Doctrines >Dialogue with the people of the Book  (7)


Dialogue with the people of the Book (7)

part (6) < > part (1)

This style starts with the concept that judges the doctrine from a standpoint where it ties in with the truth both in heart and tongue. Thus, there should be no room for going astray and advocating extremist views in religion.

In this light, it puts the idea forward, firm in the knowledge that Jesus son of Mary (a.s.) was the messenger of God. His mission in life was to convey that Message, like other messengers or prophets who were entrusted with such noble tasks, thus: “He said: I am indeed a servant of God: He has given me revelation and made me a prophet; and He has made me blessed wherever I be, and has enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) has made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or unblessed” (19: 30–32).

However, Jesus (a.s.) is unique in one respect to the exclusion of all other prophets and people. His birth did not follow the normal pattern known to man. As the Quranic verse puts it, “His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him.” This is so as to manifest His Omnipotence in bringing a human into being without a father, as He breathed His Spirit unto Adam before and made him into man with neither a father nor a mother. Thus: “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam, He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be’: and he was” (3: 59).

Neither the “Word” nor the “Spirit” referred to in the Quranic verse are an expression of God in part or His Essence, because God is not corporeal so that He can be divided. Although His Essence is simple, it cannot move around. The two words are intended to manifest God’s Omnipotence and the sublimity of His creation. His fashioning of Adam’s inanimate body and breathing life into it is as simple as fashioning Jesus in the womb of his mother and breathing life into him, albeit through unconventional means. This is how the Qur’an tells the story of creating Adam (a.s.): “Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: ‘I am about to create man from clay: When I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My spirit, fall ye down in obeisance unto him’.” (38: 71–72). And this is what we read in the Qur’an of the story of Mary and her son (a.s.): “And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples” (21: 91).

As for describing Jesus (a.s.) as a “Word”, it is because he came into being as a result of an order: Be, which represents His Will, without the interference of conventional means in the reproduction process through which other humans are born, although all are subject to His Will and creative acumen. 

The Qur’an appeals to human nature 

Perhaps the disagreement between the commentators of the Qur’an concerning the two words, “Word” and “Spirit” stems from their own deduction from the Holy Qur’an, i.e. on the basis of the literal meaning of the two words. This is done at the expense of the general climate, which governs the concept, a climate that gave rise to the Divine Will to rule supreme. In this case, they should have relied on inferring the meaning metaphorically, which can be understood as attestation to God’s Spirit or a Breath of His Spirit, of course without losing sight of the yawning gap between the rhetorical expression and reality. You may look at it this way: a poet or an artist describing their poem or piece as part of their being, or something racking one’s brain. This is a way of saying that one has exhausted one’s energy in doing/performing/writing something. It is obvious, however, that this does not apply precisely to God’s works, taking the literal meaning of the word, because, in His case, there is no meaning for the effort in creating something. Yet, it is embodied in the greatness of what is manifested in the created. Thus, the expression of breathing the Spirit into the body is used as a substitute for the Omnipotence of God, with which He creates whatever He likes and fashions whatever He fashions.

This is the description of Jesus (a.s.), which God wants the believers to emulate in their belief because it embodies true faith that is far removed from fanaticism and is in harmony with the nature of things. Through this, God calls upon them to believe in Him and His messengers and give up the doctrine of Trinity because it is in their interest for He is One, and He should be exalted above the claim that He has a son. That is, irrespective of how they understand the relationship, be it between father and son, which entails the existence of a wife, or what Christian theologians try to interpret it into, i.e. hypostasis: the one person of Christ in which the divine and human natures are united. All this is neither fair nor reasonable in His acclaim, as will be discussed. Thus, the Quranic verses that discuss Trinity link up with those verses that talk about the claim that God has a son, as in the previous verse and this one: 

They say: “God has begotten a son”: Glory be to Him. Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him. To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When He decrees a matter, He says to it: “Be,” and it is. (2: 116–17)

 In its approach to refuting this notion, the Holy Qur’an has chosen to give greater attention to the Omnipotence of God and eliminating any anthropomorphic elements from Him; this is clear from the use of the phrase, “Glory be to Him”. The verse draws our attention to the fact that He owns everything in the heavens and on earth and that everything renders worship to Him and yields to His Will. He does not need any help or support to create anything, no matter how great it is, only when He wills. This Will is expressed in the verb “Be”, which is responsible for bringing things into being. So, if this is the case, will there be a need for making the son assume any connotation? And is there any meaning left for Trinity?

This reasoned approach is symptomatic of the Quranic general style of debate and protestation, in that it does away with complicating the argument. Rather, it advocates simplicity and clarity, which appeal to the unblemished nature of man. This is the right approach to attaining true faith; it is the approach that creates the right conditions for the human natural disposition to interact with the appeal in order to attain the truth from the shortest possible route.

That is why the Qur’an has chosen not to engage those people in a philosophical debate on the question of Trinity and Unity, which would have entailed hypothesizing. It stopped at reiterating the Unity that they recognize and is supported by clear proofs. It then forbade the belief in Trinity, branding those who uphold it unbelievers. That is because Trinity goes against the grain of monotheism, which rejects the divisibility of the one basic element of things as much as it rejects its taking multiple forms and structures. Divine monotheism does not have a bearing on any of these connotations.

It has left the judgment to human nature, without providing it with the criteria for such judgment. This is indicative of the Quranic approach, of paving the way to the intellect and leaving it to decide whether to explore that road by walking it, with a view to achieving what man wants.  

Philosophical deliberation 

Some Quranic commentators have attempted to subject the verse to philosophical argumentation. One of them goes about interpreting the verse by making each and every word in the verse as dealing with independent evidence of rejecting the notion of “the Son” and, consequently, disproving the doctrine of Trinity, which is based on that notion.

The summary of this interpretation is that there are two trends of belief in “the Son of God”. One is the strand of opinion that relies on the literal meaning of the word, i.e. what is common knowledge about begetting children. The philosophical trend relies on the metaphorical meaning of the word, i.e. the separation of part of the original entity, with neither physical disintegration nor time progression. This is what the Christians aim for in their claim that Christ is the Son of God, after subjecting the notion to some fine-tuning.

Agreeing with the first interpretation is not possible for a number of reasons:

It would turn God into a physical being, which He is not as He is above corporeality. Assuming that others can have absolute divinity and eternity would necessitate that in order to survive, everything would be dependent on Him for a start and continuity. So, how can one imagine a separate entity which is identical to Him, yet independent and acquiring both His essence and attributes without the need for Him? Is this not the assumption of the coming together of absolute divinity and finite one in one?

The attribution of the ability to beget children would require progressive action by Him, in which case the laws of matter and motion would govern him. This conflicts with the norm, as whatever His Will and Desire cause happens with neither a time limit for a decision, nor a division into phases.

The exegete at-Tabatabaie, the author of al-Mizan Quranic commentary, has this to say with regard to the interpretation of the above-mentioned verse:

 His words, in the holy verse, “May glory be to Him” are in reference to the first proof; His words, “to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth” are in reference to the second proof; His words, “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth” are in reference to the third proof. Going along with the second interpretation is not ruled by the first argument, i.e. regarding the question of matter, corporeality, and progression. Rather, it contradicts the second protestation, i.e. the problem of identicalness, which requires outlining the absolute divinity for that which is supposed to be the Son of God; this needs further clarification in the context of the second interpretation, i.e. proving the Son and Father numerically, all by itself, which is a proof on abundance, although the qualitative unity between the Father and the Son is assumed; although son and father are one in human terms, yet more than one from a numerical viewpoint. Accordingly, if the Unity of God is presupposed, everyone else, including the son, are not God only, but dependent on Him. So, the supposed Son of His cannot be God like Him. On the other hand, if it is argued that He has a Son who is identical to Him, but not dependent on Him, the unity of god becomes nonsensical.

 This was an outline of the concept.

As for the question of Jesus Christ, son of Mary (a.s.), it cannot be imagined on the same lines, even though, in itself, the notion is far-fetched. The concept of Son of God would tie in with the concept that he is God, as we have already asserted. So, how can we attest to him who has all the human qualities, precisely like any other human being?

The Qur’an has paid a lot of attention to making known the human qualities in Jesus (a.s.) from his birth to his ascent. It has elaborated on his conception to his birth and the difficulties he faced in his lifetime, especially as a physical being, getting affected by all that the human body can be affected by, which goes contrary to any divine nature.

His birth, which took place outside the natural laws and the miracles he performed, should not be deemed a proof of divinity in his person, because bringing Adam (a.s.) into being before him was unusual. Concerning the performance of miracles, it had occurred to the prophets before him, as both the Old and New Testaments tell us. That is, without any conclusion that Adam was god or the prophets were divine beings.