The Curious Way God “Speaks”

This is an interesting discussion I had from a guest to my mosque several years ago. He is a member of the Order of Friars Minor, followers of St. Francis of Assisi.

Dear Ahmed,

May God be praised! Thank you for your class last evening. I found it to be very interesting. I am just beginning to read the Quran. There are many interesting correlations between the first pages of the Quran and the stories in the Penteteuch. I find it curious that when God ‘speaks,’ he does so the third person plural, “We.” Does this occur throughout the Quran or does it change to “I ” when God speaks? In the Bible, at the creation account in Genesis, God says, “Let us create man in our own image.” again, the third person plural is used. Christians attribute this as a precurser to the Trinity. It is my understanding that there is no concept of the Trinity in Islam. Is this correct?


In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful:

It was an honor to have you in our class. I look forward to seeing you again, God-willing. To answer your question, the First-Person-Plural “We” is used in the Qur’an in the same sense as the “Royal We”. This is a common construct in both the English and Arabic languages (among many others) where those who have great power or majesty will often refer to themselves in the plural. This is a reflection of their grandeur and NOT a reflection of actual plurality.

Likewise, in the Qur’an, God uses the Royal We when the verse reflects His Majesty and Transcendence (the Almighty, the Creator) as you pointed out below. God uses the Personal I when the verse reflects His Mercy and Immanence (the Forgiving, the Merciful) as in the following verse:

2:186. When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.

The Qur’an is filled with descriptions of God’s character. God is at once transcendent, beyond time and space (Q. 2.115, 7.7), and immanent, nearer than one’s “jugular vein” (Q. 50.16). The Qur’an uses both depending on which aspect of God is meant to be emphasized in any given passage. You are correct that Islam does not have the concept of the Trinity, for the Qur’an states that God is one, unique, and indivisible; and that no one else shares His Power, Lordship, Divinity, or Perfect Attributes.

 


Dear Ahmed,

Thank you for your thoughtful e-mail. I appreciate your explanation regarding the ‘Royal We’…”a reflection of their grandeur, not a reflection of actual plurality,” and the personal ” i,” reflecting His mercy and Immanence. The transcendence and Immanence of God are indeed actual paradoxes in the way we experience His Divine presence.

In the Christian tradition, we also believe that God is one, even within the seeming contradiction of the concept of the Trinity…that three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit share in a one perfect communion of love, their one Lordship. It is similar to the paradox of God being at once Transcendent and Immanent at the same time. But who can adequately describe who God is as language itself falls short, and is itself a set of symbols? Thankfully, our experience of God is far more palpable than what our languages are able to convey.

Thank you for your time Ahmed and I deeply value our ability to dialogue to gain a deeper understanding of God as expressed in various traditions of faith and love.

5 thoughts on “The Curious Way God “Speaks”

  1. In 2009 after reading Dan Brown novel “The Lost Symbol” we went to Washington D.C. to see how Freemasonry rules over US.
    In this trip we visited The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near White House; during Sunday sermon Pastor mentioned name of Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School. I heard a lot about him, and after service talked to Pastor.
    Miroslav Volf believes that one of the most important questions facing Christians and Muslims is “Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?”
    He wrote a book – “Allah: A Christian Response”.
    “Both groups (Islam and Christianity) are monotheists. They believe in one God, one God who is a sovereign Lord and to whom they are to be obedient. For both faiths, God embodies what’s ultimately important and valuable. If our understandings of God clash, it will be hard for us to live in peace—not impossible, but hard. So exploring to what extent Christians and Muslims have similar conceptions of God is foundational to exploring whether we inhabit a common moral universe, within which there are some profound differences that can be negotiated, discussed, and adjudicated.” Miroslav Volf
    Muslims and Christians when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God they refer to the same Being, to the same God. The description of God is partly different. At the same time, there’s this amazing overlap and similarity. We need to build on what is similar rather than simply cry over what’s different.
    One that shouldn’t be forgotten is that God is one in both traditions. That’s very important. Two, God is merciful. Also, God is just. God’s oneness, God’s mercy, and God’s justice are significant commonalities. We have different understandings of each of these, but the overlaps are really impressive.
    The Quran asserts that the Torah and the Gospel are inspired scripture and that Jews and Christians are people of the Book. The Quran tells Muslims to say to them, “our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender” (29.46). If the Quran asserts that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, does that not settle the matter?

    1. The short answer is “yes.” One of the biggest misconceptions about Islam is the word “Allah.” Somehow, many people think that Muslims worship a different God than Christians and Jews. This is totally false (as you mention in the Qur’an reference 29:46). “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God.” Muslims worship the God of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus – peace be upon them all. While it is true that Muslims, Jews, and Christians have different concepts of God, that doesn’t mean they worship different gods. However, if somebody has not studied the Qur’an and come across this verse in the Qur’an, he may come to the wrong conclusion that there is a matter that needs to be settled.

  2. I just like to add a little to this conversation from historical point of view.
    When Keith Ellison was sworn into office as a congressman, he wanted to swear on a Quran instead of a Bible, so they used Thomas Jefferson’s Quran. Keith Ellison was sworn to the very same God as other Congressmen. Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s Founding Fathers and the third President of the United States. Jefferson also is the author of the Declaration of Independence.
    Why Founding Father of America used Quran? Because he believed in God.
    Thomas Jefferson’s friend Senator Richard Henry Lee expressed his opinion in Congress, referring to Muslims and Hindus, that “true freedom embraces the Mahometan and the Gentoo as well as the Christian religion.”
    The Treaty of Tripoli stated that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Musselmen.”
    This new, young country tried to make followers of Islam feel safe and welcomed.
    It’s safe to say America’s relationship with Islam has been headed downhill ever since.

  3. Why do Muslims insist that they know what the Bible says, and Christians do not? The Christians Scriptures clearly reveal a Trinitarian God and all of Christianity hinges on this doctrine. If there is no Trinity, there is no Gospel or Good News of Jesus the Christ. When Muslims insist that such things are false, it appears to me that they are simply being deceptive. It seems to me that is also what you are attempting to do here with American history.

    1. Hello Olin,

      Thank you for your comment; I appreciate the response and hope to have a dialogue about this topic with you.

      First of all, Muslims do not insist they know what the Bible says and Christians do not. If you follow the thread of the conversation, we were discussing how two different faiths, Islam and Christianity, understand their scriptural descriptions of God using the first-person-plural pronoun.

      Furthermore, this is not only a Christian vs. Muslim debate. There are Christian denominations both in history and to this present day who are not Trinitarian. You can read more about this in the following two links:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontrinitarianism#Scriptural_support
      https://www.britannica.com/topic/Arianism

      Christianity (in general) claims the divinity of Jesus (peace be upon him). However, a minority of Christian sects claim that only partial-divinity of Jesus (peace be upon him) or that he is subordinate to God – the Father. Islam claims the humanity of Jesus (peace be upon him). This is understood by scholars of both sides as a competing Truth-Claim and not a point of argument, Olin.

      I hope this clears up the issue, and I welcome more comments if you wish to discuss more.

      May peace be with you,
      Ahmed

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