Understanding Islam – Part 9 (The Trinity)

The Trinity

A perspective on the Trinity was provided by Abdel-Hakim Murad (from a lecture at Oxford in 1996) wherein he stated “What I will try to do, then, is to set out my own understanding, as a Muslim, of the Trinitarian doctrine. I would start by making the obvious point that I recognize that a lot is at stake here for historic Christian orthodoxy. The fundamental doctrine of Trinity makes no sense unless the doctrines of incarnation and atonement are also accepted. St Anselm, in his Cur Deus Homo, showed that the concept of atonement demanded that Christ had to be God, since only an infinite sacrifice could atone for the limitless evil of humanity, which was, in Augustine’s words, a massa damnata – a damned mass because of Adam’s original sin. Jesus of Nazareth was hence God incarnate walking on earth, distinct from God the Father dwelling in heaven and hearing our prayers. It thus became necessary to think of God as at least two in one, who were at least for a while existing in heaven and on earth, as distinct entities. In early Christianity, the Logos which was the Christ-spirit believed to be active as a divine presence in human life, in time became hypostatized as a third person, and so the Trinity was born. No doubt this process was shaped by the triadic beliefs which hovered in the Near Eastern air of the time, many of which included the belief in a divine atonement figure.”

More from Murad’s lecture: Three centuries after Nicaea, the Quran stated:  

‘The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers the like of whom had passed away before him (sura 5.75) . . . O people of the Book – stress not in your religion other than the truth, and follow not the vain desires of a people who went astray before you.’ (Surat al-Ma’ida, 75)(sura 3:69-71)(sura 4.171)

 And again:

 ‘O people of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion, nor utter anything concerning God save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of God, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and do not say ‘Three’. Desist; it will be better for you. God is only One God. . . . The Messiah would never have scorned to be a slave of God.’ (Surat al-Nisa, 171-2)(sura 4.171) “

 In the Qur’an (restating) “Jesus, son of Mary, is only a messenger of Allah (as is Muhammad) and His word…, so believe in Allah and His messengers.  And say not Three. Desist, it is better for you.”  (sura 4.171)  “The doctrine of the Trinity is clearly rejected here”, according to Maulana Muhammad Ali, translator of The Qur’an (pg. 242)(publisher: Almadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam Lahore Inc., Dublin, Ohio, 2002)

 Multiple Names for God

The Trinity is problematic for Muslims as how can Allah be but Allah.  The Qur’an speaks of unity – “your God is one God; there is no God but He!  He is the Beneficent, the Merciful.” (sura 2.163).  They also call Him Master (sura 1.3), and, indeed, Lord. (sura 1.1)   He had no Son (sura 6.101)(sura 17.111).  The idea of multiple persons in God is claimed a problem.  Yet the Muslims do indeed call Allah other names (99 attributes), in addition to those already noted there are names such as the Loving-kind (sura 11.90), the Living (sura 40.65), the Truth (Al-Haqq)(sura 31.30), the Forgiving (sura 39.53), the Merciful (sura 39.53 and others), and Almighty (the term ‘Mighty’)(sura 2.228), the Beautiful Names of Allah (as god)(sura 7.180, sura 20.8, sura 59.24), Wonderful Originator (sura 2.117, 6.101), and Knower (sura 2:1, sura 6.101), Creator (sura 6.102), and in sura 59.24 (and sura 2.129), He is the Mighty, the Wise, Seer (sura 2.110), Possessor (sura 2.106, 2.109), the Hearing (sura 2.137), Bountiful (sura 2.158), in sura 2.225 Allah is the Ever-living, the Self-subsisting, the Most High, and the Great; Friend (sura 2.257), and others.    Allah then is not one dimensional. 

And so also God, the Trinity, is not one dimensional.  Neither Christians nor Muslims worship but one god, yet they can describe that One as a composite of many, call them attributes if you wish, illustrative of His supernatural and divine power.  The Muslim profession of faith begins, “There is no god but The God.”  The profession of faith could well say, There is no god but The Beneficent; There is no god but The Master; There is no god but The Seer.  Each a candle lit to provide light on a religion, but shining as one candle.  Indeed it is a monotheistic belief with a picture of the One having many wonderful characteristics; such as those wonderful essential characteristics of the One Trinitarian God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, being God from on high, having experienced a direct association with mankind thus knowing man as no other, and indwelling within man, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. The Father is God, the Holy Ghost is God, and the Son is God; they too are The Almighty.  They are as multiple candles gathered to produce one flame, a brighter light to the knowledge, understanding and wisdom of the Almighty.   Does this not “bear witness” that there is no god but God (the Trinity), the all seeing, all present, all powerful One.

 Muhammad apparently sees himself as the Counselor to which the Bible refers in John 14:15-16.  Divine words spoken and quoted in the Bible, from Jesus, suggest to his apostles, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever —“  Possibly that is what Muhammad heard, or all he wanted to hear, disregarding the Biblical passage that followed, in John 14:18, “the Spirit (being the Holy Spirit) of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  The Spirit is not Muhammad.  Later in John, John 14:20, the Trinity, 3 primary attributes, is discussed, in terms of the day all come to realize the implication of the Holy Spirit, “On that day (the resurrection) you will realize that I (Jesus Christ) am the Father (one-in-the-same), and you are in me, and I am in you (the Spirit).”   

 Biblical History – Distorted

In the Qur’an (sura 17.111) Muhammad recites, if indeed the words are as he spoke them (translated from the Arabic), that Allah “Who has not taken Himself a son, and Who has not a partner in the kingdom, and Who has not a helper because of weakness…”   This statement can be read as a direct counter to the Trinity, suggesting that the Christian God needed help, a partner, and the Holy Spirit is a sign of weakness.   It may simply be Muhammad’s act of denial.  Much in the Qur’an reflects on Biblical history, but modified to suit Muhammad. 

 In sura 3.67 it makes the claim that “Abraham was not a Jew nor a Christian, but he was (an) upright (man), a Muslim….”  There were no Muslims at the time of Abraham.  Clearly we can all agree Abraham was a man of faith, he believed in God.

 Bible as Truth Revealed in Qur’an

In reading the Qur’an as early as Chapter 3 it affirms Allah as all knowing, the best at knowing even, and upon whom all Muslim’s depend.  Then it states, “He”, referring to Allah, “has revealed to thee the Book,” referring to the Bible, “with truth, verifying that which is before it,” reaffirming the truth in Biblical history, “and He revealed the Torah and the Gospel.”  That says much about the Bible. So why then, after this, does the Qur’an go on to suggest Allah speaking through the Messenger (Muhammad) makes alterations to the Bible, especially with reference to Christ and Ishmael, suggesting the Qur’an is the corrected copy, the final word? 

 Earlier, in sura 2:75, the Qur’an suggests the men writing Bible knowingly altered the words of Allah “after they understood it”, and confirms that the hands of men did this.  “Woe, then to those who write the Book (the Bible) with their hands then say, this is from Allah….” (sura 2.79)  Now this may be a condemnation of humans, and indeed the Messenger (use of the capital “M” denoted the Prophet Muhammad in the Qur’an) was human, thus can one argue that Muhammad, who as all mankind a sinner, imparted personal desires in his recitations?  His deviation from the Bible marks him as knowing the Bible, but possibly either repeating Biblical stories as best he could recall (as being illiterate he could not read) and flavoring his recitations with the life he would want for himself and other Arabs associated with him.  I will give him his preference for a monotheistic religion, its unifying benefits, but caution all who read the Qur’an of the fearful defense he suggests against those that might object to his message.  Is Islam and the Qur’an Muhammad’s own religion and book of retaliation? And as to unification, certainly destruction of those of other faiths is not unifying. 

 As to Muhammad’s humanity – “The best-known of all devotional poems about the Blessed Prophet Muhammad: the famous Mantle Ode of al-Busairi, defines the frontier of acceptable veneration (source – Abdel-Hakim Murad):  

Renounce what the Christians claim concerning their prophet (Jesus), Then praise him (Muhammad) as you will, and with all your heart. For although he was of human nature, He was the best of humanity without exception.’ “

 Telling his people plainly he was a man, Muhammad is quoted, (sura 6.50), “Say: I say not to you, I have with me the treasures of Allah, nor do I know the unseen, nor do I say to you that I am an angel; I follow only that which is revealed to me…”  In another, sura 17.93, “Say: Glory to my Lord! Am I aught but a mortal messenger.”  And again in sura 18:110, “Say: I am only a mortal (human) like you.” Thus as a human, Muhammad is subject to human frailties.  In this condition he claims to recite what Allah has said and that must then be the condition of the land, the basis in fact for law (Sharia), and for Christians that “disbelieved and held My messages and My messengers in mockery,” (sura 18.106)  their reward is “hell.”  Muhammad’s claim, with some degree of arrogance and control, referring to Christians, (sura 18.102) “Surely We have prepared hell as an entertainment for the disbelievers.”  And when it comes to any discussion of any topic as presented in the Qur’an, the Muslim is instructed, “So obey not the disbelievers (do not even listen to them), and strive against them a mighty striving with it.” (sura 25.52)  This is Jihad.  The translator for the Qur’anic verses used herein is Maulana Muhammad Ali (The Holy Qur’an)(Islam Lahore, Inc., Dublin, Ohio, 2002) who provided a footnote to the last verse stating (pg. 725), “This verse affords clear proof of the significance of the word jihad, as used in the Holy Qur’an.  Every exertion to spread the Truth is…a jihad; nay it is called jihad kabir (“mighty striving”) or the great jihadFighting in defense of religion received the name jihad, because under the circumstances it became necessary for the Truth to live and prosper; if fighting had not been permitted Truth would have surely been uprooted….”   One note is that the emphasis by moderate Muslims is on the term “striving,” and not what many have come to understand is in effect “war”,  or the intentional destruction of anything not Islam.  This has come from evidence of the eradication of Jews and Christians and their places of worship in many Muslim nations, and from my current viewpoint is a more justified use of the word jihad, “war” than “striving”.

 Could Muhammad live a life similar to Jesus.  He claims to “not err, nor…deviate.” (sura 53.2), yet he is human.  Yes Muhammad was human (as noted prior) and no matter how great one may claim to be pure, we are all, including this man, sinners.  Even a lie, to be devious, to prey on another such as the neighbor one should love, whether a believer or not, is a sin.  No matter how small a sin, inconsequential, it is a crime against God.  He claims to not “speak out of desire.” (sura 53.3), yet he for his own needs took on more than four wives (the limit in the Qur’an) giving himself, I would say, special dispensation to conduct his own way of life.  Is this not the human showing through?  When anyone works, a professional, a musician, an artist, do they not attain to perfection (a reference to sura 53.6) and then in all humility admit that perfection is not attainable.

  But then – what about Christ.? He led a perfect life, and why, because he was Divine, he was God. He was not human.  The Qur’an recognizes Jesus as the Messiah (sura 3:45), “O Mary, surely Allah gives thee good news with a word from Him (of one) whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary…”, and the virgin birth, (sura 3:47), “She (Mary) said, My Lord, how can I have a son and man has not yet touched me?  He said, even so; Allah creates what He pleases.  When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, Be, and it is.”  The Qur’an notes that Allah would teach Jesus (sura 3:48).  Also, “We gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear arguments and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit.” (sura 2:87)   Yet the Prophet Muhammad noted that Allah controls who dies, “Say: who then could control anything as against Allah when He wished to destroy the Messiah, son of Mary, and his mother and all those on earth…” suggesting Jesus Christ is also mortal, even though born of a virgin. 

 As to the Resurrection it is for Allah and Muhammad an expression of “exalting and honoring” the prophet Jesus, whose death was that of a mortal, not Christ rising from the dead.  His death on the cross is also disregarded.  (see sura 3.55)  Was this another form of denial, or a way of explaining away the death on the cross and Resurrection of Christ that changed the world and provided grace and salvation for all who accept Christ?   Uncertainty as to Christ dying on the cross is introduced in sura 5.157, “And for their saying, We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of Allah, and they killed him not, nor did they cause his death on the cross, but he was made to appear to them as such….” Muhammad’s claim is Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was faked. It was an act of legerdemain.  He may have been nailed to the cross, but the claim is he did not die on the cross. This may again be Muhammad not wanting to consider the divinity of Jesus and its potential impact on his plan, his program for a monotheistic world within the framework he presented through a document he suggests as provided to him by Allah to recite and proclaim as the Last Prophet. 

 Returning to the Trinity

Thus we have the case where in Islam their god, Allah, is multi-dimensional, has many ‘attributes’, and is represented in more than one way, but still remains the One.  And so it is with Christians, their god, God, described as the Trinity, affirming the primary attributes of God, is also multi-dimensional, but still remains One.  A controversial difference is in the prophet.  Muhammad.  As a prophet he is human and subject to all the weaknesses of humans, or how else could he be human, including that of jealousy and a vivid imagination.  He recalls biblical stories about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Moses, David, Gog and Magog, John the Baptist, Jonah, Joseph, Job, Lot, Ezra, and others, some by indirect reference.  Seldom do these stories comport with that written in the Word – the Bible.

 Jesus as a prophet is not human, but an incarnation of himself – God, spending time with humans so they may know him and what it takes to live a perfect life.  Stories in the Old Testament prophesied the arrival of Jesus and reflect flawlessly on the outcome of his time on earth and the sacrifice he made for mankind. He loved as no other, beyond comprehension, in width, depth, height and length, beyond infinity, and as noted in Ephesians (4:9) he descended to the lower, earthy regions to walk among man and then ascended higher than all the heavens to fill the whole universe.  Jesus presence on earth, his death of the cross and his Resurrection was witnessed by multitudes.  Muhammad was aware, taught Biblical history and may not have fully understood (or wanted to understand), thus making his own interpretation for his own purposes.  It was Christ that sought “unity” among all people, and that through faith and not war.  Christ’s outline for living for a Christian is difficult.

  Is this indeed the basis for denial of the Trinity?  Is Muhammad the jealous type that will not allow those that do not believe as he suggests to be punished, denying Jesus as divine for what it would mean for the religion he established.

Praise be to those with an open mind, with an objective attitude.  May they be guided by the strength of their minds and ability to read, understand, decifer and decide for themselves the path they take, be it secular, Judaic, Christian, Mormon, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or any other religion.  Preserve our freedoms to freely think and embrace a religion, should we so choose or be chosen, that we believe, without coercion, to be true.  Accept only a free environment in which to learn and to live.  Praise be to God and blessings to all, free or not, and may the doors to the Almighty be open to you to enter on your own.

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