Of all the chapters of the Qur’an that we memorized as Muslim children, there was one we recited more frequently than any other. It wasn’t long, only 4 verses, but Muhammad taught that it encapsulated a third of the Quran’s teaching, making it the weightiest chapter of the scripture and a core doctrine of the Islamic faith. It is Surat-al-Ikhlaas, chapter 112, and its second verse contains the message:
“God is not a Father, and He is not a Son.”
So above all doctrine in my Muslim life, the one teaching that was drilled into my head most often was ‘Tawhid’, that God is absolutely one and cannot be Father or Son. By the time I was a teen, my reaction to the Trinity was kneejerk: I saw it as nonsensical, polytheistic blasphemy.
Part of the problem was that no one clarified to me how the Trinity could be a monotheistic doctrine. It sounded to me like people wanted to worship three gods, but still desired the dignity of being monotheists, so they invented a nonsense doctrine called the Trinity in which God could be three and one at the same time.
What made the problem worse was that no one explained what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God. I, and most of the Muslim world around me, assumed that this implied some kind of biological sonship; physical offspring, as if one day God decided to create another god. In turn, that meant Jesus must be an inferior god, a created one. The Bible seemed to support Jesus’ inferiority to God, since Jesus says in John: “the Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28) Regarding the Bible, I did not find the doctrine of the Trinity anywhere in the Bible, so I concluded it must be blasphemous.
That is why I saw the Trinity as nonsensical, polytheistic blasphemy.
It all changed when I began studying two things more carefully: science and the Bible. Science began to show me that there are things in this world so tiny that we can only view them through microscopes, and yet they are incomprehensibly complex. Though quantum mechanics comes to mind, much more commonplace matters can be similarly befuddling, such as light. Light defies the minds of scientists, being both a particle and a wave, yet this apparent contradiction is demonstrably true.
If the world is so complex that it baffles our minds, what about the One who created the world? The One who created our minds? I now think that if my Creator is so simple that I can understand Him, perhaps I have made Him in my image.
With a less presumptuous attitude, I approached the Bible to see what it actually teaches. Though it does not use the word “Trinity”, the teachings are certainly there. It teaches that there is only one God (Deut 4:35), but He is somehow plural (Gen 1:1, Dt 6:4, Jn 1:1). God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit, and these three persons share the name of Yahweh (Mt 28:19; Phil 2:11 cf. Isaiah 45:22-23).
So the Bible teaches that God is one being and three persons. This is not a contradiction, because ‘being’ and ‘person’ are two different things. Your being is that which makes you what you are, your person is that which makes you who you are. For instance, I am one being, a human being, and one person, Nabeel Qureshi. Yahweh is one being, God, with three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Complex? Yes. Unique? Yes. Nonsensical? No.
The Sonship of Jesus is not physical, but one of role. This explains how he can be inferior to the Father in one sense, but still be equal to the Father in another. As an illustration, my father is superior to me in terms of role within the family, but he and I are equally human. I am inferior in role, but equal in substance. So is Jesus inferior in role to the Father, but equal in substance, since they are the same Being.
Armed with these definitions and illustrations, I began to see how the Trinity was a viable model for the nature of God. I didn’t believe it, however, until I found good reason to believe the Gospel. I found that when I saw the evidence that Jesus claimed to be God and proved it by rising from the dead, having died for our sins on the cross.
There is so much depth to God that we can never tire of drawing from His well. As we know God more and go deeper in our understanding of His nature, not only will our lives be enriched but so will the lives of others as we more compellingly share Him and His love.
Nabeel Qureshi is a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministry. He holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University and an MA inreligion from Duke University. His first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, just released from Zondervan. Find him on his website,www.NabeelQureshi.com, and on Twitter @NAQureshi.