The Holy Trinity in the Qur’an
Without a doubt most Muslims believe that the Qur’an actually speaks against the Blessed Trinity and it is my experience that when broaching this topic, one will invariably be presented with a series of quotations from the Muslim holy book which express, in one form or another, a condemnation of what is supposed to be the Christian Trinity. Let us waste no time in saying that although the Qur’an believes itself to be condemning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, in every instance it undertakes this task it fails to do so and in fact condemns various heresies that adherers of the Trinity themselves have condemned hundreds of years prior to the advent of Islam.
This might seem quite pretentious to the Muslim, that a non-Muslim should be able to speak so decisively concerning their holy text yet given that the Qur’an takes it upon itself to argue against a Christian doctrine, then it isn’t wrong to maintain that Christians are the appropriate judges of whether or not there exists a condemnation of this doctrine within the Muslim holy book. This might perhaps initially sound a tad self-serving yet the same principle would hold if I were to engage in a condemnation of the Islamic concept of Tawhid. No matter what my condemnation of it would consist of, I would first have to define it properly or else I would be attacking nothing but a mere caricature of their doctrine and any reasonably educated Muslim would be able to tell that I spoke concerning things I clearly possessed no understanding of. Just as the learned Muslim is in the best position to know whether one has defined their fundamental doctrine correctly, so too is the learned Christian in the best position to know whether one has defined God’s highest revelation of himself (seeing as the doctrine deals with how he is in his own being) accurately.
Yet therein lies the problem. On being exposed to the passages which the Muslim takes to be a repudiation of the Trinity, the acute Christian can but shake their head and try to explain to his interlocutor that whoever the source of the Qur’an was, this individual clearly possessed no knowledge of the Trinity for they quite clearly fell into the same pitfalls that previous individuals stumbled into and whose interpretations were rightly condemned by the early church. The following will consist of all the references to the Trinity that I have found within the Qur’an and if I have missed any, I would very much like it if I could be let known of this fact seeing as these will surely not change the force of my argument in the least.
O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist — it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. — Surah 4:171 Sahih International (emphasis mine)
Dipping right into the matter we see that the People of the Scripture (in this case Christians) are told to desist from saying “three” seeing as this is nothing but lies. It would seem that three stands in place for the trinitarian doctrine of three divine persons. Now we should note the persons involved in the above passage: Allah (who quite clearly is identified with the Father both in the Qur’an and Islamic tradition), Jesus, and Mary. Right from the start we are met with a serious problem. Mary is included in the category of the three divine persons. She is named as a member of the Godhead—of the Trinity while this has never been the case at all. Instead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we are treated to the Father, the Mother, and the Son. Hence why the Islamic prophet can later on claim that it is far from God’s glory to have a son seeing as he saw the sonship of Christ as being accomplished through a sexual union between God (the Father) and Mary (the Mother).
They have certainly disbelieved who say that Allah is Christ, the son of Mary. Say, “Then who could prevent Allah at all if He had intended to destroy Christ, the son of Mary, or his mother or everyone on the earth?” And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them. He creates what He wills, and Allah is over all things competent. — Surah 5:17 Sahih International (emphasis mine)
Once again we have an incorrect formulation of the Christian doctrine. The astute Christian will know that it is fundamentally wrong to say that “God is Jesus”, rather, the declaration is “Jesus is God”. The first statement implies that the Christ is the only divine person within the being of God (to the exclusion of the other members of the Trinity) while the second maintains the divinity of Christ without positing that he is the sole person within the Godhead. This is in much the same way as it is wrong to say “math is division” but entirely correct to say “division is math” seeing as the first statement would teach that math only exists as division and nothing else while the latter does not. More than this simply being a matter of semantics, or obtuse talk entertained only by bored theologians, the phrase “God is Jesus” actually implies the heresy of Sabellianism (Modalism). This was condemned by the early church as a nontrinitarian heresy which removed all distinctions within the being of God and claimed that there was only a single divine person who operated in the modes of the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit (as opposed to a single divine being who exists eternally as the persons of the three members of the Trinity).
They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary” while the Messiah has said, “O Children of Israel, worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord.” Indeed, he who associates others with Allah — Allah has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers. They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the third of three.” And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment. So will they not repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded. — Surah 5:72-75 Sahih International (emphasis mine)
Once again the Qur’an incorrectly articulates the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and in fact condemns sabellianism instead of the Trinity. It then goes on to commit a subsequent error in defining the Father’s position as the third member of the Trinity. The Father is not the third but rather the first. And God is not the third of three but rather three in one. These aren’t simple mistakes that we can gloss over when it is claimed that the Qur’an is a book from God. Yet it must be said that both the Christian and Muslim know that the above formulations are wrong seeing as no individual from these two groups who is knowledgeable on the subject will define the Trinity with the Father being the third person or as God being the third of three instead of three in one.
Notice how Mary once more makes an appearance in a passage that is aimed specifically at condemning the Trinity? The source of the Qur’an mentions that Christ and Mary ate food in order to show that they aren’t divine (seeing as God has no need to eat) but they make the great mistake of including Mary in the equation when the context is aimed at condemning the three divine persons whom Christians worship. Once again, the Qur’an is under the impression that the Trinity consists of a Father, a Son (Christ), and Mary (a mother) instead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! The text is very clear (“Look how We make clear to them the signs”) that it believes Mary to be part of the Holy Trinity.
And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?'” He will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen. I said not to them except what You commanded me — to worship Allah , my Lord and your Lord. And I was a witness over them as long as I was among them; but when You took me up, You were the Observer over them, and You are, over all things, Witness. — Surah 5:116-117 Sahih International (emphasis mine)
Let us remember that Muslims accuse Christians of worshiping three separate deities (and as such we are accused of polytheism). Can we count the number of persons involved in the above passage? Once again we have the Father, Christ, and Mary. These three and only these three. There is no subsequent exchange between the Muslim deity and Christ where he asks Jesus if he told his followers to take him and the Holy Spirit as gods beside Allah. That is indeed telling because it is either that the Qur’an is perfectly alright with this, or, more likely, that the source of the Qur’an simply was unaware of what the Trinity truly consisted of. This is a great problem because the above is a purported discussion that Christ will have with Allah when the latter is about to condemn Christians for the apparent errors of their faith. This then clearly shows that the Islamic prophet thought that the Christian religion (in this respect) consisted merely of the worship of Mary and Jesus as gods beside the Father! Where is a condemnation of the worship of the Holy Spirit?
Muslims will often claim that the Trinity was created during the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. instead of this having been a doctrine held by the first Christians. Even if this were true, it would still not change the fact that the Islamic prophet would have had hundreds of years to know what Christians in fact believed and there is entirely no excuse for the Qur’an to be making such glaring mistakes.
They have said, “Allah has taken a son.” Exalted is He; He is the [one] Free of need. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. You have no authority for this [claim]. Do you say about Allah that which you do not know? — Surah 10:68 Sahih International (emphasis mine)
Once again the bolded claim is an error. The Christian claim is not that the Father took a son but rather that the Father has a son. There is a great theological distinction between the two seeing as the former teaches Adoptionism (Dynamic Monarchianism), another heresy. Taking a son refers to an action occuring in time such that there was a point when God did not have a Son and thus had need to subsequently take for himself a son. Christians believe that the Father has always—from all eternity—had a Son and as such there was never any point at which he could act in order to make Christ his son seeing as the Christ has always been the Son of the Father.
But they have attributed to Allah partners — the jinn, while He has created them — and have fabricated for Him sons and daughters. Exalted is He and high above what they describe. [He is] Originator of the heavens and the earth. How could He have a son when He does not have a companion and He created all things? And He is, of all things, Knowing. — Surah 6:100-101 Sahih International (emphasis mine)
And Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son. — Surah 72:3 Yusuf Ali (emphasis mine)
The above logic runs throughout the entire Qur’an. Muhammad lumped Christians and polytheists together in this regard and believed that Christians merely repeated the same myths as the polytheists; that is, God being able to enter into a sexual union with a consort and thus producing offspring thereby. From the Qur’an it is very clear that Allah can have no son because he has no wife to engage in intercourse with. This is rather crude but this is precisely why the Muslim holy book is so focused on not only disproving the divinity of Christ, but that of Mary as well (as if Christians ever claimed that Mary was divine)!
As if this weren’t enough, the Qur’an consistently speaks of the sonship of Christ in terms that imply a biological sonship:
They say: “Allah hath begotten a son”: Glory be to Him.—Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him. — Surah 2:116 Yusuf Ali
Transliteration: Waqaloo itakhatha Allahuwaladan subhanahu bal lahu ma fee assamawatiwal-ardi kullun lahu qanitoon (emphasis mine)
It befits not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son [this refers to the slander of Christians against Allah, by saying that ‘Iesa (Jesus) is the son of Allah]. Glorified (and Exalted be He above all that they associate with Him). When He decrees a thing, He only says to it, “Be!” and it is. — Surah 19:35 Muhsin Khan
Transliteration: Ma kana lillahi anyattakhitha min waladin subhanahu itha qadaamran fa-innama yaqoolu lahu kun fayakoon (emphasis mine)
In Arabic, ibn and walad can both stand for ‘son of’ yet ibn carries a more figurative meaning while the latter implies one’s progeny from a sexual union. This is why the Arabic Bible and Arabic Christians never call Christ, ‘waladu’llah‘ (Son of God) for this would imply a literal sonship accomplished through biology, but rather ‘ibnu’llah‘ (Son of God). The Qur’an uses language which always implies literal sonship except in one passage, Surah 9:30. The problem however is that seeing as ibn could also refer to a biological son (depending on the context), this one instance ought to be interpreted in light of the entire Qur’an and the Muslim scriptures are quite clear that they understand the sonship of Christ as being achieved through a sexual union between God and Mary.
Yet we can certainly understand how the Islamic prophet would arrive at such a mistake. In his travels as a merchant he no doubt would have, in some form or other, come into contact with the doctrine of the Theotokos—the God-bearer, which stated that Mary was the mother of God in the respect of her being the mother of Christ (as it concerns his humanity) and Christ himself being the one true God. To this day some Muslims still believe that this has to do with bringing the Second Person of the Trinity into existence (as opposed to giving birth to his humanity) and since they know that Christians believe Christ to be God it then isn’t hard to suppose—when one possesses an inadequate conception of this teaching—that the Father and Mary (the mother) entered into a physical union (see here) in order to produce Christ (the Son). If this misconception is still subscribed to in this day and age where the information to the contrary is freely available, how much more likely is it for a 7th century Bedouin (who himself could neither read nor write) to have fallen into the same misunderstanding? This point is even further emphasized when we appreciate the fact that Theotokos would translate to Arabic as Wālidat Alelah and we know that walad carries in its meaning a literal sonship—which is perfectly appropriate for it regards Christ’s humanity but Muhammad must have heard walidat and immediately thought of a divine son produced through the sexual union of a Father-god and a Mother-goddess. As an aside, we should note that what would make this interpretation even more likely is the fact that save for in one instance, the Qur’an always uses ibn when calling Jesus, “the son of Mary” and this no doubt highlights the great dislike that the source of the Qur’an held for the term, walad.
Now, it has been my experience that the Muslim might still object to this on the basis of Surah 9:30 alone and as such it would prove adequate to show how even this objection is untenable. Here is Surah 9:30:
The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah”; and the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son of Allah.” That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded? — Sahih International (emphasis mine)
Note that the force of the argument is the fact that the Christians and Jews are said to imitate the myths of those who came before them. This clearly refers to the polytheists who believed their Gods to have been capable of engaging in sexual intercourse with divine consorts or mortal women. The fact that every time that the “three gods” whom Christians supposedly worship are enumerated, Mary makes an appearance (and as such the list always consists of a father, a mother and a son), only augments this point. We cannot ignore the fact that the worship of the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinity is never condemned in the Qur’an. The Muslim holy book claims that Christians worship three deities and yet every passage which details the three individuals whom Christians worship mentions Mary as one of these.
The Muslim Response:
There are a few different ways in which the Muslim will try to respond and yet all these do nothing to mitigate the clear errors within their Qur’an. First off, the Muslim may point to the Catholic practise of venerating Mary (Note that this does nothing to answer why the Qur’an—in believing itself to be speaking against the Trinity—mistakenly condemns various heresies, and confounds the order of the Persons in the Holy Trinity etc.). While I do not wish to defend this practise, it must be said that Catholics do not consider Mary to be divine and have never included her as one of the three members of the Trinity. The matter that the Muslim needs to explain to the astute Christian is how at all the Qur’an can accuse Christians of worshiping “three gods” and yet always enumerate a list that does not include the Holy Spirit and substitutes Mary for him. Make no mistake about it, there are exactly zero condemnations of the worship of the Holy spirit within the Qur’an. If Muhammad had wished to condemn the veneration of Mary as well as the Trinity then he would have had to at least posit a quadrinity in which he condemned the worship of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and the mother of Christ.
The second response is to try to claim that the Qur’an was only condemning a certain group. Note that this reply does nothing to explain away the errors concerning the Trinity within the Muslim holy book (such as Sabellianism, Adoptionism, or confounding the persons of the Blessed Trinity). Furthermore, the Qur’an consistently says “the Christians” instead of “some Christians, a few Christians”, or even “a majority of the Christians”. Nowhere does one get the sense that the source of the Qur’an is speaking of a particular Christian sect and not Christians as a whole. For example, I could not claim (and do so repeatedly without any clarification at all) that Muslims are in error for believing that W. Fard Muhammad is the incarnation of God. The majority of Muslims do not believe this and it is only a fringe group (the Nation of Islam) who propagate such a belief. Yet if I never even once clarified that I was speaking about an aberrant Muslim sect, the objective individual would have to conclude that I simply supposed all Muslims to believe the same thing as those comprising the Nation of Islam. This then is the problem we find with the Islamic holy book. Considering that Muslims claim the Qur’an to be a miraculous book exhibiting a perfect mastery of language it does seem rather strange that it would word its supposed intentions so clumsily. If there really did exist such a group whom the Qur’an was speaking against, then even this would be an argument against the divine inspiration of Muhammad seeing as he supposed that all Christians followed such a group (given that in every single instance when such a practice is repudiated, there is absolutely nothing to make one believe that the Islamic prophet was not speaking of Christians as a whole). It’s like only having come into contact with members of the Nation of Islam and thus supposing that all Muslims believed that W. Fard Muhammad was the incarnation of Allah (as I did when I was quite young and knew no better).
An ingenuous response is to claim that current Christians have changed their Trinity and that at some point Mary had been the third person of the Godhead instead of the Holy Spirit. (Once again this fails to make up for the errors within the Qur’an where it condemns well-known heresies instead of the Trinity and confounds the order of the Persons of the Godhead). This claim is baseless yet let us at this time concede this point for the sake of the argument, this would still not change the fact that by the time Muhammad would be preaching his condemnations of what he mistakenly thought to be the Christian Trinity, this doctrine had been firmly established and defined. Even if at some distant point in the past Mary had been displaced from the Trinity and replaced with the Holy Spirit, in the time of Muhammad however, the Trinity would be the same one which Christians adhere to today and as such the condemnations uttered by the Islamic prophet would still be in error.
In recent years, some Muslims have even begun to claim that none of the above actually speak about the Trinity and that they merely speak against the supposed deification of Christ and his mother. We must reiterate that such a claim is false and that were it true, even this would not explain away the errors in articulating the divinity of Christ, the order of the persons within the Trinity etc. Not to mention that if Muhammad had merely wished to speak against the setting up of partners beside God, why then is the Qur’an silent on the worship of the Holy Spirit? Why is it that the Muslim cannot produce even a single verse from their holy book which condemns the worship of the Holy Spirit seeing as Muslims believe him to have been merely the angel Gabriel? Clearly this attempt to answer the objections laid out by the Christian also fails.
Another response is to claim that all of the above is merely semantics. This is usually followed by a period and no further argumentation. In a way it is not really a response but more of a plea. Given that there is literally no way to vindicate the Qur’an on the matter, the devout Muslim has to find any reason to try to disregard the above. Once more this response is inadequate because history tells us that Christians took the proper formulation of the Trinity seriously enough to condemn these other heresies. Members on both sides were adamant that their articulations were in fact teaching different things and as such this issue cannot simply be swept under the rug as merely a matter of semantics. History is against this.
Now, we must not at all be surprised that Muhammad was mistaken concerning the Blessed Trinity for it truly is a hard doctrine to understand, much less articulate properly. We find that the Islamic prophet commits the very same mistakes as did individuals before him (and after him) yet this cannot excuse him as he claimed that his were the words of God. Individuals who did not adhere to the Trinity have in the past (as in the present) been able to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity properly and then proceeded to attack it from there and so should we believe that the omniscient God himself would be unable to do the same? The Muslim might be able to argue their way out of one or two examples, but when all the passages concerning the Trinity are examined in unison, the evidence is so overwhelmingly against them that it simply becomes impossible to do so. It is my sincere belief that the learned Muslim knows the Qur’an to be wrong on this account given that they will never articulate the Trinity in the manner that it is found in the Qur’an. That in itself is extremely telling.
In closing, we must once again assert that there is no condemnation of the Christian Trinity within the Qur’an and the Islamic prophet merely mistakenly condemned heresies which trinitarians themselves had condemned hundreds of years before he begun spreading his message of Islam. Furthermore, not a single Muslim response to this article can account for the various types of errors which the Islamic prophet makes in his career concerning Christian doctrine and as such they all fail. It is easy for the Muslim to think that the Qur’an repudiates the Holy Trinity for, by and large, they are unschooled in Christian history and as such are unable to pick up on the mistakes and heresies which are repeated in the Qur’an.