MOHAMMEDAN IDEAS OF THE TRINITY
"Praise belongs to God who has not taken to Himself a son and has not had a partner in His kingdom, nor had a patron against such abasement."The Night Journey, vs. 112.
THE Moslem idea of God consists not only in what is asserted of Deity, but also, and more emphatically, in what is denied. James Freeman Clarke, in his study of the Ten Great Religions, calls attention to this fact in regard to all false faiths in these pregnant words: "Of all the systems of belief which have had a widespread hold on mankind this may be posited, that they are commonly true in what they affirm, false in what they deny. The error in every theory is usually found in its denials, that is,
its limitations. What it sees is substantial and real; what it does not see is a mark only of its limited vision."1
The Mohammedan controversy with Christians has ever had two great centres; and although the form of the ellipse has changed since the days of Raymund Lull, or even since the time of Henry Martyn, the foci remain the same. The integrity of Scripture and the reasonableness of the doctrine of the Trinity are the two points in Christianity against which Islam emphatically testifies. At the same time these two ideas are fundamental in the Christian system. The doctrine of the Trinity is not only fundamental but essential to the very existence of Christianity. Dr. Baur of the Tübingen school acknowledges this when he says that "in the battle between Arius and Athanasius the existence of Christianity was at stake." In some form the doctrine of the Trinity has always been confessed by the Church and all who opposed it were thrown off from its fellowship. "When this doctrine was abandoned, other articles of faith, such as the atonement, regeneration, etc., have almost always followed, by logical necessity, as when one draws the wire from a necklace of gems, the gems all fall asunder." (Henry B. Smith.) The doctrine of the Trinity, in its widest sense, includes that of the Incarnation and of the Holy Spirit. In studying what the Koran teaches on this subject,
1 Ten Great Religions, Vol. II., p. 62.
1 Ten Great Religions, Vol. II., p. 62.
therefore, we must examine not only what it tells of the Trinity, but also those passages that speak of the nature of Jesus Christ and of Holy Spirit.
The following order will be observed in our study: (a) the Koran passages that speak directly of the Trinity; (b) those that refer to the subject indirectly; (c) the Christology of the Koran as it bears on this doctrine; (d) the passages that speak of the Holy Spirit.
(a) The direct references to the Trinity are not many in the Koran and all occur in two Surahs, composed by Mohammed toward the close of his career at Medina. Surah 4:167-170 reads: "O ye people of the Book do not exceed in your religion nor say against God aught save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, is but the apostle of God and His Word which He cast into Mary and a spirit from Him; believe, then, in God and his apostles, and say not. Three. Have done! It were better for you. God is only one God, celebrated be his praise from that He should beget a son!" Again Surah 5:77: "They misbelieve who say, Verily, God is the third of three; for there is no God but one, and if they do not desist from what they say there shall touch those who misbelieve among them grievous woe. Will they not turn again towards God and ask pardon of Him? for God is forgiving and merciful." The third passage, and that most often used as a proof-text by
Moslems against Christians, is in the same Surah (5:116): "And when God said, O Jesus, son of Mary! Is it thou who didst say to men, take me and my mother for two gods beside God? He said, I celebrate Thy praise, what ails me that I should say what I have no right to? If I had said it, Thou wouldst have known it; Thou knowest what is in my soul, but I know not what is in Thy soul; verily, Thou art one who knoweth the unseen."
These passages leave no doubt that Mohammed denied the doctrine of the Trinity and that he conceived it to be, or affirmed it to be, a species of tritheism consisting of God, Mary and Jesus Christ. [Whether Mohammed had a correct idea of the Trinity and deliberately put forth this travesty of the Christian idea, we will consider later.] The commentaries interpret the Koran as follows: Zamakhshari on 4:169 remarks, "The story received among Christians is that God is one in essence and three persons, (akanim) the person of the Father, the person of the Son and the person of the Holy Spirit. And they verily mean by the person of the Father, the Being, and by the person of the Son, knowledge, and by the person of the Holy Spirit, life. And this supposes that God is the third of three, or, if not, that there are three gods. And that which the Koran here refers to is the clear statement of theirs, that God and Christ and Mary are three gods and that the Christ
is a child (walad) of God from Mary." For proof he then quotes Surah 5:116, and adds: "And it is universally known concerning Christians that they hold the deity and humanity of Christ as regards his father and mother." From this it is evident that Zamakhshari had a more correct idea of the doctrine of the Trinity than did Mohammed and that after offering a modal trinity as the creed of Christians he covers up the Koran mistake by asserting, without proof, that the trinity was a triad of Father, Son and Mother. (Vol. I. of the Kishaf, p. 241.) Beidhawi (on 4:169) remarks: "Jesus is called the Spirit of God because He makes the dead to live or quickens hearts." On the following verse he is doubtful; "Either God is the third of three gods or is a triad of Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (Vol. I., p. 319.) He, too, avoids a real explanation of the gross misstatement in the Koran that Mary is one of the persons of the Trinity. The Jilalain (Vol. I., p. 278) prove that Jesus cannot be God, "because He has a spirit and everything possessed of a spirit is compounded (murakkib and God is absolutely without compounding, arrangement (tarkib), i.e., simple." He says the Trinity consists of "Allah and Jesus and His mother."
It is interesting to note here that the earliest of these three exegetes is most correct in his ideas and the latest one entirely ignores the apparently well-known facts as given by Zamakhshari and admitted
by Beidhawi. The dates of their commentaries were: Zamakhshari, 604 A.H.; Beidhawi, 685 A.H., and Jilalain, 864-911 A.H. On the other passages of the Koran quoted above these commentaries offer no new explanations or ideas.
(b) Let us turn to other Koran texts that have a bearing on this false trinity, or the tritheism of which Christians are accused. By shirk the Koran and Moslems mean ascribing companions or plurality to Deity; and according to the Wahabi writers, it is of four kinds: 1. Shirk-ul-Ilm is to ascribe knowledge to others than God. Jesus knows no secret thing and does not share in what God knows. 2. Shirk-ul-Tassaruf is to ascribe power-to-act-independently, to any one else than to God. All are his slaves. No one can intercede except by God's permission.1 To say that Christ intercedes by His own power or merit is shirk, polytheism. 3. Shirk-ul-Abada is to ascribe a partner to God who can be worshipped, or worshipping the created instead of the Creator, as Christians are said to do when they worship Christ or adore Mary. 4. Shirk-ul-'Adat is to perform ceremonies or follow superstitions which indicate reliance or trust on anything or any one save God. There is no doubt that this fourfold classification by the Wahabi sect has its ground in the Koran, and it is on these four items that Christians are called mushrikun, or polytheists, by Moslems to-day, although that word is
1 Surahs 2:256; 19:90; 20:108;
34:22; 39:45; 78:38.
1 Surahs 2:256; 19:90; 20:108; 34:22; 39:45; 78:38.
specially used for the Meccan idolaters in the Koran.1 Logically the use of this term for Christians is perfectly natural and correct from a Moslem point of view, for we certainly hold that the Son of God is omniscient, independent of the creature, has power as an intercessor and is worthy of worship. Practically, therefore, all the passages in the Koran that speak against idolatry and assert God's unity are used by Moslems as testimony against the doctrine of the Trinity. These texts have already been considered in Chapter II. and are too numerous to mention.
(c) The Christology of the Koran includes the apocryphal account of Jesus' birth and life among men, His translation into heaven and the ideas regarding His second advent; but what more especially concerns us is to know what Islam teaches regarding the person of Christ. For a full and generally fair treatment of this subject the reader is referred to Gerock's Christologie des Koran;2 much of what the Koran teaches concerning Christ is not germane to our topic, although of curious interest.
Regarding the birth of Jesus Christ, the Koran
1 Al Bagawi says (on 98:1)
that the term Ahl-ul-Kitab, people of the book, is always used
for the Jews and Christians and Mushrikun for those who worship idols.
Cf. Hughes' Dict. of Islam, pp. 579, 580.
2 Versuch einer Darstellung der Christologie
des Koran, von C.F. Gerock, Professor der Geschichte am Gymnasium zu
Buchsweiler im Elsasz. Hamburg, 1839.
1 Al Bagawi says (on 98:1) that the term Ahl-ul-Kitab, people of the book, is always used for the Jews and Christians and Mushrikun for those who worship idols. Cf. Hughes' Dict. of Islam, pp. 579, 580.
2 Versuch einer Darstellung der Christologie des Koran, von C.F. Gerock, Professor der Geschichte am Gymnasium zu Buchsweiler im Elsasz. Hamburg, 1839.
and Tradition agree that it was miraculous, but they equally deny an incarnation of Deity in the Christian sense. Surah 3:37-43: "And when the angels said, O Mary, verily God has chosen thee and has purified thee and has chosen thee above the women of the world! O Mary! be devout unto thy Lord and with those who bow... O Mary, verily God gives thee the glad tidings of a Word from Him his name shall be Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, regarded in this world and the next, and of those whose place is nigh to God. And He shall speak to people in his cradle and when grown up, and shall be among the righteous. She said, Lord, how can I have a son when man has not yet touched me! He said, Thus God creates what He pleaseth. When He decrees a matter He only says, Be and it is. ..." Surah 19:16-21: "And mention in the book, Mary; when she retired from her family into an eastern place; and she took a veil to screen herself from them; and we sent unto her our spirit, and he took for her the semblance of a well-made man. Said she, Verily, I take refuge in the Merciful One from thee, if thou art pious. Said he, I am only a messenger of thy Lord to bestow on thee a pure boy." ... Zamakhshari comments on this verse in the usual coarse, materialistic way by saying that the virgin conceived "when the angel Gabriel blew up her garment." (Vol. II., p. 4.) It is impossible to translate the gross and utterly sensual
ideas of Moslem commentators on the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ. The above verses from the Koran, however, will indicate to the thoughtful reader how far off even Mohammed was from a spiritual conception of God's power as creator, though he believed Christ to be merely human. The Moslem mind to-day is too carnal to understand what the Christian Church means by its doctrine of the Incarnation. Husain, the commentator, e.q., says: "When she went eastward, i.e., out of her house in an eastward direction to perform her ablutions, Gabriel appeared to her." And Zamakhshari suggests that this accounts for the eastward position in prayer on the part of Christians!
The Koran denies the Divinity and the eternal Sonship of Christ. He is a creature like Adam. God could destroy Jesus and his mother without loss to himself. Surah 19:35, 36: "God could not take to himself any son. ... When He decrees a matter He only says to it 'Be,' and it is." Surah 3:51: "Verily, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him from the earth, then He said to him Be, and he was." Surah 9:30: "The Jews say Ezra is the son of God1 and the Christians say that the Messiah is the son God; that is what they say with their mouths
1 There is no Jewish tradition
whatever in support of this accusation of Mohammed and it was probably
a malicious invention. Cf. Palmer's note and the Commentaries.
1 There is no Jewish tradition whatever in support of this accusation of Mohammed and it was probably a malicious invention. Cf. Palmer's note and the Commentaries.
imitating the sayings of those who misbelieved before. God fight them! How they lie." Surah 5:19: "Infidels are they who say, Verily, God is the Messiah, the son of Mary. Say, who has any hold on God if He wished to destroy the Messiah, the son of Mary, and his mother and those who are on the earth together?"
Although the Koran and Tradition give Jesus Christ a high place among the prophets, and affirm His sinlessness1 and power to work miracles,2 all this does not distinguish His person in any way as to its nature from other prophets who came before Him. The pre-existence of the Word of God is denied. While Tradition is full of stories about the Nur-Mohammed or "Light of Mohammed which was created before all things made by God." Specially is it to be noted that the Koran denies the atonement and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. (Surahs 3:47-50; 4:155, 156.) Wakidi relates that Mohammed had such repugnance to the sign of the cross that he destroyed everything brought to his house with that figure upon it. Even in Moslem Tradition regarding the second coming of Jesus this hatred of the cross comes out. Abu Huraira relates that the prophet
1 See Mishkat-ul-Misabih,
Book XXIII., ch. xii. In the same book the sinlessness of Mary, as well
as of Jesus, is asserted (Bk. I., ch. iii., pt. 1). Hughes' Dict. of
Islam, p. 205.
2 Surahs 3:43-46; 5:112-115. Cf. Beidhawi's
Commentary on the latter passage.
1 See Mishkat-ul-Misabih, Book XXIII., ch. xii. In the same book the sinlessness of Mary, as well as of Jesus, is asserted (Bk. I., ch. iii., pt. 1). Hughes' Dict. of Islam, p. 205.
2 Surahs 3:43-46; 5:112-115. Cf. Beidhawi's Commentary on the latter passage.
said: "I swear by God it is near when Jesus, son of Mary, will descend from heaven upon your people a just king, and he will break the crucifix and will kill the swine and will remove the poll-tax from the unenfranchised." (Mishkat 23:6.) The hatred toward the sign of the cross as emblem of the atonement is widespread among Moslems; Doughty, the Arabian traveller, tells how in the heart of Nejd, away from all Christian influences or offences, the children draw a cross on the desert sand and defile it to show that they are true Moslems.1 On the other hand, the sign of the cross is used in amulets and on property because of its sinister power; the frontispiece gives an illustration of such use. All Moslems are agreed that Jesus is now alive and in heaven, but they disagree as to the degree of his exaltation. According to Tradition, Mohammed said that "he saw Jesus and John in the second heaven on the night of his Mi'raj, or celestial journey."2 In the commentary known as Jamia'-l-Bayyan it is said that Christ is in the third region of bliss; while some say He is in the fourth heaven.3 In the tradition of this Mi'raj, Mohammed ascends to the seventh heaven, where he finds Abraham; Moses is in the sixth. These statements indicate that Christ occupies no supreme place in heaven according to the
1 Arabia Deserta, Vol. I., p. 156.
2 Mishkat-ul-Misabih, Book XXIV., ch. vii.
3 Dict. of Islam, articles on the Mi'raj
and on Jesus Christ.
1 Arabia Deserta, Vol. I., p. 156.
2 Mishkat-ul-Misabih, Book XXIV., ch. vii.
3 Dict. of Islam, articles on the Mi'raj and on Jesus Christ.
Prophet. In considering the character and content of Moslem monotheism, a Christian can never forget that Jesus Christ has no place in the Moslem idea of God, and that the portrait of our Saviour as given in the Koran and in Tradition is a sad caricature.
(d) The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is mentioned by that name three times in the Koran. Surah 16:104 speaks of Him as the inspiring agent of the Koran: "Say the Holy Spirit brought it down from thy Lord in truth;" and twice in the 2d Surah, vs. 81 and 254, we read: "We strengthened him (i.e., Jesus) with the Holy Spirit." But all Moslem commentators are agreed that the Holy Spirit in these passages means the Angel Gabriel. Why Mohammed confounded Gabriel with the Holy Spirit is far from clear. The only distinct assertion that Gabriel was the channel of Mohammed's revelation occurs in a Medina Surah (2:91), and Gabriel is mentioned only once besides (66:4). Was this a misapprehension or a misrepresentation on the part of the Koran and the commentators? We have already seen that the commentators at least were not in ignorance of the fact that the holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity among Christians. Was Mohammed ignorant of the true doctrine of the Trinity as held by Christians? The common idea is that he was; and this idea finds its support in the old story of the Collyridian sect in
Arabia.1 The assertion is that Mohammed got his idea of the Trinity from this heretical sect, "who invested the Virgin Mary with the name and honours of a goddess," and offered to her cylindrical cakes , hence their name. Let us see what basis there is for this view. The only authority we have to prove even the existence of this female sect is the history of heresies by Epiphanius;2 what others tell is quoted from his chapter. Gerock says: "Epiphanius does not relate anything definite concerning the sect, and the long chapter devoted to this heresy contains next to nothing save controversy, in which the author seems to delight. Even had such a sect existed at the time of Epiphanius in Arabia, it is far from probable that, consisting only of women, it would have continued for three centuries until the time of Mohammed and become so extended and strong that Mohammed could mistake it for the Christian religion."3 Mohammed came in contact
1 Gibbon, Vol. III., p. 488.
Hottinger, Hist. Orient, p. 225, and copied in most of the later
accounts of the history of Moslem teaching, e.g., Sale's Prelim.
Discourse to the Koran.
2"Epiphanius," says Dr. Schaff (Hist. of
Christian Church, Vol. III., p. 169), "was lacking in knowledge of the
world and of men, in sound judgment and critical discernment. He was
possessed of boundless credulity, now almost proverbial, causing innumerable
errors and contradictions in his writings." Scaliger calls him "an ignorant
man who committed the greatest blunders, told the greatest falsehoods,
and knew next to nothing about either Hebrew or Greek."
3 Gerock's Christologie, p. 75.
1 Gibbon, Vol. III., p. 488. Hottinger, Hist. Orient, p. 225, and copied in most of the later accounts of the history of Moslem teaching, e.g., Sale's Prelim. Discourse to the Koran.
2"Epiphanius," says Dr. Schaff (Hist. of Christian Church, Vol. III., p. 169), "was lacking in knowledge of the world and of men, in sound judgment and critical discernment. He was possessed of boundless credulity, now almost proverbial, causing innumerable errors and contradictions in his writings." Scaliger calls him "an ignorant man who committed the greatest blunders, told the greatest falsehoods, and knew next to nothing about either Hebrew or Greek."
3 Gerock's Christologie, p. 75.
with Oriental Christianity from three quarters: the Christians of Yemen visited Mecca, and Abraha was turned back in defeat with his army, in the year in which Mohammed was born; Mohammed had as concubine a Christian Coptic woman, Miriam, the mother of his son Ibrahim; Mohammed went once and again to Syria with Khadijah's caravan of merchandise. Early Christianity in Arabia was much more extended and influential than is generally supposed.1 Nearly all of Yeman and Nejran was permeated with the doctrines of Christianity and there had been many martyrs. Concerning the view held by all Yemen Christians regarding the Trinity, we have unimpeachable evidence in the monuments found by Glaser. (See remark in Chapter II.) The Abyssinian Church of the fifth century was undoubtedly corrupt and paid high honors to the Virgin Mary and the Saints but it is certain also that this Church always held, as it does now, that the three persons of the Trinity are the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. The same is true as regards the Nestorians, the Jacobites, the Armenians and the Maronites; because the Monophysite controversy concerned itself not with the doctrine of the Trinity, but with the Person of Christ.2 Both Nestorians and Monophysites accepted the Nicene Creed without the Filioque. Now how is it possible to imagine
1 Wright's Early Christianity in
Arabia, London, 1855; and Arabia, the Cradle of Islam, pp. 300-314.
2 See Schaff's Creeds of Christendom,
Vol. I., pp. 79-82.
1 Wright's Early Christianity in
Arabia, London, 1855; and Arabia, the Cradle of Islam, pp. 300-314.
2 See Schaff's Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I., pp. 79-82.
that Mohammed, who knew of Arabian Christianity, visited Syria and married a Coptic woman, who became his special favorite, and whose earliest converts took refuge in Abyssiniahow is it possible to imagine that he was ignorant of the persons of the Trinity?
In addition to the reasons given above we read in Ibn Hisham (quoted from Ibn Ishak) that the Christians of Nejran sent a large and learned deputation to Mohammed headed by a Bishop of the Emperor's faith i.e., of the orthodox Catholic Church. Now is it possible that a Bishop could have represented the Holy Trinity to consist of God, Christ and Mary (as Tradition says he did) after the whole Eastern world had been resounding for ages with the profound and sharply defined controversies concerning this fundamental doctrine?
In concluding our investigation of this subject, can we resist the conclusion of Koelle as given in his critical and classical book on Mohammed and Mohammedanism?1 "Not want of opportunity, but want of sympathy and compatibility kept him aloof from the religion of Christ. His first wife introduced him to her Christian cousin; one of his later wives had embraced Christianity in Abyssinia; and the most favored of his concubines was a Christian damsel from the Copts of Egypt. He was acquainted with ascetic monks and had dealings with learned
1 Koelle's Mohammed and Mohammedanism,
p. 471. This is the best recent book on Islam and the life of Mohammed.
1 Koelle's Mohammed and Mohammedanism, p. 471. This is the best recent book on Islam and the life of Mohammed.
Bishops of the Orthodox Church. In those days the reading of the Holy Scriptures in the public services of the Catholic Church was already authoritatively enjoined and universally practised; if he had wished thoroughly to acquaint himself with them he could easily have done so. But having no adequate conception of the nature of sin and man's fallen state, he also lacked the faculty of truly appreciating the remedy for it which was offered in the Gospel." And if Koelle is correct, as I believe he is, then Mohammed's idea of God includes a deliberate rejection of the Christian idea of the Godheadthe Father, the Son arnd the Holy Spirit.1
1 The question whether Mohammed
could read and write is important in this connection. On this point Moslems
themselves are not agreed. Some Shiahs affirm he could, while the Sunnis
deny it. Western scholars are also divided in their opinion on this question.
The following hold that Mohammed could read and write and give good reasons
for their opinion: M. Turpin in Hist. de la Vie de Mahomet, Vol.1.,
pp. 285-88; Wahl, Intro. to the Koran, p. 78; Sprenger, Life of Moh.,
Vol. 11., pp. 398-402; Weil, Intro. to the Koran, p. 39; H. Hirschfeld,
Jüdische Elemente im Koran, p. 22. Others deny it, among them:
Marraci, p. 535; Prideaux, p. 43; Ockley, Hist. of the Saracens, p. 11;
Gerock's Christologie d. Koran, p. 9; Caussin de Perceval, Vol. 1.,
p. 353; J. M. Arnold, p. 230; Palmer's Quran, p. 47, etc. Granted
that Mohammed was unable to read or write, it is still plain from a thoughtful
perusal of any biography of the prophet that he had abundant opportunity
to learn from Christians by word of mouth first at Mecca and specially
afterwards at Medina. We must remember that all the Koran teaching
on the Trinity occurs in the later Surahs.
1 The question whether Mohammed could read and write is important in this connection. On this point Moslems themselves are not agreed. Some Shiahs affirm he could, while the Sunnis deny it. Western scholars are also divided in their opinion on this question. The following hold that Mohammed could read and write and give good reasons for their opinion: M. Turpin in Hist. de la Vie de Mahomet, Vol.1., pp. 285-88; Wahl, Intro. to the Koran, p. 78; Sprenger, Life of Moh., Vol. 11., pp. 398-402; Weil, Intro. to the Koran, p. 39; H. Hirschfeld, Jüdische Elemente im Koran, p. 22. Others deny it, among them: Marraci, p. 535; Prideaux, p. 43; Ockley, Hist. of the Saracens, p. 11; Gerock's Christologie d. Koran, p. 9; Caussin de Perceval, Vol. 1., p. 353; J. M. Arnold, p. 230; Palmer's Quran, p. 47, etc. Granted that Mohammed was unable to read or write, it is still plain from a thoughtful perusal of any biography of the prophet that he had abundant opportunity to learn from Christians by word of mouth first at Mecca and specially afterwards at Medina. We must remember that all the Koran teaching on the Trinity occurs in the later Surahs.
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