The Trinity: In several passages the Qur’an speaks out specifically against “some kind of trinity” [e.g. Sura 5:72-73 and 5:116-118] and believing in it is supposedly one of the worst sins you can commit [shirk = joining other gods with Allah] and it is so bad, that it leads with certainty to hell fire without escape [5:72].
Surah 5: 116. 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.
Christians believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly based on the Biblical revelation only. Every reasonable Christian will agree that it took some time of theological reflection on this revelation until the Church came up with a clearly formulated doctrine, but this doctrine is based on the Bible and nothing else.
But even if it were a corruption and not Biblical revelation, – or a doctrine based on a corrupted Bible – the doctrine of the Trinity was finally and clearly formulated about 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea in the Nicean creed. Since then it has been well publicized and is still the same today. This means especially that doctrine of the Trinity was clearly spelled out about 300 years before Muhammad and the appearance of the Qur’an.
For any religion, it is obviously of utmost importance to be right on the nature of God. Therefore, if it is God’s intention to correct the Christian corruptions and heretical aberrations of the true understanding of Himself by this new revelation through the Qur’an, why does the Qur’an get it so woefully wrong? Why is the Qur’an so concerned to condemn a “tri-theism of God, Mary and Jesus”, which no Christian believes in anyway, instead of clarifying the mistake in regard to the true Christian doctrine, being the “Trinity of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit”? Why condemn something that is just as blasphemous to Christians as it is to Muslims? The Christian Church has never believed in that.
There seem to be some traces of the existence of a heretical group who did believe that Mary was divine which existed in Arabia in the 6th – 7th century. But they were a very small and insignificant group and it is very hard to get much detail about them at all. There is some information about them in the book “God is One in the Holy Trinity” by Zachariah Butros. But in the relationship to the total of Christianity which was the dominant religion this sectarian group was negligible and was to disappear soon.
The question we have to ask is: Why would God choose to speak out in his final and universal revelation against some absolutely insignificant heretical group while totally ignoring the related central doctrine of the largest religion on earth [in Muhammad’s time and today] and at the same time give the impression that he speaks to correct the errors of the CHRISTIANS?
Why is the Qur’an putting in the effort to correct the heretical views of some small sect we really know very little about, and does not answer to the real doctrine of the Christian church?
This interpretation is also not possible since Allah is alleged to have said to Jesus, “Did thou say to men…”. The word for men denotes a big group (like “mankind”) and not some small heretical group.
This observation is particularly strange since those heresies have already been denounced and corrected by the Church herself. After all, the Qur’an DOES insist to be the last (final) and COMPLETE revelation – why is it not dealing with and answering to the very thing it supposedly was coming to correct?
Was God confused and ill-informed about the Christian faith he wanted to correct? I don’t think the true God could plead ignorance after having looked at this Christian doctrine for 300 years prior to the giving of the Qur’an.
It appears to me, we again only have the choice between a Qur’an coming from a confused God or a confused Qur’an that is not coming from the true and all-knowing God.
The first option is obviously a blasphemous thought. God indeed is the All-knowing. I can only think of the following possible and (more or less) reasonable explanations to account for this seemingly “confused revelation”:
The Qur’an has been changed and corrupted. The Qur’an indeed corrected the “real but false Christian doctrine” with clear words but some evil people [Christians?] did change the Qur’an to cover it up in order to render the Qur’an ineffective against Christianity.
The Qur’an is unchanged but it did not originate from the all-knowing God in the first place but instead from a source that was indeed not well-informed in regard to the true doctrine of the Trinity.
But since the Qur’an seemingly is pretty well preserved and God is definitely not confused, the only sensible explanation seems to be that the author was just not well informed in regard to the true Christian doctrine of the Trinity and nature of Christ. This is (in my eyes) the most natural explanation. Muhammad has spoken out against a bad misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity (which might or might not be just his own misunderstanding.) He was justified to be appalled by it. He spoke out against this heretical understanding and was right to do so. But he has not answered to true Christianity. On this basis I can acknowledge Muhammad’s sincerity in speaking out against idolatry, but I cannot accept him as speaking with a message from God. Muhammad had a good grasp of “what cannot be true”, but he didn’t understand what the Bible says “is true”.
I tend to believe the last paragraph is the best explanation of those alternatives I can see and which have listed above, but since I heard another one just recently, I want to include it for completeness sake.
This other possibility is that Muhammad did indeed understand the Christian doctrine, but uses the time honored approach of building up a straw man which is so much easier to knock down than the true teaching of Christianity:
Riducule the other side and collect “the cheering crowd” as your followers. This is the successful method of politicians who say, that the effort needed to present good arguments is a waste of time, because most people wouldn’t even be able to follow a deep argument [and therefore not vote for the one who is so clearly “not understanding ‘the common man'”], and since the vote of an uncritical follower is worth just as much as the vote of a deeply thinking one [at least in a democracy], so let’s go for the method that appeals to the masses. And that sadly is “knocking down strawmen” as everybody can observe daily on TV. And strangly enough, also today many Muslims say their doctrine of God is true because it is easier than the “complicated” doctrine of the Trinity. But simplicity or complexity is not a criterion for truth in itself, or all the strawman arguments would be satisfactory.
Btw, using strawman arguments does not say that the one who uses a “stupid argument” is stupid himself [most politicians are intelligent], but it does show that he thinks the audience is stupid enough so that he can get away with it. But I will not fall for strawman arguments. Whether deliberately or out of ignorance, Islam has not answered to Christianity, but knocked down a self-built strawman and I am not impressed.
Nevertheless, as I said, I don’t have that bad an impression of Muhammad’s character and currently don’t feel the strawman hypothesis to be as good an explanation as the one stated before it.
I still have to substantiate my claims that the Qur’an presents a not well-informed argument against Christian doctrine, which I will do in the following.
I will only state this in terse comparative statements. A more detailed discussion of this is important [and lots of material on this is already on my web site], but I don’t want to make this article too long.
The Qur’an states:
They do blaspheme who say: “Allah is Christ the son of Mary.” But said Christ: “O children of Israel! Worship Allah my Lord and your Lord.” Whoever joins other gods with Allah Allah will forbid him the garden and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help.
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.
And when Allah said: O Jesus, son of Mary! Did you say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he said: Be You glorified. It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then You knew it. You know what is in my [innermost] self but I know not what is in Yours. Truly! You, only You are the Knower of things hidden. I spoke unto them only that which You commanded me, (saying): Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord, and I was a witness over them while I dwelt among them, and when You took me You were the Watcher over them, and You are Witness over all things.”
It seems clear to me that (the author of) the Qur’an has or presents the understanding that the followers of Christ believe that Jesus and Mary are two other separate gods which are elevated to the level of God.
The Qur’an is wrong about the Christian doctrine in several points:
* The Qur’an accuses Christians of saying “God is one OF three” [5:73], but Christians say that “God is one IN three” [two letters making an extremely important difference].
* The Qur’an speaks out against “Tri-theism” [three gods – 5:116,72,73], but Christians believe in (and the Bible teaches) “the Trinity” – ONE God, who reveals Himself [not: themselves] in three persons. There is only ONE God and not “three gods”.
* The Qur’an denounces the “tri-theistic” group of “God, Jesus and Mary” [5:116], but the Trinity consists of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.
* The Qur’an gives the impression that Christians elevated Mary to a divine status, but no Christian has ever said that Mary is anything more than a human being. The Bible says no such thing. All true Christian doctrine is based on the Bible as the word of God.
* The Qur’an speaks out against “deification” which is “elevating a human being to the status of a god” which I think is the meaning of “take me as a god beside Allah” [5:116], but the Bible speaks about “incarnation” which is “God taking on human nature in Jesus”, i.e. – The Qur’an speaks against: “Jesus taking on divine nature” [or better: “Ascribing divine nature to Jesus” since it is done to him by others and not his own doing according to the Qur’an] – The Bible teaches: “(Part of) God taking on human nature”
* According to the Qur’an Christians say “God is Jesus” [5:72], but we say “Jesus is God” [which is a subtle but very important difference]. More details on this.
Another tit-bit of Church history: Whether it was wise or not, the Church in the “Christian Roman Empire” did use political force to expell the groups teaching heresies and so these groups were pushed to the boundaries of the Roman Empire, and Arabia and the Middle East happened to be one place where quite a number of heretical groups “resettled”. That could account for the fact that Muhammad has seen most of his life mainly heretically distorted Christianity and therefore did just respond to what he saw and not to what the vast majority of Christians believed. But this again is an explanation that would point to the human authorship of the Qur’an, since God would not have been limited by Muhammad’s geographically limited experience.
One could say, that Islam is in contradiction to Bible and Christianity and just by stating the correct view is “indirectly” correcting the wrongs of Christianity, but the Qur’an is not directly addressing Christianity. Instead it chooses to address some wierd heretical and teaching of an absolutely insignificant sectarian group. In the least one can wonder about the Qur’anic “priorities” about the issues it decides to deal with. Not what one would expect in a final revelation with a claim to universal relevance.
Muslims have developed many reasons to attack and reject the Trinity. Most of these reasons are of some philosophical nature, many even try to disprove the Trinity from the Bible. Whether these reasons are valid or not will not be our concern at this time. Other web pages deal with the issue of the Trinityin detail. But it is obvious that all this reasoning is the reasoning of Muslims and not the reasoning of the Qur’an. The Qur’an only gives a number of statements negating certain false teachings but does not even offer any reasoning on the matter of the tri-theistic misunderstanding, and certainly nothing in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity. Denial is not the same as explanation and clarification.
And We sent down the Book to thee for the express purpose, that thou shouldst make clear to them those things in which they differ, and that it should be a guide and a mercy to those who believe. — Sura 16:64
In respect to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the Qur’an certainly has failed its own promise.
1. The web version of the book by Zacharian Butros does not have the footnotes, so here the references that can be found in the printed copy of it. His references to the Maryamiyya Sect are:
Awad Sim`an, “Allah Dhatuhu wa Naw`u Wahdaniyatihi” (God’s Essence and the Nature of His Unity) p.127; Ahmad al Makrizi, “Kitab al Kawl al Ibrizi” (Book of Golden Sayings) p.26.
Al-`Azîz or Potiphar
Mohammad relates the story of Joseph, whom Potiphar and the men of his city imprisoned out of jealousy. In the Quranic version of the story, Mohammad gives the name of the master of the house as “Aziz.” Aside from the variations between the Biblical and Quranic versions, it is important to note that the name Aziz is uniquely Arabic. In fact, the name Aziz was not Egyptian, nor is it known to have been in use by any Egyptian during the period Joseph lived.
The argument here is that the Biblical name of ‘Potiphar’ is a historically accurate attribution, while the Qur’ânic ‘Aziz’ is a name erroneously attributed to the same historical character. Further, it is argued that ‘Aziz’ was not an Egyptian name, nor was it knowing to have been used by the Egyptians during Joseph’s(P) time.
I doubt that the name Aziz or the title al-Aziz were common among the ancient Egyptians! These are Arabic terms. Addressing someone with this name [Aziz], or title [al-Aziz], would probably have elicited nothing more than a blank stare in ancient Egypt.
Let us first start with the quotes from the Qur’ân.
Ladies said in the City: “The wife of the `Aziz is seeking to seduce her slave from his (true) self: Truly hath he inspired her with violent love: we see she is evidently going astray.” [Qur’ân 12:30]
(The king) said (to the ladies): “What was your affair when ye did seek to seduce Joseph from his (true) self?” The ladies said: “Allah preserve us! no evil know we against him!” Said the `Aziz’s wife: “Now is the truth manifest (to all): it was I who sought to seduce him from his (true) self: He is indeed of those who are (ever) true (and virtuous). [Qur’ân 12:51]
In the quotation above, we have underlined the Qur’ânic word used to describe the historical character otherwise referred to as ‘Potiphar’ in the Bible. The word used is al-`Azîz, not `Azîz as incorrectly understood by the Christian missionaries. Even the translation reads the `Azîz, and not simply `Azîz. Moreover, when we read Islamic literature (see below) on this matter, nowhere can one find the assertion that `Azîz was believed to be this individual’s actual name. Clearly, the presence of the definite article “al” before `Aziz is a strong indication that it was a title not a name. Even in modern times, Christian and Jewish Arabs might call themselves `Azîz (e.g., Tarek `Azîz, the Iraqi minister) but none calls himself al-`Azîz.
Yes, “al” makes al-`Azîz a title. Yusuf Ali translates this as “(great) ‘Aziz” while Pickthall translates the term as “ruler” and Shakir translates it as “chief”. The question is : would Potiphar have been given such a title in ancient Egypt, or is this the title that Muhammad wished to impose upon him? Incidentally, the traditions do record a man named Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz [son of the slave of the master].
In this scope, the claim that `Azîz was the name of the historical individual in question results from either misreading or treachery. The claim that ‘Aziz’ was the actual name of the Bible’s ‘Potiphar’ is ridiculous, let alone being a historical contradiction! Regardless, let us consult the Biblical and Qur’ânic sources on this matter and judge for ourselves.
Treachery? Let’s not be overly dramatic about this! The claim that Aziz was Potiphar’s proper name is as absurd as the claim that al-Aziz [or the Egyptian equivalent of this] was his, or anyone else’s, title in ancient Egypt. This still presents a problem for the Qur’an and its claims.
Al-`Azîz In The Qur’ânic Commentaries
Briefly, Dr. Saifullah tells us that the Qur’an commentators agree that al-Aziz is a title and not a proper name. But does this observation save the Qur’an in any way from the discussed problem?