Shalom and a Warm Welcome
Many verses in the Quran say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. One example is:
“And argue not with the People of the Book, except by what is best, save such of them as act unjustly. But say: We believe in what which has been revealed to us and revealed to you and our God and your God is One, and to Him we submit” (Al-Ankabul 29:46 Translation – Maulana Muhammad Ali)
Nevertheless, some Muslims believe that the Christians worship three gods, the Father, Isa or Jesus and Mariam or Mary. Their conclusions are based on some Quran verses such as:
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). (al-Ma’ida 5:116a) (Translation Yusuf Ali)
The Christians do not worship Mary. Like the Muslims, most Christians, especially the Catholics, revere her. Why do some of the Quranic verses say that Muslims and Christians worship One God and then later contradict them by saying that the Christians worship Mary? Some scholars answer this question by pointing to the presence of the heretical sect Christians, such as Barbaraniyya and Collyridians, who worshipped Mary around 7th century. Thus, the Quran is right in refuting such worship as it is inconsistent with Christianity.
Christians believe in monotheist God. They hold to their hearts the commandment that was given to Moses in Torah which says:
Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deutronomy 6:4-7 NIV)
This same commandment was taught by Jesus thousands of years later and is recorded in the gospel Injil in the book of Luke 10:27a and Mark 12:30.
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; (Luke 10:27a NIV)
What is the difference between ‘three gods’ and the Trinity God? The Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – Three persons in One. How can three be ‘One’? Professor Volf of Yale University explains this theologically in his paper, ‘A Christian Response to Muslims Allah and the Trinity God – A Christian Response on Muslims Allah and the Trinity.’ Another short writing relevant to this discussion is ‘The Trinity – Christian Doctrine in Islamic Context.’
Several surah that are relevant to the Trinity in Islamic context are given below. Note that all surah in Arabic as in (2) and (3) below, rebuke Christians for worshipping Tri-Theism or three gods. Indeed, Christians do not worship three gods but one God. The misunderstanding arises as some of the translation works interpreted or commented the Arabic word ‘Three’ to ‘Trinity.’
When Muslims talk about worshiping One God as in Al-Ankabul 29:46, they meant to say that God is only One, the Creator who has 99 sifat (e.g. the knowledgeable, the powerful). This affirms the Christians belief in monotheist God. However, the Muslims believe that Isa al-Masih is fully man and that a man cannot be God and cannot be conceived into a human form.
The mainstream Christians believe that Isa al-Masih or Jesus Christ is fully man and fully divine. In Christianity, God is perceived as desiring to have a love relatonship with the creation, expressed by involving in every moment of the lives of the human being. A relationship works both ways and comes voluntarily. As God is perfect and human being is imperfect, the communion between human and God must first be restored in order for human being to have a relationship with God. This can only be done by God. The restoration is the greatest expression of God’s love and it was accomplished at the cross through the death and the suffering of Jesus Christ. A person who believes that God loves him or her eternally to the point of death of human Jesus Christ, receives the grace of salvation and the Spirit of God. This grace of faith bridges one’s relationship with God and the communion between one’s spirit with the Holy Spirit.
The mystical Trinity: the Creator, Savior and Spirit, as One God is sometimes expressed by the Christians through the analogy of mind, body and spirit – three dimensions of one selfhood.
1. Surah that affirm the Christians and Muslims worship the same One God.
وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ وَقُولُوا آمَنَّا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَأُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَإِلَهُنَا وَإِلَهُكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ – And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” (al-Ankabut 29:46)
فَلِذَلِكَ فَادْعُ وَاسْتَقِمْ كَمَا أُمِرْتَ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءهُمْ وَقُلْ آمَنتُ بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ مِن كِتَابٍ وَأُمِرْتُ لِأَعْدِلَ بَيْنَكُمُ اللَّهُ رَبُّنَا وَرَبُّكُمْ لَنَا أَعْمَالُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَالُكُمْ لَا حُجَّةَ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمُ اللَّهُ يَجْمَعُ بَيْنَنَا وَإِلَيْهِ الْمَصِيرُ – Now then, for that (reason), call (them to the Faith), and stand steadfast as thou art commanded, nor follow thou their vain desires; but say: “I believe in the Book which Allah has sent down; and I am commanded to judge justly between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord: for us (is the responsibility for) our deeds, and for you for your deeds. There is no contention between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and to Him is (our) Final Goal. (al-Shura 42:15)
2. Various interpretations on al-Nisa 4:171 indicating how some translations use“three” and other use “Trinity.”
يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لاَ تَغْلُواْ فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِلاَّ الْحَقِّ إِنَّمَا الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولُ اللّهِ وَكَلِمَتُهُ أَلْقَاهَا إِلَى مَرْيَمَ وَرُوحٌ مِّنْهُ فَآمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ ثَلاَثَةٌ انتَهُواْ خَيْرًا لَّكُمْ إِنَّمَا اللّهُ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ سُبْحَانَهُ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ وَلَدٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَات وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ وَكَفَى بِاللّهِ وَكِيلاً –
O followers of the Book! do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Marium is only a messenger of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Mariam and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His messengers, and say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one Allah; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation Muhammad Habib Shakir: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=3&mac=)
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) an apostle of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His apostles. 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. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation by Yusuf Ali: http://www.mysticletters.com/quran-viewer/arabic-yusuf-ali/)
O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease! (it is) better for you! – Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender. (Al-Nisa 4:171) (Translation Muhammad Pickthal: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=4&mac=)
O people of the Scripture (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah ‘Îsa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, (“Be!” – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh ) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God),glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs. (Translation Mohsin Khan: http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=4&translator=5&mac=)
O People of the Book, exceed not the limits in your religion nor speak anything about Allah, but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, is only a messenger of Allah and His word which He communicated to Mary and a mercy from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And say not, Three. Desist, it is better for you. Allah is only one God. Far be it from His glory to have a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. And sufficient is Allah as having charge of affairs. (Maulana Muhammad Ali, The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary (Ohio:Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Lahore Inc., 2002), page 242)
3. Do these verses reject Tri-Theism (Three gods) or Trinity?Please refer to Reading 2 to read on the explanation on these verses (the link isgiven above)
وَإِذْ قَالَ اللّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أَقُولَ مَا لَيْسَ لِي بِحَقٍّ إِن كُنتُ قُلْتُهُ فَقَدْ عَلِمْتَهُ تَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِي وَلاَ أَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِكَ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلاَّمُ الْغُيُوبِ – 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-Ma’ida 5:116)
لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلاَثَةٍ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَهٍ إِلاَّ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ وَإِن لَّمْ يَنتَهُواْ عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ – 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-Ma’ida 5:73)
مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلاَّ رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ كَانَا يَأْكُلاَنِ الطَّعَامَ انظُرْ كَيْفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الآيَاتِ ثُمَّ انظُرْ أَنَّى يُؤْفَكُونَ – Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! (al-Ma’ida 5:76)
(The translations of the surah are from Yusuf Ali online translation of Quran unless indicated otherwise. http://www.mysticletters.com/quran-viewer/arabic-yusuf-ali/)