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MARY, Mother of JESUS

MARY, Mother of JESUS (peace be upon them)
According to the Holy Qur’an

Each year retired Chaplain Mary Lahaj returns to this reflection reexamining these shared figures.

The Christmas season is a good time for Muslims to discuss the commonalities shared by Islam and Christianity. The Christian story of Jesus’ birth is found in the Gospel of Luke, 1:26-38 (New Testament). In these verses, for example, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary.

In the Qur’an, Mary, mother of Jesus is also visited by the Angel Gabriel. The story of Mary and the birth of Jesus is told in large part, in Chapter 19, entitled, “Maryam”. In this brief essay, I have summarized the story and paraphrased some Qur’anic quotes. I have also consulted a number of scholarly commentaries (see below), which represent different interpretations and details that adorn the story.

Mary is one of only two women whose stories are told in the Qur’an (the other is the Queen of Sheba).

Born over 1000 years after Moses, Mary is descended from the same lineage as Isaac and the Hebrew prophets, all descendants of Abraham. Mary’s story begins with her famous family, Imran (Chapter 3). Cognizant of Allah’s covenant with Abraham that all his progeny would be prophets, Mary’s parents prayed to conceive a child who would also be a prophet of God. Advanced in age, they had difficulty conceiving, but finally gave birth to a baby girl. They were happy, but uncertain how a woman could serve as a prophet of God.

Mary grew into an extraordinary young woman. The Qur’an extols her character, stating that Allah preferred her to all the women in creation and kept her pure from sin. Beautiful, modest, humble, and shy, Mary never used her beauty to exact favors, nor did she expect to be treated differently. Her uncle, Zachariah (father of John the Baptist), became her guardian and religious instructor. Secluding her behind seven doors and allowing no visitors, Zachariah ensured that Mary was protected. On more than one occasion, however, Zachariah discovered food in Mary’s room. He was surprised because he had not supplied the food. Furthermore, it appeared to have come from a far-off region, where the climate and season were different.

He inquired: “Mary, where did this food come from?”

Mary replied, “This food is from Allah, who gives of His great bounty to those He wishes.” This phenomenon persuaded Zachariah that Allah was preparing Mary for some important task in His service.

One day while praying in her room, Mary suddenly sensed she was not alone. Looking up, she saw a man standing over her. It was the Angel Gabriel sent by Allah “in the shape of a perfect man.”

Fearful, Mary cried out, “I seek refuge with God, most Gracious. Do not come near me, if you fear God.”

The Angel Gabriel said, “I am only a messenger sent from your Lord to announce to you the gift of a faultless son. His name will be Jesus (Isa), the Word of God and messenger to all the Children of Israel.  Your son will be held in honor in this world and in the hereafter and he will be with those who are nearest to God.” 

Though gripped by fear, Mary’s faith was unshaken. She summoned all her courage and asked: “How can I have a son when no man has touched me and I am not unchaste?”

Gabriel explained: “So it will be. Your Lord says: ‘It is easy for Me, and We wish to appoint him as a Sign from Allah unto men and a Mercy from Us. It is a matter decreed.’ Allah will teach your son the Scripture, the Torah, the Gospel, and the Wisdom. His name will be Jesus, the Messiah, illustrious in this world and in the hereafter. He will fashion a bird out of clay, heal the blind and the sick, and raise the dead.  By the power of Allah, he will speak in his cradle.”

Mary submitted and conceived a child. Given her sudden, inexplicable condition, she had to leave her family and moved away to the East to give birth. One day, the pains of childbirth overcame her. In great pain, she slowly sat down near the trunk of a date-palm tree. So distraught, she cried out in anguish, “Ah, would that I had died before this…would that I had been a thing forgotten.”

Though in pain, she heard a soothing voice calling from beneath her, “Grieve not, for your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you. Shake the trunk of the date-palm towards you. It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink, and cool your eyes. And if you see anyone, promise Allah that you will not speak to any human being.”

Some scholars say it was the soothing voice of the baby Jesus, comforting his mother.  Others say it was the Angel Gabriel. What do you think?

Jesus was born, and Mary obeyed the instructions, vowing not to speak to anyone for the first four days. With Jesus cradled in her arms, she returned home and was greeted by her relations, who stammered, “Mary!  Truly you have brought a strange thing. What have you done? Your father was not evil and your mother was not an unchaste woman!”

Mary mustered all her strength to resist speaking and keep her promise to Allah. She pointed to the baby, which angered her relations, who thought she was ridiculing them. They said, “How can you expect us to talk to a baby in the cradle?”

Then, by the power of Allah, Jesus spoke from the cradle:

“I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me revelation and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I am and enjoined on me prayer and charity for as long as I live.  He has made me blessed, not overbearing, and kind to my mother who gave birth to me in great pain.  Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day I shall be raised to life again.”

There are many lessons to learn from the story of Mary. Allah demonstrates that He creates in many ways, for when He determines a matter, He only says “Be!” and it is. Allah affirms that whoever obeys Him, whether man or woman, will be rewarded for his/her willing surrender and faith (the one who submits is a “muslim”). Finally, because of Mary’s painful childbirth experience told with compassion in the Qur’an, we can better appreciate motherhood and the virtues of honoring our mother and caring for our parents in their old age.

The Qur’an, which Muslims believe is the Word of God, calls Jesus by many names: the Sign, the Mercy, the Example, the Witness, Word of God, Spirit of God, Prophet, Servant, Messiah, Son of Mary, and Messenger. Jesus (peace be upon him) performed some miracles never before mentioned, except in the Qur’an. Those who followed him became known as “Christians.”

Jesus taught many of the same lessons that Muslims believe: to purify intentions, in deeds and in worship; to do unto others as you want others to do unto you; to love and forgive; and to be charitable. For Muslims, Jesus and his mother exemplify the meaning of the word “islam” (submission to Allah’s will).

This story also has a special significance. Mary’s trials and tribulations symbolize a certain struggle in life that often ensues whenever God calls us forward out of our comfort zone. Our response is to carefully consider whether to fall prey to our fears of the unknown, or listen to Allah’s call, asking us to serve and submit to Him. Our reward is to draw closer to our Beloved and grow in sincerity and character.

NOTES: The information in this essay and its quotes were extracted primarily from two Qur’anic chapters (Surahs): Surah III, “The Family of Imran” and Surah XIX, “Maryam.”  Bibliography:  Qur’an, translated by Yusuf Ali; Commentary (Tafsir) by Ibn Kathir, Muhammad ‘Abduh, Syed Qutb, Rashad Rida, Tabari, and Zamakhshari. For Christian sources see: www.catholic-resources.org

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