Christian apologists argue that the Holy Qur’an condemns the doctrine of the ‘trinity’ without accurately describing what it is. They assert that Muslims have been deluded into thinking that the ‘trinity’ means God literally took a consort, virgin Mary, impregnated her (God forbid) then she gave birth to Jesus because this is what the Holy Qur’an itself alleges about Christianity. It is quite similar to a legend of Greek mythology in which Zeus, the main deity of the Olympian pantheon, takes a human consort, Alcmene, who as a result gives birth to the ‘demigod’ Heracles. The ancient Egyptian trinity is Osiris the ‘father’, Isis the ‘mother’ and Horus the ‘son’ while the Hindu trinity is called ‘trimurti’ and is Brahma the ‘creator’, Visnu the ‘preserver’ and Siva the ‘destroyer’. Ancient Egyptian iconography depicts the ‘goddess’ Isis suckling her son Horus as a symbol of rebirth which is strikingly similar to Christian art which depicts the virgin Mary holding her infant Jesus. Christianity, like these pagan cults, expresses itself through fine arts.
But what is the actual Christian doctrine of the ‘trinity’? It is defined in the Athanasian Creed: “That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one.” However, this is the ‘official’ formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity which was formulated centuries after the death of Jesus by the church fathers through various councils. The earliest mention of the term ‘trinity’ in Christian history was by Theophilus of Antioch (d. 183 CE). He defined it as God, His Logos ‘Word’ and His Sophia ‘Wisdom’. The Christians argue that the Qur’an has misrepresented the trinity as meaning God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary, whereas no Christian denomination or sect in history has ever understood the trinity in this way. Rather, the trinity with them is God ‘the father’, God ‘the son’ and God ‘the Holy Spirit’, and the virgin Mary is neither part of the trinity, nor is she deified or worshiped.
Now what is the reality of this allegation against the Qur’an about misrepresenting the trinity? The Holy Qur’an explicitly mentions the doctrine of the ‘trinity’ twice:
وَلَا تَقُولُوا ثَلَاثَةٌ
And do not say ‘trinity’
(Sura 4: 171)
لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلَاثَةٍ ۘ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَـٰهٍ إِلَّا إِلَـٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ
They have certainly disbelieved who say “Verily, Allah is the third of three.” There is no god but One God
As the reader can see, while the Holy Qur’an has mentioned this Christian doctrine and condemned it as polytheism, it has not defined the other two ‘persons’ of the trinity apart from God. Rather, the Holy Qur’an is asserting that the one whom the Christians call God ‘the father’ is the only God (Allah) and the other two are not divine. Nowhere has the Holy Qur’an stated that the Virgin Mary is one of the three persons of the trinity. So from where did the Christians derive this misunderstanding about the Qur’an misunderstanding their trinity?
وَإِذْ قَالَ اللَّـهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلْتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَـٰهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ
And when Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to the people ‘take me and my mother as two deities besides Allah’
(Sura 5: 116)
Regarding this Verse, the Christians object that it wrongly accuses them of believing that Virgin Mary is a person of the trinity and that they worship her as a deity. As for the first objection, it is false because there is no mention of the word ‘trinity’ in this Verse. Rather, the Verse says that Christians have taken Mary and her son Jesus as Ilâhain ‘two objects of worship’ Min Dûn-Illâh ‘besides’ or ‘apart’ from the One True God (Allah). The word dûn clearly demonstrates that in this Verse Allah is not speaking about the trinity, because the trinity includes God ‘the father’, but rather He is speaking against the fact that the Christians worship two persons besides Himself, namely, Jesus and his mother. So this conclusively demolishes the specific Christian allegation that the Holy Qur’an has misrepresented or misunderstood their ‘trinity’.
As for the second objection that the Holy Qur’an accuses the Christians of worshiping Mary as a deity or ‘goddess’, keep in mind this is an issue that is totally separate from the condemnation of the trinity. The Christians have several doctrines and practices which the Holy Qur’an opposes apart from the trinity.
The first answer to this objection is that the word Ilâh ‘deity’ means object of worship. Hence, even if people do not officially call those to whom they offer acts of worship as ‘God’, in the Islamic terminology they are still considered (false) ‘gods’ or ‘objects of worship’. Islam emphasizes that all acts of worship, such as prostration, supplication, etc., are to be offered to God alone and no one else. Now it is well known that most Christians, particularly the Roman Catholics, worship the Virgin Mary by offering to her acts of worship despite the fact that they do not officially call her a ‘goddess’. Take for example the well known Catholic prayer ‘Hail Mary’ in which it is said “Hail Mary, full of grace” and “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death. Amen”. According to Islam, only the One True God is ‘full of grace’, and saying of ‘Amen’ is only to beseech Him in supplications that are addressed only to Him. Furthermore, Islam teaches that the deceased are unable to hear. To give the attribute to a deceased woman of being able to hear everyone in the world from beyond the grave is to make Virgin Mary someone who shares in the attribute and power of God Who alone is ‘All-Hearing’. Furthermore, the Catholics, the largest denomination of Christianity, which just over half of all Christians belonging to that church, carve idols of Virgin Mary which they call ‘icons’, and kneel and prostrate before them. This is indisputably idolatry, especially from the Islamic perspective, hence the Holy Qur’an cannot be objected to when it says that the Christians worship Mary as an Ilâh ‘object of worship’ besides Allah. The Protestants too refer to their approach to Virgin Mary as ‘Mariolotry’. Elsewhere, the Holy Qur’an refers to the objects of worship of the polytheists and unbelievers as Âlihat ‘gods’ (Sura 11: 101, 25: 3, 37: 91), despite the fact that obviously the Qur’an isn’t teaching that they are ‘gods’ in actuality. The creed of Islam is Lâ Ilâha illa Allâh ‘there is no god except Allah’. They are only called Alihat ‘gods’ because they are objects of worship of the unbelievers. It is in this sense too that the Holy Qur’an has said that the Christians take Virgin Mary as a ‘goddess’ meaning object of worship besides Allah.
The second answer to this objection which is also worthy of consideration is that historically there have indeed been Christians, such as the Collyridians who officially viewed the Virgin Mary as a ‘goddess’ and did not shy away from openly worshiping her as such. Although the rest of Christendom may consider this a heresy, the fact that they ascribed themselves to Christianity is sufficient for us in considering them as such. And Allah knows best!