Come Christmas time, invariably Christians and Muslims are both faced with probing questions about Jesus (peace be upon him) and Mary (peace be upon her).
Popular magazines put up Jesus' photo on their cover with questions such as "Who was Jesus?" and "The Truth about Jesus". Much has already been written about Jesus's exalted position in Islam. At this time, I would like to focus on how Mary (peace be upon her) is viewed in Islam.
Mary is mentioned in the Qur’an in several chapters, including chapter 19 that is named after her. Mary is revered by Muslims on account of her chastity and devotion to God. The Qur’an makes clear the exalted status of Mary as follows:
And [mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer]." (3:42, 43)
According to the exegesis of the Qur'an by Ibn Katheer, Mary was born in a noble family from the lineage of David (peace be upon him). The Qur’an mentions the story of her mother’s pregnancy with Mary in the third chapter called Al ‘Imran and how she dedicated Mary to the service of the Bait Al Maqdis (the mosque of the sacred house) in Jerusalem.
[Mention, O Muhammad], when the wife of 'Imran said, "My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.”
But when she delivered her, she said, "My Lord, I have delivered a female." And God was most knowing of what she delivered, "And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of God ]."
So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, "O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?" She said, "It is from God. Indeed, God provides for whom He wills without account." (3:35-37)
According to various commentaries of the Qur’an, Mary distinguished herself with unmatched worship and devotion to God. Mary’s exalted status was to reach newer heights when God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. The interaction between Mary and Angel Gabriel is given in a most moving manner in the Qur’an as follows:
[And mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to God ].
He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous."
She said, "My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?" [The angel] said, "Such is God ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is.
And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.
And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of God . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead - by permission of God . And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.
And [I have come] confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and obey me. (3:45-50)
In chapter 19 titled Mary, the same story is narrated in greater detail as follows:
And mention, [O Muhammad], in the Book [the story of] Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east.
And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man.
She said, "Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of God."
He said, "I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy."
She said, "How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?"
He said, "Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, 'It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.' "
So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.
And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, "Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten."
But he [the angel] called her from below her, "Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream.
And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates.
So eat and drink and be contented. And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, 'Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.' "
Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, "O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented.
O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste."
[note: "Sister of Aaron" may either mean that Mary had a brother of the name of Aaron, or it may mean that she belonged to the family of Prophet Aaron.]
So she pointed to him. They said, "How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?"
[Jesus] said, "Indeed, I am the servant of God . He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.
And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah (charity) as long as I remain alive.
And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.
And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive." (19:17-33)
During one of the interfaith discussions, a Christian friend remarked that the Qur’an is very kind and compassionate to Mary. She explained that the Bible mentions the first miracle of Jesus when he was 33 years old whereas the Qur’an narrates the first miracle of Jesus when he was a newborn and thus saving Mary from the humiliation of having to wait 33 years to be absolved from the calumny that was heaped upon her by the people at that time.
The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims honor Mary (peace be upon her) and her son the Messiah Jesus Christ (peace be upon him). They send blessings on them when they mention their names, they recite these verses from the Qur’an in their prayers, and they name their children after them as a mark of respect.
I would like to wish our Christian readers a joyous and peaceful Christmas holiday season.