THE UNITY OF GOD
THE Qur'an abounds in Passages, some of rare beauty, which teach the unity of God. By way of illustration we quote the 112th chapter of the Qur’an, entitled Al-Ikhlas, which runs thus:—
«قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ. اللَّهُ الصَّمَدُ. لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ. وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ كُفُواً أَحَدٌ».
“Say, He is God alone. God the Eternal. He begets not, and is not begotten; nor is there like unto Him any one.” Muhammad was never tired of pointing to the creation as a “sign” of the unity of God, and the famous “verse of the throne” may well be quoted here as a specimen of such passages. It is found in Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:255, and is as follows:—
«اللّهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ لاَ تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلاَ نَوْمٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ مَن ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِنْدَهُ إِلاَّ بِإِذْنِهِ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلاَ يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلاَّ بِمَا شَاء وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ وَلاَ يَؤُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ».
“God, there is no God but He, the Living, the Self-subsistent. Slumber takes Him not, nor sleep. His is what is in the heavens and what is in the earth. Who is it that intercedes with Him save by His permission? He knows what is before them and what behind them, and they comprehend not aught of His knowledge, but of what He pleases. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and it tires Him not to guard them both, for He is high and grand.”
In the Qur'an the unreasonableness of polytheism is frequently dwelt upon as an argument for the unity of God, and in Qur’an Al-Mu'minun 23:91, we are told that:—
«مَا اتَّخَذَ اللَّهُ مِن وَلَدٍ وَمَا كَانَ مَعَهُ مِنْ إِلَهٍ إِذاً لَّذَهَبَ كُلُّ إِلَهٍ بِمَا خَلَقَ وَلَعَلاَ بَعْضُهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ عَمَّا يَصِفُونَ».
“God never took a son, nor was there ever any god with Him;—then each god would have gone off with what he had created, and some would have exalted themselves over others —celebrated be His praises above what they attribute (to Him).” Another passage to the same effect is found in Qur'an Al-Anbiya' 21:22, where it is argued that:— “Were there in both (heaven and earth) gods besides God, both would surely have been corrupted,” 3 i.e., the whole creation would necessarily fall into confusion and he overturned by the competition of such mighty antagonists.
Muhammad's denunciation of idolatry was unsparing, and, with the exception of one temporary lapse, consistent. The idols were “an abomination of Satan” and were constantly held up to reprobation and contempt as objects “which neither profit nor harm us,” whilst the punishment of those who call upon them is painted in realistic colors. Not only is pagan idolatry reprehended by Muhammad in the Qur'an, but another system which the Prophet denounced with all the invective of which he was capable was that which ascribed to God wives and daughters from amongst the angels. “What!” exclaims the Prophet, “has your Lord chosen to give you sons, and shall He take for Himself females from among the angels?” (Qur’an Al-Isra' 17:40). Another opinion, closely allied to this, which Muhammad denounced as opposed to the unity of God was that of ascribing to Him partners in His government. Thus in Qur’an Al-An'am 6:100, we read:—“Yet they made the jinn partners with God, though He created them!”
But not only did Muhammad rightly denounce idolatry and the association of inferior gods and goddesses with God, but he also accused the Christians of polytheism, or rather tri-theism, on account of their doctrine of the trinity, including, as it does, the doctrine of the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ. Even the Jews are accused of calling Ezra the Son of God, though there is no record, either scriptural or profane, that they ever did so. The numerous references in the Qur’an to the Christian trinity make it undeniably clear that Muhammad failed absolutely to understand the doctrine as held and taught by orthodox Christians, and he, more than once, mistakenly represents the Christian trinity as consisting of Father, Son and Virgin Mary! Thus in Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:73-75, we read:—
«لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلاَثَةٍ ... مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلاَّ رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ كَانَا يَأْكُلاَنِ الطَّعَامَ».
“They misbelieve who say, verily, God is the third of three . . . . The Messiah, the son of Mary is only a prophet; prophets before him have passed away, and his mother was a confessor; they used both to eat food.” It is perfectly clear from the statements of the Qur'an, that what Muhammad mistakenly combatted was not the doctrine of the trinity as held by Christians at all, but an imaginary belief in three gods. Thus in Qur’an Al-Ma’idah 5:116, we read:—
«وَإِذْ قَالَ اللّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَهَيْنِ».
“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?” Muhammad's mistake was thus a double one; first in substituting Mary for the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Holy Trinity, and secondly, in imagining that the Christians worshipped these as three separate Gods. What the Qur'an denounces, therefore, is polytheism, a practice which Christians repudiate quite as indignantly as do Moslems. It is, indeed, difficult to see how sincere Moslems can reconcile these mistakes of Muhammad with the belief that the Qur'an is the word of God communicated direct to the Prophet by the angel Gabriel. The fact is worth noticing here that modern archaeological discoveries in Arabia fully corroborate the verdict of literature and of history, and show conclusively that the trinity of the Arabian Christians consisted of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; for on the Christian monuments found by Dr. Edward Glaser 4 in Yemen, the Sirwah inscription (A.D. 542) opens with the words:—“In the power of the All-Merciful and His Messiah and the Holy Ghost.” 5
The Christian conception of God is based upon the words used by Jesus Christ, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12:29) and involves a triune conception of the one true God rather than a doctrine of three Gods; but Muhammad's misunderstanding of the Sonship of Christ—a misunderstanding shared by his followers ever since—left him no alternative but to condemn what he considered the blasphemy of attributing a son to the Almighty. But the Sonship conceived of by Muhammad was a purely carnal one, as his many references to the subject clearly show, and it is a purely imaginary physical generation of Christ which is so scathingly condemn in the Qur'an. One or two passages will make this clear. In Qur’an Al-An'am (6:101), it is written:— “The inventor of the heavens and the earth; how can He have a son when he has no female companion?” 6 And in Qur’an Al-Mu'minun 23:92 , we read, God hath not taken a son.” 7 Some idea of the Muhammadan belief on this subject can be gained from the remarks of the famous commentator Zamakhshari. Commenting on verse 171 of An-Nisa' Chapter 4 of the Qur’an, he says, “that which the Qur'an here refers to is the clear statement of theirs (the Christians) that God and Christ and Mary are three gods, and that Christ is a child of God from Mary”! Little wonder, with such ideas of the trinity in their minds, that Moslems should consider that it detracts from the unity of God. Rightly understood it does not do so, and Christians believe quite as strongly as do Muhammadans that God is one. To worship Mary as God is indeed blasphemy, and to call Jesus another God beside God is polytheism; but to say that there is only one living and true God who eternally exists in a three-fold selfness is not derogatory to the unity of God. Upon the other hand, this revealed truth helps to explain many things both in religion and philosophy, and throws not a little light upon the ascription to Jesus of titles such as “Word of God” and “Spirit of God,” which certainly can he applied to no mere human being.
We cannot help thinking that if our Muhammadan brethren would only divest themselves of their pre-conceived ideas of a carnal sonship of Christ, and would, instead, strive to conceive of it as a spiritual doctrine, they would find nothing in the Christian doctrine of the trinity which conflicts with the unity of God. Let them, first of all, separate the one true God from all else, setting Him in all the majesty of His unique oneness on one side, as it were, and all creation on the other; and, then, after that, let them come with an open mind to the study of the nature of that one God. They may find a plurality within that nature as they certainly do within the attributes of God, but in neither case is His essential oneness violated: He will still remain, in essence, One without a second. Thus the real question of debate between Moslems and Christians is not whether God is one or more, but what is the nature of that one God, and what mysteries lie hidden within that nature. If Moslems would approach the subject of the nature of God in this manner, we feel certain that many of their difficulties would vanish. It should ever be remembered that the doctrine of the triune nature of God is a matter of revelation, and Christians rest their belief in it on that fact. There may be difficulties connected with it, but these are certainly not greater than those connected with a sterile monism in which God is conceived as existing from all eternity in solitary oneness, a “Lover” without an object of love, and a “Knower” without an object of knowledge. It was this conception of God as a single and solitary monad which called forth Shelly's sneer in his “Queen Mali” when, in alluding to the creation of the world he says, “from an eternity of idleness God awoke!” When the creation around us is so full of mystery, mystery, too, which often points to a trinity in unity, as in the light, power and heat of the sun, or the trinity of body, mind and spirit in the individual man, it should not be thought strange if there should be found a plurality of existences within the nature of the Godhead, the one knowing and loving the other. At any rate, when we cannot understand the mysteries of creation round about us, it is surely the height of presumption to claim a knowledge of the mystery of the Divine nature, and to dogmatically deny the possibility of a trinity within that nature.
On the other hand, there are many considerations which lead us to expect some kind of plurality within the unity of God. For example, one of the purest, divinest instincts of the human heart is to love and he loved by an equal. Shall we say, then, that this was at one time denied to God the Creator, and that, before the creation of the world and of the angels, He existed in solitary and loveless isolation! Such a God can scarcely be conceived of as a Person at all, for personality implies self-consciousness having both subject and object. Even pantheistic philosophy has recognized this, and has tried to construct a kind of trinity which is, of course, dependent upon the universe. That is, God is conceived of as distinguishing Himself from the world, and so finding the object of his self-consciousness. Thus Hegel says, “as God is eternal personality, so he eternally produces his other self, namely nature, in order to self-consciousness.” 8 Christian philosophy finds this object of the eternal self-consciousness in Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God, and thus a true philosophy exists in fullest harmony with divine revelation. Let the Muhammadan reader compare what has been written above with the words of Christ as recorded in the Injil, and he will find a more complete and satisfying conception of the Supreme in this revealed doctrine of a triune God, than in the sterile monism of Islam. How full of meaning become the words of Jesus addressed to the Father in the great high-priestly prayer when He says, “O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17: 5); and yet more emphatically, “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17: 24).
One of the names given to God in the Qur'an is “الْقَيُّومُ” “The Self-Subsisting,” but does not the very idea of God's self-sufficiency demand some plurality of existences within the divine nature or essence in order to the full expression of that nature? In one of the oldest mosques of Lahore there may he seen the inscription “Allah Kafi,” “God is sufficient,” which implies that God contains within Himself everything that is necessary for the full expression of His personality. Therefore as “الودود” The “Lover” He must have had within His own personality, and without any dependence on anything outside of Himself, all things necessary for the fullest expression of His own perfections. If God be “self-sufficient,” He must have had within His own nature the object of His eternal love. In the sterile deism of Islam the highest form of love—a form, be it noticed, which is exercised by man himself—is denied the Creator; but this is unthinkable, for the mode of existence of the Supreme can never he inferior to that enjoyed by His sinful creatures.
Finally, the very fact that the doctrine of the Trinity seems to present difficulties at first tends rather to prove that it is not a product of the human imagination; and it should not be forgotten also, that the doctrine arose amongst monotheistic Jews whose personal predilections must have been all the other way. Man must, after all that can be said is said, be dependent upon divine revelation for his knowledge of the nature of the Supreme, for he can never by searching find out God, or by the exercise of his own fallible reason fathom the depths of His infinitude. To know God fully we should require to be God, or, to reverse the figure, we may say that a God understood would be no God at all. Yet when, from the considerations adduced above, it is seen that some kind of plurality is required within the divine essence, and when the Holy Scriptures themselves reveal such a triune God, faith is strengthened and hope quickened. As the ascending Christ turned to leave His wondering disciples, He bade them go “and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name (not names) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” It is this “name” which Christians preach the Father, Fount and Source of all, the Son eternally co-existing with the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son—one God.
In Islam God, “sterile in His inaccessible height, neither loving nor enjoying aught save His own self-measured decree, without son, companion or counsellor, is no less barren for himself than for His creatures,” 9 and remains little removed from the pantheistic ‘it’ of the Upanishads. Thus Islam fails in its very definition of God, and contradicts the revelation of the Supreme made in the Torah and the Injil.
3. لَوْ كَانَ فِيهِمَا آلِهَةٌ إِلَّا اللَّهُ لَفَسَدَتَا
4. Edward Glaser, Skizze der Geschichte Arabiens, Munich, 1889.
5. Zwemer, “Islam,” p. 21.
6. بَدِيعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ أَنَّى يَكُونُ لَهُ وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ تَكُن لَّهُ صَاحِبَةٌ
7. مَا اتَّخَذَ اللَّهُ مِن وَلَدٍ
8. Quoted in Shedd's “Dogmatic Theology,” vol. .1, p. 185.
9. Palgrave, “Central and Eastern Arabia,” vol. 1, p. 366.