Islam’s Mary: The Mother Of Jesus

Heb: Miryam

Mary’s genealogy

The Qur’an informs us that the father of Mary was named ‘Imran and the classical Muslim scholars unanimously accept that she was from the line of the prophet David … Differences of opinion emerge, however, over the intervening genealogy, most probably due to a lack of familiarity with such foreign names and consequent error in recording them in the Arabic orthography. According to the Spanish exegete al-Qurtubi, ‘All these differences are mentioned because the Prophets and Messengers are all descendants one of the other.’ The following genealogy (taking into account orthographic variations), which is attributed to Ibn Ishaq or directly to the Prophet’s … companion Ibn ‘Abbas, is the most generally accepted: Mary bint ‘Imran ibn Yashim ibn Misha ibn Hazqiya ibn Yawish (ibn Isha ibn Yahushafat) ibn Sulayman ibn Dawud … Although the name of her mother is not supplied in the Qur’an, it is universally accepted as Hanna bint Faqudh. (Source: Aliah Schleifer, Mary The Blessed Virgin of Islam, Fons Vitae; ISBN: 1887752021; July 1, 1998, pp. 22-23)

Mary’s perpetual virginity

That Mary remained a virgin even after the birth of Jesus has no basis in the Bible. This particular Muslim belief seems to have been influenced by Catholic Mariology. Aliah Schleifer writes:

Tabari paraphrases the meaning of 19:20 thus: ‘When no mortal has touched me, either from the point of view of halal [allowed acts] or haram [forbidden acts].’ Thus, because of Mary’s purity of body and soul, she is entitled al-batul. She is called the Virgin Mary in the Christian context, thus stressing the physical aspect of her purity, but the Arabic word, al-batul implies more, as the scholars have noted.

According to the classical dictionary Lisan al-‘Arab, the root of batul, b.t.l., has the sense of ‘severance’, and the original meaning of the words batul, batil, and batila is: a palm shoot which has separated itself from its mother tree. The verb which is related to the form batul is tabattala, and the phrase tabattala ila Allah means to withdraw or to cut oneself off in order to devote oneself sincerely to divine worship. Thus, if God’s servant severs all concerns and devotes himself totally to His worship, he has tabattala, i.e., has separated himself from everything except the cause of God and obedience to Him. Lisan al-‘Arab further states that ‘the batul among the women’ is the woman who separates herself from men, having no desire or need for them. Thus, Mary the Virgin [al-‘adha] was called batul because of her abstention from marriage and her severance from all worldly preoccupations in order to worship God. Batul may also refer to physical beauty, in addition to spiritual excellence; consequently, al-Khazin describes Mary as the most beautiful and the most excellent of women of her time.

Mary’s characteristics of spiritual and bodily purity are reiterated in the various stories and accounts of her life, one of which is found in Wahb ibn Munabbih’s tale about Joseph the Carpenter’s awareness of her pregnancy, which at first he found to be unacceptably bizarre: ‘Then he considered what he knew about her religiousness and her worship,’ at which point he realised that the situation was beyond his ken. Another account found in Fada‘il literature portrays Mary’s physical purity:

Sa‘id ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz said: ‘In the time of the Israelites there was a spring [or well] in Jerusalem around the site of the Spring of Silwan. If a woman was accused of adultery or fornication, she would drink from this spring. If she were guilty, she would die. So when Mary became pregnant, they brought her there. She drank from it, and nothing happened except good. And she prayed to God not to let her be dishonoured as she was a believing woman, and the spring dried up.’ (al-Khatib)

From the perspective both of the customary practices of the Jews at the time of Mary’s birth, and of those presented in the Qur‘an and Sunna. Mary’s dedication to worship and her conscious abstention from marriage are characteristics which set her apart from the ordinary. For Jewish believers, such dedication had previously reserved for men, and did not entail lifelong abstention from marriage. And as the following discussion indicates, the fact that Mary was chosen to posses these characteristics is an even greater distinguishing factor in the Islamic context, as it places her outside the realm of what is generally advised for the believers, male or female …

The Quranic injunctions at 33:35 and 24:33 apply to both men and women; thus Muslim women are normally expected to marry, and to remarry in case of widowhood or divorce. An exception to this condition is found in the special status of the widows of the Prophet … who were prohibited from marrying after his death …

Another exception is the Blessed Virgin, who was designated never to marry, to remain together with her son, as a ‘sign for [all] peoples’. (21:91) …

The last of the two hadiths emphasise the importance of choosing a path of moderation, in spite of the fact that it may be difficult for the fervent believer who wants to abandon him or herself to total worship, ignoring marriage and other worldly attachments. But Mary, the universal symbol of female purity and piety, was permitted to do what was forbidden to others. (Mary The Blessed Virgin of Islam, pp. 65-69)

Mary’s Relationship to Joseph

The House of the Virgin Mary (Turkish: Meryemana Evi or Meryem Ana Evi, “Mother Mary’s House”) is a Catholic and Muslim shrine located on Mt. Koressos (Turkish: Bülbüldağı, “Mount Nightingale”) in the vicinity of Ephesus, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) from Selçuk in Turkey.

In the Bible, Mary is first engaged and later married to Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth. The Qur’an and other Muslim sources mention him hardly at all, and if so he is still never referred to as the husband but only as a guardian of Mary.

Mary attained puberty, and she began to stay with Zechariah’s wife during the courses of her menstruation, and after completing the menstrual cycle and performing the ghusl (the major ritual ablution, which entails the washing of the whole body), she would return, ritually pure, to her mihrab. Mary increased in worship until there was no person known at that time who approached her in the time of worshipping. Being physically capable at this stage in her development, Mary began her service at the Temple. It is at this point that Joseph (Yusuf) the Carpenter begins to appear in the accounts of her life. However since Joseph is never mentioned in the Qur’an or hadith material, the information supplied concerning him, and especially about his connection with Mary, is expressed with extreme caution. Such accounts are either concluded with a prudent ‘wa’Ilahu a ‘lam (‘and God knows best’) or prefaced with the words ‘it is said’, ‘they say’ (the identity of the source being left unspecified) or, at times, ‘Christian sources say’. The following discussion can hence be no more than an attempt to clarify the elements which recur with the most frequency and appear to have been most widely acquiesced in by Islamic scholarship.

Joseph is said to have been Mary’s cousin, a carpenter who was also in service at the Temple. As a result, he became aware of Mary’s devoutness and the palpable excellence of her worship. They both made use of a source of water in a grotto on the Mount of Olives (Jabal al-Zaytun). Then there is a solitary account found in Ibn Hisham’s Sira (biography of the Prophet), and attributed to Ibn Ishaq. This account implies a second casting of lots:

It was Jurayj the priest, a man of the Israelites, a carpenter, whose arrow separated out, who took responsibility for Mary. And it was Zachariah who had been her guardian before this time. The Israelites had suffered a terrible calamity, and Zachariah had grown too old to bear the responsibility of Mary; thus they cast lots for her, and Jurayj the priest won, and took the responsibility.

The same account is found in Tha‘labi’s collection of prophetic biographers (Qisas), still uniquely attributed to Ibn Ishaq, except this time it is Joseph the Carpenter who cast lots and gains responsibility for the guardianship of Mary. Due to the solitary attestation of this anecdote, the lack of reference to it in the Qur’an and hadith, and the confusion of identities in the two versions, it must be discarded as unreliable. In fact, in traditional Muslim sources Joseph’s relationship with Mary is frequently not clarified, or he is mentioned as her companion and relation only, because there is no revealed basis for anything more specific, such as the statement that he was her fiancé and later became her husband, both of which are generally attributed to the Gospels, if mentioned at all. Ibn al-Qayyim further claims that Mary and Joseph were from different tribes and thus could not have been married to each other as this was against Jewish law. (Mary The Blessed Virgin of Islam, pp. 28-29)

Further data

And the priest said, “Mary why hast thou done this and hast humbled thy soul…” But she wept bitterly, saying “As the Lord God liveth, I am pure in His sight and I know not a man.” (Protoevangelium Jacobi, quoted by Tisdall, p. 160, quoted by Abdul-Haqq)

The word translated pen was also “reed”. The Qur’anic verse points to two events : 1) the use of divination to determine who Mary should marry and 2) the quarrel (between Joseph and the High Priest). A parallel passage can be found in Protoevangelion of James 8:9-16 :

“After the High–Priest had received their rods, he went into the temple to pray; and when he had finished his prayer, he took the rods, and went forth and distributed them, and there was no miracle attending them. The last rod was taken by Joseph, and behold, a dove proceeded out of the rod, and flew upon the head of Joseph. And the High Priest said, ‘Joseph, you are the person chosen to take the virgin of the Lord, to keep her for Him.’ But Joseph refused, saying, ‘I am an old man, and have children, but she is young, and I fear lest I should appear ridiculous in Israel.’ The High Priest replied, ‘Joseph, fear the Lord your God, and remember how God dealt with Dathan, Korah, and Abiram, how the Earth opened up, because of their contradiction. Now therefore, Joseph, fear God, lest the like things should happen in your family. Joseph then, being afraid, took her into his house….” (Protoevangelion of James 8:9-16)

Although the above quotation seems to be the source of Sura 3:44, the verse in the Qur’an is usually interpreted to refer to the choice of Zakariya as Mary’s guardian, see also Sura 3:37. This is, however, unlikely for these reasons: Sura 3:36 reports Mary’s birth, 3:37 her being entrusted to the care of Zakariya, and verses 3:42-47 of the visit of the angels to announce the birth of Jesus to Mary. It is non-chronological and seems somewhat arbitrary that 3:44 should again be about the choice of her childhood guardian. It is more probable that the choice of Joseph as her new/next guardian (husband?) is in view here. See also the above quotations from the Muslim sources.

Al-Baidhawi adds that Imram’s wife was barren and advanced in age. One day she saw a bird feeding her young and so she herself longed for an offspring. She prayed to God for a child and promised to present it to the Temple at Jerusalem. God heard her prayer and she gave birth to Mary. (Abdul-Haqq, p. 47)

Apropcryphal Protoevangelium of James the Less have:

And having gazed fixedly into the sky Anna saw a nest of sparrows in the bay tree, and she made lamentation in herself saying, “Woe is me! to what am I likened? I am not likened to the birds of the air, for even the birds are productive in the sight of the Lord!” … And lo! an angel of the Lord stood by saying unto her, “Anna! Anna! the Lord God hath hearkened unto thy petition, thou shalt conceive and shall bear, and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world.” But Anna said, “As the Lord my God liveth, if I bear either male or female, I shall offer it as a gift unto the Lord my God, and it shall continue to do Him service all the days of its life.” Anna brought forth…And she gave breast to the child and called her Mary. (Quoted by Tisdall, pp. 156-157)

“But Mary was like a dove reared in the Lord’s shrine and she was wont to receive food from angel’s hand. But when she became twelve years of age, there was held a council of priest who said, “Lo! Mary has become twelve years old in the shrine of the Lord, what therefore are we to do with her?” and lo an angel of the Lord stood by him saying, “Zacharias! Zacharias, go forth and call together widowers of the people, and let them bring each a rod, and whosoever the Lord God shall show a sign, his wife shall she be.” And the priest took the rods of all and prayed. …” (Protoevangelium of James the Less, quoted by Tisdall, pp. 157, quoted by Abdul-Haqq, p. 47)

There has been quite a bit of confusion about why Mary was called sister of Aaron. Aaron had a sister called Miriam (Ar: Maryam), who was also a prophetess. Muslims are not in accord in their opinions. Mary and Miriam are both “Maryam” in Arabic.

…, Sale does mention some Muslim writers who have done so [i.e. to identify the two Marys]. According to them, “Mary the sister of Moses was miraculously preserved alive from his time till that of Jesus Christ, purposely to become the mother of Jesus.” (Koran, p. 34, note x on “Imran” (quoted by Abdul-Haqq, p. 46)).

Al-Baidhawi claims she is called the sister of Aaron because Mary was a Levite (this theory contradicts not only the geneology found in the Bible, where Mary was a descendent of Judah but even the understanding of her genealogy in the earliest Muslim sources). Husain maintained that the Aaron in Surah Maryam 19:28 was not the same as the brother of Moses (quoted in Hughes’ Dictionary, p. 328). In the Sahih of Muslim, chapter Kitab al-Adab, it was recorded that Christians of Najran pointed out to Al-Mughairah this mistaken identity. He consulted Muhammd who replied that the Jews have many names. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t shed any light on the this confusion.

A detailed discussion on the issue is given in the article Is Mary the Sister of Aaron? See also this article for a discussion of whether Mary is the descendent of Judah or Levi.

see also throwing reeds to determine who to marry, under MARY

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