‘O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not “Three” – Cease!’
As Abrahamic religions, Islam and Christianity have shared prophets, shared stories, and even shared beliefs. These apparent similarities should not blind us to significant disagreements on fundamental issues. One of these is the triune nature of God. This is an area which can provoke many questions and objections from our Muslim friends.
Islam’s view of God
In comparison to the trinitarian orthodox Christian view, in which God is one in nature or substance and three in personhood, Islam proclaims a strict monotheism, a unitarianism known as Tawhid. This is the key belief of Islam, as recited in the foundational Islamic creed, the Shahada:
‘I testify that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.’
On these grounds, Islam rejects the incarnation, regarding it as idolatry. Jesus is an important prophet, according to Muslims, but not the Son of God or divine. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is not God, but is typically identified as the angel Gabriel (Jibril).
As we talk to Muslims about our faith, the Trinity can be a significant stumbling block. Let’s consider some common objections from Muslims and how we might be able to address their questions.
Objection 1: The Trinity is Illogical
“One and three?! How can 1+1+1=1?” asks the Muslim apologist at the book table. “How can Christians believe in something so obviously illogical?”
There are two critical errors we can make when explaining the Trinity, neither of which are unique to Muslim ministry. On the one hand, we can turn too quickly to the claim of mystery. We do not understand how to explain why we believe what we do, or how to clearly articulate our beliefs, so we plead holy ignorance: the Trinity is a mystery that we take on faith. That is true, but if we simply stop there, it leaves the impression that we do not understand what we believe. Why would a Muslim believe in something we cannot explain?
On the other hand, we can be too reductive, stripping any sense of mystery or complexity from the Trinity. We proclaim that it is simple and easily grasped: we turn quickly to analogies of the states of matter of water, or to three-leafed clovers.
The problem is that these are inadequate explanations and often misleading. It is better to take our Muslim friends to the Bible. As we will see below, the doctrine of the Trinity is grounded on good Biblical evidence: God has revealed Himself to us as triune. We can make the case logically that He is one in nature, three in personhood. That does not mean however the way the Trinity “works” is within our capacity to grasp. We believe in evidence grounded mystery.
Islam’s presentation of God is one where His actions are mysterious. It is possible therefore to make the case to our Muslim friends that it is reasonable and logical that God’s nature is beyond our understanding. It is He who has revealed Himself to us: we have not discovered Him for ourselves. The doctrine of the Trinity is a logical conclusion from evidence, but God is ineffable.
Objection 2: The Trinity is Blasphemous
Your Muslim friend is confused: “Why do believe something so blasphemous? Don’t you realise that you worship three gods?!”
There is no greater sin within Islam than idolatry: shirk. To ascribe partners to Allah is a grave error, as the Quran makes clear:
‘They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no Allah save the One Allah. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve.’
For many Muslims, the Trinity is simply polytheism, a falsehood Muhammad was called to challenge alongside the worship of the tribal idols of seventh century Arabia. The incarnation brings more potential for misunderstanding. Many Muslims believe that the Christian view of the Trinity includes God having sex with Mary to produce a son. Careful explanation is needed in both cases.
Against the charge of polytheism, we must be clear on the unity of God. Christianity, like Judaism before it, is adamant that there is one God and all others are false. We do not believe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate gods, but that they are in indivisible unity.
Likewise, we must be emphatic in our rejection of a falsely presented incarnation. We do not believe that Jesus became God, nor that He was conceived sexually with Mary, like an ancient Greek demi-god. To believe that truly would be blasphemy! Instead, we believe the Son took on a human nature in addition to His divine nature. Again, this is a divine mystery, but we can point to good biblical evidence for its truth. Moreover, we can ask our Muslim friends if they accept that God could do this, or are they limiting His power?
Objection 3: The Trinity is Not Biblical
A classmate has been reading about Christianity and asks why you believe in the Trinity when the Bible doesn’t even contain the word. “Wasn’t the idea created by Paul and Constantine?”
Although Muslims claim the Bible is corrupted, one of the most important things we can do to help explain the Trinity to Muslims is to show them the Biblical basis for the doctrine. It may be helpful to point out that a belief can be supported by the text without having explicit mention. After all, the Qur’an does not use the word Tawhid, but no Muslim would claim that it was not a clear teaching.
There are many passages we could go to show the Trinity is rooted in the Bible. Scripture reveals plurality within the oneness of God, that Jesus claimed to be God and His followers came to believe the same:
Plurality within God: Genesis 1:26 (plural noun used of God), Psalm 45:6–7 vs Hebrews 1:8-9 (God anointed by God).
Jesus as God: Mark 1:1-3 vs Isaiah 40:3 (Jesus in the place of YHWH), John 1:1-5 (Jesus as God and the Word of God), Daniel 7:13-14 vs Mark 14:61-64 (Jesus as the Son of Man), Mark 2:7-12 (Jesus as the forgiver of sins), Philippians 2:6 (Jesus in nature God).
The Holy Spirit as God: Genesis 1:2 (the Holy Spirit creating), Ephesians 4:30 (the Holy Spirit grieved), Acts 5:3–4 (lying to the Holy Spirit is to God), Acts 13:2 (the Holy Spirit speaking as God).
Trinitarian language: Matthew 28:19 (baptism formula), 2 Corinthians 13:14 (trinitarian blessing), 1 Peter 1-2 (greeting describing salvation).
It is true that there was debate around the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity within the early Church – this is seen in the councils and the creeds they produced. The doctrines were not formulated in a vacuum but used the language and concepts of contemporary philosophy to explain what they believed. Despite this, there is a clear continuity from the beliefs of the New Testament Church to the creeds.
Objection 4: Not consistent with the Qur’an
The YouTuber looks straight into the camera: “Why do Christians believe such nonsense when the Qur’an makes it so simple?”
Whilst Muslims may have many questions about the Trinity, their foundational objection is its apparent contradiction with the teachings of the Qur’an. For many Muslims, the Qur’an is held in such high regard that any challenge to it is extremely hard to accept:
‘Say: He is Allah, the One!
Allah, the eternally Besought of all!
He begetteth not nor was begotten.
And there is none comparable unto Him.’
So important is this declaration of Tawhid that the reward for reciting it is said to be as much as for reading a third of the entire Qur’an. How then can we make a case for the Trinity?
First, the Qur’an’s presentation of the Trinity is inadequate: it never accurately describes the Trinity as eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can show our Muslim friends that we reject polytheism (Q5:72-75), the divinity of Mary (Q5:116-118), and God taking a son (Q19:88-93).
Second, we can open the door for discussion about the triune nature of God by showing that even Islam’s presentation of monotheism contains plurality. There have been significant historic debates around the essence and attributes of Allah, as well as the eternally co-existent nature of the Qur’an. These both introduce complexity to the doctrine of Tawhid.
Last, of course there may be an appropriate time to challenge the Qur’an’s claims as a true revelation from God. This should be done with care, but is an area we may wish to explore further with our Muslim friends.
The best way to be equipped to answer the questions and objections of Muslims is not to learn set answers, but to have a clear understanding of your beliefs. The Trinity is a mystery, but one grounded in the evidence of God’s self-revelation in the Bible. Let us open the Scriptures with our Muslim friends and show them what God says about Himself. Let us pray that He would reveal Himself to them as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Allah vs. Yahweh / Tawhid vs. Trinity - bethinking.org – a seminar comparing doctrines of God’s nature.
What is the Trinity? Do Christians worship three gods? - bethinking.org – a brief rebuttal of the Trinity as polytheism.
Understanding The Trinity - bethinking.org – a philosophical unpacking of the Trinity.
What is God Really Like: Tawhid or Trinity? - YouTube – a debate between Dr. Shabir Ally and Dr. Nabeel Qureshi which highlights common objections.
 Quotations taken from the Pickthall translation of the Qur’an, a commonly available version.
 See for example Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:5, Ephesians 4:1-6.
 For a useful starting point in explaining this to Muslims, see https://www.awm-pioneers.org/2013/04/how-can-god-have-a-son/, E.M. Hicham.
 See Appendix 1, pg 239, How Shall They Hear?, E.M. Hicham for a good table of God’s attributes expressed in each of the persons of the Trinity throughout the Bible.
 For a useful presentation of the distinctions within God in the Qur’an, see Chapter 5: The Trinity, Where to Start with Islam, Samuel Green.