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The Doctrine of God and Christ in Islam

Outline:

  1. Tawhid and Shirk in Islam
  2. The Doctrine of Christ in the Qur’an: Sonship & the Crucifixion
  3. The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Qur’an

*All Qur’anic quotations are from the Saheeh International Version of the Qur’an unless indicated otherwise

*I know that there are a lot of definitions in this post, but it is important even if you don’t remember the Arabic terms to grasp the concepts which they represent, so that you know the general presuppositions of the Islamic worldview and how to respond to them

A more detailed version of the material on Tawheed & Shirk is posted on my blog from a previous lesson that I taught, for those who want more details:

https://1689reformedbaptist.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/tawhid-shirk-and-a-presuppositional-approach-for-witnessing-to-muslims/

 

  1. Tawhid & Shirk in the Qur’an

As Christians we affirm monotheism, but it is important to understand that according to tawhid Unitarian monotheism is presupposed (Allah is one being and one person), so even a plurality of persons that is one substance (the doctrine of the Trinity) is still considered a violation of Tawhid.  The Trinity is perceived by Muslims as not being much different from the polytheism of Hinduism.  Here is a basic definition of the nature of God’s oneness (Tawhid) in Islamic theology,

“The Unity of God according to the Qur’an, implies that God is One in His person (dhāt), One in His attributes (ṣifāt) and One in his works (af’āl).  His Oneness in His person means that there is neither plurality of gods nor plurality of persons in the Godhead; His Oneness in attributes implies that no other being possesses one or more of the Divine attributes in perfection…”[1].

In contrast to tawhid, is shirk, which is a violation of tawhid by associating partners with God, whether that is the Trinity or polytheism, and even extends to mystic forms of idolatry[2].  Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdul-Wahhab defined the grave nature of shirk as follows,

“The opposite of complete tawheed is defined in Islam as shirk, Shirk literally means to take partners with Allah in any aspect of His divinity.  Shirk is the antithesis of Islam, which is based on the belief that full acceptance of tawheed leads to eternal salvation and corruption of tawheed leads to damnation” [3].

So based on Islamic theology, when Christians present the Gospel to a Muslim they perceive the Gospel as an invitation to commit shirk and be eternally damned.  It is necessary to discuss the Islamic teaching of fitrah in order to have a more complete understanding of Tawhid and shirk in Islam.

 

According to the covenant that God made with Adam that he swear to his godhood, all men by birth have this oath imprinted on their soul, so all men are born Muslims according to Islam,

“This natural belief is called in Arabic the “fitrah”.  If the child were left alone, it would grow up aware of Allah in His unity [Tawhid], but all children are affected by the pressures of their environment whether directly or indirectly”[4].

“And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.  Or [lest] you say, “It was only that our fathers associated [others in worship] with Allah before, and we were but descendants after them. Then would You destroy us for what the falsifiers have done?” (Surah 7:172-173) [5].

This is affirmed by Sahih Al Bukhari and Sahih Al Muslim,

“I created My servants in the right religion but the devils made them go astray” [6].

“Each child is born in a state of “fitrah”, but his parents make him a Jew or Christian.  It is like the way an animal gives birth to a normal offspring.  Have you noticed any (young animal) born mutilated before you mutilate them?” [7].

So by birth everyone is born a Muslim with Tawhid imprinted on their soul, called fitrah, therefore any conversion outside of Islam is viewed as breaking Tawhid and committing shirk.  The way of the prophets is the guidance according to Islam, to help man’s fitrah defeat its foes and reach a state like Adam’s which is the goal of Tawhid,

“Man’s fitrah is the basis of Islam, so when he practices Islam in its totality, his outer actions and deeds come into harmony with the very nature which Allah created man’s inner being.  When this takes place, man unites his inner being with his outer being which is the key aspect of Tawhid.  The result of this aspect of Tawhid is the creation of the truly pious man in the mold of Adam, to whom Allah made the angels bow and whom Allah chose to rule the earth” [8].

 

2. Doctrine of Christ in the Qur’an: Sonship & the Crucifixion

 

Although Christ is revered as a prophet in Islam, there are very few references to Christ (called ‘Isa in the Qur’an, but Arabic speaking Christians and Arabic Bibles use the name Yasū‘a for Jesus) [9].  The virgin birth of Christ is affirmed in the Qur’an, but with the major difference from the New Testament of Jesus speaking from the cradle,

Surah 19:27-33, “Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. “O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.” So she pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?” [Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.  And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive.  And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant. And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive” [10].

Jesus is viewed as the other prophets in the chain of prophets from Adam to Muhammad proclaiming the true monotheistic religion.  He is not set apart as unique from the other prophets according to Islam,

Surah 2:136, “ Say [O Muslims]: “We believe in Allah and that which is sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes; what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets by their Lord.  We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we have surrendered ourselves” [11].

Surah 42:13, “He has ordained for you of religion what He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus – to establish the religion and not be divided therein. Difficult for those who associate others with Allah is that to which you invite them. Allah chooses for Himself whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him]” [12].

The Qur’an’s teaching of the oneness of God (Tawheed) is linked to a denial of sonship, that God has no sons because according to Islam if God had a son, then there would be another God and God would no longer be one God, but would have a partner (resulting in Polytheism according to Islam).

Surah Al-‘Ikhlas (112:1-4), “Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One, Allah, the Eternal Refuge.  He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent” [13].

Surah 9:30-31,“The Jews say Uzayr is the son of Allah, and the Christians say the Messiah is the son of Allah.  Such is what they say with their own mouths, imitating those who disbelieved of old.  May Allah defeat them!  How perverse are they!  They have made their rabbis and their monks the Messiah the son of Mary into lords besides Allah; though they were only ordered to worship one god.  There is no god but He!  Transcendent is He above what they associate [with him]” [14].

Another one of the key presuppositions in Islam that I mentioned earlier is the Quran’s denial of the crucifixion of Jesus.  Muslims typically affirm that Judas Iscariot was made to appear like Jesus, so Judas was crucified while Jesus ascended to heaven and was never crucified.

Surah 4:157-158 (Surat An-Nisā), “And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.”

 

3. The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Qur’an

 

Another crucial aspect of tawhid is how the Quran expresses the doctrine of the Trinity since the Trinity is considered shirk, breaking tawhid, it ought to have a proper understanding of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity given that the Council of Nicaea had already occurred in the 4th century, so the Christian position on the doctrine of the Trinity was unambiguous at the time of Muhammad, 600 AD.  However the Quran reveals otherwise, demonstrating the author of the Quran did not understand the doctrine of the Trinity,

Surah 5:116-117,“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” [15].

Notice that not only does the Quran teach that all of the prophets accepted Tawhid, Surah 5 also gives an explanation of how the Quran understands the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, according to Surah 5:116-117 the trinity consists of Allah, Jesus, and Mary, which is found nowhere in the Bible.  Another important Surah in the Quran that attempts to describe the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is Surah 4:171-172,

“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.  Never would the Messiah disdain to be a servant of Allah, nor would the angels near [to Him]. And whoever disdains His worship and is arrogant – He will gather them to Himself all together” [16].

Muslim apologists frequently argue against the doctrine of the Trinity by claiming it is logically contradictory and use human reason as the standard to deny the doctrine of the Trinity.  Here is a summary of this argument from the most well known Islamic apologetic book in response to Christianity, Izhar-Ul-Haq,

“As trinity and unity are taken by the Christians in their literal sense, the existence of trinity therefore would essentially prove plurality as we discussed under the ninth point in our introduction to this section.  The presence of plurality essentially precludes singularity; therefore it would mean two opposites co-existing which is a rational impossibility.  Someone who believes in the trinity cannot, therefore, be called a believer in unity.

The Christian contention that the unity of the three and one are only logically possible in the case of God is childish and unsupported by any argument.  Once it is confirmed that two things are inherently opposite to each other, or intrinsically contradictory to one another, both of them obviously cannot exist in one object at the same time.  This is because absolute ‘one’ is not compound and made of other parts.  It is absolute and without parts, while contrary to it three is a collection of three separate ‘ones’.  Now if both of them are assumed to be found together in one object, it would imperatively require the part is a whole and the whole is a part, this in turn would pre-require that God is made of parts that are infinite…This assumption, therefore stands in contradiction to human reason.  This would also require that one is a third of its entity, and three is a third of one” [17].

[1] Ibid, 109; Islam claims to be the only Abrahamic religion that has preserved Tawhid, “Yet, according to the Islamic Unitarian concept (Tawhid), Christianity is classified as polytheism and Judaism is considered a subtle form of idolatry”. Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawhid (Islamic Monotheism), (International Islamic Publishing house: Saudi Arabia, 2005), 11

[2] This makes some sufi Muslims guilty of shirk, “In fact, the belief in charms and omens is a manifestation of the grave sin of shirk (association) in this form of Tawhid” Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawhid (Islamic Monotheism), (International Islamic Publishing house: Saudi Arabia, 2005), 24; “Muslims whose acts of worship fall into this category of shirk [Ash-shirk al-Akbar] are those who pray to Prophet Muhammad or to mystics in the Sufi hierarchy of saints, believing they can answer their prayers…” ibid, 55

[3] Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul-Wahhab  (author), Sameh Strauch (compiler & translator), Kitab At-Tawheed Explained (International Islamic Publishing House, Saudi Arabia, 2010), 22

[4] Ibid, 65

[5] Translation from Saheeh International version: http://quran.com/7/169-175

 

[6] Saheeh Al Muslim (English Translation), vol. 4, pg. 1488, Hadtih no. 6853 [cited by Bilal Philips, The Funamentals of Tawhid, 65]

[7] Saheeh Al Muslim (English Translation), vol. 4, pg. 1398, Hadith no. 6423, and Saheeh Al Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol. 8, pg. 389-390, Hadith no. 597 [cited by by Bilal Philips, The Funamentals of Tawhid, 65-66]

[8]Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawhid (Islamic Monotheism), (International Islamic Publishing house: Saudi Arabia, 2005), 70

[9] This is in contrast to the Arabic word Allah, which is used by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to refer to God and predates Islam.

[10] http://quran.com/19

 

[11] http://quran.com/2

 

[12] http://quran.com/42

 

[13] The Arabic verb (walada) and noun (yalid) used in Surah 112:3 uses the same root (y-l-d/w-l-d) as the Hebrew verb (yālad) and noun (yeled) to describe the Messiah’s birth in Isaiah 9:6, so this Surah is a direct denial of the incarnation.

[14] http://quran.com/9

 

[15] http://quran.com/5/113-119

[16] ibid: http://quran.com/4/168-174

[17] Maulana M. Rahmatullah Kairanvi, Izhar-Ul-Haq (Truth Revealed): Distortion and Abrogation in the Bible, The Trinity Refuted Part 2 second edition (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Word of Knowledge for Publishing & Distribution, 1992), 253-4