For the Christian world, Mary has titles such as Mother of God, Virgin, Immaculate, Assumption, saint, blessed, and her great importance in the minds and hearts of Christians is clear. Art and spirituality have been nourished by her beauty for two thousand years.
However, what is astonishing is her veneration among the world’s Muslims and her exceptional if not unique presence in the sacred text, the Koran.
There are hundreds of mosques dedicated to Mary, in Asia, in Africa, on other continents, by Sunnis or Shiites. In Pakistan, a pilgrimage takes place every year in which hundreds of thousands of women and men, young and old, Christians, Muslims and Hindus participate. On the feast of 8 September, the Nativity of the Virgin, they go to the shrine of Mariamabad, the city of Mary, walking elbow to elbow, singing, dancing and praying together.
Muslim women during childbirth and labour read chapter 19 of the Koran entitled Mary and which speaks of her. Thousands and thousands of Muslim women are called Maryam, the name of Mary in Arabic.
Mary’s beauty and purity is the reason for the composition of poems by dozens and dozens of Persian and Arabic poets.
Rumi, the great Persian mystic poet of the 12th century, presents Mary as the light to be followed, comparing in The Book of Inner Depths, her pain during childbirth, when she felt desolate and abandoned, to the pain of the soul on the spiritual journey in search of God, with these words,
“the body resembles Mary. Each of us possesses Jesus in us, but until we experience this pain in us, our Jesus will not be born. If this pain never arrives, then Jesus returns to his origins by the same hidden path by which he came, leaving us desolate and without any portion of him”.
According to the Qur’anic account, Mary as a young girl chose the light, “Remember Mary, when she went away from her family to a place in the east”, sharqiyyan (Qur'an 19:16).
The word sharqi means East. And Mary’s East is her hidden heart; in tradition it is said that the believer's heart is God’s throne, Mary is God’s secret, and God is her secret.
Having chosen her path, she for a time built her inner castle, to meditate and taste the light within, “She put a curtain between herself and others” (Qur’an 19:17). To contemplate eternity and meet her beloved Lord in his most beautiful expressions, “To God the most beautiful names, invoke him with these” (Qur’an 7:180).
“He is God. There is no God but He, the Knower of the visible and the invisible. He is the Merciful, the Compassionate. He is God! There is no God but He. He is the King, the Holy One, the Peace, the Guardian, the Almighty, the Mighty, the Imperious, the Magnificent, the One who initiates all things, the One who shapes all things, His are the most beautiful names. That which is in the heavens and on earth celebrates his praises. He is the Almighty, the Wise One (Qur'an 59:22-24).
Today more than ever, Mary is the burning light of unity between Christians and Muslims.
We are living in a very special historical moment, on the one hand the Earth has become a global village, on the other the imbalance in the distribution of resources is growing. Pope Francis in his address to the participants at the conference Perspectives for a world free of nuclear weapons and for integral disarmament on November 10, 2017 says, “International relations cannot be dominated by military force, by mutual intimidation, by the display of war arsenals. Weapons of mass destruction, particularly atomic ones, generate nothing but a deceptive sense of security and cannot build the basis of peaceful coexistence among members of the human family, which must instead be inspired by an ethic of solidarity”.
In the face of this abyss, Mary in truth is the most powerful weapon of unity and peace that burns to illuminate the path of the members of the human family, and inspires an ethic of solidarity. For both Christians and Muslims, she is the mother of Jesus Christ, who was born by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, she is also a virgin for the Koran, she is the concrete example of faith and fidelity, for all human beings of all times (Koran 66:12). She is blessed, holy, free, Immaculate, and the teacher of the prophet of her time Zechariah (Qur'an 3:37).
She is the only woman named in the entire sacred text of the Muslims! A mystery, perhaps, preserved, just for our times, a kind of - one might say - Marian apparition in the Koran.
The very significant Qur'anic passage about Mary that points her out to all as the burning light of unity is when she is presented as an example for all believers of all times. Here is a woman! Mary! And the Koran explains in her and with her the criterion to be able to build a world of peace and harmony and unity. This is a wisdom capable of welcoming everything and everyone and embracing religious plurality, believing in the Books of God: “[Here is the model to follow] Mary, she who guarded her virginity and We breathed into her of Our Spirit, She knew and believed in the words of the Lord and in His books”.
Three verbs, three tasks: to guard, to know, to welcome the plurals
by SHAHRZAD HOUSHMAND ZADEH