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Mary (in Hebrew: מרים, Myrhiàm; Aramaic: Maryām; Greek: Μαριάμ Mariam, Μαρία / Μαρίη María; Arabic: مريم, Maryam), also called Mary of Nazareth, is the virgin mother of Jesus. Venerated both by Christians (for the Orthodox, Θεοτόκος Theotókos), its sanctity is however also recognized by the Anglican Communion, the Protestant confessions (Lutheran), but also substantially in Islam.
Not many are aware that the Holy Mary is one of the main characters (along with Jesus himself, Moses, Abraham and other biblical personalities) who unify Christians and Muslims. In fact, the Qur’an reports the story of Mary in considerable details and with surprising abundance of citations, underlining the doctrinal similarities between Christianity and Islam.
The sources in the Quran
In the Qur’an, revealed through Mohammed only about 500 years after the New Testament Scripture, is also reported the story of Mary. The sura (chapter) 19 in fact takes the name of the mother of Jesus as a title. Maryam Bin Imran (in Arabic), where Maryam according to the Quranic Text means “the divine”, and Imran (Joachim) is the name of her father.
In the canonical Books of the New Testament the name of Joachim (in Hebrew יְהוֹיָקִים ) is never mentioned, but Christians are aware of it through the Fathers tradition. Its history is narrated in three apocryphal gospels: the Gospel of James (150 AD), the Gospel of the pseudo-Matthew and other text like The Book of the nativity of Mary.
Even in many other Sure there are widely reported episodes concerning the Virgin Mary, so much that her name is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the Christian New Testament.
The birth of Mary
While the Gospels say nothing about the birth and infancy of Mary, only the apocrypha tell us about her in details that we also find in the Holy Qur’an.
The Islamic tradition reports, as in the Proto-Gospel of James, that Mary’s parents were old and childless, and one day, at the sight of a bird on a tree that was feeding his chick, aroused the desire of the woman of ‘Imran to have a child. They prayed GOD (ALLAH in Arabic) to fulfill their wish by promising to consecrate the child at birth, and their wish was granted:
35 The wife of Imran said: “My LORD, I have vowed to You what is in my womb, dedicated, so accept from me; You are the Hearer and Knower.”
36 And when she delivered her, she said, “My LORD, I have delivered a female,” and GOD was well aware of what she has delivered, “and the male is not like the female, and I have named her Mary, and have commended her and her descendants to Your protection, from Satan the outcast.”
37 Her LORD accepted her with a gracious reception, and brought her a beautiful upbringing, and entrusted her to the care of Zechariah. Whenever Zechariah entered upon her in the Sanctuary, he found her with provision. He said: “O Mary, where did you get this from?” She said, “It is from GOD; GOD provides to whom He wills without reckoning.”
The Christian tradition (not in the canonical New Testament) reports that Mary grew as a virgin in the Temple of Jerusalem, and medieval art bears witness to this through many scenes of Mary’s life. According to Islamic tradition, hes father ‘Imran (Joachim) had already died before Maria was born and therefore Zechariah, took the child into custody.
The annunciation of the virginal birth of Isa (Jesus)
Just as clearly as in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the virginal birth of Jesus (Isa in Arabic) is witnessed in four Suras of the Qur’an.
The oldest example is Sura 23, 50:
50 And We [plural maiestatis] made Mary’s son and his mother a Sign, and We sheltered them on high ground with security and flowing springs.
This is the first hint of the Quran on the virginal birth, but the most interesting Quranic passage concerning “Maryam” is that of the Annunciation in Sura 19:
16 And mention in the Scripture Mary, when she withdrew from her people to an eastern location.
17 She screened herself away from them, and We [plural maiestatis] sent to her Our Spirit, and He appeared to her as an immaculate human [Angel].
18 She said, “I take refuge from you in the Most Merciful, should you be righteous.”
19 He said, “I am only the Messenger of your LORD, to give you the gift of a pure son.”
20 She said, “How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, and I was never unchaste?”
21 He said, “Thus said your LORD, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a Sign for humanity, and a mercy from Us. It is a matter already decided.’“
Similarities with the Gospel according to Luke
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with GOD.
31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The LORD GOD will give him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the Angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The Angel answered, “The Spirit of GOD will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of GOD.
36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
37 For no word from GOD will ever fail.”
30 “I am the LORD’s Servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the Angel left her.
(Gospel of Luke 1, 26-38)
Also here in Luke 1, as in the Qur’an, the name of the Messenger of GOD is not given, which brings to Mary the good news, but the Islamic and Christian tradition identifies him with the Archangel Gabriel. In the same uniqueness we learn of the virginity of Mary both in the Qu’ran and in Luke, and so it is for the miraculous birth of the child.
In the Quran there is no temporal and spatial determination of the episode, and neither the city of Bethlehem nor Nazareth. In this story we can identify another difference, while for the Quran the child will be the Sign of GOD, in the Gospel the Messiah is called Son of GOD, and this led Christianity to many speculations. The Divine revelation of Mohammed, immediately after the story of the birth of Jesus, it seems to want to put an end to many of these doctrinal controversies:
34 That is Jesus son of Mary, the Word of Truth about which they doubt.
35 It is not for GOD to have a child, glory be to Him. To have anything done, He says to it, “Be,” and it becomes.
36 “GOD is my LORD and your LORD, so worship Him. That is a straight Path.”
(Qur’an 19, 34-36)
Jesus in Islam is a Prophet, certainly one of the greatest, the one who brought the Gospel (injil in Arabic) to the World, and that is why his apostles are called in the Quran the “owners of the Book”. Instead, the divinity of Jesus is not mentioned at all, and for the Muslim doctrine it is totally unacceptable to give the title Mother of God (in Greek Theotokos) that Christian tradition attributes to Mary.
Even Matthew and Luke report very briefly the episode of the birth of Jesus indicating the circumstances of time and place: Bethlehem and the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus (although two of the evangelists, Mark and John, do not report this story at all). Similarly, the Quran also deals with the birth of Jesus:
22 So she carried him, and secluded herself with him in a remote place.
23 The labor-pains came upon her, by the trunk of a palm-tree. She said, “I wish I had died before this, and been completely forgotten.”
24 Whereupon he called her from beneath her: “Do not worry; your LORD has placed a stream beneath you.
25 And shake the trunk of the palm-tree towards you, and it will drop ripe dates by you.”
26 “So eat, and drink, and be consoled. And if you see any human, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to the Most Gracious, so I will not speak to any human today.’“
27 Then she came to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have done something terrible.
28 O sister of Aaron, your father was not an evil man, and your mother was not a whore.”
29 So she pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to an infant in the crib?”
30 He said, “I am the servant of GOD. He has given me the Scripture, and made me a Prophet.
31 And has made me blessed wherever I may be; and has enjoined on me prayer and charity [zakat], so long as I live.
32 And kind to my mother, and He did not make me a disobedient rebel.
33 So Peace is upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the Day I get resurrected alive.”
34 That is Jesus son of Mary, the Word of Truth about which they doubt.
(Quran 19, 22-34)
The palm shown in Sura 19 unites the Quran with the apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew which shows an episode in which, during the flight into Egypt, the child Jesus ordered a palm in the desert to bend before him to give Mary dates. This is also the story of Jesus’ command at the roots of the palm tree from which a source of thirst quenching the Holy Family flowed. However the palm and the stream are not connected with the birth of Jesus, but with the flight to Egypt.
42 The Angels said: “O Mary, GOD has chosen you, and has purified you. He has chosen you over all the women of the World.
(Quran 3, 42)
The declaration Nostra aetate (literally, in our time) is one of the documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council concerning the theme of the religious sense and of the relations between the Catholic Church and the Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religions. This Council explicitly proclaimed, more than 50 years ago, how Mary is a tape that connects us with Muslims:
“Regarding the Church, it also considers Muslims who worship the Only GOD, living and subsisting, merciful and omnipotent, Creator of heaven and earth, who spoke to men […] Jesus, they do not recognize him as GOD, they venerate him as a Prophet, and honor his Virgin Mother Mary, they also call her sometimes with devotion. “