To Respond or not to Respond…
Question asked by .
Answered by Aasil Ahmad

The below email was forwarded to me (as well as a great number of other email addresses) just the other day. First, the sender obviously doesn’t realize I am a Muslim. Second, I find these things to be intellectually languid and motivationally sterile efforts. I restrained from responding to the email at large knowing it would for a time being cast my own email address into an abyss of hate mail. However, as a Muslim, am I responsible to respond to these people? Also, I wanted to know the way the issue of the trinity, and, as a corollary, Christianity itself, should be discussed with non-Muslim friends and colleagues.  The email is reproduced below:



As many of you know there is a chance our country may be going to war soon.  My son and I were talking about numbers the other night.  Many of you may or may not know that in Scripture, the number 3 represents the Holy Trinity. Well, I was thinking of calling for a day of prayer and fasting for our country (maybe for the world).


When you may ask. March 3rd. In simple terms, it would be 03-03-03.  Wouldn’t it be great for all the Christians in the world to stop what they are doing and pray on the same day. We could make 03-03-03 God’s Day.  I mean He was there for all of us, that day on the cross. Faith is the way that all miracles come through, but prayer is the key that unlocks the door.  I hope you will pass this request on to all your friends, family, and churches.  Maybe we could all pray at 3:00 p.m. (your local time) on that day for 3 minutes for world peace.


Let us first separate the two issues you have raised: 1) The significance of the trinity and 2) the benefits of organizing a prayer on March 3rd 2003 at 3:00 PM.

We can deal with the second issue first. It is common for religious people to gravitate towards prayer and to try to establish symbolism through their acts of prayer. In the case of this congregation, they have decided that organizing a prayer around the number three is a way to motivate people and is doubly significant since the date and time of the prayer is connected with the symbolism of the trinity. I see no harm in this. While it bears no significance within the Muslim tradition, it is a reflection of the symbolism of Christian theology and is acceptable within its own worldview.

Furthermore, it bears mentioning that a science and symbolism of numbers exists in Islam as well. Although it is not something that is emphasized and it is often misunderstood, it is nevertheless present in our tradition and in our rituals. For example, forty years being the symbolic age of maturity, or the significance of washing one’s hands three times, or the ritual recitation of certain portions of the Qur’ān three times. These are generally practices that are established by the Prophet (sws) and we believe that there is a reason for them and that they are not arbitrarily picked. Therefore, there is no need to be disparaging of other traditions when they create practices that seem fruitless to us as Muslims but should rather recognize and respect the significance that those rituals and symbols play within their own tradition. I will return to this point at the end of my response.

This leads to the next point, that is, how to discuss the larger issue of the existence of the trinity, and, as a corollary, Christianity itself, with your non-Muslim friends and colleagues. This topic, of course, requires wisdom and prudence. As Muslims, we believe we have an obligation to share the message of Islam with those around us and we believe that they will benefit from hearing our message. Whether they accept it or not is entirely out of our hands. However, the existence of Judaism, Christianity, and other revealed religions had never been problematic (until recently) for Muslims. Therefore, the symbols that these religions espouse and the theologies that they profess should not be viewed as things to be attacked and dismantled. Rather, Muslims have historically engaged the people of other faiths respectfully and without a sense of self-righteousness, keeping in mind that it would be inappropriate to compromise on our own beliefs. So engaging the group of people on this email list in a bout of interfaith dialogue is probably a good thing to attempt.

However, the manner you adopt in doing so will largely determine how successful that attempt actually is. If they feel like your tone is condescending, ie, by referring to their ‘mental fog’ and ‘intellectual languidness’, they will likely not wish to listen to what you have to say. Once you engage these people at a level where they are willing to listen to you and you are willing to listen to them, then you have an audience that will be willing to listen and to learn from you. At that point you can respectfully (and probably effectively) begin to discuss things with them like whether a prayer vigil on March 3rd is truly something significant or relevant within the Christian tradition. You can even debate the symbolism and origins of the symbol of the trinity with them if you have the knowledge and background to do so. Though it is not your task to convince them that you are right and they are wrong, you can raise issues that they can think about and in the process educate them about what Muslims believe about Jesus Christ (sws) and his life, and, also, the role and form of prayer within the Islamic tradition.

In summary, I do not think there is any benefit in opposing or mocking the March 3rd prayer vigil that they hope to organize. In general, prayer should be encouraged among all people, even though you feel like it is a fruitless and pointless endeavor. If anything, your inclusion on the email list, and maybe even your presence within that group, provides an opportunity for them to be introduced to Islam and the practices of Muslims. Second, a Muslim should never take a condescending attitude with respect to people of other faiths. Allah teaches us that it is He who gives people faith and He who can take it away and so every person, even a Muslim, can be transformed from a state of intense piety to a condition of abject forgetfulness and humiliation, according to Allah’s will. Humility with respect to this fragility of faith and belief is key to the demeanor of a Muslim. In doing so, your interaction with people of other faiths will exude a sense of modesty and tranquility that will likely impress upon their own sense of self-righteousness.


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