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.
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.
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.