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Mary in the Qu’ran

· ​Twelve points of brotherhood ·

Mary with Jesus on her Lap (detail, 16th century)

The month of May is called “Marian” since it is dedicated to the devotion of Mary, an exceptional figure and seen increasingly as the road and bridge between peoples, especially between Christians and Muslims, who see her as a beacon and an authentic and exemplary model of faith.

We come across Mary’s extraordinariness in the Qu’ran: her name recurs a good 34 times in the sacred Book of Islam, more frequently than it appears in the Gospel.

Mary is sublime. She is the mystical flower: Anbataha nabatan hasana. She is a virgin, holy, free, conversing with angels, devout, wise, a model for all men and women of all faiths, the recipient of the Word of God, the only chosen woman of the Lord, an excellent example.

Mary is the beloved woman of the Qu’ran. In the entire text no other woman is called by her own name. She is the great way of dialogue, of encounter and of spiritual brotherhood between Christians and Muslims. “Mary, God has chosen you and made you pure: he has truly chosen you above all women” (Qu’ran 3, 42).

This is the figure of the Mary of the Qu’ran in 12 points:

1. Even before her birth Mary was entrusted to God through her mother’s vow and she is the only person who has the title of moharrar, free and freed, in the sacred book of Islam: “Imran’s wife said, ‘Lord I have dedicated what is growing in my womb entirely to you; so accept this from me. You are the One who hears and knows all’” (Qu’ran 3, 35).

2. Mary was placed under God’s protection, against evil, against Satan: “But when she gave birth, she said, ‘My Lord! I have given birth to a girl’ – God knew best what she had given birth to: the male is not like the female – ‘I name her Mary and I commend her and her offspring to your protection from the rejected Satan’. Her Lord graciously accepted her” (Qu’ran 3, 36). She, the Immaculate One! This dogma, which the Catholic Church elaborated 100 years ago, was presented 14 centuries ago by the Qu’ran.

The images illustrating the article are taken from the book Maria – il culto da Oriente a Occidente [Mary – the devotion from East to West]. This is a precious publication of the Istituto dell’Enciclopedia italiana Treccani: 10 essays, 550 images on more than 700 pages, opened by a contribution from Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.

3. Mary is the mystical flower of the Qu’ran, who grew up under the direct attention of her Lord; she is Nabat, nabatan hassana, the most beautiful and unique flower. “Her Lord… made her grow in goodness” (Qu’ran 3, 37).

4. When Mary was very young she was entrusted to Zechariah, a holy prophet of the temple who was filled with wonder at the miraculous gifts she received. “Whenever Zechariah went in to see her in her sanctuary, he found her supplied with provisions. He said, ‘Mary, how is it you have these provisions?’ and she said, ‘They are from God: God provides limitlessly for whoever He will’” (Qu’ran 3, 37).

With her staunch faith she became the teacher of faith of the Prophet himself, who believed that he too might hope and ask God for a son: “The angels called out to him […] ‘God gives you news of the birth of John [...] He will be noble and chaste, a prophet, one of the righteous’” (Qu’ran 3, 39).

5. Mary is the Virgin of the Qu’ran and her Son is Isa ibn Mariam, Jesus Son of Mary. The Annunciation is described in an extraordinary manner: “‘Mary, God gives you news of a Word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary, who will be held in honour in this world and the next, who will be one of those brought near to God. He will speak to people in his infancy and in his adulthood’. She said, ‘My Lord, how can I have a son when no man has touched me?’. [The angel] said, ‘This is how God creates what he will’” (Qu’ran 3, 46 and 47).

6. Mary is holy, devout and pure. Quanitan, seddiqa.

7. Mary always chooses light, God! When Mary withdraws from her family she enters a period of profound meditation, she creates her own interior castle. The expression used by the Qu’ran is makanan sharqiyyan, a place to the East. And the East is a symbol of the rising sun, the origin of light (Qu’ran, 19, 17).

8. Mary hears the voices of angels, she converses with them: “The angels said, ‘Mary, God gives you news of a Word from him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary, who will be held in honour in this world and the next’. He will speak to people in his infancy and in his adulthood’. She said, ‘My Lord, how can I have a son when no man has touched me?’. (Qu’ran 3, 44-47). [The angel] said, ‘This is how God creates what he will [...]. He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel (Qu’ran 3, 44-47).

9. Mary not only converses with angels but is also a sublime, if not unique, example, such as to be able to receive, encounter, and welcome into herself, into her soul and her body, the Spirit of God, ruhon minh, and to see the Holy Spirit face to face, transformed for her into a perfect human form, “fa arsalna ilayha ruhana, fatamassala laha basharan saviyya”. “We sent Our Spirit to appear before her in the form of a perfected man” (Qu’ran 19, 17).

10. Mary is alone, she is sorrowful, the Qu’ran never mentions Joseph. It recounts the moment of the very great trial of birth in a society which in no way accepts a girl who gives birth without a husband. Mary seeks shelter by a dry, dead tree. The text tells of her loneliness and the enormous suffering which she encounters and accepts, it recalls her one cry: “When the pains of childbirth drove her to [cling to] the trunk of a palm tree, jiz’innikhla, she exclaimed, ‘I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before all this!’” (Qu’ran 19:23).

However this suffering does not remain. On the contrary it is radically transformed into joy: “but a voice cried to her from below, ‘Do not worry: your Lord has provided a stream at your feet and, if you shake the trunk of the palm tree towards you, it will deliver fresh ripe dates for you, so eat, drink, be glad’” (Qu’ran 19, 26).

Sariyyan is a fountain of pure water that flows silently and in the night. The same word in its verbal form, asra, is used in the Qu’ran for Prophet Muhammad’s mystical nocturnal journey, the goal of the ascetic journey in the Islamic tradition, from Mecca to Jerusalem and from Jerusalem to heaven, to return during the same night (Qu’ran 17, Sura Al Isra’).

Mary not only offers the Word of God to the world but now she has sariyyan beneath her and with her faith, by shaking towards herself the trunk of a dry, dead tree, she brings it back to life.

Mary is the perfect example of the faithful person, she seeks the light, and she always accepts it, not passively but in an ever active way.

11. Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ: Isa Massih, the Messiah, the One who in the Qu’ran is the Word of God, a Spirit of God, Blessed wherever he may be, the One who is close to God, Muqarrab, the Servant of God, a Prophet of God, One who works miracles, who gives sight to the blind, who with his life-giving breath creates a living bird from the form of a bird. He restores the dead to life, he is the One who after his mysterious death was raised to be with God, inni mutawaffika wa rafi’uka ilayya; In the Qu’ran Jesus is almost always presented as the fruit of Mary’s womb, a fruit of the mystical flower, of God’s beloved woman. Isa ibni Maryam: Jesus Son of Mary.

12. Mary is a model for Muslims, for Christians and for all who seek a perfect example of faith and truth to follow (Qu’ran 66, 12).

Why? Not only because God arsala sent his Spirit to her, not only because she encountered the mightiness of God, Alqa ilayha, not only because God breathed and breathed into her his same spirit, nafakhna fihe min ruhena, but also because she is the sublime example and teacher of wisdom and unity.

Mary confirmed God’s words and his books in the plural! Mary’s soul embraces all like a wonderful mother.

Muhammad Rasul Allah and Habib Allah enable us to read in the Qu’ran this concept of the infinite plurality of God’s words: “Say: ‘If the whole ocean were ink for writing the words of my Lord, he said, it would run dry before those words were exhausted’ – even if we were to add another ocean to it” (Qu’ran 18, 109).

Christians, Muslims: it might perhaps be time to use the word WE, we believers in God, Creator of heaven and of the earth, a “we” of people who in loving God seek to serve him in their fellow humans.

What is God’s path? And what does the Prophet Muhammad radically ask in the Qu’ran?

 Mary Shakes the Palm Tree with the Newborn Jesus Lying in the Field (page from al-Anbiyā´ [Stories of the Prophets] by Al-Nishaburi, second half of the 16th century)

Two parallel verses explain this to us:

I. “I ask no reward from you for this, only the affection due to kin’ (Qu’ran 42, 23).

II. “I am not asking for any reward for it, but anyone who wishes should take a path to his Lord” (Qu’ran 25, 57).

Therefore the Lord’s way is to love our neighbour.

In this Marian month, sending rays of hope and reciprocal recognition towards a world which is suffering from divisions, indifference, injustices and terrible wars would be an authentic Marian act.

By creating a we of believers, different fruits in the same garden, it will be possible to follow Mary, our common and sublime example of faith, who can accept the many words of God. The authentic way to take is to accept one another, in order then to be able to accept humanity, beloved by God. Italy has as its patron St Francis of Assisi and this year we are celebrating the eighth centenary of his encounter with the Muslims of Egypt. Having Mary as our common model, perhaps Italy, just as Lebanon has done, might choose 25 March, the day of the Annunciation, as the day of brotherhood between Christians and Muslims. On his historic journey to Egypt Pope Francis said wisely: “the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict”. May the month of May and its spring flowers flood our minds with the scent of Marian wisdom, both welcoming and universal.

Shahrzad Houshmand Zadeh




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 29, 2020