Every Aramaic speaking person of the region, including mostly Christians, but also Jews and Nazoreans, understood “mother” as a reference to the Holy Spirit, as it is still used today among Aramaic speaking Christians, such as Chaldeans. Support for this can be found in the writings of Origen and Jerome:

“But in the gospel written according to the Hebrews which the Nazoreans read, the Lord [Jesus] says: ‘Just now, my mother, the holy spirit, lifted me up.” (Jerome, in Esaiam 40:9); “Just now my mother, the holy spirit, lifted me up by one of my hairs and brought me to the great mountain Thabor.” (Origen, in Johannem 2:12)

Moreover, the word rūḥ (“spirit”) in Arabic, just like in Hebrew and Aramaic, is feminine.

Édouard-Marie Gallez, Le messie et son prophète: Aux origines de l’Islam, tome 2: “De Qumrân à Muḥammad,” (Versailles: Éditions de Paris, 2005), pp. 74–83. See also François de Blois, “Naṣrānī (Nazoraios) and Ḥanīf (ethnikos): Studies on the Religious Vocabulary of Christianity and of Islam.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 65 (2002), pp. 14–15.

Digression: As one can see, the sources for this are Gallez and de Blois, and whilst not necessarily relevant to the argument, there is, however, an important difference between the two. Contra de Blois, Gallez does not think that those targeted by the verse are Nazoreans, but Trinitarian Christians; whilst for de Blois, the exact opposite is the case. But that is neither here nor there since it does not impact the explanatory power of the explanation at all.

As it is to be expected, not everyone is going to be convinced by this rather ingenious explanation. One could also, as some scholars do, interpret the verse as typical polemical text were the Qurʾān’s creative rhetoric is at display. The text is by no means pursuing accuracy, but rather, is intentionally being polemical, employing a reduction ad absurdum argument: “if you make Jesus God and the son of God, and if you say that Mary is not only the mother of Jesus, but also the mother of God (Theotokos), then the only logical conclusion (to be rejected, of course) is that Mary should be divine too.” In other words, the verse here has as it targets the concept of Theotokos: Mary, mother of God. Thus, and contrary to the first explanation, here it is an issue of Mariology, not the Trinity.

Other instances were a similar rhetorical stratagem is employed can be found at least two additional verses: 9:31 (Jews worship their rabbis) and 25:3 (so-called “associators” having “gods” [āliha]).

Guillaume Dye, “Jewish Christianity, the Qurʾān, and Early Islam: Some methodological caveats,” in Jewish Christianity and the Origins of Islam, ed. F. del Río Sánchez (Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2018), pp. 22–23. Others accepts this view as well: Tor Andræ, Muhammed: hans liv och hans tro (Stockholm: Hjalmarson & Högberg Bokförlag, 2008); Gabriel Said Reynolds, “On the Presentation of Christianity in the Qurʾān and the Many Aspects of Qur’anic Rhetoric,” Al-Bayān – Journal of Qurʾān and Ḥadīth Studies 12 (2014), 52–54; Mehdi Azaiez, Gabriel Said Reynolds, Tommaso Tesei & Hamza M. Zafer (eds.), The Qurʾan Seminar Commentary / Le Qurʾan Seminar: A Collaborative Study of 50 Qurʾanic Passages / Commentaire collaboratif de 50 passages coraniques (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2016), pp. 260–261.

Other instances were a similar rhetorical stratagem is employed can be found at least two additional verses: 9:31 (Jews worship their rabbis) and 25:3 (“associators” having “gods” [āliha]).

Guillaume Dye, “Jewish Christianity, the Qurʾān, and Early Islam: Some methodological caveats,” in Jewish Christianity and the Origins of Islam, ed. F. del Río Sánchez (Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2018), pp. 22–23. Others accepts this view as well: Tor Andræ, Muhammed: hans liv och hans tro (Stockholm: Hjalmarson & Högberg Bokförlag, 2008); Gabriel Said Reynolds, “On the Presentation of Christianity in the Qurʾān and the Many Aspects of Qur’anic Rhetoric,” Al-Bayān – Journal of Qurʾān and Ḥadīth Studies 12 (2014), 52–54; Mehdi Azaiez, Gabriel Said Reynolds, Tommaso Tesei & Hamza M. Zafer (eds.), The Qurʾan Seminar Commentary / Le Qurʾan Seminar: A Collaborative Study of 50 Qurʾanic Passages / Commentaire collaboratif de 50 passages coraniques (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2016), pp. 260–261.

In sum, and no matter the preferred explanation, Q 5:116 does not imply that Christians worship Mary by including her in the Trinity. Excepting the second explanation, the verse does not even address the Trinity to begin with. The Qurʾān came about in a monotheistic milieu. A Christian milieu, to be precise. Claiming that it misunderstood the Trinity in such an egregious manner is not only implausible, but impossible, and an insult to the Qurʾān.

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