By Sam Shamoun
In this series we will be quoting from a monumental work (in fact the first of its kind in the English language) produced by a team of credentialed and bonafide Muslim scholars from various academic backgrounds. In 2015 HarperOne published The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary, the first major English Quran commentary, whose editor-in-chief happens to be the renowned Muslim philosopher and Sufi scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
What makes this study Quran so fascinating is that the contributors make candid admissions concerning the meaning and purpose of specific texts, especially as they relate to the Quranic view of other religions such as Christianity, that are quite damaging for the Muslim polemicists who seek to use such verses to support their claims and objections. Suffice it to say, the assertions made by these Muslim scholars in some of the notes actually end up refuting they very arguments that are typically used by many a Muslim debater and/or daiee (e.g., one who calls people to Islam) to convince Christians to accept Muhammad as a prophet of the one true God of Abraham.
As such, this study Quran is a must have for any Christian evangelist and/or apologist who seeks to share the Gospel with Muslims, since this is a resource that shall prove to be a great tool and weapon against the Muslim assault and distortion of the Christian faith. The commentary will also help refute the distortion and misinterpretation of the very Quranic texts that Muslim apologists often cite to convince Christians and others that their respective scripture denies core, essential Christian doctrines such as the Trinity.
With that said we are ready to begin our series by posting what the notes to this study have to say regarding the Quranic understanding of the Trinity and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. All bold and/or capital emphasis will be ours.
The Quran’s view of the Trinity and Deity of Christ
Study Note on Q. 5:110
“… His creating live birds out of clay birds, healing the blind and the leper, and raising the dead are likewise recounted in 3:49 (for blind and leper, see 3:49c). These last three miraculous powers attributed to Jesus are EXTRAORDINARY in that THEY SUGGEST POWERS USUALLY RESERVED FOR GOD; God is the one who heals (26:8 [sic]); He is the raiser of the dead throughout the Quran: and the creation of birds from clay and bringing them to life by breathing upon them IS EXACTLY PARALLEL TO GOD’S CREATION OF THE HUMAN BEING (15:26-29; 32:7-9; 38:71-72). The verse repeatedly makes clear, however, that all these powers are done by God’s leave (by My Leave) and so are ultimately His. Jesus’ ability to heal and power to raise the dead are also found in the canonical Gospels, and a similar account of Jesus’ creating birds from clay is given in the noncanonical Infancy Gospel of Thomas.” (P. 334)
Study Note on Q. 4:171
“In the present verse, the uniqueness of Jesus among the messengers is affirmed in several ways, including his title Ruh Allah (‘Spirit of God’). He is referred to here and in certain places, however, as the Messiah (al-Masih), a term that in Arabic is understood to refer to his having been purified by God of sin (T). This is not unrelated to the concept of being ‘anointed,’ the root meaning of the word in Hebrew.
“He is also identified as God’s Word (see also 3:45; 19:34), an idea that has clear resonance with the Gospel tradition, where Jesus is identified as the ‘Word’ of God (see John 1). Christian and Islamic tradition, however, derive different theological conclusions from this appellation. In the Islamic context, the identification of Jesus as God’s Word does not preclude or overshadow his function as the bringer of the Gospel, which, like the Torah and the Quran, represents God’s Word and message to humanity. Some commentators interpret His Word here as the tidings Mary received of his miraculous conception in her womb or as an allusion to the Divine Creative Command Be! by which Christ was formed in Mary’s womb (see 3:45, 59; R, T). However, while all created beings are brought into existence through God’s Word, Christ ALONE is specifically identified as ‘a Word from God.’ Some might argue, therefore, that Jesus, by virtue of being identified as God’s Word, somehow participates (uniquely) in the divine Creative Command, although this is not the traditional Islamic understanding of Jesus’ identification as a Word from Him (3:45).
“The miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth is also alluded to here in that he is identified as God’s Word committed to Mary (alqaha ila Maryam), which could also be rendered ‘cast upon Mary.’ Cf. 66:12, where it is said that God breathed His Spirit into Mary. Consistent with the implicit representation in 66:12 of Jesus being God’s ‘Spirit’ breathed into Mary, in the present verse Jesus is also identified as a Spirit from God (Cf. 2:87, 253; 5:110, where Jesus is strengthened … with the Holy Spirit). It is on this basis that Jesus is given the honorific title ‘Spirit of God’ (Ruh Allah) in the Islamic tradition. Some commentators, however, understand Jesus’ description as a Spirit from God metaphorically and consider Spirit here to be either a reference to Jesus’ purity or a metaphor for God’s Mercy (rahmah; R).
“In addition to reaffirming the full humanity of Jesus, the present verse commands Christians to say not ‘Three.’ This is understood as a command to abandon this doctrine, as it is better for them. In 5:73, Christians who call God ‘Three’ are more seriously criticized, but this verse is embedded in a larger discussion that seems to be addressing those Christians who took not only Jesus, but also his mother, Mary, to be divine (see 5:73c). In both the present verse and 5:73, however, the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as three ‘persons,’ or hypostases, ‘within’ the One God IS NOT EXPLICITLY REFERENCED, and the criticism seems directed to those who assert the existence OF THREE DISTINCT ‘GODS,’ AN IDEA THAT CHRISTIANS THEMSELVES REJECT.
“Al-Razi is aware that Christians do not believe in three separate gods, but rather in three qualities (sifat) in a single Divine Essence, but argues that the claim that the Divine Reality inhered in the human form of Christ belies the idea that the trinitarian concept ultimately posits a single Divine Essence. He also contrasts the Christian doctrine of aspects, or hypostases, within a single Divine Essence with the Islamic doctrine of God’s Names and Qualities, which, unlike the Christian hypostases, are not understood as aspects of God that can be seen as multiple, distinct entities (R).
“Despite these strong criticisms of Christian trinitarian doctrine as well as the implication through juxtaposition in 5:72-73 that Christian beliefs in the divinity of Jesus, and in God as the third of three can be understood as a kind of shirk (ascribing partners unto God), Islamic Law never considered Christians to be ‘idolaters’ (mushrikun) and accepted Christians’ own assertions of monotheistic belief, maintaining the clear distinction the Quran itself makes between idolaters (mushrikun) and the People of the Book.” (pp. 267-268)
“… Some commentators view the assertion of Jesus’ ‘servanthood’ in relation to God as a response to a statement made by the Christian delegation from Najran in their discussion with the Prophet. The delegation reportedly took exception to the Islamic claim that Jesus was a (mere) ‘servant’ (or as they may well have understood, ‘slave’) and ‘messenger’ of God and considered it an insult to Jesus. This verse asserts in response that rejecting or disdaining ‘servanthood’ is a form of arrogance in relation to the Divine that Jesus, and even the angels, would never display (R).
“The Najran delegation, likely under the influence of Abyssinian Monophysite doctrine, may well have held that Jesus’ divinity completely overwhelmed his humanity, and so would have been particularly averse to such a description of Jesus. However, it should be noted that orthodox Christian doctrine maintains the full humanity of Christ as a theological necessity, even if it holds that this humanity is inseparable, mysteriously, from his divinity. Although Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all of the same essence and thus equally divine in orthodox Christian doctrine, the Father is the cause and the principle of the divine nature, which is in the Son and in the Spirit, and thus has some degree of superiority.” (P. 267)
Excerpt from the Essay: The Quranic View Of Sacred History and Other Religions
“Jesus is referred to in the Quran as a messenger of God and as God’s Word (3:45; 4:171), who is aided by the Holy Spirit (2:87, 253; 5:110). Although he is regarded as the Messiah (al-Masih), he is not referred to as the ‘Son of God’ or as ‘God Incarnate.’
“Belief in the incarnation of God in Jesus is in fact repudiated in two Quranic verses: They indeed have disbelieved who say, ‘God is the Messiah, son of Mary’ (5:17, 72). The Quran emphasizes that Jesus was not God, but a servant and messenger of God: The Messiah would never disdain to be a servant of God (4:172). The Messiah, son of Mary, was naught but a messenger–messengers have passed away before him. And his mother was truthful. Both of them ate food (5:75).
“Despite this emphasis upon his human nature, Jesus is recognized as holding an exalted position in relation to other prophets: Those are the messengers. We have favored some above others. Among them are those to whom God spoke, and some He raised up in ranks. And We gave Jesus son of Mary clear proofs and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit (2:253). The best example of Jesus’ particular distinction among the prophets is the miracle of the virgin birth…
“The Prophet Muhammad is said to have confirmed that of all human beings, ONLY Jesus and the Virgin Mary were born without the stain of sin: “There is none born among the offspring of Adam, but that Satan touches it. A child, therefore, cries loudly at the time of its birth because of the touch of Satan, except for Mary and her child.”30
“Not only was the birth of Jesus a miracle, but other passages bear witness to A CREATIVE LIFE-GIVING POWER possessed by Jesus that WAS NOT GRANTED TO ANY OTHER PROPHET…
“Despite these affirmations of Jesus’ Divinely given powers, the concept of the Trinity is criticized in the Quran: And say not ‘Three.’ Refrain! It is better for you. God is only one God; Glory be to Him (4:171). Another verse is more severe, condemning those who claim that God is one of three: They certainly disbelieve, those who say, ‘Truly God is the third of three,’ while there is no god save one God. If they refrain not from what they say, a painful punishment will befall those among them who disbelieved (5:73). This, however, IS NOT A DIRECT CONDEMNATION OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, for Trinitarian theology DOES NOT MAKE GOD ONE OF THREE, but rather speaks of the triune God, Who is both one and three in a manner that transcends human understanding. Viewed in this light, 5:73 DOES NOT OPPOSE the various forms of orthodox trinitarian doctrines that have prevailed for most of Christian history. Rather, it appears to oppose crude misunderstandings of it that would lead one to believe that there are three gods instead of one. That the Quranic discussion of the Trinity is addressed to misunderstandings of Christian doctrine IS MADE CLEAR IN 5:116-17…” (Pp. 1777-1779)
30. Al-Bukhari 60.47 (no. 3468), 65..2 (no. 4590). Another account of this saying reads: “No child is born but that he is pricked by Satan and begins to weep because of the pricking of Satan, except for the son of Mary and his mother” (Muslim 44.40 [no. 6282]). A third version states: “Satan touches son of Adam on the day when his mother gives birth to him, except Marry and her son” (Muslim 44.40 [no. 6284]).
31. That the Oneness of God is fundamental to traditional Christianity is clear from the beginning of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” As the third-century church father Tertullian writes: “Father and Son and Spirit are three, however, not in status but in rank, not in substance but in form, not in power but in appearance; they are, however, of one substance and of one status and of one power, because God is one, from whom these ranks and forms and appearances are designated as Father and Son and Holy Spirit” (Adversus Praxean, chap. 2; cited in Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed [New York: Doubleday, 2004], 121). (Pp. 1778-1779)
The Quran ascribes three specific powers to Christ that are usually reserved for God, namely, healing, resurrecting and creating life. In fact, Christ is the only prophet who is said to possess a creative life-giving power.
The Quran identifies Jesus as God’s Word and Spirit which God breathed into Mary. By describing Jesus as the Word of God, the Quran echoes the prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18), and therefore lends credence to those who would argue that this suggests that Christ uniquely participates in God’s Creative Command.
Islamic tradition testifies that only Jesus and his blessed mother are born without the stain of sin.
The Quran nowhere condemns (at least not explicitly) the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, but seems to be censuring some heretical misunderstandings of the faith, such as the mistaken notion that there are three gods consisting of Allah, Mary, and Jesus their offspring. We will have more to say about the Quran’s condemnation of those who say that Allah is the Messiah in the next part of our discussion.
These comments by some of Islam’s most qualified scholars and philosophers confirm what we have been saying all along, namely, the Quran nowhere defines or condemns the historic orthodox understanding of the Trinity or the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is nigh time that Muslim polemicists such as Shabir Ally pay careful heed to what these learned men of Islam are saying, and stop misusing the Muslim scripture to mislead people into thinking that it addresses subjects which in fact it does not even touch upon.
With that said it is time to proceed to the next part of our discussion.