What Does the Quran Say About Mary? Part 1March 31, 2020 2023-09-01 17:16
What Does the Quran Say About Mary? Part 1
What Does the Quran Say About Mary? Part 1
Mary, mother of Jesus, should be one of the most important figures in any religion which reveres Jesus as a prophet. However, this is not always the case. Within Christianity, for example, dedication to Mary rises and falls from denomination to denomination. In Catholicism, she is depicted in glorious works of art and worshiped through prayers, feasts, and masses. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, however, she is paid virtually no attention at all. It seems the only religion in which you will find unwavering dedication and proper respect and position to Mary across all denominations and sects is not Christianity at all. To the surprise of many, it is Islam, the religion of the prophet Muhammadﷺ.
Although Islam does not worship any being but Allah, it is an integral part of belief to affirm Jesus as a prophet, just as we believe in the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. It also recognizes Mary as the mother of Jesus and, consequently, as being highly favored by Allah–in fact, she is the chosen woman by Allah from all of humanity. But what does the Quran say about Mary specifically? What can it tell us about her story and why Allah chose her to bring forth one of his most important prophets? We’re going to answer these questions in this article, the first of a two-part series looking at Mary’s role within Islam. Along with the Quran, we will be drawing on the hadith and other revered Muslim sources to give us the most comprehensive view possible of Mary within Islam. Let’s get started!
Mary’s Name In Islam
Mary is the only woman to be named in the Quran, making her the most exalted female figure in all of Islam. However, her glory far exceeds the limitations of gender. She is referenced by name and by titles a total of 70 times throughout the Quran. This is many more times than most male prophets are mentioned in the book. Additionally, the story of her life is discussed in seven different surahs, with one even being named after her. It is important to note that this surah– Surah 19 – bears Mary’s Islamic name: Maryam. Throughout this article, as I have done in similar articles discussing prominent Christian figures within Islam, I will primarily be using the anglicized name of Mary. This is partly the result of my own long-ingrained Western habits and partly to avoid confusing our non-Muslim readers. However, I will use the name Maryam sporadically, particularly when quoting from Islamic sources.
Islam pays markedly more attention to Mary’s ancestry than many Christian denominations. In the Quran, she is referred to as “the daughter of Imran.” This is in stark contrast to Christian tradition, which often lists Mary’s father as a saint named Joachim, despite the fact Mary’s parents are never mentioned by name in the Bible. We don’t know for sure if Imran is merely an Islamic interpretation of the Christian Joachim or the name of a forefather. According to Islamic scholar Al-Tabari, however, Imran was married to a woman named Anne (Hana), which was also the name of Joachim’s wife. Imran and Anne entered old age without bearing a single child. This perturbed Anne greatly, as she had long yearned for a child. In desperation, she prayed to Allah and vowed to dedicate her womb to His cause if He would only allow her to conceive. In Surah Al- ‘Imran, the Quran tells us of Anne’s promise to Allah in the following verses:
“[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 Allah 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 Allah ].’ 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 Allah . Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.'”
- Quran, 3:35 – 37
One of the most interesting factors of the above verses is Anne’s apparent fear that she had disappointed Allah by bearing a female child instead of a male child. The society in which she lived favored male children heavily, with some parents of female babies even abandoning their daughters immediately after birth. However, Anne’s delivery of Mary was all part of Allah’s plan. He consciously gave to Anne a female child so that the child could grow up to bring forth one of the greatest prophets in human history. To ensure Mary reached adulthood with her purity intact, Allah protected her from Satan and all of his empty promises and whisperings as she grew. In fact, Mary was one of two people who was never touched by Satan. (All human being are touched by Satan when they first enter the world at birth, but Allah answered the prayer of Mary’s mother, who beseeched Allah to protect Mary and her progeny and so she was spared the poke at birth.) As the final portion of the verses above tell us, He even provided her with food and drink as she prayed, much to the surprise of Zechariah, her caretaker. (Zechariah was a relative and prophet himself.)
As a side note, there is an Islamic tradition that Imran, Mary’s father, had been promised a male child by Allah. This child, according to Allah, would be a great prophet, a healer, and a doer of miraculous deeds. This likely contributed to Anne’s fear and confusion when she ultimately delivered a girl. However, Allah never specified whether the male child in question would be Imran’s child, grandchild, or something else entirely. When Mary gave birth to Jesus, Allah’s promise to Imran was fulfilled, reminding us once again that He always has a plan for his people.
The Annunciation refers to the event in which Mary was informed she was pregnant with a child who was to be one of Allah’s greatest messengers. It is one of the most important events in all of Christianity. Non-Muslims may be surprised to learn, however, that it also carries significant weight within Islam. Like Christians, Muslims believe that Mary conceived Jesus without having sexual intercourse and while she was still a virgin. Mary was informed she was with child by the angel Gabriel, the same angel who would reveal the Quran to the Prophet Muhammadﷺ almost 800 years later. The Quran recalls the Annunciation in Surah 19, which is actually named “Maryam,” in honor of Jesus’ mother. In Surah Maryam, we are told the following:
“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 Allah.’ 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.'”
- Quran, 19:16 – 21
Mary’s decision to isolate herself from her friends and family is reminiscent of her childhood stay with Zechariah, during which time she lived in solitude and was concerned only with worshipping Allah. Her self-exile as outlined in Surah 19 tells us that her dedication to Allah did not wane as she entered into adulthood. If anything, the fact that she was willing to face the elements in order to attain greater release from the temptations of society tells us that her devotion to Him had grown only stronger. This, of course, made her the perfect candidate to bring Jesus into this world, as Allah had willed. Mary’s preference for isolation will come into play again in the second article of this series as we examine the actual birth of Jesus, which the Quran describes in great detail and contrast to the Nativity of the Bible. For now though, let’s take a moment to discuss an oft-overlooked aspect of the Quran’s telling of the Annunciation.
Although much ink has been dedicated to the dissecting of the Annunciation within Islam, few scholars have touched on the shock and strength Mary displays in Surah 19. When Gabriel informs her that she is with child, she responds “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?” She stands firm with the angel, defending her purity and reminding him of how her mortal world works. Now, some may see having the nerve to question an angel as an undesirable trait and, in many situations, it would be. In Surah Maryam, however, it displays remarkable strength, independence, and realism on the part of Mary. It seems her character is not unlike that of Khadijah, Muhammad’sﷺ first wife and the woman who would be instrumental in helping Muhammadﷺ understand his role as a prophet. Quran, 19:16 – 21 is a reminder that Allah has long shown His choosing of strong-willed women and has always entrusted females to carry out his work upon the earth.
Islam has often been criticized for its apparent sexism and tendency to minimize women. As anybody who is familiar with the story of the Islamic Mary knows, however, the Quran is anything but sexist. Over and over again, the Quran tells us of Mary’s glory and dedication to Allah. She is given just as much attention as any prophet. In some cases, she even receives more attention than certain prophets. Throughout the Quran, Mary is presented as strong-willed, uncompromising, and firm in the face of temptation and mockery. It reminds us that she is so much more than the mother of Jesus. That being said, her primary role in the eyes of Allah was to bring forth one of His dearest and greatest prophets. This was an incredibly important role and in no way compromised Mary’s integrity or independence. In the second installment of this series, we’ll be discussing the birth of Jesus and how it enriched Mary’s life and standing in the eyes of Allah.