Christians object to the Quran, claiming that the Quran misunderstands the trinity. They claim that the Quran thinks Mary (AS) is part of the trinity when the trinity is in reality composed of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The word “trinity” is not itself mentioned in the Quran. However, there are two verses where Allah refers to the Christians as believing in “three.” There are also other verses that refer to the concept of incarnation and the concept of sonship.
So, let us look at the verses.
Verse 1: Do not say “Three” (4:171)
Allah says in a long verse:
O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth.
The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him.
So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son.
To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.
Allah emphasizes in this verse that Jesus (AS) was nothing but a messenger, then He forbids the Christians from saying “three” regarding God.
The phrasing is quite clever, because it avoids the problem of dealing with thousands of different interpretations of the trinity, and instead forbids them all with the simple phrase: Do not say “three.”
Verse 2: Those who say Allah is the third of three have disbelieved (5:73)
They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the third of three.” And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment. (5:73)
In this verse, Allah declares the disbelief of those who think Allah is one of three. The phrase “third of three” is just a way of speaking. It means “one of three.”
It is interesting to note that the word after three is omitted. Three what? Three gods? Three persons?
The phrase immediately after, “And there is no god except one God,” leads us to believe it means “one of three gods,” however, strictly speaking, one cannot cross out the possibility of it being “one of three persons.” That is, after all, the common Christian belief today.
The common belief today is that there is one God with three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are all equally God, but there is one God. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. They are three different persons, but they are one God.
It is important to understand that the word ilāh in Arabic which has been translated in this verse as “god” just means “object of worship.” This will become important later on.
Verse 3: Those who say God is Christ have disbelieved
Another relevant verse when speaking about the trinity is when Allah says:
They have certainly disbelieved who say that Allah is Christ, the son of Mary. Say, “Then who could prevent Allah at all if He had intended to destroy Christ, the son of Mary, or his mother or everyone on the earth?” And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them. He creates what He wills, and Allah is over all things competent. (5:17)
In another similar verse, Allah says:
They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is Christ, the son of Mary” while Christ has said, “O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.” Indeed, he who associates others with Allah – Allah has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers.
This is a reference to the incarnation, since Christians claim God came in the form of Jesus (AS). It is also a reference to the fact that Christians claim Jesus is fully God.
Verse 4: Christians say “Christ is the son of God.”
The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah “; and the Christians say, “Christ is the son of Allah.” That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded? (9:30)
This mentions the Christian concept of God being the literal father of Jesus (AS) or the concept of the Father and the Son.
The verses that refute the concept of God having children in general are too many to mention.
Argument from Context
Christians say the context of the verse 5:73 indicates that the “three” mentioned in the verse are Allah, Jesus, and Mary.
First of all, the Quran says two verses later:
The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded. (5:75)
They say: It seems that the Quran is trying to prove Mary was not a god at the same time it is trying to prove Jesus is not a God. This is right after the verse that mentions the trinity. So, it seems the trinity mentioned in that verse includes Jesus and Mary due to this contextual verse.
Secondly, the Quran says in the same Surah:
And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah?'” He will say, “Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right” […] (5:116)
They say: Again, the Quran implies that Jesus and his mother are both being taken as deities! This is mentioned in the same Surah as 5:73, so it should be taken into account as context.
It appears from the context that the Quran thinks the three worshiped by Christians are Allah, Jesus, and Mary. This is obviously a false understanding because Christians do not think Mary is part of the trinity.
First of all, we grant that the Quran criticizes at least some Christians for their worship of Mary. However, just because Mary is mentioned as being taken as a god does not imply that she is necessarily included in the “three” mentioned in the other verses.
Both of the verses provided as context are pretty weak evidences. They are circumstantial at best.
The first verse provided as context does not even particularly mention Mary was taken as god even though it is implied. Even if we took that implication, it is not implied she is part of a group of three.
The second verse is too far away to effectively consider it context. In addition, it doesn’t imply there is a group of three either.
Argument from Whole
Some Christians might say: Even if we cannot show these verses are effective context for the verse mentioning the trinity, the fact that the only three beings the entire Quran mentions as being worshiped by Christians are Allah, Jesus, and Mary means they must be the three mentioned in the verses.
This is quite a weak argument. The Quran criticizing Christians for worshiping Mary is not the same as it claiming Mary was part of the trinity.
Nothing requires that Allah must detail the trinity and its three persons. Allah criticizes the trinity as a whole, then He criticizes specifically the worship of Jesus (AS), and He also criticizes Christian worship of Mary (AS). No part of this necessitates Mary is part of the trinity.
The assumption that the Quran is required to detail the creeds of other religions is baseless. On the contrary, the Quran often mentions other people’s creeds very briefly without elaborating. Even the beliefs of the people of Makkah (whom the Prophet obviously knew very well) are very briefly mentioned.
Do Christians worship Mary?
Many Christians say: Even if we pretend the “three” mentioned in the verses does not include Mary, it is still problematic that the Quran thinks Christians consider Mary a god. We only believe in one God.
It should first be understood that our definition of god (ilāh in Arabic) and your definition of god are not the same. That is one of the fundamental differences between us and why we consider the trinity shirk (polytheism) even though Christians pretend to believe in one God.
Anyone who is worshiped is considered a “god.” Anyone who is prayed to is a “god.” Anyone who is given divine titles unfit for creation is a “god.”
Knowing that, it is clear why Christians are criticized for considering Mary a god.
Many of them pray to her seeking her intercession! Even many Protestants accuse Catholics of Mary-worship.
Many Christians give Mary titles like “Mother of God” which is clearly violating the boundary of what is fit for creation according to Islam.
Even if we forget this definition of “god,” there were sects in the past reported by Christian authors themselves that used to explicitly consider Mary god. However, their existence is disputed. See: Collyridianism.
Do Christians worship multiple gods?
Christians say: The Quran repeatedly says “there is only one God” after mentioning the trinity as if the trinity describes more than one god. But, we believe in one God already!
This gets the same answer as the previous question. Just because you claim to believe in one God doesn’t make it so in Islam’s perspective.
To us, believing in three persons is belief in multiple worshiped beings which is multiple gods.
Does the Quran need to describe “orthodoxy”?
A lot of Christians claim it would be wrong of the Quran to refute small heretical sects (like the Collyridians) because those sects are unorthodox and do not represent Christianity.
This assumes that we should give credence for some reason to Christian definitions of orthodoxy.
First of all, everyone considers themselves orthodox (which just means “correct”).
Secondly, all Christian beliefs are equally heretical and nonsensical to Islam. We don’t think the deification of Jesus is somehow more legitimate than the deification of Mary such that we would think the deification of Jesus is the only “true” Christianity.
They are all Christians and are all equally nonsensical.
Overall, this is just a bad argument. It pretends Muslims should think more highly of beliefs a specific group thinks are orthodox.
Perhaps, someone might say: The Quran should only mention orthodoxy because they are the majority.
I say: Why the false dichotomy? Why not mention all of them and refute all of them? The Quran is just as much an invitation to Mary-worshipers as it is to other Christians.
Why does the Quran not mention the Holy Spirit?
Some Christians say: If you think the “three” mentioned in the verses does indeed refer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit like we believe, then why can’t you show any examples of Allah mentioning that Christians worship the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t this show the writer of the Quran didn’t know the Holy Spirit?
First of all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Allah not mentioning the Holy Spirit is not evidence He doesn’t know of Christians worshiping him.
As mentioned before, Allah mentions people’s beliefs briefly and often does not go into detail.
The main reason one can theorize about why Allah does not mention the Holy Spirit is that mentioning him is unnecessary. Jesus is the largest focus of Christian lives, not the Holy Spirit. It is called Christianity after all. When one refutes the divinity of Jesus, the rest of the trinity falls apart already.
The second reason is that the mention of Jesus being worshiped is often to protect his honor. It is to absolve him of the Christian claims that he pretended to be God. This is most obvious in the verse 5:116. As for the Holy Spirit, we don’t even believe in such an entity. There is no reason to expend time defending his honor.
The second reason is the answer to someone who asks: If you claim the Quran doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit because it is unneeded, why mention Mary who is worshiped even less?
Mary (AS) is someone whose honor Allah likes to protect.