I have heard some compare Islam to radical forms of Protestantism. This is in some ways true, as they reject priesthood and mediators and icon veneration. Still I would certainly account Protestantism as closer to orthodox Christianity, on account of this verse at any rate…
“People of the Book, go not beyond the bounds in your religion, and say not as to God but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only the Messenger of God, and His Word that He committed to Mary, and a Spirit from Him. So believe in God and His Messengers, and say not, ‘Three.’ Refrain; better is it for you. God is only One God. Glory be to Him — That He should have a son! To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth; God suffices for a guardian.” (Sura 4:171)
In other words, Muslims deny the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, two doctrines which Protestants accept. However, there is quite a war among Protestants against the Blessed Mother. Apparently, Muslims are closer to getting her right. You will soon see what I mean. Let us begin at her birth:
“God chose Adam and Noah and the House of Abraham and the House of Imran above all beings, the seed of one another; God hears, and knows. When the wife of Imran said, ‘Lord, I have vowed to Thee, in dedication, what is within my womb. Receive Thou this from me; Thou hearest, and knowest.’” (Sura 3:33-35)
Imran, by the way, is St. Joachim, making the wife of Imran St. Anne. This verse is reminiscent of the apocryphal Protogospel of James which states:
“And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: ‘Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.’ And Anna said: ‘As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.’” (Protogospel of James 4:2)
What follows in the words of the Quran will be surprising to someone who does not already know about Islam:
“And when she gave birth to her she said, ‘Lord, I have given birth to her, a female.’ (And God knew very well what she had given birth to; the male is not as the female.) ‘And I have named her Mary, and commend her to Thee with her seed, to protect them from the accursed Satan.’” (3:36)
Think about what this means for a moment. And I have named her Mary, and commend her to Thee with her seed, to protect them from the accursed Satan. So neither Mary nor her Offspring were touched by Satan. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.” (Gen. 3:15)
Muhammed actually said: “None are born except that Satan touches them upon their birth, due to which it comes out screaming from its touch, except Mary and her son.” (Ahmed) So Muslims agree that our Lady and her Son were without personal sin. This may be mind-boggling to Protestants, but I as a Catholic welcome it with open arms. Now I should note that Muslims would say that they do not believe in the Immaculate Conception exactly because they do not believe in Original Sin. However, I think it is still refreshing to hear this from the Quran, considering the Fundamentalists whom I have read attacking our Lady. As far as Mariology goes, I like Muslims much better.
None other than Zechariah, according to the Quran, was chosen to rear her. “Whenever Zachariah went in to her in the Sanctuary, he found her provisioned. ‘Mary,’ he said, ‘how comes this to thee?’ ‘From God,’ she said. Truly God provisions whomsoever He will without reckoning.” (3:37) So she was fed presumably by angels. This is amazing indeed. I do not know if this actually happened, but it is certainly something which could have happened.
Now an apparition from an angel:
“And when the angels said, ‘Mary, God has chosen thee, and purified thee; He has chosen thee above all women. Mary; be obedient to thy Lord, prostrating and bowing before Him.’” (3:42-43)
This is reminiscent of Elizabeth’s words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42)
After this there is an account of the Annunciation, which I quote at length.
“When the angels said, ‘Mary, God gives thee good tidings of a Word from Him whose name is Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary; high honoured shall he be in this world and the next, near stationed to God. He shall speak to men in the cradle, and of age, and righteous he shall be.’ ‘Lord,’ said Mary, ‘how shall I have a son seeing no mortal has touched me?’ ‘Even so,’ God said, God creates what He will. When He decrees a thing He does but say to it “Be,” and it is. And He will teach him the Book, the Wisdom, the Torah, the Gospel, to be a Messenger to the Children of Israel saying, “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I will create for you out of clay as the likeness of a bird; then I will breathe into it, and it will be a bird, by the leave of God. I will also heal the blind and the leper, and bring to life the dead, by the leave of God. I will inform you too of what things you eat, and what you treasure up in your houses. Surely in that is a sign for you, if you are believers. Likewise confirming the truth of the Torah that is before me, and to make lawful to you certain things that before were forbidden unto you. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; so fear you God, and obey you me. Surely God is my Lord and your Lord; so serve Him. This is a straight path”.’ ” (3:45-51)
Let us compare this to the biblical account:
“And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:28-38)
Clearly many similarities can be seen between the two, but also a few important differences. The words attributed to Jesus, “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; so fear you God, and obey you me. Surely God is my Lord and your Lord; so serve Him. This is a straight path” are reminiscent of John the Baptist, which makes sense, seeing that Muslims deny the divinity of Christ.
Something I find even more disappointing is that the Quran does not mention her assent. In the Bible, Mary says: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In the Quran, it is God who says “ ‘Be,’ and it is.” Obviously God caused the miraculous pregnancy to happen, but our Lady’s assent is a very important aspect which was left out. I suppose this makes sense because Muslims (and also evangelicals) do not seem to realize the importance of our being co-workers with God. Yet the Fathers and Council’s could not stress our Lady’s assent enough.
St. Irenaeus says: “So also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race.” (Against Heresies III:22:4)
Or to quote the Second Vatican Council: “Thus Mary, a daughter of Adam, consenting to the divine Word, became the mother of Jesus, the one and only Mediator. Embracing God’s salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption.” (Lumen Gentium 56)
The fact that she, in a secondary sense, caused our salvation is so important because on that account she became the Mother of the Redeemed in the order of grace. Yet the Quran omits her Fiat, her free choice to become the Mother of our Lord. Now I grant that Muslims do not see Him as God Incarnate nor as Savior of Mankind, but still I do believe they are taking something important away from Mary.
“So she conceived him, and withdrew with him to a distant place. And the birthpangs surprised her by the trunk of the palm-tree. She said, ‘Would I had died ere this, and become a thing forgotten!’” (19:22-23)
Traditionally, Mary never had birthpangs in Christianity. It is written, “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she was delivered of a son.” (Isa. 66:7) Indeed, back in Genesis 3:16, God cursed the woman for her sin, saying “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” Yet Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” (Ineffabilis Deus, Pius IX) However, Muslims do not believe in Original Sin, so this makes sense. I am also not sure about how I feel about Mary wishing she had died before this. It is not something I would imagine our Lady to say.
Finally, let us see the Quranic account of the Nativity.
“But the one that was below her called to her, ‘Nay, do not sorrow; see, thy Lord has set below thee a rivulet. Shake also to thee the palm-trunk, and there shall come tumbling upon thee dates fresh and ripe. Eat therefore, and drink, and be comforted; and if thou shouldst see any mortal, say, “I have vowed to the All-merciful a fast, and today I will not speak to any man. Then she brought the child to her folk carrying him; and they said, ‘Mary, thou hast surely committed a monstrous thing! Sister of Aaron, thy father was not a wicked man, nor was thy mother a woman unchaste.’ Mary pointed to the child then; but they said, ‘How shall we speak to one who is still in the cradle, a little child?’ He said, ‘Lo, I am God’s servant; God has given me the Book, and made me a Prophet. Blessed He has made me, wherever I may be; and He has enjoined me to pray, and to give the alms, so long as I live, and likewise to cherish my mother; He has not made me arrogant, unprosperous. Peace be upon me, the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised up alive!’” (19:24-33)
This certainly differs a fair deal from the biblical account. We see Jesus being born by a river rather than in a stable. Nor do I see a mention of Joseph here. The people address Mary as the sister of Aaron. Mary the sister of Aaron, also the sister of Moses, lived fourteen centuries earlier. Still, we see them accusing Mary of adultery, which is probably what happened, so I like that. We see Jesus speaking to her even before He was born. I doubt this happened, but I am quite sure He was capable of doing so. Jesus is obviously a created creature here, a prophet not God Incarnate. Blessed He has made me, wherever I may be.
However, important truth can be found in the following verse: He has enjoined me to pray, and to give the alms, so long as I live, and likewise to cherish my mother. Jesus set an example for us to follow. Indeed, Jesus did perfectly honor His mother.
Mary is the only woman specifically named in the Quran. All others are generally “the wife of” someone. In Islam, the four greatest women in history are considered to be Aasiyah the wife of Pharaoh, Khadeejah bint Khuwaylid the wife of Muhammad, Fatima daughter of Muhammad, and Mary the mother of Jesus.
Muslim mariology, as I have shown, is by no means perfect. Most importantly, they reject the first of the Marian dogmas, which Protestants are most likely to accept, that being the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Nor do they accept many other doctrines about her, including the Perpetual Virginity, the Spiritual Maternity, the Mediatrix, the Assumption, and the Heavenly Queenship. Still, perhaps this can be a bridge, a starting point where Catholics and Muslims can agree whereby we might bring them to Christ.
“They [Muslims] also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion.”—Vatican II, Nostra Aetate 3
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All Scripture verses are from the Revised Standard Version
All Quranic verses are from the Arberry Translation