The Mistaken Identity Of The Virgin Mary In Islam
The Vatican recently announced that it will organize online conferences promoting the Virgin Mary as ‘model for faith’ for both Christianity and Islam.
Organized by the by the Pontifical Academy of Mary, the goal is to present the Mother of Christ as a bridge between Catholicism and Islam in order to foster “dialogue, knowledge and cooperation.”
Aside that such interreligious dialogues have yet to produce any harmony, as is evidenced by the ongoing persecutions of Christians in the Islamic world, Rome’s purpose tends to be pretentious at best since the Blessed Mother of Christ as presented in the New Testament is an altogether different Mary from the one mentioned in the Quran.
Mary in the Quran
Muslims consider the Virgin Mary to be exceptionally pious:
And [mention] when the angels said, “O Maryam [Mary], indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer].” —Sura 3, 42-43
Interestingly enough, because she holds such a spiritual rank so much so that the Quran dedicates one full sura (or chapter) — sura 19 — after her.
The 19th sura, however, overlaps slightly with the 3rd, entitled “The Family of al-Imran,” which speaks of the Annunciation. Here, Mary has withdrawn from her family when the archangel Gabriel comes upon her in the form of a perfect man and announces that Allah will bestow a perfect boy unto her. She conceives a son and retreats to a palm tree when it is time to give birth.
When her family sees her and Isa (Jesus), they question why she has a baby without a husband. Mary points to the infant Jesus, who is able to respond:
“Truly I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed where so ever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and [has made me] dutiful toward my mother. And he has not made me domineering, wretched. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised alive!”
While there are similarities to the Mary seen the the Gospels, if one were to scrutinize the Quranic verses that mention Mary, the latter is not the same woman venerated by Christians. Instead, it appears that she is the sister of Aaron and Moses:
- Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron [brother of Moses], your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.” —Sura 19, 27-28
- And [the example of] Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran [Amram], who guarded her chastity, so We blew into [her garment] through Our angel, and she believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures and was of the devoutly obedient. —Sura 66, 12
The Islamic Explanation
The father of Moses or Aaron is not mentioned neither the Quran or the hadiths. Yet the name ‘Imram (or Amram), as mentioned in the Quran, is associated with in the figure in Old Testament as the father of Aaron, Moses and Miriam [Maryam]. (1 Chronicles 6: 3) — Christian tradition says that the father of Mary was Joachim.
Muslim apologists theorize that ‘Imram or Amram is to be seen as a metaphorical paternal lineage to Mary the Mother of Jesus “the prophet.” While this may appear convincing to many, they overlook a key hadith that completely dispels their claim:
Mughira b. Shu’ba reported: When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me: You read “O sister of Harun” (i. e. Hadrat Maryam) in the Quran, whereas Moses was born much before Jesus. When I came back to Messenger of Allah I asked him about that, whereupon he said: “The (people of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them.” —Sahih Muslim, 25: 5326
As one can clearly see, the Prophet Muhammad himself, according to Sahih Muslim, acknowledges that Maryam is not the same as Mary the Mother of Jesus.
This was even noticed by Muhammad’s child-bride ‘Aisha — venerated by Sunni Muslims as the “mother” of the faithful. According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir (c. 1300-1373) who is one of the most respected Islamic scholars:
“O sister of Harun (Aaron)!” (of Sura 19:28) does not refer to Aaron the brother of Moses. Aisha replied to Ka’b, “You have lied.” Ka’b responded, “O Mother of the believers! If the prophet, may Allah’s prayers, has said it, and he is more knowledgeable, then this is what he related. Besides, I find the difference in time between them (Jesus and Moses) to be 600 years.” He said that she remained silent. —Tafsir Ibn Kathir 19: 28
Muslims do have an incredible veneration for the Mother of Jesus, as expressed in Persian art — unlike the Shi’ites, the Sunnis discourage images even of their own prophet. However, there are two “Marys”: the Blessed Mother of Christ and Maryam (Miryam) the prophetess of the Old Testament. Notwithstanding the two having lived more than one thousand years apart, apparently, since both share women shared the same name, the author(s) of the Quran not being familiar enough with both women, mistakenly saw ‘Imram (or Amram) as the father of Mary the Mother of Jesus.
Sarcasm aside, it would be interesting to see if the Vatican conferences will expose the fact that Mary the Mother of Christ is one and the same as the sister of Moses and Aaron.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.