Allah’s Omnipotence and the Incarnation

Sam Shamoun

The Quran repeatedly asserts that Allah is able to do everything and that he has power over all things. This is stated in relation to texts which speak of Allah as creator, sustainer, sovereign owner and reviver of all things:

That is because Allah, He is the Truth, and it is He Who gives life to the dead, and it is He Who is Able to do all things. S. 22:6 Hilali-Khan

Do they not see that Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth, and was not wearied by their creation, is Able to give life to the dead? Yes, He surely is Able to do all things. S. 46:33

All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifieth Allah; and He is the Mighty, the Wise. His is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth; He quickeneth and He giveth death; and He is Able to do all things. He is the First and the Last, and the Outward and the Inward; and He is Knower of all things. He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days; then He mounted the Throne. He knoweth all that entereth the earth and all that emergeth therefrom and all that cometh down from the sky and all that ascendeth therein; and He is with you wheresoever ye may be. And Allah is Seer of what ye do. His is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth, and unto Allah (all) things are brought back. S. 57:1-5 Pickthall

Whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth glorifies Allah. His is the dominion, and to Him belong all the praises and thanks, and He is Able to do all things. He it is Who created you, then some of you are disbelievers and some of you are believers. And Allah is All-Seer of what you do. He has created the heavens and the earth with truth, and He shaped you and made good your shapes, and to Him is the final Return. He knows what is in the heavens and on earth, and He knows what you conceal and what you reveal. And Allah is the All-Knower of what is in the breasts (of men). S. 64:1-4 Hilali-Khan

It is Allah Who has created seven heavens and of the earth the like thereof (i.e. seven). His Command descends between them (heavens and earth), that you may know that Allah has power over all things, and that Allah surrounds (comprehends) all things in (His) Knowledge. S. 65:12 Hilali-Khan

Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things. Who hath created life and death that He may try you which of you is best in conduct; and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving, Who hath created seven heavens in harmony. Thou (Muhammad) canst see no fault in the Beneficent One's creation; then look again: Canst thou see any rifts? Then look again and yet again, thy sight will return unto thee weakened and made dim. And verily We have beautified the world's heaven with lamps, and We have made them missiles for the devils, and for them We have prepared the doom of flame. S. 67:1-5 Pickthall

Moreover, we are not aware of any Quranic passage which explicitly says that Allah isn’t capable of doing something, that there are certain things which he cannot do. This is unlike the Holy Bible which unashamedly states that there are certain things that Yahweh, the true God, cannot do or say:

"Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged." Hebrews 6:17-18 NIV

"if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." 2 Timothy 2:13 NIV

"When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone… Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:13, 17 NIV

There may be similar references in the Quran but the problem is that we haven’t found any.

Now if the Quran claims that Allah can do everything then surely this means that Allah can appear and/or become a man without ceasing to be God. After all, the Quran does say that Allah appeared as or assumed the form of fire to Moses:

When he saw a fire, and said to his family, 'Tarry you here; I observe a fire. Perhaps I shall bring you a brand from it, or I shall find at the fire guidance.' When he came to IT, a voice cried, 'Moses, I am thy Lord; put off thy shoes; thou art in the holy valley, Towa. I Myself have chosen thee; therefore give thou ear to this revelation. S. 20:10-13 Arberry

When Moses said to his people 'I observe a fire, and will bring you news of it, or I will bring you a flaming brand, that haply you shall warm yourselves.' So, when he came to IT, he was called: 'Blessed is he who is IN the fire, and he who is ABOUT it. Glory be to God, the Lord of all Being! Moses, behold, it is I, God, the All-mighty, the All-wise. S. 27:7-9 Arberry

Then, when Musa (Moses) had fulfilled the term, and was travelling with his family, he saw a fire in the direction of Tur (Mount). He said to his family: "Wait, I have seen a fire; perhaps I may bring to you from there some information, or a burning fire-brand that you may warm yourselves." So when he reached IT (the fire), he was called from the right side of the valley, in the blessed place FROM the tree: "O Musa (Moses)! Verily! I am Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists)!" S. 28:29-30 Hilali-Khan

If Allah is able to assume the form of or manifest himself as fire then he most certainly can take on human form or appearance. Interestingly, Allah has granted his angels the ability to assume the likeness of men:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

One day while Allah's Apostle was sitting with the people, a man came to him walking and said, "O Allah’s Apostle. What is Belief?" The Prophet said, "Belief is to believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Apostles, and the meeting with Him, and to believe in the Resurrection." The man asked, "O Allah's Apostle What is Islam?" The Prophet replied, "Islam is to worship Allah and not worship anything besides Him, to offer prayers perfectly, to pay the (compulsory) charity i.e. Zakat and to fast the month of Ramadan." The man again asked, "O Allah's Apostle What is Ihsan (i.e. perfection or Benevolence)?" The Prophet said, "Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not achieve this state of devotion, then (take it for granted that) Allah sees you." The man further asked, "O Allah's Apostle When will the Hour be established?"

The Prophet replied, "The one who is asked about it does not know more than the questioner does, but I will describe to you its portents. When the lady slave gives birth to her mistress, that will be of its portents; when the bare-footed naked people become the chiefs of the people, that will be of its portents. The Hour is one of five things which nobody knows except Allah. Verily, the knowledge of the Hour is with Allah (alone). He sends down the rain, and knows that which is in the wombs." (31.34) Then the man left. The Prophet said, "Call him back to me." They went to call him back but could not see him. The Prophet said, "That was Gabriel who came to teach the people their religion." (See Hadith No. 47 Vol 1) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 300)

Narrated Abu 'Uthman:

I was informed that Gabriel came to the Prophet while Um Salama was with him. Gabriel started talking (to the Prophet). Then the Prophet asked Um Salama, "Who is this?" She replied, "He is Dihya (al-Kalbi)." When Gabriel had left, Um Salama said, "By Allah, I did not take him for anybody other than him (i.e. Dihya) till I heard the sermon of the Prophet wherein he informed about the news of Gabriel." The subnarrator asked Abu 'Uthman: From whom have you heard that? Abu 'Uthman said: From Usama bin Zaid. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 503)

Even Allah’s Spirit(1) is capable of assuming the form of a man:

And make mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East, And had chosen seclusion from them. Then We sent unto her Our Spirit (Roohana) and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said: Lo! I seek refuge in the Beneficent One from thee, if thou art God-fearing. He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son. S. 19:16-19 Pickthall

If angels, which are creatures, are capable of appearing as men then surely Allah must be able to do likewise; that is, unless a Muslim wants to believe that angels are capable of doing something that Allah cannot! But to say that Allah can’t appear in human form implies that he doesn’t have power to do everything, which contradicts the plain teaching of the Quran which claims that he does!(2)

A Muslim may concede that it is possible for Allah to appear as a man in light of the Quran’s teaching that he has the ability to do anything, but contend that it is beneath the majesty of Allah to do so. The problem we have with this claim is that the Quran states that it wasn’t beneath the dignity of Allah to assume the appearance of fire, a substance which is obviously inferior to man in worth since even the Quran agrees that humans have been honored and dignified by Allah:

We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation. S. 17:70 Y. Ali

The Quran also says that man has been made in the best stature and has been appointed ruler (khalifah) in the earth:

And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy (khaleefatan) in the earth, they said: Wilt thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not. S. 2:30 Pickthall

It is He who has appointed you viceroys (khala-ifa) in the earth, and has raised some of you in rank above others, that He may try you in what He has given you. Surely thy Lord is swift in retribution; and surely He is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. S. 6:165 Arberry – cf. 7:129; 10:14; 27:62

Verily, We created man of the best stature (mould), S. 95:4 Hilali-Khan

And according to the hadith literature Allah made man in his own (divine) image:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, created Adam in His own image with His length of sixty cubits, and as He created him He told him to greet that group, and that was a party of angels sitting there, and listen to the response that they give him, for it would form his greeting and that of his offspring. He then went away and said: Peace be upon you! They (the angels) said: May there be peace upon you and the Mercy of Allah, and they made an addition of "Mercy of Allah." So he who would get into Paradise would get in the form of Adam, his length being sixty cubits, then the people who followed him continued to diminish in size up to this day. (Sahih Muslim, Book 040, Number 6809)

In light of this, why should it be deemed dishonorable for Allah to assume the likeness of humanity when it wasn’t beneath him to assume the form of something less than man?

Moreover, why wasn’t it beneath the dignity of the Spirit or angels to assume human likeness?

More importantly, the Quran claims that Allah is the God of the biblical prophets:

We have sent thee inspiration, as We sent it to Noah and the Apostle after him: we sent inspiration to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David We gave the Psalms. Of some apostles We have already told thee the story; of others We have not; - and to Moses God spoke direct; - S. 4:163-164 Y. Ali

And argue not with the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), unless it be in (a way) that is better (with good words and in good manner, inviting them to Islamic Monotheism with His Verses), except with such of them as do wrong, and say (to them): "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our Ilah (God) and your Ilah (God) is One (i.e. Allah), and to Him we have submitted (as Muslims)." S. 29:46 Hilali-Khan

Yet the Scriptures of these prophets say that God can and did appear as a man:

"And Jehovah appeareth unto him among the oaks of Mamre, and he is sitting at the opening of the tent, about the heat of the day; and he lifteth up his eyes and looketh, and lo, three men standing by him, and he seeth, and runneth to meet them from the opening of the tent, and boweth himself towards the earth, And he saith, ‘My Lord, if, I pray thee, I have found grace in thine eyes, do not, I pray thee, pass on from thy servant; let, I pray thee, a little water be accepted, and wash your feet, and recline under the tree; and I bring a piece of bread, and support ye your heart; afterwards pass on, for therefore have ye passed over unto your servant;’ and they say, ‘So mayest thou do as thou has spoken.’ And Abraham hasteth towards the tent, unto Sarah, and saith, ‘Hasten three measures of flour-meal, knead, and make cakes;’ and Abraham ran unto the herd, and taketh a son of the herd, tender and good, and giveth unto the young man, and he hasteth to prepare it; and he taketh butter and milk, and the son of the herd which he hath prepared, and setteth before them; and he is standing by them under the tree, AND THEY DO EATAND JEHOVAH SAITH UNTO ABRAHAM, ‘Why [is] this? Sarah hath laughed, saying, Is it true really - I bear -and I am aged? Is any thing too wonderful for JEHOVAH?AND JEHOVAH SAID, ‘Am I concealing from Abraham that which I am doing, … AND JEHOVAH SAITH, ‘The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah - because great; and their sin - because exceeding grievous: I GO DOWN NOW, and see whether according to its cry which is coming unto Me they have done completely - and if not - I know;’ and the men turn from thence, and go towards Sodom; AND ABRAHAM IS YET STANDING BEFORE JEHOVAH. And Abraham draweth nigh and saith, ‘Dost Thou also consume righteous with wicked? peradventure there are fifty righteous in the midst of the city; dost Thou also consume, and not bear with the place for the sake of the fifty -- the righteous who [are] in its midst? Far be it from Thee to do according to this thing, to put to death the righteous with the wicked; that it hath been - as the righteous so the wicked - far be it from Thee; DOTH THE JUDGE OF ALL THE EARTH NOT DO JUSTICE?’ AND JEHOVAH SAITH, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous in the midst of the city, then have I borne with all the place for their sake.’… AND JEHOVAH GOETH ON, WHEN HE HATH FINISHED SPEAKING UNTO ABRAHAM, and Abraham hath turned back to his place." Genesis 18:1-9, 14, 17, 20-26, 33 Young’s Literal Translation

Here, God appears as a man to Abraham, eats food and has feet to wash!

"And above the firmament over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne WAS A LIKENESS AS IT WERE OF A HUMAN FORM. And upward from what had the appearance OF HIS LOINS I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance OF HIS LOINS I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. AND HE SAID TO ME, ‘Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And when he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me upon my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. AND HE SAID TO ME, ‘Son of man, I SEND YOU TO THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL, to a nation of rebels, WHO HAVE REBELLED AGAINST ME; they and their fathers HAVE TRANSGRESSED AGAINST ME to this very day. The people also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them; and you shall say to them, "THUS SAYS THE LORD GOD." And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that there has been a prophet among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit upon scorpions; be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak MY WORDS TO THEM, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you; be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth, and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, A HAND WAS STRETCHED OUT TO ME, and, lo, a written scroll was in it; AND HE SPREAD IT BEFORE ME; and it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe." Ezekiel 1:26-28, 2:1-10 RSV

Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord manifested as a human figure, a figure that goes on to identify himself as the sovereign Yahweh or Lord!

Thus, if Allah is the God of the Bible then Muslims must accept the fact that it is indeed possible for their god to appear as a man. Yet if Allah can indeed appear as a man then it is also possible for him to become a man without ceasing to be God. After all, Allah is said to be able to do all things.

But if Allah can in theory become a man then Muslims have no legitimate rational objection to the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, i.e. that God became a genuine human being in the Person of Jesus Christ without ceasing to be God. The only objection they can raise to the Incarnation is that the Quran denies the Deity of Christ, an objection which crumbles in light of the historical data which conclusively demonstrates that the historical Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh and rose from the dead to prove it:

Further Reading


(1) The evidence of the Quran points to the Spirit being God since he has all the essential attributes of Deity. For an analysis of the Quranic data that demonstrates this point we recommend the following articles:

With this being the case this means that the Quran teaches that God can and has appeared as a man since the Spirit, whom the Quran says possesses essential Divine characteristics, assumed human form when he came to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus.

(2) The Muslim may wish to say that Allah cannot do anything which is contrary to his character such as lying, lusting, murdering etc., but can only do those things that are in accord with his unchangeable nature. There are several problems with this view, the first of which is that the Quran says that Allah can (and actually does) lie and act deceptively and that he does change his mind:

What this basically means is that Allah doesn’t have a certain character that limits the way he speaks or acts.

This leads us to the second problem with this claim, specifically that the Quran doesn’t speak of Allah having an eternal, immutable nature either because it doesn’t know of it or because Allah doesn’t have one! The Quran portrays Allah as a being that chooses to do certain things or act in a certain way simply because he wants to, not because he has to. In other words, Allah speaks the truth in certain situations not because he has to but because he chooses to. This explains why the Quran has no problems ascribing contradictory traits to what is supposed to be the one universal sovereign and perfect Deity, i.e. Allah lies and speaks the truth, guides and misleads people:

Whomsoever Allah guides, he is the one who follows the right way; and whomsoever He causes to err, these are the losers. And certainly We have created for hell many of the jinn and the men; they have hearts with which they do not understand, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear; they are as cattle, nay, they are in worse errors; these are the heedless ones… Whomsoever Allah causes to err, there is no guide for him; and He leaves them alone in their inordinacy, blindly wandering on. S. 7:178-179, 186 Shakir

And We have sent no Messenger save with the tongue of his people, that he might make all clear to them; then God leads astray whomsoever He will, and He guides whomsoever He will; and He is the All-mighty, the All-wise. S. 14:4 Arberry

As noted Christian apologist and philosopher Norman L. Geisler and co-author Abdul Saleeb put it:


There is a certain mystery about God’s names. Cragg affirms these names "are to be understood as characteristics of the Divine will rather than laws of His nature. Action, that is, arising from such descriptives may be expected, but not as a matter of necessity." What gives unity to all God’s actions is that he wills them all. As willer he may be recognized by the descriptions given him, but he does not conform to any. The action of his will may be identified from its effects, but his will of itself is inscrutable. This accounts for antithesis in certain of God’s names that will be discussed below. For example, God is "the One Who leads astray" as well as "the One Who guides."


Since everything is based on God’s will and since his effects are sometimes contradictory and do not reflect any absolute essence, God’s nature is really unknowable. Indeed, "the Divine will is an ultimate beyond which neither reason nor revelation go. In the Unity of the single will, however, these descriptions co-exist with those that relate to mercy, compassion, and glory." God is named from his effects, but he is not to be identified with any of them. The relation between the Ultimate Cause (God) and his creatures is extrinsic, not intrinsic. That is, God is called good because he causes good, but goodness is not part of his essence. (Geisler & Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross [Baker Books, A Division of Baker Book House Co, Grand Rapids, MI, updated and revised 2002], p. 138; underline emphasis ours)

The final problem with this view is that it assumes that if Allah did have a specific nature that caused him to act a specific way that this somehow would preclude him from being able to appear or become a man. The Muslims haven’t been able to show (*) why possessing the nature of Deity automatically rules out the possibility of Allah assuming a human appearance or from taking on the nature of man, especially when this didn’t prevent Allah from taking on the appearance or characteristics of fire. If he is able to take or manifest in one form then certainly he should be able to assume any and all forms if he so chooses.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page