The Virgin Mary in Islam
By Juan Galvan
Many people may be surprised that Muslims love Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Quran, no woman is given more attention than Mary. Mary receives the most attention of any woman mentioned in the Quran even though all the Prophets with the exception of Adam had mothers. Of the Quran’s 114 chapters, she is among the eight people who have a chapter named after them. The nineteenth chapter of the Quran is named after her, Mariam. Mariam means Mary in Arabic. The third chapter in the Quran is named after her father, Imran. Chapters Mariam and Imran are among the most beautiful chapters in the Quran. Mary (peace be upon her) is the only woman specifically named in the Quran. An authentic Haddith states that the Prophet said, “The superiority of ‘Aisha to other ladies is like the superiority of Tharid (i.e. meat and bread dish) to other meals. Many men reached the level of perfection, but no woman reached such a level except Mary, the daughter of Imran and Asia, the wife of Pharaoh.” (Bukhari 4.643). Indeed, both Mary and Pharoah’s wife are an example (Quran 66:11-12). The Virgin Mary plays a very significant role in Islam. She is an example and a sign for all people.
In the Quran, Mary’s story begins while she is still in her mother’s womb. The mother of Mary, said: “O my Lord! I do dedicate into Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service: So accept this of me: For Thou hearest and knowest all things.” (Quran 3:35). She wanted the baby in her womb to serve only the Creator. When Mary was delivered, she said: “O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!” (Quran 3:36). She had expected her baby to be a male child who would grow up to be a scholar or religious leader. However, God had a better plan. God is the best of planners. Quran 3:36 continues “�and God knew best what she brought forth- ‘And no wise is the male like the female. I have named her Mariam, and I commend her and her offspring to Thy protection from Satan, the Rejected.'” Mariam literally means “maidservant of God.”
In Quran 3:37, God states that He accepted Mary as her mother had asked. He made Mary grow in purity and beauty. She was assigned to the care of a priest named Zacharias. This is interesting considering few women were given this opportunity. “Every time that he entered (her) chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: ‘O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?’ She said: ‘From God. For God provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.'” (Quran 3:37). Upon hearing Mary’s answer, “There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: ‘O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer!'” (Quran 3:38). Although his wife was barren and he was very old, God blesses Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth with John. John is known as “John the Baptist” in the Bible. Zacharias was skeptical after the angels announced John’s birth. The response to his skepticism was “Doth God accomplish what He willeth” (Quran 3:40). John would become a noble and chaste Prophet as the angels had stated (Quran 3:39).
The Quran discusses Mary’s miraculous pregnancy as well. “Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.” (Quran 19:16-17). After seeing the angel, she said: “I seek refuge from thee to (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear God.” (Quran 19:18). The angel Gabriel responded: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a pure son.” (Quran 19:19). Her next response is expected. She asked: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?” (Quran 19:20). The Angel Gabriel said: “So (it will be): thy Lord saith, ‘That is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us.’ It is a matter (so) decreed.” (Quran 19:21). Mary then becomes pregnant.
Jesus (peace be upon him) is a Prophet and a Messenger. A Messenger is a Prophet who is given revelation from God. Whereas the Torah was revealed to Moses, the Gospel was revealed to Jesus. Messengers are a mercy, guidance, and sign from God. “And God will teach him (Jesus) the Book and Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel, and (appoint him) as a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): ‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I bring the dead into life, by God’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe. (I have come to you) to attest the Torah which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (before) forbidden to you. I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God, and obey me. It is God Who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a Way that is straight.'” (Quran 3:48-51). God appointed messengers to help us answer questions such as: What happens after I die? What’s right and wrong? Does a supernatural world exist? What’s the purpose of my creation? Jesus was calling people to the worship of only God. Only by God’s leave was Jesus able to perform miracles. “When Jesus found unbelief on their (the disciples) part he said: ‘Who will be my helpers to (the work of) God?” Said the disciples: “We are God’s helpers: We believe in God, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims.'” (Quran 3:52).
After conceiving Jesus, Mary went away with the baby to a distant place (Quran 19:22). “And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She cried (in her anguish): ‘Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten!'” (Quran 19:23). “But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): ‘Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to (God) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being.'” (Quran 19:24-26). Joseph, the magi, and manger are not mentioned in the Quran. God was Mary’s only Provider. Muslims do not accept the virgin birth of Jesus as evidence of Jesus’ divinity. “The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be.’ And he was.” (Quran 3:59). Adam’s creation was even more miraculous because he was born without father and mother.
When she brings the baby to her people, they said: “O Mary! truly a strange thing has thou brought! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!” (Quran 19:27-8). Mary then points to the baby. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” (Quran 19:29). Then a miracle occurs that is not mentioned in the Bible. In defense of his mother, Jesus said: “I am indeed a servant of God. He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He hath made me) kind to my mother, and not overbearing or unblest; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!” (Quran 19:30-33). The virgin birth of Jesus was a sign. “And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples.” (Quran 21:91).
All previous Prophets confirmed the oneness of God, Tawheed. Whereas the Holy Trinity is the fundamental concept of God in Christianity, Tawheed is the fundamental concept of God in Islam. God exists independent of religion. Muslims do not believe in the concept of Holy Trinity (Quran 5:73). God is not Jesus (Quran 5:72). On the Day of Judgment, when Jesus is asked if he had called people to worship him and his mother as two gods, Jesus will say: “Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.” (Quran 5:116). People should not worship any of God’s creation, including Jesus and Mary. We must not assign any of God’s creation His divine attributes and characteristics. “He is God the Creator, the Maker, the Shaper. To Him belong the Names Most Beautiful. All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies Him; He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.” (Qur’an 59:24).
Although God can do all things, He only does things that are consistent with His fundamental nature. Begetting a son is not consistent with God’s magnificent nature (Quran 19:92, Quran 19:35). Consistent with His fundamental nature is forgiveness. Although Adam and Eve could no longer live in the Paradise, God forgave Adam and Eve for their sin after they sincerely repented (Quran 2:35-37). We are responsible for our own deeds and will not be punished for the deeds of another person (Quran 53:38-42). Therefore, Muslims reject the doctrine of original sin. Although Adam and Eve were punished, God would still be merciful by sending Guidance to mankind. “We said: ‘Get down all of you from this place (the Paradise), then whenever there comes to you Guidance from Me, and whoever follows My Guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve.'” (Quran 2:38).
Another Prophet with a message similar to Jesus’ would later be born in Arabia in the sixth century. He also called people to the worship of only God. Although unable to read and write, Muhammad (peace be upon him) would recite beautiful verses of the Quran as they were revealed to him. The Quran is a beautiful miracle, a sign, a mercy, a warner, and a guidance for all people. Muhammad is the last Prophet from a line of Prophets that included Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them). All Prophets were models for righteous living. Muhammad’s Sunnah, his sayings, example, and traditions, is also considered revelation. His Sunnah is expressed in various books of Haddith. “Indeed in the Messenger of God you have a good example to follow for him who hopes for (the Meeting with) God and the Last Day, and remembers God much.” (Quran 33:21).
When people hear the word “Islam,” they usually think of the organized religion of Islam that began with the Prophet Muhammad. However in Arabic, the word Islam comes from the root “salema” which means peace, purity, submission, and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means peace and purity achieved by submitting to the will of God and obedience to His law. Muslims are those who submit. Muslims believe that all those who submitted to the will of God by following the divine revelation of previous Messengers were themselves Muslims. So coming from this understanding, Muslims believe that we are part of one continuing faith community with Jesus and Mary. “Behold! the angels said: ‘O Mary! God hath chosen thee and purified thee- chosen thee above the women of all nations. O Mary! worship thy Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself, and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down.'” (Quran 3:42-43). Mary, Jesus, and the disciples were all “Muslims” because they submitted themselves to God.
God created all people to worship Him and to live life based on His teachings and guidance. “And hold fast, all together, by the Rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favor on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth God make His Signs clear to you that ye may be guided.” (Quran 3:103). “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to God), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost.” (Quran 3:85). We accomplish this by bearing witness to God’s oneness and accepting His final revelation in our daily lives. “O ye who believe! Fear God as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam.” (Quran 3:102). There is none worthy of worship but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.
While writing about the Virgin Mary, I wanted to avoid as much confusion as possible among nonMuslims. My article was written with a nonMuslim audience in mind. Consequently, I used English terms and figures familiar to Christians rather than those in Arabic. For example, “Isa” means Jesus in Arabic, and “Yahya” means John in Arabic. Allah literally means “The God” in Arabic. When referring to God, Muslims prefer the term “Allah” to assert His oneness. I also avoided using terms of respectability commonly used among Muslims such as SWT, PBUH, SAWS, RA, and AS. I apologize if I have offended anyone.