Does The Qur'an Misrepresent Christian Beliefs?

By

 

Bassam Zawadi

 

 

 

It has become common for Christian polemicists to keep charging the Qur'an for misrepresenting their beliefs. Sam Shamoun wrote a comprehensive article over here listing all the major arguments. We will be addressing Shamoun's paper in this case.

 

Shamoun's first argument regarding the Qur'an teaching that the Trinity consists of Mary has already been sufficiently refuted by Dr. Mohar Ali in his book The Biography of the Prophet and the Orientalists, pp. 291-295 (pages 313-317 according to the acrobat reader).

 

We will be addressing the rest of Shamoun's arguments.

 

Shamoun quotes E.M. Wherry as saying:

 

The commentators Baidhawi, Jalaluddin, and Yahya agree in interpreting the three to mean "God, Jesus, and Mary," in the relation of Father, Mother, and Son.

 

But E.M. Wherry failed to inform us that Jalaluddin clarified himself when he said:

 

They are indeed disbelievers those who say, 'God is the third of three', gods, that is, He is one of them, the other two being Jesus and his mother, and they [who claim this] are a Christian sect; when there is no god but the One God. If they do not desist from what they say, when they declare a trinity, and profess His Oneness, those of them who disbelieve, that is, [those] who are fixed upon unbelief, shall suffer a painful chastisement, namely, the Fire. (Jalal ud-Din Siyutti, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Commentary on Surah 5:73, Source)

 

 

Jalaluddin was talking about a specific Christian sect and not speaking generally about all Christians. I checked the commentary on Baidhawi on 5:73 (*,*) and no where is the name "Mary" even mentioned. I don't know how E.M. Wherry reached this conclusion regarding Baidhawi.

 

Shamoun said:

 

Second, we have already indicated that the historic Christian teaching has never been that God is three or the third of three, which would be tritheism (three separate gods forming a unity) as opposed to Trinity (Tri-unity), ONE God who exists in Three distinct yet inseparable Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

 

 

The Qur'an said "third of three" and that is all. It does not say anything else. So it is possible that it is saying "don't say that God is the third of three persons in the Godhead". No where does it say "third of three Gods". "Third of three" simply means what Baidhawi, Suyuti and Qurtubi said it means: "He is one of them".

 

If one were to read the commentaries of Ibn Kathir, Tabari, Suyuti  and Qurtubi on this issue you would see that there are a number of possible interpretations:

 

Shamoun on Surah 5:17 states:

 

Fifth, the Quran also distorts Christian beliefs regarding the Person of Christ when it accuses Christians of saying that God, or Allah, is the Christ. The historic Christian position is that Jesus is God, which is not the same as saying that God is Jesus. The former implies that Christ is fully God in essence; that he has the entire essential attributes of Deity and is all that God is, whereas the latter suggests that Christ is the only one that is God. In other words, saying that God is Jesus means that the entire Godhead is instantiated in Christ alone to the exclusion of the Father and the Holy Spirit, or that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are nothing more than manifestations of a single Divine Person. This latter understanding would imply that Christ is all three manifestations, which is a form of an ancient heresy known as Sabellianism which was condemned by the early Church.

This precision in theological language is not a modern invention or polemic, nor is it simply a matter of splitting hairs, but an essential difference and position held by orthodox Christians even before Muhammad's time. As Muslim author Neal Robinson noted in reference to an ancient Nestorian reference:

. The text which dates from around 550 CE. concludes a discussion of the Trinity with the words ?The Messiah is God but God is not the Messiah'. The Qur'an echoes only the latter half of the statement. C. Schedl, Muhammad and Jesus (Vienna: Herder, 1978), p. 531. (Robinson, Christ In Islam and Christianity [State University of New York Press, Albany 1991], p. 197; bold emphasis ours)

 

How does Shamoun know that the Qur'an isn't condemning Sabellianism? How does Shamoun know that the Qur'an isn't condemning people like William Blake? Northrop Frye said:

 

"The final revelation of Christianity", observes William Blake, "is, therefore, not that Jesus is God, but that "God is Jesus." (Northrop Frye, "The Religious Vision of William Blake", in Toward a New Christianity, edited by Thomas J. J. Altizer, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., NY, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, 1967, page 40, cited here)

 

 

It's interesting to note that verse 17 does not mention Christians as saying this while verses 15, 18, 19 mention Christians in its address. Though this isn't a strong point because even if the Qur'an did mention Christians it wouldn't have necessarily been referring to orthodox Christians but those who identify themselves as Christians (i.e. Sabellians), it might possibly be an indication that the Qur'an recognizes the distinction. Only Allah knows.

 

It's also possible that the statement "God is Jesus" isn't a statement of identity, but a statement of predication (using William Lane Craig's terminology). Just as the statement "God is love"(1 John 4:10) does not intend to say that God is an entity called love, but rather has the attribute of love, similarly "God is Jesus" could mean to say that Jesus is an attribute of God.

 

Famed internet Christian apologist James Patrick Holding titles one of the subheadings in his article Jesus As God's Wisdom, and the Trinity Doctrine as (bold emphasis mine):

 

Jesus, as God's Word and Wisdom, was and is eternally an attribute of God the Father.

 

Incase Shamoun objects, Holding insists:

 

It is not sufficient to object that because Jesus is a person, he cannot be an "attribute" of the Father. Personhood is not incompatible with being an attribute of another person. Moreover, we should not presume that our inability as humans to have a personal attribute also means that God cannot have one.

 

 

Hence, even orthodox Christians like Holding believe that Jesus is an attribute of God. Therefore, if someone has the intention of uttering a statement of predication stating "God is Jesus" then he is well within his bounds of stating so. What Shamoun needs to prove is that Allah's intention for saying "God is Jesus" isn't that of predication just like how Allah does in other verses (e.g. Allah is Merciful, that doesn't mean Allah is an entity called Mercy, but rather shares that attribute).

 

One may also refer to Imam Fakhr Al Din Ar-Razi's commentary on Surah 5:17 where he tries to argue philosophically that the orthodox Christian belief "Jesus is God" and the concept of the incarnation itself implies that "God is Jesus" whether Christians themselves like to acknowledge that or not.

 

Shamoun states:

 

Finally, the Quran assumes that Jesus could only be the offspring of God and Mary if God had physically sired him. The Quran's basic argument is that God cannot have a son since he has no wife, which means Jesus could only be his Son if Mary was God's wife:

And they make the jinn associates with Allah, while He created them, and they falsely attribute to Him sons and daughters without knowledge; glory be to Him, and highly exalted is He above what they ascribe (to Him). Wonderful Originator of the heavens and the earth! How could He have a son when He has no consort, and He (Himself) created everything, and He is the Knower of all things. S. 6:100-101

The truth is that - exalted be the Majesty of our Lord - HE has taken unto Himself neither wife nor son, S. 72:3

Anyone reading the Holy Bible and who has studied Christian teaching already knows that this claim is just as blasphemous and insulting to Christians as it is to Muslims. Christ's relationship with the Father has absolutely nothing to do with physical procreation, but refers to an eternal and purely eternal spiritual relationship between them.

I've struggled to find out why Shamoun thinks that Surah 6:101 is necessarily a response to Christians. How does Shamoun know that Allah isn't speaking about those polytheists who claim that Allah has children (for example see Surah 21:26 and Ibn Kathir's commentary).

 

Surah 6:101 appears to be linked to the verse right before it, which states:

 

And they make the jinn associates with Allah, while He created them, and they falsely attribute to Him sons and daughters without knowledge; glory be to Him, and highly exalted is He above what they ascribe (to Him).

 

This doesn't seem to be talking about Christians since Christians don't "make the jinn associates with Allah", nor do they ascribe "sons and daughters" literally to Allah. Allah understands the distinction that Christians and Jews make when they use the term "son" (see Surah 5:18, for Allah didn't condemn them for blasphemy for saying that they are sons, rather He condemned them for their certainty of salvation) from those polytheists that understood it more literally in a biological sense. Hence, here Allah is making a mockery of their beliefs basically stating "You fools I don't even have a biological wife for me to even have biological children".

 

I don't see how one could make the case that the Qur'an is clearly speaking about Christians in this passage. The most one could do is point out the faults of some commentators for thinking that it does apply to orthodox Christians, but I don't believe anyone is justified for going forward and extending that blame to the Qur'an as well.

 

In conclusion, none of the passages that Shamoun has presented clearly show that false beliefs were ascribed to people. Here Shamoun may jump and say "Okay great, so that means that no where does Islam condemn orthodox Trinitarian beliefs!" This is just ridiculous because no one could deny that Islam teaches that Jesus isn't to be praised as God. That alone by itself is enough to refute the Trinity. So let's not even try to stoop down to such stupid thoughts.

 

 

 

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