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Friday, 18 October 2013 10:51

One God or Three? How Islamic Monotheism Affects Muslims’ View of Christianity’s Holy Trinity, and Our Response to Such

Referee: Dr. Benedict KWOK

Author: Gillian CHU

1. Introduction

As observed by Alfred Guillaume, there seem to be quite a number of similarities between Islam and Christianity, in comparison to the other prominent religions available around the world. However, stemming from the past history of imperialism and colonialism to the present day Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, Muslims also have the most misconceptions about Christianity. The theology of the Holy Trinity, among other issues, is one of the main differences that stand between the two. While Christians are able to appreciate the Trinitarian nature of God, Muslims are determined that Allah simply cannot be both one and three. Christian missionaries like Raymond Lull became martyrs of Christendom due to this very particular point[1].

This paper is focused upon exploring the theological aspects of the topic more so than the missionary aspects. In this paper, I shall first define the Islamic Monotheism and the Christian’s Holy Trinity, then list out how Muslims view the Holy Trinity and Christians’ defence against their misconceptions. To conclude, I shall demonstrate the similarities and differences between Islamic Monotheism and Christianity’s Holy Trinity. Throughout the paper, when referring to the Muslim God, “Allah” will be used; while referring to the Christian God, “God” will be used.

Muslim scholar Fazlur Rahman suggested that the Qur’an would not have drastic objections against the Word (Logos) becoming flesh if it were not that the Word was identified plainly as God[2]. Although it might be tempting to take up the offer and unite the two religions, it is far more important for Christians to maintain the concept of the Holy Trinity in the heart of Christian theology. This is not an additional concept, but rather, the full reality of who God is – unified and filled with self-giving love.

The Holy Trinity is not a violation of the monotheism, but rather, a means of expressing the richness and depth of our incomprehensible God[3]. A dialogue between Christians and Muslims, which is deemed as being necessary especially when Muslims are growing in an exponential rate, inevitably encourages questions on the Holy Trinity being asked. The concept of the Holy Trinity, in all honesty, is even beyond our ability as Christians to fully comprehend. We can only pray that God would reveal this wonderful mystery to Muslims, so that they can also experience the joys and glory of our compassionate God.


2. Islamic Monotheism

The word Islam can be translated as submission or surrender, and the word Muslim (muslimun) is rooted from those who submit to Allah[4]. Monotheism is the core of the Islamic faith, and Islam possesses the shortest and most often repeated creed: there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s apostle. Similar to Christianity, Islam also has several sects, such as the Sunni, the Shiite, and the Sufism. In this paper, I shall only address concepts that most orthodox Muslims hold in common[5].

a. Conception of Allah:

Allah, meaning divinity in Arabic, is the personal name for the Islamic god, like Yahweh is for the Jewish and Christian God. Back when the Arabic peninsula was still predominantly polytheistic, the name Allah was used to refer to the moon god of the sacred house (al-Ka’bah), one of the 360 deities in Mecca. It was not until when Muhammad came along was Allah upgraded to be the only true god.

The concept of Allah is rather similar to the Jewish Yahweh and Christianity’s God, who is the only eternal divine being[6], existed since the beginning of times, and does not have an end. The God of all three religions is uncreated, omnipotent, and omnipresent[7].

b. Allah’s Oneness:

Allah has only attributes but no essence. As such, it is difficult to say whether Allah is good or not. It can only be said that his decree is absolute. Both Qur’an and Hadith describe Allah in a systematic manner, with thirteen of his attributes for Muslims to regularly recite: existence, eternity, perpetuity, dissimilarity, self-sustenance, unity, mighty, will, knowledge, life, hearing, sight, and speech. While Allah has many attributes, as we can observe through the 99 beautiful names of Allah[8], for the purpose of this paper we shall focus solely upon the absolute unity of Allah.

Islam is the uncompromising declaration of Allah’s absolute indivisible unity (tawhid)[9]. Allah does not have any representatives or equals[10], and the Qur’an used ahad and wahid as adjectives to deny that Allah has any partners or associated companions[11]. This is why it is so difficult for Muslims to accept Jesus as the Son. They believe that Christians have made Jesus a partner of Allah, and cannot wrap their minds around the fact that Jesus is God Himself. Islam’s greatest sin of all sins is to be assigning partners to Allah (shirk)[12], and their greatest fear is to be worshipping idols, which is why they condemn the Catholics who placed statues of Jesus and Virgin Mary in their cathedrals.

c. Allah and his Creation:

Similar to the Christian God, Allah created nature for men, and through the created world men can comprehend his vastness and his existence[13]. But differing from Christians’ loving and interactive relationship with God, Muslims’ relationship with Allah is more in the form of slaves (abd) and their master (rabb), with Allah possessing absolute power over men’s free will (qadar). Their absolute determinism concept makes everything other than Allah passive[14], with the human thought streams merely a medium for one to get to know more about Allah.

Muslims do not have a clearly defined theory on salvation, as everything is entirely dependent on Allah’s mercy, one who is whimsical and temperamental. Although there are obligatory rituals of worship (ibadat) by performing the five pillars of faith (din) - recite Qur’an (shahada), pray (salat), fast during Ramadan (zahat), give alms (sawn), and pilgrimage to the sacred house (hajj) – it is only the basics[15], and not a guarantee that one will end up in paradise after death.

There are also compulsory beliefs, which include believing in Allah, his angels, his books, his messengers, the last day, and his powers (qatha). Muslims are required to worship Allah as if he is watching you, because they believe that Allah is indeed watching everyone all the times, as he is omnipresent[16]. Their act of devotion is mainly driven by fear of consequences, not much different from citizens of a totalitarian state. Without a personal encounter with their Maker, they are unable to perform a true and joyful worship from the bottom of their hearts.


3. Christianity’s Holy Trinity

a. Conception of the Holy Trinity:

 

Figure 1: Relationship of the Holy Trinity[17]

Christianity is unique in that we are the only religion that refers to our God as a three-in-one[18]. We cannot fully appreciate God’s nature without understanding that His presence is always in a plurality of characters (hypostasis) within the unity of one essence (homoousios). All of God’s nature is in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and each character is the complete self-sustaining essence of God[19], as seen in Figure 1.

The Nicene Creed confirms the Holy Trinity, which is essentially in the same order as the Apostles’ Creed, but adds context to the Holy Trinity by stating that the Son is in one with the Father[20]. This is the core of the Christianity belief, as established by the Council of Constantinople and the Council of Nicea. When we talk about what kind of God our God is, His work, His creation, His redemptive plans for humankind, and the Godliness of Jesus, we inevitably have to refer to the Holy Trinity concept. Moreover, God is love, and love implies a relationship, hence it points towards the perfect relationship within the Holy Trinity as a paradigm of what being complete in love is about[21].

Although the term the Holy Trinity was not recorded specifically in the Holy Bible, hints of such was revealed both in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:7; Isaiah 6:8) and the New Testament (Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, Jude 20-21), contrary to the usual impression that the Holy Trinity is an idea based on the New Testament alone. In the Old Testament, God referred to Himself in plurality and not as a royal we when He performed acts of creation. In the New Testament, the most easily comprehensible social status was used to reflect the closeness yet different in characters between the Father and the Son, while listing the Holy Spirit in the same occasion to emphasise His equal standing with the other two Persons[22].

Theologians throughout the ages have attempted to apply analogies to the concept of the Holy Trinity, such as Augustine in De Trinitate. However, the Holy Trinity is not meant to be proven by human rational thought process, but rather, should only be enlightened by the special revelation from God through the Holy Bible. This is not to say that the Holy Trinity is against reasons - three Persons can still be in one essence, just that it means that each Person is different yet shares a common nature[23].

b. Economy of the Holy Trinity:

Hippolytus and Tertullian developed an economic view (oikonomia) of the Holy Trinity, where the Holy Trinity is defined by the special functions that each of its members performed during the creation and the redemption process[24]. Tertullian’s understanding of the Holy Trinity is that all three Persons are unique while united; they are distinctive, yet not divisible; discrete, yet not separate. These different roles between the Holy Trinity are eternal[25], with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit equal in being, but subordinate in role.

In the creation process, the Father gave orders to create the universe; the Son, as the Word of God[26], executed the Father’s directions; and the Holy Spirit demonstrated God’s presence[27]. As Irenaeus suggested in the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, the redemption process fully reflects the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit[28], as the Father planned the atonement[29]; the Son accomplished the plan by dying on the cross[30] and resurrected[31]; and the Holy Spirit took on from where the Son left off and applied the salvation to the lives of the believers[32] by cleansing them and giving them the ability to serve God.

The Holy Trinity is numerically distinct, yet derived from a single source of indivisible power, thus their acts of creation and redemption are undivided. All three Persons are bounded to create a joint force in order to work towards a common goal, and their consciousnesses are always within each other[33].

c. Essential Elements of the Holy Trinity

There are some essential elements that define the Holy Trinity. Firstly, our God is unified. Secondly, with regards to their divineness and holiness, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are qualitatively the same, and together they make up the Holy Trinity. Thirdly, three is in respect of the Persons and one is in respect of the essence, which are two different measurements, and hence not in contradiction. Fourthly, even though in different occasions one Person is subordinate to another in role, it does not mean that one is inferior to another in essence. Finally, we must appreciate that it is virtually impossible for us to fully comprehend the concept of Holy Trinity while we are still in this life[34]. We can only do our best to contemplate upon such, and leave the rest of the mystery to be revealed by God in His way.


4. How Muslims View the Holy Trinity

Muhammad had limited contact with the Christian world, hence the Qur’an was only able to cover twisted concepts of such, and unfortunately those incorrect ideas of Christianity have been broadcasted continually throughout the centuries within the Muslim world[35]. Muslims accept the fact that Christians received the same message from the same God, yet they believe that Christians compromised the message by introducing the Holy Trinity instead of stressing upon unity. Muslims assume that they are called to complete the unfulfilled tasks left by Judaism and Christianity[36], as the Qur’an from Muhammad completes and overrides all of the previous revelations from the Torah (Tawrat), the Psalms (Zabur), and the Gospels (Injil)[37].

The Islamic teaching suggests that there is no reconciliation required between man and Allah, because they do not believe in sin heredity. Adam was forgiven for unwittingly disobeying Allah, therefore every man is understood to be inherently good, and sinning is merely due to your own shortcomings, lack of piety, and temptations from Satan (Iblis). This is why it is not easy for Muslims to accept the idea of redemptive love through the Holy Trinity, and when Muslims reject the concept of the Holy Trinity, they are also rejecting Jesus’ Godliness, as the two are interrelated. Muslims deny the Godliness of Jesus (Isa) through several means, and we shall address both issues below.

a. Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Mother:

The use of the words “Father” and “Son” has led Muslims into viewing the relationship in an anthropomorphic manner. They consider beget a sexual act between God and Virgin Mary in procreating Jesus, which for them is blasphemy. Firstly, God is a spirit and has no body, hence unable to conduct coitus. Secondly, God, as an uncreated being, cannot create another uncreated being. Muslims, when they think of Jesus, their worldview limits them into thinking that Christians has designated a wife and a Son to God.

They also interpreted the Holy Bible with their own biased views, aiming to support their arguments, leading to the conclusion that Jesus is not God. For example, Muslim scholar Dawud interpreted John 1:1 as mistranslation of genitive case God’s (Theou) to nominative case God (Theos). Due to this mistranslation, Christians through the centuries have misunderstood Jesus to be God, and not merely Allah’s prophet[38]. Also in John 20:28, Muslims claimed that Thomas was just using an exclamation, rather than stating that Jesus is God. Muslim critic H.M. Baagil believes that, if Jesus is God because He is in God, then according to John 17:21, does that make His disciples God too?

Muslims boast that Allah is the best deceiver. As such, he used plots and tactics (makara) to deceive the follower of Jesus and many others to believe that Jesus died on the cross[39], a lie that was not cleared until 600 years later by Muhammad. Muslims’ interpretation of Jesus’ death is that, as Allah’s prophet, He cannot die a shameful death on the cross. Instead, He was substituted by other bystanders, and was taken by Allah to heavens alive[40], a theory that stemmed from a Gnostic leader Bassilides.

Ahmadiyya suggested another theory, where Jesus fainted on the cross, revived in the cave, then travelled to Persia, Afghanistan, and eventually settled down in Kashmir to continue His preaching. He finally died in Srinagar at 120 years old, and His remains still reside there[41]. According to Mohammed Tahir et Tannir, there are similarities between Jesus and Krishna, one of the three major Hindu gods, as Krishna also died on a wooden log with a crown on, which exemplifies that the Christian redemption theory with the cross was borrowed from other religions.

Islamic scholars believe that Christians’ ways of thinking are limited by their religious traditions, as they consider Christian missionaries having overestimated the role Jesus played in the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, Jesus was a prophet created by Allah, and it is Allah’s protection that makes Him sinless. The miracles He performed were merely magic tricks allowed by Allah, with the assistance of special powers from the archangel Gabriel (Jibreel). Records of Jesus in the Qur’an were merely there to enhance the concept of obeying Allah, and Allah will punish those who believe that Jesus is God[42].

Muslims said that even Jesus denied Himself to be God in Mark 10:18. It was not until when Paul fabricated a myth of Jesus resurrecting that corrupted Jesus’ ideals of monotheism[43]. This myth of resurrection was subsequently turned into the concept of the Holy Trinity, which was then confirmed by the Nicene Creed, and Constantine forced all people to accept such. Muslims condemn Paul for diverting from Jesus’ original teachings, and should be held responsible for leading Christians astray. They argue that even the New Testament consists mainly of Pauline epistles and Acts of Paul, thus our religion should not be called Christianity, but rather, Paulinism[44].

Muslims believe that, at the apocalypse, one that is against Allah (Dajal) will come as human form to persecute Muslims, and Jesus as the saviour (Mahdi) will come down from the heavens to destroy Dajal and his army, convert all Christians into Muslims, and rule the world for an extended period of time before the judgement day.

Muslims, like Christians, also believe that Jesus was born of virgin birth. However, due to misunderstanding derived from Catholic practices, Muslims tend to believe that Christians made Virgin Mary a goddess, Jesus her Son, and God her husband[45], an idea that they wholly condemned in the Qur’an[46].

b. Muslims’ Understanding of the Holy Spirit

Unlike the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit cannot be concretely visualised. Lacking a solid imagery makes it difficult for Muslims to grasp the complex concept of the Holy Spirit[47], hence they either decide that the Holy Spirit is non-existent, or simply another name for the archangel Gabriel[48].

Interestingly, it was also the archangel Gabriel who brought the Qur’an, from the archetype preserved in the seventh heaven, to Muhammad in the cave near Mecca during his retreat[49]. The archangel Gabriel was also the one who revealed to Muhammad that Allah appointed him as his last prophet[50]. One of the six beliefs of Islam is to believe in angels, a close equivalent of the statement in the Nicene Creed where Christians confirms that they believe in the Holy Spirit. It is also difficult for Christians to grasp the concept of the Holy Spirit since it has no tangible form, so it should not be much of a surprise that this is a hurdle for Muslims as well.

c. Trinity equals Tritheism?

Muslims emphasise that there is only one god, with no partner or equal[51]. They consider the concept of the Holy Trinity to be impossible, as is one plus one plus one cannot equal three. They are unwilling to deal with the subtleties of the Holy Trinity, condemning it immediately as tritheism. Abu I’sa, an early critic of Christianity, did not understand that the Holy Trinity is of one essence, and bluntly pointed out that the Holy Trinity is wrong because essence cannot be countable, as it violates Allah’s unity.

The reason why Muslims are so offended by the potential of polytheism is because polytheism is exactly the reason why Islam exists in the first place. Back in the days of the early churches, a school of thought led by Syrian philosopher John Philoponus of Alexandria proposed the concept of tritheism, which was partly the reason of what led to the religion reformation in the Arabic countries, creating the Islam faith. As such, Muslims consider the unity of Allah as a distinguishing character of Islam, since it presents monotheism in its purest form.


5. Christians’ Response to the Islamic Views

Allah

God

1

Arbitrary will and wrath

With reason and love

2

Demands unconditional submission

Invites a response to believe in Him

3

Commands strict and harsh laws

Enjoys love and respect

4

Hostile towards any betrayers and enemies

Demands everyone to love everyone else

Table 1: Comparison Between the Disposition of Allah and God[52]

Their seemingly difficult mathematical argument of one plus one plus one cannot equal three can be addressed to plainly by stating that it should be 1x1x1=1 instead. It can be seen from Table 1 that Allah and God are ultimately very different Gods, as they are such polar opposites in disposition. The fundamental reason of why Muslims cannot comprehend the concept of the Holy Trinity is because the Islamic monotheism is rigid and inflexible. Muslims simply could not grasp the possibility of plurality of Persons being of unified nature. With such tunnel vision, they just cannot appreciate the subtle similarities between their concept of monotheism and the Holy Trinity.

Moreover, they cannot accept Jesus as the incarnation of God because, according to Islamic theology, Allah simply cannot come into human history and assume a human form, since he is too perfect for such blasphemy to occur[53]. In this part, I shall attempt to address the issues raised by Muslims as listed above.

a. Christians’ View of the Holy Father and the Holy Son:

Muslims either misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted the biblical texts in relation to the Holy Trinity. The word beget is being used in John 1:18 to indicate a special relationship between the Father and the Son figuratively (ibn), and not a physical sexual generation (walad), and paternity is also not being used in Colossians 1:15 on the biological sense[54]. God is a spirit and does not have a body, and as Gregory of Nyssa confirmed, God does not have a gender, and thus He cannot conduct sexual intercourse, a view that is in line with Muslims. Christian writer Lactantius clearly wrote that the Son of God does not mean God reproduced through union with any female. As Anglican Bishop Kenneth Cragg puts it, Jesus is referred to as the Son in hopes of pointing our focus towards His obedience to the Father, and an attempt to describe the depths of the relationship within our one and only God[55].

The Athenasian Creed and the Nicene Creed clearly stated that Christians believe in one God one Lord in Trinity and in Unity[56], and the Son is not merely by the Father’s side but is the essence of the God. Christians are not assigning any partners or associates to God, because, as written by Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Holy Trinity is one, and not associated with any other outside of the unity[57]. When Christians worship the Son, we are not worshipping someone close to the Father in hopes of Him relaying our message to God, but are worshipping God Himself. They are of one nature[58], and yet not the same Person[59].

Muslims can grasp the concept of God’s vastness, as this attribute is also present with Allah. However, they cannot understand God’s desire to be our Father and to have a personal relationship with us. Although Allah has mercy, he does not have love, which is why Muslims cannot even begin to identify how the Holy Trinity fully displays God’s redemptive love[60]. Muslims cannot seize the concept of experiencing God, as denying the Holy Trinity’s work in creation and redemption also denies the interaction between man and God.

Muslim scholars tend to read their own preconceptions into the Holy Bible rather than seeking to understand what the text actually teaches, which is what led to many misinterpretations. Dawud twisted the idea behind John 1:1, as there were many sources that support God being used in a nominative case, not a genitive case. As for Thomas merely ejaculating an exclamation in John 20:28, it does not quite make sense as Jesus later blessed him in John 20:29 for his confession of Jesus’ deity. If we are to follow their interpretation, then Jesus was blessing Thomas for using God’s name in vain. As for H.M. Baagil’s argument with John 17:21, Jesus was speaking relationally that the disciples can have an intimate relationship with God as Jesus did, not that they can be of the same essence of God as Jesus was, for He shares God’s eternal glory[61].

Even though Muslims deny Jesus’ Godliness, it is understood by Christians that Jesus is one Person but has two natures in Him[62], both God and man[63], which is why He was able to perform truly life changing miracles[64], and not mere magic tricks. Both the Holy Bible and the Qur’an teach that Jesus is sinless[65], and from the Christian perspective, humans are powerless towards sin, so Jesus must be God in order to triumph over such. Yet in the Muslim view, humans are born good and innocent, with no sin heredity[66], hence they cannot comprehend why Jesus’ sinlessness marks an attribute of God.

Paul’s teachings are in line with that of the Gospels and the Old Testament, as he was brought up as a strict Pharisee himself, following the Torah closely. There are certainly lots of Pauline epistles in the New Testament, but all of them are theologically in line with the Gospels and other epistles, carefully confirmed by church leaders when the Canon was formed. There are no reasons to believe that Paul fabricated anything, especially not Jesus’ death and resurrection, as there were many witnesses still alive during Paul’s time who could repute his claims.

As for the issue of Virgin Mary being a member of the Holy Trinity, it can be plainly explained, since the misunderstanding stems from the statues of Jesus and Virgin Mary that Catholics erect in their cathedrals. However, this issue might also have arisen from two different schools of thought, Antiduo-Marianites and Collyridians, whom considered Virgin Mary to be sinless and a goddess respectively[67]. In reality, Christians and Catholics alike do not consider Virgin Mary as part of the Holy Trinity, as the Holy Trinity consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit[68]. Christians are against the worship of human beings, and agree that in doing so, diminishes the respect and glory only deserved by God[69].

b. Christians’ View of the Holy Spirit:

What the Holy Spirit is

What the Holy Spirit is not

1

A Person, whom believers can have a personal relationship with

A vague force of energy

2

Fully divine though with roles subordinate to the Father and the Son, thus should receive the same respect and honour

Less than the Father and the Son in essence

3

In one with the Father and the Son, and His work is planned together by all three

Tension among the activities between the Father and the Son

4

What brings God close to each believer through incarnation

A remote deity

Table 2: Concept of the Holy Spirit[70]

As presented in the Nicene Creed, Christians believe in the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and a member of the Holy Trinity[71], and should be worshipped and glorified along with the Father and the Son[72], as stated in Table 2. The Holy Spirit is definitely not archangel Gabriel, as He played a role since creation[73], and is involved in the redemption process[74].

Some might consider the Holy Spirit to be God’s powers working in this world, but He is His own Person. As reflected in the Holy Bible, Ekeinos, the masculine form of Spirit, is used, rather than Pneuma, the neutral form[75]. The deity of the Holy Spirit can be seen clearly in Acts 5, where Peter referred to Ananias and Sapphira as lying to the Holy Spirit and to God, hence the two can be used interchangeably.

The Holy Spirit possesses attributes of deity such as omnipresence[76], omniscience[77], and eternality[78]. Other than His role in the creation and redemption process, the Holy Spirit also prophesises[79] and guide the formation of scriptures, that is, the Holy Bible. He also conveys the necessary skills for believers to complete designated tasks[80], and for them to be able to manage what is under their supervision[81].

What the Work of the Holy Spirit is

What the Work of the Holy Spirit is not

1

Gifts bestowed to us to fulfil His plan

Our own accomplishments for our own means

2

To empower believers in their Christian life and service

To let personal inadequacies deter or discourage us

3

To dispense gift wisely to those who seek or qualify for them

To let pride or regret in possessing or lack of particular gift get the better of us

4

To bond believers together for full spiritual development of individuals

To let a particular believer have all the gifts

5

To give us understanding of the Word of God and guide us into His will

To leave us on our own to figure out what God’s will is

6

Listen to our prayers like the Father and the Son

Only allowing us to pray to the Father and the Son

Table 3: Work of the Holy Spirit[82]

The Holy Spirit is essential in our conversion, as He provides a contact between God and His believers. He makes God personal to the each and every one of us by interacting with us in our daily lives, as well as changing our hearts and personalities. It is the Holy Spirit that works on convictions[83] and regeneration[84] within us, so that we can turn to God for repentance, undergo transformation, and receive ongoing empowerment. The Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of Christians, and teaches[85], prays for Christians[86], talks[87], feels[88], evaluates and agrees with wise actions[89].

Muslims blindly maintain that the Holy Spirit is either non-existent or the archangel Gabriel, which is why they are unable to experience God’s presence through Holy Spirit’s work as listed in Table 3, an attribute important to Christians as we now live in a period which the Holy Spirit’s work is more prominent than the other members of the Holy Trinity[90].

c. Christians’ Definition of the Holy Trinity that Muslims Might be Able to Accept:

Both Christians and Muslims do not believe that God can be divided. However, for Christians, God exists as the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, with only one divine nature and reality. The three Persons are interrelated, and as Augustine explained, the human language cannot never fully express the God’s transcendent nature and the mystery of the Holy Trinity[91].

Muslims’ perception of Allah limits them from comprehending the plurality of wills having absolute unity, which is why they cannot understand how three Persons can have an absolute will, thus cannot accept the idea of trinitarianism. However, contrary to their strict monotheism, Qur’an is considered to be uncreated and perfectly expressed mind of Allah. So why can’t Jesus be, like the Qur’an, the uncreated Word of God[92]? As John Damascene said, the Word and the Spirit are inseparable, therefore if the Word of God is in God, then He himself is God.

In order to create a bridge of communication, Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, written a letter entitled “a Common Word for the Common Good,” addressing the Muslim scholars and leaders, welcoming the initiative of “a Common Word Between Us and You,” put forth by Muslim and Catholic scholars. Although we strive to open doors of communication with Muslims, we cannot throw the concept of the Holy Trinity out of the way to accommodate for them simply because we wish to find similarities, because the Holy Trinity is the cornerstone of our religion. At some point in the dialogue we must still present the Gospel in full, which might be totally unacceptable to Muslims, but it is inevitable if we strive to fulfil the Great Commission as endowed to us by Jesus before He was taken to the heavens.


6. Conclusion

a. Similarities between Islamic Monotheism and Christianity’s Holy Trinity:

Both Muslims and Christians are monotheistic, and are strongly against polytheism. Both faiths emphasise on the importance of unity[93], with only one God who is fundamentally simple, mysterious, and incomprehensible[94]. Both our Gods are the ultimate creator and divine ruler of the universe, who is transcendent, omnipotent, and omnipresent, where neither man nor image can represent Him.

b. Differences between Islamic Monotheism and Christianity’s Holy Trinity:

Islam

Christianity

Allah reveals his will only, with keeps himself hidden behind a veil[95]

God reveals Himself to us, as we humans are made in the image of Him

Allah does not have to keep his word

God is trustworthy and keeps His covenant with men

Allah is the best deceiver

God is honest and upright

Allah does not have any partners or equals

The Holy Trinity is of equal status in one essence

Allah and human beings are equivalent of masters and slaves, and he has no feelings of fatherhood nor personal relationship with his creation

The Holy Bible always uses family terms in explaining our relationship with God: father/son, brothers, master/servant, and husband/wife. This demonstrates His desire to have a fellowship with us[96].

Allah is not love, but is merciful only according to his whim

God is love, because He came to the world as man and sacrificed Himself on the cross for our redemption

Allah is not absolutely holy and just

God is absolutely holy and just

Allah spoke through Qur’an, and does not enter the human history

Jesus is the Word of God, and has incarnated into the human history in order to create a path for us to communicate with God, and ultimately for our salvation

Table 4: Differences between Islamic Monotheism and Christianity’s Holy Trinity[97]

 

Although on the surface there are many similarities between Islam and Christianity, they turn out to be fundamentally different upon closer inspection. The major difference between Muslims and Christians would be the concept of the Holy Trinity, as Muslims consider it to be neither biblical nor intelligible. However, it is only because Muslims twisted the scriptures to entertain such idea. God from the Christian perspective has always attempted to communicate with the humankind, and desires to receive human responses through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The path of communication between God and human is a solid reason as to why the Holy Trinity holds firm in our faith.

c. Conclusion:

Allah’s absolute control over every aspect of his creation has a deeply rooted impact on Islamic theology and culture[98]. In the Qur’an, we see explicit criticisms on Christian theology. Oneness of Allah is the ultimate principle of Islam, and as such they cannot understand the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as one essence, thus impossible for them to accept the Christian God[99].

On the surface, God’s oneness and the three Persons in the Holy Trinity are entirely contradictory. However, the Holy Trinity makes perfect sense, and is important to us as Christians because it holds the core of our Christian belief. Firstly, if Jesus was merely created, then He cannot bear our sins for He would be sinful Himself, and hence we are not saved from condemnation. Secondly, if we deny Jesus’ completeness as God, then the concept of being saved by faith in Him alone (sola fide) will be threatened. Thirdly, if Jesus were not an infinite God, then what good would it do for us to pray or worship Him? Finally, if God is not of the Holy Trinity and filled with loving relationships, He would not have thought of creating a world that is meant to have a loving relationship with Him[100].

The economy of the Holy Trinity is what brought forth our creation and redemption. Through the Holy Trinity, we can perceive why God is love[101], as it reveals His overflowing redemptive love for the humankind. This is a quality that Allah does not possess, as he is above feelings for his creation. It is through the concept of the Holy Trinity that we can comprehend God’s perfect unity and redemptive love[102].

Muslims tend to complain that the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity is far too complex, a reasoning that has been brought up before by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, and even Christian theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher. We cannot simply do away with the Holy Trinity, as it is the pinnacle of Christianity, being most complex and has the greatest impact on our Creeds. C.S. Lewis once said that the truth is never simple, as we have to deal with actual facts, something that those who are inventing religions are not burdened with.

Much confusion of the Holy Trinity also derives from its use of terminologies[103]. However, this does not give us the right to remove sensitive lexicons, such as the Father and the Son, when translating our core religious beliefs to Muslims. Jesus being the Son of God is the fundamental reason why we are being saved, and by not translating such to the Muslims leaves them with a defective Gospel[104], and us failing to follow Jesus’ Great Commission.

We cannot deny that peaceful co-existence between people of different faiths is entirely necessary[105]. Yet the feelings Muslims have towards Christians are not merely religious, but also affected by their patriotism and nationalism, and the power struggle that stems from the political advantages of various countries and powerhouses around the world. While there are many Islamic scholars who devoted their lives in disproving Christianity, there are even more Muslim believers who just blindly follow the rituals without any knowledge of why they are doing so, which makes any reasonable discussion in religious differences rather pointless. In reality, not only do Muslims have misconceptions about our faith, we too have many misunderstandings about theirs, which is why it is difficult for Christian missionaries to appreciate why they think the way they do.

As George Fry said before, Islam is the most skilled and intelligent opponent of Christianity[106]. There are many Christian missionaries out in the field serving Muslim community for decades, without yielding any results. Yet we are not out there simply for the harvest-mentality of what we have achieved for God, but rather, for what He has achieved in us[107]. By beginning to listen to and understand how Muslims perceive the Holy Trinity is still fundamentally important, in that although it does not lead to any immediate solutions, it still serves as the basis for us to empathise with the Muslims, and for us to begin our planning of missionary strategies.


7. Reference Books

Aker, Ben, and others. “The Necessity for Retaining Father and Son Terminology in Scripture Translations for Muslims.” 2012. Available from .

Bennett, Clinton. Understanding Christian-Muslim Relations. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008.

Chastain, Warren. "On Turning Muslim Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones." Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: a Reader. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981: 650-654.

Donner, Fred, M. Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

Geisler, Norman L., Saleeb, Abdul. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zodervan Publishing House, 1994.

Hoover, Jon. “Islamic Monotheism and the Trinity,” The Conrad Grebel Review 27:1 (Winter 2009): 57-82.

Kateregga, Badru D., Shenk, David W. A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Virginia: Herald Press, 2011.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: an Introduction, 2nd edi. United Kingdom: Blackwells Publishers, 1997.

Parshall, Phil., Translated by謝麗娟. The Fortress and the Fire. Taipei: Campus Evangelical Fellowship, 1998.

Peters, F. E. The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition - Volume I the People of God. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Peters, F. E. The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition - Volume II the Words and Will of God. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Renard, John. Islam and Christianity: Theological Themes in Comparative Perspective. Berkley: University of California Press, 2011.

Roberts, Nancy. “Trinity vs. Monotheism: a False Dichotomy?” The Muslim World 101:1 (January 2011): 73-93.

Swanson, Mark N. “The Trinity in Christian-Muslim Conversation,” Dialog: a Journal of Theology 44:3 (Fall 2005): 256-263.

Tjandra, Lukas. A Study of the Islam and Christianity, 2nd edi. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House, 1982.

Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

 



[1] Parshall, Phil., Translated by謝麗娟. The Fortress and the Fire. Taipei: Campus Evangelical Fellowship, 1998.

[2] Swanson, Mark N. “The Trinity in Christian-Muslim Conversation,” Dialog: a Journal of Theology 44:3 (Fall 2005): 256-263.

[3] Roberts, Nancy. “Trinity vs. Monotheism: a False Dichotomy?” The Muslim World 101:1 (January 2011): 73-93.

[4] Donner, Fred, M. Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2010.

[5] Geisler, Norman L., Saleeb, Abdul. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

[6] Surah 112:1-2

[7] Tjandra, Lukas. A Study of the Islam and Christianity, 2nd edi. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House, 1982.

[8] Surah 59:22-24

[9] Tjandra, Lukas. A Study of the Islam and Christianity, 2nd edi. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House, 1982.

[10] Surah 112:3-4

[11] Geisler, Norman L., Saleeb, Abdul. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

[12] Surah 4:116

[13] Surah 10:101

[14] Surah 16:69

[15] Kateregga, Badru D., Shenk, David W. A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Virginia: Herald Press, 2011.

[16] Kateregga, Badru D., Shenk, David W. A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Virginia: Herald Press, 2011.

[17] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zodervan Publishing House, 1994.

[18] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

[19] Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

[20] Renard, John. Islam and Christianity: Theological Themes in Comparative Perspective. Berkley: University of California Press, 2011.

[21] Roberts, Nancy. “Trinity vs. Monotheism: a False Dichotomy?” The Muslim World 101:1 (January 2011): 73-93.

[22] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zodervan Publishing House, 1994.

[23] Geisler, Norman L., Saleeb, Abdul. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

[24] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

[25] 1 Corinthians 15:28

[26] John 1:1-18

[27] Genesis 1:2, 1:7

[28] McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: an Introduction, 2nd edi. United Kingdom: Blackwells Publishers, 1997.

[29] John 3:16; Ephesians 1:4

[30] John 17:4, 19:30; Hebrews 1:1-2

[31] Roman 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:1-6

[32] John 3:5; Ephesians 4:30; Titus 3:5-7

[33] Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

[34] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

[35] Parshall, Phil., Translated by謝麗娟. The Fortress and the Fire. Taipei: Campus Evangelical Fellowship, 1998.

[36] Tjandra, Lukas. A Study of the Islam and Christianity, 2nd edi. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House, 1982.

[37] Kateregga, Badru D., Shenk, David W. A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Virginia: Herald Press, 2011.

[38] Geisler, Norman L., Saleeb, Abdul. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

[39] Peters, F. E. The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition - Volume I the People of God. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.

[40] Surah 4:157

[41] Parshall, Phil., Translated by謝麗娟. The Fortress and the Fire. Taipei: Campus Evangelical Fellowship, 1998.

[42] Surah 5:116; 5:72-75

[43] Hoover, Jon. “Islamic Monotheism and the Trinity,” The Conrad Grebel Review 27:1 (Winter 2009): 57-82.

[44] Tjandra, Lukas. A Study of the Islam and Christianity, 2nd edi. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House, 1982.

[45] Swanson, Mark N. “The Trinity in Christian-Muslim Conversation,” Dialog: a Journal of Theology 44:3 (Fall 2005): 256-263.

[46] Surah 5:116

[47] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

[48] Tjandra, Lukas. A Study of the Islam and Christianity, 2nd edi. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House, 1982.

[49] Donner, Fred, M. Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2010.

[50] Surah 33:40

[51] Surah 4:116

[52] Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

[53] Hoover, Jon. “Islamic Monotheism and the Trinity,” The Conrad Grebel Review 27:1 (Winter 2009): 57-82.

[54] Peters, F. E. The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition - Volume II the Words and Will of God. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.

[55] Hoover, Jon. “Islamic Monotheism and the Trinity,” The Conrad Grebel Review 27:1 (Winter 2009): 57-82.

[56] Exodus 20:2-3; James 2:19

[57] Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

[58] Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6

[59] Matthew 3:17

[60] Tjandra, Lukas. A Study of the Islam and Christianity, 2nd edi. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House, 1982.

[61] Philippians 2:5-11

[62] Renard, John. Islam and Christianity: Theological Themes in Comparative Perspective. Berkley: University of California Press, 2011.

[63] 1 Timothy 2:5

[64] John 2:11; John 12:37

[65] John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15

[66] Kateregga, Badru D., Shenk, David W. A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Virginia: Herald Press, 2011.

[67] Parshall, Phil., Translated by謝麗娟. The Fortress and the Fire. Taipei: Campus Evangelical Fellowship, 1998.

[68] Hoover, Jon. “Islamic Monotheism and the Trinity,” The Conrad Grebel Review 27:1 (Winter 2009): 57-82.

[69] Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

[70] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

[71] Renard, John. Islam and Christianity: Theological Themes in Comparative Perspective. Berkley: University of California Press, 2011.

[72] Isaiah 48:16; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 13:14

[73] Genesis 1:2

[74] John 3:5-7

[75] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zodervan Publishing House, 1994.

[76] Psalm 139:7-12

[77] 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; John 16:13

[78] Hebrew 1:10-12

[79] 1 Samuel 10:6-10

[80] Exodus 31:3-5

[81] Genesis 41:38; Judges 6:34

[82] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

[83] John 16:8-11

[84] John 3:5-8

[85] John 14:26

[86] Romans 8:26-27

[87] Acts 8:29, 13:2

[88] Ephesians 4:30

[89] Acts 15:28

[90] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

[91] Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

[92] Bennett, Clinton. Understanding Christian-Muslim Relations. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008.

[93] Muhammad 47:19; Exodus 20:3

[94] Hoover, Jon. “Islamic Monotheism and the Trinity,” The Conrad Grebel Review 27:1 (Winter 2009): 57-82.

[95] Surah 42:51

[96] Revelations 3:20

[97] Tjandra, Lukas. A Study of the Islam and Christianity, 2nd edi. Hong Kong: Tien Dao Publishing House, 1982.

[98] Geisler, Norman L., Saleeb, Abdul. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd edi. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

[99] Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

[100] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zodervan Publishing House, 1994.

[101] 1 John 4:16

[102] Kateregga, Badru D., Shenk, David W. A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. Virginia: Herald Press, 2011.

[103] Volf, Miroslav. Allah: a Christian Response. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

[104] Aker, Ben, and others.“The Necessity for Retaining Father and Son Terminology in Scripture Translations for Muslims.”2012. Available from .

[105] Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18

[106] Parshall, Phil., Translated by謝麗娟. The Fortress and the Fire. Taipei: Campus Evangelical Fellowship, 1998.

[107] Chastain, Warren. "On Turning Muslim Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones." Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: a Reader. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981: 650-654.

 
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