim Divinity VI: Jesus Denies Godhood, and “prayer is petition from the finite to the infinite” (Badawi vs. Dr.William Lane Craig, The Concept of God in Islam and Christianity. Hence, Allah must be a finite being who prays to a power greater than himself.
What may come as an even greater surprise and shock to the readers is that, according to Jewish tradition God actually prays!
R. Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer.1 It is not said, 'their prayer', but 'My prayer'; hence [you learn] that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers. What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: 'May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice'.2 It was taught: R. Ishmael b. Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw Akathriel Jah,3 the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me! I replied: May it be Thy will that Thy mercy may suppress Thy anger and Thy mercy may prevail over Thy other attributes, so that Thou mayest deal with Thy children according to the attribute of mercy and mayest, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice! And He nodded to me with His head. Here we learn [incidentally] that the blessing of an ordinary man must not be considered lightly in your eyes.
1. Ibid. LVI, 7. 'In the house of My prayer'.
Now it is perfectly understandable how Jesus can pray to God and still be God since he is the eternal divine Word of the Father who is personally distinct from him, and therefore can have perfect communion and fellowship with God. However, how can any Muslim or Jew make sense out of their own belief that the god they worship actually prays and worships if, as they claim, he is supposed to be a uni-personal being?
So this objection that Jews and Muslims often level against Christians could and should be thrown right back at them. Since both groups believe that their deity prays then they need to ask themselves, who is their god praying to when he prays and worships?
They will either have to answer that he either is praying to and worshiping himself, or to some other being. If the former then this depicts the divinity worshiped by these two groups as either a schizophrenic being who has conversations with himself, and/or a rather arrogant and prideful egotist who gets high off of worshiping himself.
If they choose to go with the latter then this means that the god worshiped by Jews and Muslims is not the greatest conceivable being or the only true God and source of all that exists, since there is a being greater than him whom he is subject and answers to.
Either way, Jews and Muslims have a problem, whereas the Christians do not since their position regarding the worship and prayers of Christ is consistent, rational, and biblically coherent.