God Our Savior And Protector
In my article, A Dialog about the One True God, I showed (from the Old Testament) how God is Savior. Jewish leaders agree but Muslim scholars disagree. The simple reason is that the Divine name Savior is not in the list of 99 beautiful names of Allah. Several Muslims have responded in defense of their leaders. They justify the omission of the name Savior, saying that the title 'Protector' is an appropriate substitute because of its similarity to 'Savior'.
In reply, I would agree that 'protect' and 'save' have a similar meaning, in some circumstances.1 Indeed, there are several Bible verses showing this similarity. We read in one of David's psalms, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble. When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies ... attack me, they will stumble and fall. ... The one thing I ask of the Lord – the thing I seek most – is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord's perfections and meditating in his Temple. For he will conceal me there when trouble comes... Hear me as I pray O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! ... Don't abandon me O God of my salvation!” (Psalm 27:1-5,7,9)
Like David, Muslims look to Allah for refuge from enemies as well as deliverance from various kinds of troubles. The Qur'an describes Allah as "Protector ... It is God that delivereth you from these and all (other) distresses:" (Surah 6:62-64) Not only so, devout Muslims frequently recite the ta'awwudh prayer i.e. seeking refuge from Satan the accursed. Interestingly, this is not unlike the prayer Jesus taught his followers in Matthew 6:13, “rescue us from the evil one.” (a closer look at this theme entitled, Facing our Common Foe, is available online)
There are other Bible verses that imply a similarity between God's 'protection' and 'salvation' (e.g. Psalm 41:1,2; 71:1-4). Indeed, the Psalmist often referred to the LORD as his shield, fortress, stronghold, refuge, rock, shelter. All of these terms are closely related to the idea of protection, and in some instances they relate to deliverance by God. On the other hand, there is another set of synonyms which are clustered around the theme of deliverance, rescue and salvation. Occasionally, (as noted above), these words correlate with God as one who provides refuge and protection.
Speaking of protection, one can see among the 99 names of Allah a cluster of five attributes related to the theme of protection: namely, Protector, Guardian and The Everlasting Refuge.2 Two additional names are particularly significant. They are distinctly different in Arabic but were both translated as Protector because they are so close in meaning. Consequently the term Protector appears three times in the list of 99 names! Thoughtful readers wonder why all these synonyms were included, especially when the result is that other worthy Divine names were left off the list.
One can understand why Muslims would allocate one name on the list to the title Protector but, "Why two or three?" And also, "Why was the Divine name Savior omitted?" One might give the benefit of the doubt if the compilers had included one of the other near synonyms i.e. Deliverer. Islamically speaking, any of the names in this cluster of synonyms would have been appropriate to include in the 99 names but the Ulema did not choose any of them. Not only so, they also omitted the name Redeemer – another synonym of Savior (but with a significant additional nuance).
It is a well known fact that the Exodus is a story of 'salvation/redemption' which is commemorated every year by the Jews at Passover. The two words save and redeem are interwoven in the scriptural accounts of this epic story. We read in Psalm 106:8-10 how God saved and redeemed the Israelites to “defend the honor of his name and to demonstrate his mighty power”. Notice in verse 9 how the Lord “commanded the Red Sea to dry up. He led Israel across the sea, as if it were a desert. So he rescued them from their enemies and redeemed them from their foes.” Both Divine titles, Savior and Redeemer, are based on the story of Israel's exodus from Egypt. As it is written, “All the world will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.” (Isaiah 49:26)
You may recall that God purposely included the Exodus rescue as a prelude to the foremost commandment, that is, to worship no other gods:
I am the Lord your God who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me. (Exodus 20:2,3)
This underscores the importance of God's saving power. Not only so, we see how crucial this power was in convincing Jethro, a Midianite priest that the God of Israel is “greater than all other gods.” (Exodus 18:8-11)
We also saw how the confrontation between the true God and Pharaoh's gods resulted in the whole world knowing who is the true God. Moses proclaimed the words of God to Pharaoh, “Then you will know that there is no one like me in all the earth. ... I have spared you for a purpose ... to spread my fame throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:14,16)
The worldwide impact of this epic rescue story reverberated down through history. Hundreds of years later the prophets noted how God saw fit to use the Exodus to make “himself famous forever.” ... “O Lord our God you brought lasting honor to your name by rescuing your people from Egypt in a great display of power ...” (Isaiah 63:11; Daniel 9:15)
These Bible passages show how important the Divine name Redeemer is for Jews and Christians, but what about Muslims? Furthermore, doesn't the Qur'an confirm this story? Doesn't their scripture also acknowledge the importance of the ransom principle (redemption)?
To the extent that the Qur'an endorses the basic plot of the Exodus from Egypt, one could say it tacitly endorses the names, Savior and Redeemer. But there is another reason why Muslims can accept the title Redeemer. The Qur'an explicitly mentions this truth in the well known story of Ibraham's sacrifice. In Surah 37:107 we read about the “momentous ransom” of Ibrahim's son by a sacrificial ram – a redemptive act of God.
If Muslim scholars wanted to do so, they could have replaced one of the four synonymous names pertaining to power with Al Faadi (Redeemer). The four 'power-titles' are Mighty, Almighty, Powerful, Allpowerful. Like we suggested earlier with the cluster of 'protection-titles', the compilers could have easily left off one of the redundant titles with a view to including Savior or Redeemer. The same point holds true with regards to these redundant 'power-titles'.
Tragically the Ulema decided not to make this adjustment – even though their religion places great emphasis on Abraham's sacrificial test by celebrating a feast in memory of it each year.
There is another reason why omitting the name Redeemer is no small oversight. Notice the word 'momentous' in Surah 37:107. It indicates the importance of this sacrificial test and the provision of God. Those who compiled this list of Divine names missed a beautiful opportunity to add an additional facet of understanding the greatness of God. Having an appreciation of God's redemptive purposes enhances our appreciation of God's glory.
What then are we to conclude about the title "Protector"? Islamically speaking, is it valid to regard this title as a substitute for Savior?
May I remind the reader that we are not discussing whether these two terms have significant similarities. We've already agreed that in some respects they are similar. The key issue is this: “Is Protector a close synonym to Savior like the terms, deliverer, rescuer and redeemer?” The fact of the matter is: Protector is not a near synonym. Certainly it is not as close as deliverer or rescuer. If any title were to be substituted one would expect it to be one of these near synonyms. But this is not what happened. The Ulema preferred a distant synonym – Protector.
Incidentally, the term Protector is not found anywhere in the Old Testament as a title of God. Why would the Ulema not use the titles Savior and Redeemer which were already in use by the prophets? It was not necessary to hunt for some other word to use as an attribute of God.
In the writings of the prophets we see that God had clearly called himself by the name Savior. Yet many Muslims exert great effort to avoid a simple, logical conclusion. Listen to what the Lord says through Isaiah, “There is no other God but me, a righteous God and Savior. There is none but me. Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God there is no other. I have sworn by my own name ... Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me.” (Isaiah 45:21-23) [bold font added for emphasis]
Isaiah was not the only one who called all the world to submit to God as the only one worthy of worship (acknowledging also that he is mighty to save). The prophet Daniel recorded these twin truths, i.e. submission to God who alone is able to save. (Daniel 3:28-29; 6:25-27)
We read in Daniel 3:28,29,
Then King Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Sharach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king's command and were willing to die rather than to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Adednego, they will be torn limb from limb and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!” 3
Muslims agree submission is a primary duty of man but they seem reluctant to recognize God's power to save. They have included in the 99 names, four titles pertaining to the theme of power. Why do they not include an additional nuance by mentioning the power to save, i.e. Savior? Perhaps they suspect that connecting the dots will lead to the Messiah who was prophesied to bring God's salvation.
The last book of the Bible contains the vision of John the apostle in which he sees the whole world honoring God as Savior.
I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb ... And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9,10)
Point to Ponder: How is God Redeemer?
In the first book of the Bible Abraham foretold that God will provide a lamb. (Genesis 22) Two thousand years later John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Then, at the end of the Bible, John the apostle sees a vision in which the Lamb of God is acclaimed as worthy to receive honor and worship because “you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every ... nation.” (Revelation 5:9) If you wish to read an article exploring how God ransomed Abraham's son you can find it here.
Another article that may interest you is entitled, Heartfelt Fasting & Repentance. This article shows how God provides cleansing for sinners by means of sacrifice. May I encourage you to take a closer look at this theme by reading Eid Ul Adha: The Christmas Connection. Another article which is worth reading is entitled, Is There Only One Savior God? It examines Qur'anic terms connected to the theme of deliverance/salvation which have a close resemblance.
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All Biblical quotations are taken from the New Living Translation.
A Muslim lawyer who works for an internationally acclaimed Islamic Propagation Centre, told me he believes the Divine title Savior was valid until Messiah's time but after Christ came, misconceptions arose, making it inappropriate to use this title. He had the audacity to suggest this title has become 'like poison'. By saying this he (inadvertently?) revealed his intense dislike for the cross – the pivotal belief of the Christian faith. Of course it was on the cross where the Bible says Christ died to take away people's sins as predicted by the prophets. A detailed rebuttal of this leader's poisonous allegation is available here.