MARY IN THE MUSLIM SCRIPTURES

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(DECEMBER 2007)

There are many verses in Islam’s holy book – the Qur`an -- about Mary, the mother of Jesus. These verses serve mainly two purposes. One of them is to correct what the Qur`an considers erroneous views about her in the Christian and Jewish traditions.

Correcting earlier views

In the Christian tradition we find two opposite treatments of Mary. In some stories she is given no importance and is rejected by Jesus. Thus in the Gospel of John Jesus addresses his mother impolitely as "O woman" and says "what have you to do with me?" (2:4). Again, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus' mother and brothers come to see him while he was sitting with some of his followers. He renounces them and refuses to see them (3:31-34). In contrast to this, after the writing of the Gospels, some Christians began to glorify Mary to the point of worshipping her as a kind of goddess and “mother of God”. The Holy Qur'an rejects both extremes. It categorically rejects Mary's worship.

And consider when God will say (on the judgment day): O Jesus son of Mary! Did you say to the people, “take me and my mother as two gods beside God?”. He will say: “Glory to you: “It was not for ,me to say what I had no right.” (5:116)

The Holy Qur'an says that far from being rude to her mother Jesus was kind and obedient to her.

(Jesus) said: “And (God) has made me blessed wherever I may be, and has enjoined upon me regular prayer and charity so long as I live, And dutiful toward my mother and has not made me arrogant and unkind. (19:31-32).

In the Qur'an Mary is a person in her own right and not, as in the Gospels just the mother of Jesus. The gospels generally say, Mary the mother of Jesus but the Qur'an generally says, Jesus the son of Mary. The canonical Gospels give account of the birth of Jesus alone but the Qur'an gives an account of the birth of Mary as well.

In the Jewish tradition Mary has been generally treated in a very negative way. She has often been insulted as an adulterous woman who gave birth to Jesus out of wedlock. The Holy Qur`an condemns this charge and affirms her chastity:

And their disbelief and their word against her accusing her of a grave charge. (4:156)

Moral and spiritual equality of men and women

The second purpose that the story of Mary serves in the Qur`an is to reinforce the Qur`anic teaching that women have the same potential of spiritual and moral development. She provides in the Qur`an an example of a woman who has realized that potential to the fullest degree. This comes out clearly in the account of Mary's birth. This account begins by the mother of Mary taking a vow that she will give her child for God's service without knowing whether the child will be a male or female.

Behold, a woman of 'Imran (was with child and she) said: My Lord! unto you do I vow [the child] that is in my womb, to be devoted to your service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, you alone are all-hearing, all-knowing (3:35).

God accepted the offering. Of course, he could have made the child a male. But the Qur`an pointed tells us that he purposefully made her a female.

But when she had given birth to the child, she said: O my Lord! Behold, I have given birth to a female--and God knew best what she delivered -- and the male is not like the female and I have named her Mary and I do seek your protection for her and her offspring from Satan, the accursed.

The purpose for which God gave the woman of 'Imran a girl and not a boy after accepting her vow was to make the point that women can also dedicate their life to the service of God and be fully accepted and rewarded:

So her Lord accepted her (the girl-child Mary) with full acceptance and made her grow nicely and placed her in the care of Zechariah.

Mary was so close to God that she was provided directly by God himself and even Zechariah, a prophet, was surprised:

Whenever Zechariah went into the sanctuary where she was, he found her with provision. He said: O Mary! from where does this come to you? She answered: It is from God. Verily, God provides whom he will without any accounting (3:37).

The Qur'an describes Mary as both "chosen" and "chosen among women" and says that she was instructed by the angels:

And (call to mind) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! God has chosen you and purified you and chosen you among all the women of the world. (3:42).

In the following verses the Qur'an calls Mary a siddiqah, one who is true in faith to the highest degree:

And the Christ son of Mary was none other than a messenger (of God). Other messengers (like him) had passed away before him. His mother was a siddiqah.

The importance of the word siddiqah can be appreciated if we recall that in 19:41 Abraham, who is among the greatest prophets is also called siddiq. and in 19:56 the same description is applied to Idris, another prophet.

The nearness to God that Mary achieved was through the direct action of God as in the case of many prophets. Nowhere the Qur'an implies that her spiritual development came took place through the knowledge and training given to her by some other person such as her son Jesus or her guardian Zechariah. She was chosen and accepted for God's service while she was yet in her mother's womb. the Qur'an says explicitly that she was instructed by the angels who said taught her:

O Mary! Be obedient to your Lord, prostrate yourself and bow down with those who bow down (in worship) (3:43)

And this happened even before the birth of Jesus which is described later. Also, as mentioned earlier she was provided for directly by God before Jesus' birth and without any knowledge on the part of Zechariah (3:37). Finally, although we think of Jesus' miraculous birth as a miracle connected with Jesus but the Qur'an by calling both Mary and Jesus "a sign for all the peoples" (21:91) makes it clear that the birth of Jesus was as much a miracle connected with Mary as with Jesus Mary.

Thus as a chosen one, as a siddiqah, as a sign for all the peoples, as a recipient of miracle and as one taught directly by the angels Mary in the Qur`an is like any of the great prophets. Chapter 19 called Mary first says:

            Mention Mary in the Book

And then similarly says:

            Mention Abraham in the Book

            Mention Moses in the Book

            Mention Ishmael in the Book and so on.

Likewise in Chapter 21 named “The Prophet” references are made to many of the prophets such as Moses, Aaron, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Lot, Noah, David, Solomon, Job, Ishmael, Jonah, Zechariah, John. These references are then concluded by the words of God:

And she who was chaste (meaning Mary) We (meaning God) breathed into her (something) of our spirit and made her and her son a sign for (all) the peoples. Truly! This community of yours is one community and I (meaning God) am your Lord. So worship (only) me (21:91-92).

In this way Mary is put in the company of most of the great prophets of God.

Mention

(had all the qualities of a prophet the significance of Mary in the Qur'an. Mary symbolizes the potential for the highest spiritual development that women share with men.

 

 

 

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