Newspaper article, socio-cultural

Mary, a Sign for all Peoples

I saw a Facebook post where a Christian guy was thanking the Qur’an for giving account of the Virgin Mary. I decided to link my Mary article in the comment. To my surprise, I couldn’t find my Mary article in all my blogs. I had posted it in my blogs before, but I suppose they were on the blogs that got lost. So, now, I am posting it here. This was published in The Philippine Post.

Mary 2

At Christmastime, the world remembers Jesus Christ. The Muslims revere him as a great prophet, the equal of Muhammad, Abraham and Moses (may peace be upon them all.) And his mother Mary has quite a special place in the hearts of Muslims. A look at the story of the Virgin Mary as depicted in the Qur’an will show that whatever Islam is, it is not blindly patriarchal as some critics suggest. The Qur’anic Mary could very well be an icon of the feminist movement.

Among all women, Mary receives the most attention and praise in the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an. While the Bible praised the House of David and traced Jesus’s lineage through Joseph, his adoptive father, the Qur’an praised the House of Aaron (brother of Moses and son of Imran), to which Mary and her cousin Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) belonged. The Qur’an says: “God did choose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham and the family of ‘Imran above all people…” (III: 33)

In the Qur’an, the birth of Mary was quite an occasion: “Behold, a woman of ‘Imran said: ‘O my Lord! I do dedicate unto Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service: So accept this of me for Thou hearest and knowest all things.” (III : 35) When Hannah (Anne), the mother of Mary gave birth, she prayed: ” O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!’ …And nowise is the male like the female. I have named her Mary, and I commend her and her offspring to Thy protection from the Evil One, The Rejected.” (III:36)

God accepted Anne’s prayer and :”He (God) made her (Mary) grow in purity and beauty: To the care of Zakariya ( the priest Zacharias, husband of Elizabeth) was she assigned. 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.'” (III : 37) For the Islamic Mary, miracle was practically a daily occurrence.

The Qur’an has one chapter (surah), which contains 98 verses, entitled Maryam (Mary). This chapter tells the stories of God’s messengers and their personal relationships– John with his father Zacharias; Moses with his brother Aaron; Abraham with his father; and Jesus with his mother Mary. It also mentioned the prophets Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, and Idris (sometimes equated with the biblical Enoch). If this surah (chapter) were a movie, it would be considered “star-studded” with Mary having the title role. In contrast, Mary only had a cameo role in the Bible. Joseph, her husband, even had a bigger role.

On the other hand, Joseph was not mentioned at all in the Qur’an. Apparently, Mary had no need for a man — “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.” (XXI : 91)

In pregnancy and even in childbirth, she was with no man: “So she conceived him (Jesus), and she retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree” (XIX :22 – 23) While feeling all alone and crying in pain, “…(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.'” (XIX: 25-26)

The Qur’anic version of Christ’s nativity is a stark contrast to the biblical account. For Muslims, Mary was all alone by a tree trunk in a remote village. There was no Joseph, there were no stars, there were no magi and their gifts. There was only God.

When Mary finally brought the baby to her home, everyone was naturally shocked and demanded to know the truth behind the babe. Mary simply pointed to the child. The crowd was incredulous, “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?”  And the infant Jesus spoke: “He 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 …; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. 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).'” (XIX :29-33)

Thus, in the Qur’an, the first miracle of Jesus happened some 30 years before his first miracle as recorded in the bible. Interestingly, that miracle happened in the presence of Mary, too. It could even have been instigated by Mary herself. It was in a wedding at Cana and “At a certain point the wine ran out, and Jesus’ mother told him, ‘They have no more wine’.” (John 2:3) Jesus’s answer was quite enigmatic: “Woman, how does this concern of yours involve me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) Jesus’s reply puzzled biblical scholars. In light of the Qur’anic description of Mary being provided sustenance by God since childhood, could Jesus have meant that since providing sustenance (food and drink) was a “regular miracle” for Mary, it was therefore “her concern” and not his? At any rate, Mary knowingly “instructed those waiting on table, ‘Do whatever he tells you.'” (John 2:5) And so Jesus turned water into wine, his first recorded miracle in the bible.

While the bible refers to Jesus as the Son of Man or the son of David, the Qur’an usually refers to him as the son of Mary.

Mary was not just a mother of a great prophet. There were other great prophets (Moses, Abraham, Noah and Muhammad, among others), all of whom had mothers. But in the Qur’an, no woman was given more attention than Mary. She was set out as an example for the people of the world to follow. The Muslim holy book says: “And God sets forth as an example to those who believe–….Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity….and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of his revelations, and was one of the Devout.” (LXVI : 12)

Significantly, the Arabic word used for devout (Qaanitiin) was not in the feminine gender, which according to Islamic scholar Yusuf Ali, “implies that the highest spiritual dignity is independent of sex (gender).”

For the Muslims, Mary’s obedience and devotion to God is an example for all peoples, for all ages. In a heavily patriarchal time and place, Mary had no need for men. God was her provider. And as God said in the Qur’an: “We made her and her son a Sign for all peoples. Verily this Brotherhood of yours is a single Brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher”. (XXI : 91-92)


Published in The Philippine Post, Dec. 26, 1999

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