By Malik Ibrahim
A few months ago I met with a young man from a Muslim background who was seriously exploring Christianity. He was attracted to the love of Christ, but was struggling to understand how God could be both one and three. Much of his confusion stemmed from the fact that in his Muslim past he was indoctrinated with the Qur’anic misrepresentations of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Qur’an teaches Muslims that the Trinity is tri-theism (Surah 4:171, 5:72&73), composed of the Father, the Son, and Mary (Surah 5:116&117). This distortion is referred to as the unpardonable sin of shirk, or associating partners with God, by Muslims. They allege that it is in direct conflict with the belief that God is one and has no partners (Surah 4:171, 17:111).
In my years of working with Believers from a Muslim Background (BMB), one of the greatest challenges that I have discovered is helping them to apply Christian doctrine to their lives. This is especially true with the Trinity. Many BMBs stumble over the doctrine of the Trinity in their new Christian life because of what they were taught growing up. This problem is compounded by the fact that many of us who work with BMBs view the Trinity as a doctrine which requires mental assent, but see little relevance for it in the task of discipleship. Perhaps a solution to this problem is for Christians discipling BMBs to view the Trinity as foundational to their new identity as a follower of Christ.
Don Little in his book Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities lists 18 barriers to BMB growth in Christ, which are based on a survey of 60 people engaged in discipling BMBs. He groups these 18 barriers into the three categories of collective, social, and core identities. This editorial is the first in a two-part series where we will explore the deep and rich relevance that the doctrine of the Trinity has in helping BMBs to grow into Christ-like maturity. In Part 1 I will be utilizing the first two of Little’s categories—collective and social identities—to address the question at hand.
First we’ll take a look at collective identity. This category deals with the “identity of a whole symbolic group” or “my group’s identity in the eyes of the world.” One of the major discipleship challenges in this category are issues surrounding BMB families, such as child rearing, education, and marriage.
In many Muslim societies the father is often viewed as a strict authoritarian who disciplines harshly. This can create a relationship of fear and distance between child and father. Teaching the BMB father to reflect on his self-giving Heavenly Father who freely gives his Son (John 3:16-17), who also willingly lays down his life (Phil. 2:5-8), can help this BMB father to imitate this kind of love for his family. Thus God’s love becomes his primary motivator and identity.
Likewise this truth could be applied to BMB mothers. Often forms of discipline that mother’s mete out is done in the form of shaming children or even in creating a competition between them. Again delving into the self-giving love of the Godhead could give these mothers a model for how to lovingly motivate children, especially reflecting on how the Father loves the Son (Matt. 3:17; John 3:35; 5:20).
Now let’s take a look at the topic of social identity. According to Little this identity is “ascribed or adopted as a result of belonging to groups and families, and through our association with the people with whom we live our day-to-day lives.” This category encompasses issues such as hostility from the Muslim community, lack of trust for other BMBs, and lack of commitment to a group. These issues are centered on rejection from the old community and lack of trust for the new Christian community.
The Bible affirms that God is sovereign over the entire universe (Isa. 40:25-26; 42:10). Yet at the same time he is also the loving heavenly Father, out to do good to all his children (John 1:12-13; Rom. 8:15, 28). Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shepherds his followers, has received all authority from the Father (Matt. 28:18-20; John 10:14-16) and is more than able to handle any situation his sheep face, including rejection from the Muslim community.
It is these truths about the Father and the Son and their love and trustworthiness that can begin to heal the BMB’s mistrust of God and others. In Islam, Allah is capricious and no Muslim is ever certain if they will attain his mercy on judgment day. Learning to trust the love of the Triune God can serve as a healing balm for the uncertainty that BMBs experienced towards Allah in their Muslim past.
In handling the issue of trust for their new Christian community, BMBs need a vision for how this community is based on the fellowship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Here we can study passages like 2 Corinthians 13:14: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” In-depth teaching and discipleship on the topics of the grace experienced in Christ, the love of the Father, and how the Holy Spirit unites believers in fellowship is needed for BMBs to come together in true Christian community. This can be accomplished through small group Bible studies of BMBs or in a local church where these values are taught and practiced.
In Part 2 of this series we will take a look at what Little terms core identity issues for BMBs. Here the topics of the spiritual nature of the Christian faith, Muslim ideology, and God feeling distant will be discussed. I will attempt to show how a biblical understanding of the Trinity can address these challenges. It is also in this section where I will offer some ways to help BMBs grasp the mystery of the oneness and three-ness of the Godhead.
 Don Little, Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities: Scripture, History and Seasoned Practices (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 183.
 Ibid., 186.
 Raphael Patai, The Arab Mind (Hobart, NY: Hatherleigh Press, 2007), 35-36.
 Ibid., 113, 239.
 Little, 184.
 Ibid., 186.