Mary, The Mother of Jesus: An Islamic Perspective

This post was published on Examiner.com.

Mary, mother of Jesus, peace be upon her is highly revered in Islam. Her Arabic name is Maryam, meaning exalted or pious worshipper. In Islam, Mary is a paragon of virtue and piety. The Holy Quran gives a genuine and detailed portrait of Mary pbuh, the only woman to be mentioned by name in the Holy Quran. Quran brings into light many facts about her which are not found in Bible. A chapter of the Holy Quran is named after her family, family of Imran, and another entire chapter is named after Mary herself.

Before Mary, Quran introduced us to to her mother, who is mentioned in the Quran not by her biblical name Hanna but as a woman of Imran; which might mean that she was the wife of Imran or a woman form the family of Amram, father of Moses and Aaron. Quran says, when Mary’s mother was expecting her, she prayed: “O my Lord! I’ve vowed to Thee what is in my womb to be dedicated to Thy service: So do thou accept this of me: For Thou alone art all hearing, all knowing.” This prayer comes from the third chapter of the Quran.

As is apparent from this prayer, Mary’s mother, a very pious lady, vowed to dedicate her unborn child to the service of God. The next verses inform us that she was expecting the birth of a son, who would become a priest, serving the temple. Quran says, “But when she was delivered of it, she said, ‘My Lord, I am delivered of a female’ — and Allah knew best what she had brought forth and the male she was thinking of was not like the female she had brought forth — ‘and I have named her Mary, and I commit her and her offspring to Thy protection from Satan, the rejected.’

Girls were generally not accepted in the service of temple. So her perplexity is understandable. Allah had a grand plan for this blessed baby girl. The door of prophethood was soon to be closed on the Israelites; who had become corrupt and even though still believed in Torah, were further away from its teachings. No man was worthy enough to father the promised “Messiah”, the last prophet to come from the house of Israelites. Hanna was unaware of the honor that her baby girl would be granted; who will be chosen above all men and women of her time to carry out a grand divine plan.

The Quran further states, “So her Lord accepted her with a gracious acceptance and caused her to grow an excellent growth.”

Mary was assigned to the care of Priest Zacharias pbuh. Zacharias, or Zakria in Arabic, is believed to be a prophet in Islam. Mary’s pure upbringing and devotion set the stage for her to be manifest of a mighty miracle. Early in her life she was divinely told: “Mary! God has chosen you and made you pure: He has truly chosen you above all women.”

She was instructed: “Mary! Be devout to your Lord, prostrate yourself in worship, bow down with those who pray.” Away from wordly inclinations and vain desires, Mary was a devout and righteous servant of God Almighty; who spent her time in her prayer chamber, in the remembrance of Allah. The news of her piety was spread and people would leave food and gifts at her door as offerings for a request for prayer.

The Quran mentions in chapter three that whenever Zakria. pbuh, entered Mary’s chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He asked: ‘O Mary! Whence comes this to you?’ She replied: ‘From God; for God provides sustenance to whomever He pleases without measure.’

Deeply impressed with Mary’s response, Zacharias was moved to pray to his Lord to be blessed with a righteous child like her. His prayer is recorded the Quran in chapter 3 verse 38: ‘O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer!”

Although his wife was barren and he was very old, God blessed Zacharias pbuh, and his wife with a child, Yahya – or as he is known in the bible, John the Baptist. John was the Elijah or Alias who was to come before Jesus.

”Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” -Malachi 4:5

It is interesting to note that Mary became the source of fulfillment of this prophecy as well and thus helped her child.

After the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, the Quran discusses Jesus’ conception next; which is not without purpose. After a miracle of a lesser degree, a superior and grander miracle is mentioned. The sequence shows that if God can grant a progeny to a barren woman and an old man, who under normal circumstances are not expected to produce a child, then He surely can create Jesus without a father. Allah has also given the example of the creation of Adam pbuh. If God created Adam from dust, without a father or a mother, then should it really come as a surprise if Jesus is produced of a female alone?

An angel was sent to Mary when she screened herself from her people to pray in seclusion. This angel appeared to her in the form of a perfect man and gave her the glad tidings of a son, a word from Allah, whose name will be Jesus, son of Mary, and who will be granted nearness to God and will be honored in this world and in the next. She said, ‘I seek refuge with the Gracious God from thee if indeed thou dost fear Him.’ She said, ‘My Lord, how shall I have a son, when no man has touched me?’ He said, “Such is the way of Allah, He creates what He pleases. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is.”

She was guided by an angel sent by God to shake the palm tree she is using as a support for labor pains and look below her to find a small water stream to cleanse herself and her baby. Dates are a nutritious food source composed of 10 essential nutrients proven to be very helpful with the childbirth according to science. They are helpful in making up for the lost energy and reducing the pain associated with it.

Mary is presented as a role model for Muslim men and women alike in the Holy Quran;
which refers to her as a believer of high moral virtues who spent her life in complete
submission to God. Quran clears Mary of all wrongful Jewish charges against her and
declares her to be pure, innocent, truthful, and the one who fulfilled the word of God. I’ll
refer to the verses from chapter 66:

“And the example of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity – so We
breathed there in of Our Spirit -and she fulfilled in her person the words of her Lord
contained in His books and was one of the obedient.”

According to a hadith from Bukhari, the Holy Prophet Muhammad pbuh, has said, “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.”

In Islam, Mary mother of Jesus, represents those righteous servants of God who having
closed all avenues of sin, and having made peace with God are blessed with divine
aspiration; who submitting wholly to Allah, prostrate in the court of God. They accept His
will as theirs. His pleasure becomes their pleasure and they suffer for His sake alone.
Then God picks them up with love and says to them, “O soul at peace! Return to thy
Lord well pleased with Him and He well pleased with thee. So enter thou among My
chosen servants, And enter thou My Garden.” Surah Fajr verses 28-31

Mary, pbuh, is a practical example of the soul at peace, an advanced stage of spiritual
ascent. We find out in the Holy Quran that Mary believed in the religion brought by
Jesus, pbuh. She stood by his side. Quran says,

“Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said ‘O Mary thou hast done a
strange thing. O sister of Aaron, thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother an
unchaste woman’.
Then she pointed to him. They said, ‘How can we talk to one who is a child in the
cradle?’
He said, ‘I am a servant of Allah. He has given me the book and made me a Prophet;
And He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be and has enjoined upon me Prayer
and alms giving so long as I live and He has made me dutiful towards my mother and He has not made me haughty and unblessed.” (19:28-33)

Mary, mother of Jesus, is called sister of Aaron in this verse since Aaron was the head
of the Jewish priestly class. It is in the light of her vow that Mary’s mother made to
dedicate her to the priestly class.

These verses tell us the story of Mary when she went to her people carrying Jesus
(peace be upon him). The words “carrying him” means believing in his mission. The
learnt Jewish scholars as they were, they considered Jesus a young child and refused
to talk to him.

Mary taught people to follow the guidance of Allah through her actions which were in
full compliance with the commandments and ordinances of her religion. She became
a manifestation of the unity of Allah. The disbelievers could see the spiritual station
to which she had attained. The fruits she achieved and gained proved the truth of her
beliefs and prophet Jesus whom she followed.

Quran puts emphasis on how Mary and Jesus were true servants of Allah. It denies
their divinity. In one of the verses, it is mentioned that they both used to eat food; which
shows they were only human. It is also mentioned in the Quran that Jesus will be
questioned on the day of Judgement as to why his people started worshiping him and
his mother. We read in chapter 5, verses 117-118:

“And when Allah will say, “O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men, ‘Take me and
my mother for two gods beside Allah?’”, he will answer, “Holy art Thou. I could never
say that to which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known it. Thou
knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is only Thou Who art
the Knower of hidden things.”

“I said nothing to them except that which Thou didst command me — ‘Worship Allah,
my Lord and your Lord.’ And I was a witness over them as long as I remained among
them, but since Thou didst cause me to die, Thou hast been the Watcher over them;
and Thou art Witness over all things.”

Featured image of Fra Angelico’s 15th century painting of Mary.

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