In Islam Mary is thought of as a true representative of the Muslim woman in prayer and is considered to be the model for all Muslim women. Her name is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the New Testament for apart from the very important references to Mary in the nativity scenes there are very few other places in the New Testament where her name is found. In an attempt to fill up the gaps in her history pious legends developed and we find that a number of these legends were taken as fact and absorbed into the story of Mary which is found in the Quran and Islamic tradition.
Mary was born without sin
Islam considers that only two persons were born without sin namely, Maryam and Jesus. According to the Quran Mary was chosen and purified:
> “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee – chosen thee above the women of all nations” (Al-Imran 3:42)
> “I have named her Mary, and I commend her and her offspring to Thy protection from the Evil One, the rejected.” Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty” ( Al-Imran 3: 36b-37a)
For this reason the Hadith says, the devil did not touch Mary when she was born, therefore she did not cry.
1. “Narrated Said bin Al-Musaiyab: Abu Huraira said, “The Prophet said, ‘No child is born but that, Satan touches it when it is born where upon it starts crying loudly because of being touched by Satan, except Mary and her son.” (Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 71)
2. “Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: No child is born but he is pricked by the satan and he begins to weep because of the pricking of the satan except the son of Mary and his mother.” (Muslim Book 30, Number 5837)
The only female mentioned by name in the Quran
The name Maryam is the only female name mentioned in the whole of the Quran. Two other women are mentioned but they are known only as the “wife of Imran” and “the wife of Pharaoh”. Although ‘Isa is clearly more important than Maryam in the Quran her name appears 34 times whereas the name of Isa appears only 25 times. The nineteenth sura of the Quran is named after her and she is among only eight people who have a sura named after them. Her name is mentioned in both the older Meccan suras and the later Medinan suras.
The model for Muslim women
Maryam is reckoned as one of the four best women who have ever existed and therefore is considered a model for Muslim women. The following hadiths refer to this:
1 “Narrated ‘Ali: I heard the Prophet saying, “Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, was the best among the women (of the world of her time) and Khadija is the best amongst the women. (of this nation).” Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55, Number 642)
2. “Narrated Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari: The Prophet said, “Many men reached perfection but none among the women reached perfection except Mary, the daughter of ‘ Imran, and Asia, Pharaohs wife. And the superiority of ‘Aisha to other women is like the superiority of Tharid to other kinds of food.” (Bukhari Volume 7, Book 65, Number 329)
Mary appears to belongs to the Trinity
The following verses from the Quran seem to indicate that Muhammad thought Christians believed that Mary was one member of the Trinity.
a) Muhammad argues that both Mary and Jesus ate food so they cannot belong to the deity.
> “Christ. the son of Mary was no more than a messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!” (Al Maeda 5:75)
b) Muhammad felt he had to correct an error which suggested both Christ and Mary were divine
> “And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.” (Al Maeda 5:116)
It has often been wondered why Muhammad thought that Christians believed she was part of the Trinity and although suggestions have been made that women in Arabia offered her votive cake offerings (Collyridians) or it was the heretical practice of the Marianites it is likely that it represents the fact that Muhammad was aware that Marian traditions existed in the Eastern Orthodox churches, and though he misunderstood their true nature, he wished to expose them for they were anathema to him.
Further investigation into the birth of the Mary in the Quran and Muslim tradition
Here we have gathered together verses from the Quran and tradition to give Islam’s picture of the birth of Mary. Rather than following the New Testament, Islam prefers to take its inspiration from fictitious schismatic writings, namely Protevangelium Jacobi and De nativitate Mariae . The Protevangelium Jacobi was said to be written by James the Less, who as a family member would have been the ideal person to relate such a story. Most scholars think that this document was written after the canonical gospels in the late second century.
The story line of Protevangelium Jacobi is as follows: One day the sight of a bird in a tree, which was feeding her young, aroused Hanna’s (traditionally Mary’s mother) desire for a child. She prays that God would fulfil her desire and vows that if her prayer should be heard, the child would remain in the temple. She had however forgotten that according to the Jewish law, it would be impossible to accomplish her vow if she should give birth to a female child. Islam also states the Hanna was the mother of Maryam.
Hanna’s prayer and the birth of Mary
> “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.” When she was delivered, she said: “O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!” and Allah knew best what she brought forth ” And no wise is the male like the female. .” ( Al-Imran 3: 35a -36b)
Mary grows up in a chamber in the temple under the care of Zechariah.
> “To the care of Zakariya was she assigned.” (Al-Imran 3: 36b-37a)
Muslim tradition relates that when Mary’s father, Imran, died her uncle Zechariah claimed authority over her. The temple leaders did not recognise this claim and so the matter was settled by throwing pens or arrows into a river; the only one that floated was that of Zechariah’s. This explains the following strange text in the Quran.
> “Thou wast not with them when they cast lots with arrows, as to which of them should be charged with the care of Mary: Nor wast thou with them when they disputed (the point).” (Al-Imran 3: 44)
Mary is miraculously supplied with food.
Whenever Zakariya entered Maryam’s compartment in the temple he found food provided for her in a miraculous way.
> “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 Allah: for Allah provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.” (Al-Imran 35-37)
The child grew up in the temple and never left it apart from when she grew older and had her monthly period. In such a way the Quran and Tradition prepare the ‘chosen’ and ’pure’ Mary for the next stage of her life, namely the birth of Jesus.
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