I HAVE dipped into several books on Islam authored by Christians and the most common charge seems to be that the Qur’an misunderstands the Trinity. Christians do not worship three gods as Muslims often claim, these authors argue, but one God made up of three co-equal parts. This claim, I believe, is itself based on a misunderstanding of Islam’s teaching on Tawhid (the unity of God) and shirk (associating partners with God).
Islam teaches that the only thing which is worthy of worship is God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Anything which is worshipped beside God is described as ‘a god’. It does not make any difference if it is an idol, a tree, a river or a person; if an individual takes it as an object of worship, it is then for that person a god. An individual does not even have to think of that object as God or a god. If they treat it in a way in which only God should be treated, they are making it an object of worship. Hence, when Roman Catholics look to the Virgin Mary for intercession, they are if fact making her a god.
This then is the context in which we should consider the Islamic perspective on the Trinity. The Christian retort, of course, is that Jesus is God. They recognise that God is One and that to worship other than God is unacceptable: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’ Deuteronomy 5:7. Therefore Jesus can only be God. This, the Christian argues, is what Muslims fail to understand; Jesus is not a separate god, but God Himself.
This, in my view, remains a misunderstanding of the Islamic perspective. The Qur’an starts from the point that Jesus is not God, but a Prophet sent to the house of Israel. Therefore it does not make any difference if a person brings philosophical arguments to say that he was God; the Qur’an’s position stays the same. So in teaching that Jesus is other than God, the fact that Christians worship him means that he is a god. A god worshipped along side God, the Creator.
Let us suppose that Michael Portillo, despairing at the Tory Party’s election prospects, suddenly started claiming that William Hague is God. We would all agree that he is not God. Even if Michael Portillo told us that he is one in essence with God, we would still not accept it. The mere presence of an argument does not prove anything, for we all agree that William Hague is not God.
This, in essence, is the Islamic perspective. Yes, Christians argue that Jesus is God, but because they say this it does not mean that it is so. It is worth remembering that the belief in the Trinity as expressed in the Nicene Creed came about after a great deal of debate and disagreement. The famous name is that of Arius who believed that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were entirely different, sharing neither nature nor essence. But there were others. Sabellius argued that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were the symbolic names for one God in His different functions.
I do not wish to get into the subtleties of the doctrine, of what is heresy and what is not. I have heard Christians who have been attending church all their lives, engaging in charitable works, explaining the Trinity in Sabellius’ terms, unaware that ‘the Church’ considers this view heretical. It is a way of complicating an issue which is already complicated enough. It is notable, in my mind at least, that the actual text from the fourth century numbers over two hundred words, in great contrast to an earlier creed, the Epistola Apostolorum, which read, ‘(Faith) In God the Father almighty; In Jesus Christ, our Saviour; And in the Spirit, the Holy, the Paraclete; Holy Church; Forgiveness of sins.’ (F.J. Badcock, 1938, The History of the Creeds, London, p.24)
The Islamic belief is La ilaha ill-Allah: there is no god but God. The worship of anything besides God is known as associating partners (shirk) and is a major sin. (None has the right to be worshipped except God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things.)