A Christian Reading of the Holy Qur’an and the Sin of Shirk

Isaiah’s vision of Jesus riding a donkey and Muhammad riding a camel, al-Biruni, al-Athar al-Baqiyya ‘an al-Qurun al-Khaliyya (Chronology of Ancient Nations), Tabriz, Iran, 1307-8. Edinburgh University Library.

Isaiah’s vision of Jesus riding a donkey and Muhammad riding a camel, al-Biruni, al-Athar al-Baqiyya ‘an al-Qurun al-Khaliyya (Chronology of Ancient Nations), Tabriz, Iran, 1307-8. Edinburgh University Library.

I have been involved in Muslim evangelism in the past; had the opportunity to help teach  classes on Islam at the college level; organized trips to local mosques as learning (and witnessing) opportunities for Christian college students; been mentored by a former missionary to Muslims in Pakistan; etc. As a result, I have spent some time reading the Holy Qur’an, and other writings from Muslim theologians etc. I never did, though, read all the way through the Qur’an, which I am currently remedying. I am early into the Qur’an at the moment, and I plan on, periodically, writing blog posts about things that stand out to me from my reading. This will be the first post in a series of posts to come on my readings in the Qur’an.

In Islam one of the primary sins is known as the sin of Shirk, or the attribution of partners with God, Allah. Here is how al-Islam.org defines Shirk:

The first of the Greater Sins is to associate anyone or anything with Allah (S.w.T.). That is to attribute partners to Allah (S.w.T.). Regarding Shirk we have received clear traditions from the Holy Prophet (S) as well as Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.), Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), Imam al-Kadhim (a.s.), Imam Riďa (a.s.) and Imam Jawad (a.s.).[1]

Al-Islam.org goes further and describes how Shirk applies to Christians, and their doctrine of the Trinity:

The Christians believe in the trinity of the Godhead. The Father (God), The Son (Jesus) and the Holy Ghost (Jibrīl). They believe that each of them have a special quality and that together they constitute the Godhead. The Qur’an flays their assertion thus:

“Certainly they disbelieve who say, ‘Surely Allah is the third (person) of Three’; and there is no god but One God.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:73)

The Holy Qur’an clearly states that Allah (S.w.T.) is not one-third of a god. He is the One and only One God.

The belief in Trinity is not exclusive to the Christians. Hindus and Buddhists also ascribe to it.[2]

Clearly, Muslims have serious definitional problems with Christians, particularly because they believe that we engage in the sin of Shirk. Interestingly the al-Islam.org description of Christians and the Trinity misses the mark, quite severely. Their characterization of Trinitarianism holding to the idea that each person within the Trinity constitutes one-third of a god is an outright caricature and misunderstanding of the Christian conception of the Trinity (e.g. Christians believe that each person in the Monarxia or God-head is eternally and co-equally God). Further, al-Islam.org also illustrates their misunderstanding of the Trinity when they assert that “Hindus and Buddhists also ascribe to it.” Really? I think what al-Islam.org is doing, uncritically so, is simply lumping all “polytheists” into one group; but of course this would be petito principii or circular, wouldn’t it? Since they are basing their characterization of the Trinity as polytheist on a misunderstanding of what Christians actually believe about the Trinity, based upon their doctrine of Shirk.

This leads into my current reading of the Qur’an; I am in Surah 2. Al Baqarah §16. Let me share that section with you:

130. Who would forsake the religion of Abraham, except he who fools himself? We chose him in this world, and in the Hereafter he will be among the righteous.

131. When his Lord said to him, “Submit!” He said, “I have submitted to the Lord of the Worlds.”

132. And Abraham exhorted his sons, and Jacob, “O my sons, God has chosen this religion for you, so do not die unless you have submitted.”

133. Or were you witnesses when death approached Jacob, and he said to his sons, “What will you worship after Me?” They said, “We will worship your God, and the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac; One God; and to Him we submit.”

134. That was a community that has passed; for them is what they have earned, and for you is what you have earned; and you will not be questioned about what they used to do.

135. And they say, “Be Jews or Christians, and you will be guided.” Say, “Rather, the religion of Abraham, the Monotheist; he was not an idolater.” 

136. Say, “We believe in God; and in what was revealed to us; and in what was revealed to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus; and in what was given to the prophets-from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we surrender.”

137. If they believe in the same as you have believed in, then they have been guided. But if they turn away, then they are in schism. God will protect you against them; for He is the Hearer, the Knower.

138. God’s coloring. And who gives better coloring than God? “And we are devoted to Him.”

139. Say, “Do you argue with us about God, when He is our Lord and your Lord, and We have our works, and you have your works, and we are sincere to Him?”

140. Or do you say that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs were Jews or Christians? Say, “Do you know better, or God?” And who does greater wrong than he who conceals a testimony he has from God? God is not unaware of what you do.

141. That was a community that has passed. To them is what they have earned, and to you is what you have earned. And you will not be questioned about what they used to do.[3]

I have emboldened the verses that illustrate how Shirk informs the composition of the Qur’an itself. Christians and Jews are idolaters (according to the Qur’an), because the former attribute a partner to God in Jesus Christ. It is also interesting to see how, because of Shirk, Jesus must become just another one of the Prophets of Allah, rather than, of course the Theanthropos, God-man whom historical orthodox Christians confess Him to be because of the Apostolic witness deposited in the New Testament.

Conclusion

With all of the coverage of Islam in the media, and in increasing ways, I have been re-motivated to read through the Qur’an, and engage with it as critically as I can. As a Christian theologian I will not, of course, engage with the Qur’an in an unbiased way; I will attempt to give a fair reading to the Qur’an, and attempt to characterize what it teaches and what Islam teaches in general, in fair and critical ways. But as a Christian, I will compare and contrast Islamic teaching with Christian doctrine, and will also correct Islamic readings and characterizations of Christian dogma when that is needed; as it was needed in this post.

Furthermore, what I hope to do through these series of posts is identify that in the end, from my vantage point as an orthodox Christian, the real danger of Islam is what it teaches about God. This is where the material discussions and debates need to happen. Islam believes something about God, just as Christians do; as a consequence we will act in accord with who we believe God to be.

What I also want to make clear through this series of posts is that Allah and Yahweh (or the Triune Christian God) are not the same God whatsoever (as some Christians and liberal Muslim scholars argue i.e. Chrislam). Christian dogma on a doctrine of God, at its very core, while monotheistic, is Trinitarian; Islamic dogma on a doctrine of God, at its very core is Unitarian. We don’t share a common core when we conceive of God, because our respective sources of revelation are disparate one from the other.

 

 

[1] al-Islam.org

[2] al-Islam.org

[3] Holy Qur’an.

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5 comments

  1. Hey Bobby,

    I re-read the Quran again recently for a debate I had this Wednesday with a Muslim apologist. One of the things that struck me in preparing was how odd it is for Muslims to side with the Ebionites and Arians when it comes to Christology. Especially because *they* are the ones who posit “partners” to God. For Arius, Jesus is definitely a partner – though obviously a junior partner – to God. For Athanasius, Jesus was no partner but the very radiance of the Father’s glory: one being with Him.

    It struck me afresh that Trinitarian theology is actually the determination to *avoid* shirk, not commit it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good insight, Glen! It is no coincidence of course (as you know) that Mohammed and Muslims take an Ebionite view of Jesus; since Mohammed’s influential uncle was an Ebionite Christian. There is a distinction though, wouldn’t you agree, between the Arian conception of Jesus and the Ebionite? The latter emphasizing that Jesus was God’s Prophet, and as such the humanity Jesus inhabited was merely an adoptionistic instrumental appropriation.

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