"Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you." This is what Attorney General John Ashcroft told syndicated columnist Cal Thomas in an interview published on the internet site Crosswalk. He later distanced himself from those remarks, stating that he was speaking of the terrorists who hijacked the faith.

Despite the clarification of his remarks, I remained disappointed that our chief law enforcement officer would make such a hurtful statement about the faith of millions of his fellow Americans. It reveals the still prevalent notion among many Americans that Islam is a violent, hateful religion whose God is distant, warmongering, and intolerant.

Many Christians have even gone as far as saying that the God of Islam is not the same God of Christians and Jews. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The God of Islam is Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. He is the God of all humanity, regardless of faith or creed. In Arabic, His name is "Allah," which is roughly translated to mean "The God." Arab Jews and Christians call God "Allah." In an Arabic translation of the Bible, God is also translated as "Allah." To posit that the "Muslim" God is not the Judeo-Christian God is inaccurate and absurd.

In Islam, Muslims have a direct, personal relationship with God Almighty. In the Qur'an, God says, "We have indeed created humanity and know what is whispered in his own self, and We are closer to him than his jugular vein." (50:16)

In another verse the Prophet Mohammed is told: "When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close: I answer the prayer of the one who prays to Me." (2:186)

God in Islam is infinitely Merciful. All but one of the 114 chapters of the Koran begin with the phrase: "In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful." In one verse, God addresses humanity directly and says, "O my servants who have transgressed against themselves, despair not of the Mercy of God. For God forgives all sins, He is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." (39:53)

The story of God's mercy is outlined in greater detail in the sayings of Prophet Mohammed. In one tradition, the Prophet said that if one were to come to God with the earth full of sins, God would come back with the earth full of forgiveness. In another saying, God forgave a prostitute simply because she gave a thirsty dog water to drink. The Prophet told us that all of the mercy we see on the earth, such as the love of a mother for her child, is a tiny fraction of the mercy God will show us on Judgement Day.

In a particularly famous tradition, it is related that a man who murdered 100 people was forgiven by God and admitted to Paradise simply because he intended to change his evil ways.

Islamic tradition is rich with descriptions of God's infinite mercy and forgiveness, and Muslims are comforted by the fact that any sin can be forgiven by God if the penitent is sincere in repentance.

There is not an hour that goes by that I do not sin. I can't help it. But Islam, as does Christianity and Judaism, teaches me not to despair; God is always there with open arms, ready and willing to forgive my trespasses and look upon my face with warmth and kindness. My continued presence on earth is open testimony to God's mercy.

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