Islam's idea of The Trinity

December 2020

The Testimony of the Quran

>”They say: “(Allah) Most Gracious has begotten a son!” Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous! At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin That they should invoke a son for (Allah) Most Gracious For it is not consonant with the majesty of (Allah) Most Gracious that He should beget a son” (Surah Miriam 19:89-92).
> “Say: “Praise be to Allah, who begets no son, and has no partner in (His) dominion: Nor (needs) He any to protect Him from humiliation: yea, magnify Him for His greatness and glory!” (Al-Isra 17:111)

The Muslim controversy with Christians has always had two great centres: the integrity of Scripture and reasonableness of the doctrine of the Trinity. These two ideas are fundamental in the Christian system. In some form the doctrine of the Trinity has always been confessed by the Church and all who opposed it were thrown off from its fellowship. “When this doctrine was abandoned, other articles of faith, such as the atonement, regeneration, etc., have always followed by logical necessity, as when one draws the wire from a necklace of gems, the gems fall asunder.” (Henry B. Smith)

There are not many direct references to the Trinity in the Quran and all occur in two suras composed by Muhammad towards the close of his career at Medina:

> “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity” : desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. (An-Nisa’ 4:171)

> “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.” (Al-Maida 5:73)

> “And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.” (Al-Maida 5:115)

These passages leave no doubt that Muhammad denied the doctrine of the Trinity and that he conceived it to be, or affirmed it to be, a species of tritheism (three separate and distinct gods), consisting it of God, Mary and Jesus Christ.

Christians accused of ‘shirk,’ ascribing plurality to deity

Christians are accused by Muslims of committing shirk, ascribing companions or plurality to deity. There are four kinds:

1. Shirk-ul-Ilm – to ascribe knowledge to others than God. Jesus is said to know no secret thing and does not share in what God knows.

2. Shirk-ut-Tassarruf – to ascribe power to act independently, to any one else than to God, for all are His slaves. No one can intercede except by God’s permission. To say that Christ intercedes by His own power or merit is shirk, polytheism.

3. Shirk-ul-Abada – to ascribe a partner to God who can be worshipped, or worshipping the created instead of the Creator, as Christians are said to do when they worship Christ or adore Mary.

4. Shirk-ul-‘Adat – to perform ceremonies or follow superstitions which indicate reliance or trust on anything or any one save God.

This four-fold classification by the Wahhabi sect has its ground in the Quran and it is on these grounds that Christians are called mushrikun, or polytheists, by Muslims today, although that word was especially used for the Meccan idolaters in the Quran. Logically the use of this term for Christians is perfectly natural and correct from a Muslim point of view, for we certainly hold that the Son of God is omniscient, independent of the creature, has power as an intercessor and is worth of worship. Practically, therefore, all the passages in the Quran that speak against idolatry and assert God’s unity are used by Muslims as testimony against the doctrine of the Trinity.

Although the Quran and Tradition give Jesus Christ a high place among the prophets, and affirm his sinlessness and power to work miracles, all this does not distinguish person from other prophets who came before Him. The pre-existence of the Word of God is denied while Tradition is full of stories about the Nur-Muhammad or “Light of Muhammad” which was created before all things made by God. Specially it is to be noted that the Quran denies the atonement and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In considering the character and content of Muslim monotheism, a Christian can never forget that Jesus Christ has no place in the Muslim idea of God, and that the portrait of our Saviour as given in the Quran and in Tradition is a sad caricature.

The third person of the Trinity

The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is mentioned by that name three times in the Quran:

> “Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as a Guide and Glad Tidings to Muslims.” (An-Nahl 16 102)

> “We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit.” (Al Baqarrah 2:87)

> “Those messengers We endowed with gifts, some above others: To one of them Allah spoke; others He raised to degrees (of honour); to Jesus the son of Mary We gave clear (signs), and strengthened him with the holy spirit.” (Al Baqarrah 2:253)

All Muslim commentators are agreed that the Holy Spirit in these passages means the angel Gabriel. Why Muhammad confounded Gabriel with the Holy Spirit is far from clear. The only distinct assertion that Gabriel was the channel of Muhammad’s revelation is found in Al Baqarrah 2:97:> “Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel – for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah’s will,”The only other mention of Gabriel is At-Tahrim 66:4 < “If ye two turn in repentance to Him, your hearts are indeed so inclined; But if ye back up each other against him, truly Allah is his Protector, and Gabriel, and (every) righteous one among those who believe,- and furthermore, the angels – will back (him) up.”

A Misapprehension or Misrepresentation of the Trinity?

Was this a misapprehension or a misrepresentation on the part of the Quran? Was Muhammad ignorant of the true doctrine of the Trinity as held by Christians? The common idea is that he was ignorant of the truth and that he got his idea from the Collyridians a heretical female sect in Arabia. They were said to invest the Virgin Mary with the name and honours of a goddess, and offered her cylindrical cakes. Yet even if such a sect existed, and there is doubt, it seems improbable that Muhammad could mistake them for the Christian religion. Muhammad came in contact with Oriental Christianity from three quarters:

1. The Christians of Yemen visited Mecca, and Abraha was turned back in defeat with his army, in the year in which Muhammad was born.

2. Muhammad had as a concubine a Christian Coptic woman, Miriam, the mother of his son, Ibrahim.

3. Muhammad went once and again to Syria with Khadijah’s caravan of merchandise.

Early Christianity in Arabia was much more extended and influential than is generally supposed. Nearly all of Yemen and Nejran was permeated with the doctrines of Christianity and there had been many martyrs. Concerning the view held by all Yemen Christians regarding the Trinity, we have the unimpeachable evidence in the monuments found by Glaser. The Abyssinian Church of the fifth century was undoubtedly corrupt and paid high honours to the Virgin Mary and the saints but it is certain also that this church always held, as it does now, that the three persons of the Trinity are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The same is true of the Nestorians, the Jacobites, the Armenians and the Maronites; because the Monophysite controversy concerned itself not with the doctrine of the Trinity but with the person of Christ. Both the Nestorians and Monophysites accepted the Nicene Creed without the Filioque. Now how is it possible to imagine that Muhammad, who knew of Arabian Christianity, visited Syria and married a Coptic woman, who became his special favourite, and whose earliest converts took refuge in Abyssinia – how is it possible to imagine that he was ignorant of the persons of the Trinity?

In addition to the reasons given above we read in Ibn Hisham (quoted from Ibn Ishaq) that the Christians of Nejran sent a large and learned deputation to Muhammad headed by a bishop of the orthodox Catholic Church, Now is it possible that a bishop could have represented that the Holy Trinity consisted of God, Christ and Mary (as Tradition says he did) after the whole eastern world had been resounding for ages with the profound and sharply defined controversies concerning this fundamental doctrine?

In the words of Koelle (Muhammad and Muhammadanism) “Not want of opportunity, but want of sympathy and compatibility kept him aloof from the religion of Christ. His first wife introduced him to her Christian cousin; one of his later wives had embraced Christianity in Abyssinia; and the most favoured of his concubines was a Christian from the Copts of Egypt, He was acquainted with ascetic monks and had dealings with learned bishops of the Orthodox Church. In those days the reading of the Holy Scriptures in the public services of the Catholic Church was already authoritatively enjoined and universally practised; if he had wished thoroughly to acquaint himself with them he could easily have done so. But having no adequate conception of the nature of sin and man’s fallen state, he also lacked the faculty of truly appreciating the remedy for it which was offered in the Gospel.” If Koelle is correct, as I believe he is, then Muhammad’s idea of God includes a deliberate rejection of the Christian idea of the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Abridged from ‘The Muslim Doctrine of God’ by Samuel M Zwemer