Tawhid and the Trinity
This is the first in a series of articles contrasting Allah and Yahweh.
Muslims and Christians agree there is one God but disagree as to His name, nature, and attributes.
The god of Islam is Allah, meaning “the god” in Arabic. In the days of Islam’s founder, Muhammad, this meant that of all the tribal gods worshiped on the Arabian Peninsula, Allah was the only true deity.
Key to the Islamic concept of God is the doctrine of tawhid, or absolute oneness. It’s more than strict monotheism. Tawhid celebrates Allah as singular, indivisible, and monolithic.
Muslims insist that Allah has no “partners.” To ascribe partners to Allah — for example, to say that Jesus is the Son of God, or that God exists as a Trinity — is to commit the unpardonable sin of shirk, which damns a soul to hell.
The Qur’an makes it clear that Allah stands apart from his creation and does not engage in personal relationships. For example, Surah 17:111 reads: “Praise be to Allah, who begets no son, and has no partner in (His) dominion …”
In addition, the Qur’an instructs its readers to reject any notion that God exists as more than one person. It wrongly implies that Christians worship a Trinity consisting of God, Jesus, and Mary (Surah 4:171; 5:73, 116).
Further, Islam understands these to be three separate gods, and the Qur’an strongly warns Muslims against worshiping anyone but Allah. Here, Muslims and Christians may find some common ground, for Christians both reject the notion of Mary as a god, as well as the idea that three separate gods make up the Trinity.
In No God But One, Nabeel Qureshi points out that the Qur’an clearly denounces polytheism but does not exclude the possibility of Allah existing in tri-unity. Put another way, Qureshi says the Qur’an does not explicitly say Allah cannot exist as one God in three persons, even though Muslims strongly reject the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.
Defining the Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As The Baptist Faith & Message explains, “The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”
This immediately prompts our Muslim friends to cry foul. “How can one possibly equal three?” they ask. “How can Christians say they worship one God while worshiping three separate persons?” This gives us an opportunity to biblically define the Trinity.
Christians do not worship three gods; that’s polytheism. We do not worship a “freakish-looking, three-headed god,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses accuse us of doing. Nor do we exalt one God who shows up consecutively, not simultaneously, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that’s modalism.
Rather, we worship one God who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons, sharing all the attributes of deity, agreeing completely in will and purpose, and existing eternally in divine, loving relationships with one another.
While it’s challenging to fully grasp the doctrine of the Trinity, it may advance our understanding to distinguish between “person” and “being.” As Nabeel Qureshi explains, “Your being is the quality that makes you what you are, but your person is the quality that makes you who you are.”
If someone asks you who you are, you don’t reply, “I’m a human.” You respond by sharing your name, which identifies you as a person.
When we say God is a Trinity, we are describing the what of God. When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are referring to the who of God — His three persons, indivisible in substance and nature, but distinct in identity.
Qureshi continues: “God … is one being, Yahweh, in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. He’s more than able to exist like that because he is God. If we say God must have only one person, like humans, then we are making God in our image. Who are we to limit God? It is up to God to tell us who he is.”
Point of agreement
While it should be clear that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, we may have a common point of beginning: We share a belief in one God who is eternal, transcendent, all-knowing, all-powerful, the Creator and sustainer of all things.
If we begin here, we may then explore the deeper questions: What is God like? How does He reveal Himself, and His will, to people? Is He relational? And, if so, does He desire a relationship with us?
Next: The oneness of God