Christ Jesus The Son of Mary: A Muslim Perspective
Islam emphasizes the lofty position of Jesus Christ in very clear and absolute terms-putting to rest all controversies around him and his mother. Unfortunately, this high reverence of Islam to Christ and the Virgin Mary is often ignored by the mainstream western intelligentsia and largely unknown to the common western populace. This well researched book describes the status of Jesus in divine Islamic texts and will enrich the knowledge of its readers and enlighten them about the true Islamic position on Christ Jesus-The Son of Mary, peace be upon him.
Author: Adil Nizamuddin Imran
Publisher: Book of Signs Foundation
Retail Price: $16.95
Promotional Price: $12.50
A Chapter From The Book
The next significant set of verses concerning Prophet Jesus appears in Surah 19 entitled “Maryam.” Interestingly, the Quran and not the Bible has a chapter named for Maryam and provides a detailed account of her conception, family background, and upbringing. As mentioned in our discussion of Surah 3, Maryam’s parents desired a child in their old age to continue the family tradition of service to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The conception of Maryam was miraculous because both parents had reached old age. As such, when Maryam’s mother became pregnant, their expectation was that God would bestow a son to continue this legacy as was the Jewish custom at the time. Also, Surah 3 describes how she was embraced by her community as everyone wanted to be her caretaker. As we know, Prophet Zachariah was divinely selected and became her caretaker. This narrative is nowhere to be found in the Bible or any other Christian text. This flies in the face of those who accuse Prophet Muhammad of plagiarism and for copying the stories directly from the Old and New Testaments. The reader should keep this in mind as we begin to discuss Surah 19 since this Surah provides more details about John and Jesus that are nowhere to be found elsewhere.
Surah Maryam was revealed approximately four and a half to five years after Prophethood (614-615) making it a relatively early Surah. At the time, there were few converts to the nascent Muslim community and persecution began to appear at an intolerable level. Embargos and sanctions were imposed by the polytheists, people were lashed and tortured, laborers would not be paid their wages unless they denounced Islam, and so forth. It was during this time that Prophet Muhammad encouraged some of his community to flee to Abyssinia. This Christian nation was ruled by a righteous king named Najjashi who was celebrated for his justice and tolerance. During the fifth year of Prophethood, approximately 70 Muslims secretly fled to Abyssinia. The pagan leadership in Mecca soon dispatched a delegation to retrieve them. They formally brought a case to Najjashi against these 70 Muslims for being religious renegades who needed to be immediately returned to Mecca where they would be prosecuted. Being a just king, Najjashi would not release them without a fair trial because he felt that all religions were once renegades. It was during this hearing that Surah Maryam was instrumental in establishing common ground between Christians and Muslims, which appealed to the sentiments of Najjashi. In fact, after hearing Surah Maryam and the Quranic account of Mary and Jesus, he drew a line on the ground with his staff and proclaimed “The difference between you and us is no thicker than this line.” Najjashi allowed the Muslims to take refuge in Abyssinia where they lived for a time until their migration to Medina after the Prophet had established a prosperous and safe Islamic community.
The Surah begins with the account of Prophet Zachariah and his desire for a son as a successor. Surah 19:2-6 states:
“A recitation of the mercy of your Lord on the devotee Zacharias. He called on his Lord with a secret cry, saying, ‘My Lord, my bones have become feeble, and my hair has turned white, but I have never been disappointed in praying to You. Now I fear my relatives after me, as my wife is barren. So give me a son from You, who will be my heir, and succeed to the lineage of Jacob. And, my Lord, make him acceptable.”
These verses reveal that Prophet Zachariah prayed silently to his Lord who always granted his prayers. Although some of these verses are similar and have been discussed in Surah 3, I would like to highlight some additional points worth mentioning. It is not coincidental that whenever the Quran discusses Prophet Jesus in detail, the story of John the Baptist precedes it or closely follows. The reason is because the birth of John is miraculous because Zachariah was old and feeble and his wife was barren. Accordingly, the birth of Jesus was also miraculous because of the Immaculate Conception. We are told that Zachariah prayed in solitude and his exact words are in the Quran. The only thing that appears in the Bible is found in Luke’s Gospel which simply states that Zachariah petitioned his Lord. The circumstances of his prayer, why he wanted a son and the type of heir he requested are not in any other text except the Quran.
Verses 7 through 11 discuss the fact that God accepted his prayer and granted him a son whose name God chose as John.
“O Zacharias: We bring you good news of a son, whose name will be John—Yahya, ‘He Lives’—We have not attributed it as a namesake before. He said, ‘My Lord, how will I have a son when my wife is barren and I have become decrepit with age?’ ‘It will be so: your Lord says that is easy for Me, since I created you before, when you had been nothing.’ ‘My Lord, give me a sign.’ ‘Your sign shall be that you not speak to people for three nights in a row.’ Then he came out from his prayer niche to his people and told them to praise God in the morning and the evening.”
Again, it should be mentioned that when Prophet Zachariah earnestly prayed for a son, he knew with certitude that his prayer would be answered as they have always been answered. It is erroneous to interpret that Zachariah doubted his Lord, as is portrayed in the Bible. The Quranic version is clear that Zachariah did not doubt his Lord but simply inquired about how and by what means his request would come to fruition. God replies by asserting that such supplications are easy for Him as He created all creation from nothing aforetime. Zachariah knew that this miracle would come to pass but wanted to ascertain when it would be fulfilled, and in anticipation requested a sign from his Lord. The sign that was given to him was that he could not speak for three days during which he prayed day and night.
Verses 12 – 15 describe the bounty that was bestowed upon John the Baptist through God’s grace. He was given: wisdom at a young age, purity of heart, compassion, obedience to his parents, and the fear of God. These divinely endowed characteristics have elevated the status of John, in the eyes of God, and because of it in Islam as well. The Quran preserves the status of John the Baptist as an imminent messenger of God. The followers of John the Baptist were referred to as the Sabians in the Quran. On numerous occasions, the Quran extols the position of the followers of John the Baptist; it says in 2:62: “The Muslims, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians, any who believe in God and the last day and do good have their reward with their Lord. There is nothing for them to fear; they will not sorrow.” Today, the Sabians can be found in places like Iraq, Syria, and certain localities in Lebanon. The Sabians believe in one God and believe that John the Baptist was the teacher of Jesus Christ, and do not establish the divinity of Jesus Christ as the other Christians do. In contrast, the portrayal of John the Baptist in the Bible is initially good but the depiction initially changes after the arrival of Jesus Christ. In the beginning, we are told that John the Baptist is an important messenger of God who would foreshadow the coming of the Anointed One, and after the arrival of Jesus is requested to perform Jesus’ baptism. Later on, Jesus Christ himself lowered the status of John and allegedly said, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11). The Christian view is that John the Baptist questioned the validity of Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, when he said, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:19) From a Muslim point of view, not only is such a belief fallacious but this quote attributed to Jesus Christ is denied by Muslims as inconsistent and demeaning of a true prophet and messenger of God. The Quran says that God bestowed peace upon John upon his birth, after his death, and when he will be raised again.
“And mention Mary in the Book: when she withdrew from her people to a place in the East, and secluded herself from them, We sent her Our spirit, which appeared to her just like a man. She said ‘I take refuge from you with the Benevolent One, if you are conscientious.’ He said, ‘I am only a messenger from your Lord, to give you a sinless son.’ She said, ‘How will I have a son, when no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?’ He said, ‘It will be so.’ He said, ‘Your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me; and We intend to make him a sign for humankind, and a mercy from Us.’ So the matter is decided.’ So she carried him, secluding herself with him in a far away place. Then labor pains impelled her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, ‘Would that I had died before this and been completely forgotten!’ Then he called to her from below, saying, ‘Do not grieve; your Lord has put a stream beneath you, ‘and shake the trunk of the palm toward you to let fresh ripe dates fall by you. Then eat and drink and be of good cheer: but if you see any man, say, ‘I have dedicated a fast to the Benevolent One, so I shall not talk to any human being today.’” (Surah 19:16-26)
In verse 16, God directs our attention to the narrative of Mary and Jesus. “And mention Mary in the Book: when she withdrew from her people to a place in the East.”
From this verse, we know that Mary was assigned a room in the Eastern part of the temple where she worshiped in seclusion. If you recall in our discussion of Surah 3 Lady Mary was given to the service of the temple by her parents. This was specified in the previously mentioned verse 16 where she lived in a room in the east. Being assigned a room within the temple under special circumstances is corroborated by the gospel according to Luke in which Anna lived and worshiped within the temple day and night. The verse states “…and then as a widow to the age of eighty four she never left the temple, serving night and day with fasting and prayers” (Luke 2:37).
Interestingly, when God sent Angel Gabriel, he appeared to Lady Mary as a man which caused her to be frightened. In verse 18 she then asks, “She said ‘I take refuge from you with the Benevolent One, if you are conscientious.” If she were a woman of less perfect character her reaction to finding a man in her private quarters may have been very different. Thus the accusation that was leveled by the Jewish establishment was an egregious sin to say the least. We are honored to read in the Quran that she was a person of the highest character. This is why Muslims love and respect her, and when her name is mentioned Muslims say “may God’s blessing and peace be upon her!”
Muslims believe that at the time God sent Angel Gabriel, Lady Mary was a young adolescent approximately 10 to 13 years of age. However, Christian scholars estimate that she may have been in her early teens. Nevertheless, at this time she was physically capable of giving birth. Although this narrative of Angel Gabriel giving the news to Lady Mary has been discussed in detail in Surah 3, I do want to clarify what can be a source of confusion for some. In verse 17, God uses the plural ‘We sent her Our spirit’ and in other translations ‘we sent our angel’ which some Christians have taken to imply that the trinity concept does exist in the Quran. The verse states, “We sent her Our spirit, which appeared to her just like a man.” To even vaguely insinuate that the notion of the triune God is represented in the Quran is an outright fabrication. Islam came to restore monotheism and to reaffirm the universal commandment that all prophets of God brought, namely the worship of the One God. How then, do Muslims explain this verse? In most languages, including Arabic and English, a speaker or writer will use “we” or “our” while referring to himself. This use of “we” is called the “Royal We”. Therefore, when God reveals the Quran in Arabic He uses “We” while maintaining that He is One. Even Arab idolaters who worshipped more than 360 gods never made the claim that God must be plural because the word “we” is used. It should be noted that it is impossible to make the word “Allah” plural. This is something that can be done in English. The word “god” can be made plural by adding an “s” (gods). Also, the word god can be made feminine by adding “dess” (goddess). However, this is impossible to do with the word Allah: this word cannot be made plural and nor can gender be superimposed.
It is also worth mentioning that in some translations of the Quran, the phrase “We sent Our spirit” is used, while other translations use “We sent Our angel.” Both are acceptable and valid. The former is a literal translation of the word Ruh which is the Arabic word for spirit. On the other hand, the latter identifies the spirit to be Angel Gabriel. This subject needs to be raised because there are again some Christians who use the phrase ‘We sent Our spirit’ to suggest that the Holy Spirit is somehow divine because it emanates from God. This is categorically false. The Quran repeatedly uses the word spirit to refer to Angel Gabriel. For example, in Surah 97 verse 4 the word Ruh is used in the following way: “The angels and the spirit descend therein, by permission of their Lord, on every matter.” Again, every Muslim scholar has identified this to be Angel Gabriel. Moreover, the use of “the spirit” as source of revelation is corroborated by Zacharias 7:12, “They could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets.” Concurrently, no Muslim has ever considered Angel Gabriel to be divine! Therefore the statement “We sent Our spirit” is not taken literally.
In verse 19 Angel Gabriel gave Mary glad tidings that she will bear a son. “He said, ‘I am only a messenger from your Lord, to give you a sinless son.’” In the next verse, she responds, ‘How will I have a son, when no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste? God replies “It is easy for Me; and We intend to make him a sign for humankind, and a mercy from Us.’ So the matter is decided.” (Surah 19:21).
Here, we read why God is bringing forth a child who will become a prophet in a manner that was never done before (through virgin birth). The answer is found only in the Quran which declares that he will be a sign unto humankind.
What does “being a sign unto humankind” truly mean? God created the heavens and the earth and everything in between. Afterwards, He set forth natural laws but he is not bound by those laws. All human beings are created through the joining of the sperm from the male and the egg from the female. However, there are three exceptions to this natural law. Prophet Adam was created without a man and woman. God created Eve by using Adam’s rib, and Prophet Jesus was created without a man and only through the woman. Thus, God can create and bring forth human life any way that He chooses. In the first case, creation appeared without a man and woman, in the second case with the man alone, and in the third case using only a woman. Therefore, the creation of Prophet Jesus is a sign unto humankind and representative of God’s glory and power. In fact, there are creatures in the animal kingdom that do not require a male’s participation. Rather, the female will give birth by herself. This process is referred to as Parthenogenesis which in Greek means virgin creation. If some animals and plants have this capability, then why should virgin creation be a source of disbelief when performed by the Creator of all things?
Moreover, not only is he a sign to man from God, he is also a mercy from Him. The law that the Jewish people were under was very severe. The Torah contained 613 commandments that were made obligatory on the Jewish people. Prophet Jesus was sent with new revelation that was intended to unburden the lives of ordinary Jews. Undoubtedly, living under the Law is very difficult and Orthodox Jews should be commended for their steadfastness. However, God wanted to facilitate religion for them so that they would not live under such austere parameters forever. Thus, He sent Prophet Jesus with the Ingeel (Gospel), and as such, he was a mercy from God to the Jewish people.
To continue, verse 22 states, “So she carried him, secluding herself with him in a far away place.” The Quran does not specify the name of this place but describes it. However, the New Testament has Prophet Jesus born in Bethlehem and living in Nazareth. There is an elaborate narrative regarding his birth that chronicles that three magi see a star in the east. They trace the star and come to find baby Jesus in a manger with Mary and Joseph by his side. However, in the Quran we learn that when it came time to give birth Lady Mary went to a secluded area and sought shelter under a date palm. During her labor pains she cries out, “Would that I had died before this and been completely forgotten!” (Quran 19:23). Not only is she not forgotten but her words that she spoke at the time are recorded forever in the Quran. In Islam, mothers have a higher status than the father not only because of the agony that they undergo during childbirth, but also the challenges they face during pregnancy and after the child is born. In the famous collection of An-Nasa’i, Prophet Muhammad is recorded to have said, “Paradise is at the feet of the mother.” However, all mothers at the time of delivery usually have someone to comfort them. But Lady Mary was facing this ordeal alone in the middle of nowhere. Although she was alone it was God who comforted her and provided her with sustenance. “And shake the trunk of the palm toward you to let fresh ripe dates fall by you.” (19:25)
In verse 26, God commands Lady Mary to fast by not speaking to anyone. Self-discipline by controlling the tongue used to be a type of fast that people at the time performed. “Then eat and drink and be of good cheer: but if you see any man, say, ‘I have dedicated a fast to the Benevolent One, so I shall not talk to any human being today.’” God prescribed this fast to protect her from answering questions about the new child. All religions of the world require their followers to fast by abstaining from food, water, and sexual intercourse. However, the Abrahamic traditions teach that refraining from eating and drinking is an incomplete fast if the individual fails to control his tongue from unlawful speech. God is not in need of our fast from food if we verbally abuse his creatures. This is what Lady Mary was told to do. She continued this fast until she brought baby Jesus back to her people. In verse 27 we read “Finally she carried him to her people: they said, ‘Mary, you sure have done an unheard-of-thing!” It is important to note that Muslims do not have Lady Mary being married to any man prior to the birth of Prophet Jesus. She was by herself when Angel Gabriel brought the news that she will bear a son. She was also alone when she gave birth, and she brought her son to her people on her own. There is no mention in the Quran and Hadith of Joseph or any other man that was married to her.
However, when we examine the Biblical account in Matthew for instance, we read the following narrative. Matthew 1:19-20 is “And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” We must assume that they both did marry, but the question is when? If we believe that Joseph took Mary as his wife shortly after his encounter with the angel, then the Jewish accusation that Jesus was born of fornication would be inconsistent. “…They said to Him [Jesus], ‘we are not born of fornication” (John 8:41). Obviously, if a husband and wife present a newborn as their child, the issue of illegitimate birth does not arise. Again, the Christian perspective of Mary being betrothed to Joseph does raise doubt about the Immaculate Conception. The Quran makes it clear that it was Mary alone that brought baby Jesus to her people. They responded, “Mary, you sure have done an unheard-of-thing!” “O sister of Aaron, your father was not a bad man, and your mother was not [unchaste].” If the child was truly born unholy, then an honorable woman like Mary would at least have been reluctant to present the child to her family. After all, she comes from a distinguished pedigree as she is the descendent of Prophet Aaron and her father was the caretaker of the Holy Temple.
Before we discuss verse 29, the Muslim position is clear: that Jesus was a descendant of Aaron, whereas the Bible claims that Jesus was a descendant of Judah, as a result of his stepfather Joseph. This is ironic, because under Jewish law, there are no rights of inheritance given to a stepchild. Moreover, there is no biblical reference of Mary’s genealogy. The Quran, however, identifies both Mary’s father and uncle, Zacharias, as priests and descendants of Aaron and Levi.
“Now she pointed to him. They said, ‘How can we talk to one who is an infant in the cradle?’ He said, ‘I am indeed the servant of God, who has given me scripture and made me a prophet.’” (Surah 19:30)
In verse 30, baby Jesus speaks from the cradle, performing the first of many miracles. He spoke these words by the strength of the holy spirit. Interestingly, the Quranic account has Jesus’ first miracle to be vociferous utterances in defense of his mother, but the New Testament has Jesus turning water into wine as his first miracle. At any rate, in the above verse we see that Jesus identifies himself not only as a servant of God but also a prophet. Such a characterization is confirmed by the Gospels. In Acts, Peter identifies Jesus as a servant even after his ascension. “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our Fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had elected to release Him” (Acts 3:13). This passage confirms that his disciples considered him a servant of God even after his ascension when Christians claim that he became divine. Also in Luke his followers refer to him as a prophet: “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people.” (Luke 24:19)
In verse 31 through 33, speaking from the cradle, Prophet Jesus states: “[God] made me blessed wherever I am; and has prescribed prayer and charity for me as long as I live, and kindness to my mother as well; and did not make me an arrogant malcontent. And peace is upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am resurrected, alive.” From these verses, we see that God had made him blessed which in Greek translates as Christ. Upon careful reflection on these verses, we also observe that prophets of God are expected to perform righteous deeds and are not exempt from them. Prayer, charity, and benevolence to his mother were commanded by God. Again, we read throughout the Gospels that Prophet Jesus is seen praying on numerous occasions. One example, according to Luke 22:45, states “When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them sleeping from sorrow.” An additional example comes from Matthew 14:23 which states, “After he had sent the crowds away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray; and when it was evening, he was there alone.”
In verse 32 specifically, we read that God commanded Prophet Jesus to be kind to Lady Mary as part of his filial responsibility. Again, if Joseph had been her husband then God would have commanded Prophet Jesus be kind to both of them. Therefore the Muslim position without reservations of any kind is the belief that Mary did not have a husband and was a single mother. Finally, in verse 33 we read that there was peace upon him at his birth, his death and there will be peace when he is raised again. Muslims do not believe that Christ died on the Cross and instead was lifted into heaven. In his second coming he will live on the earth and will die of natural causes. When the Final Hour approaches he along with all sentient beings will pass away and be held accountable on the Day of Judgment.
How do Muslims know such minutia about the lives of both Prophet Jesus and Lady Mary when this level of detail is to be found no where? In verse 34, God provides the answer. “That was Jesus, Son of Mary, a word of truth about which they doubt.” This verse is an affirmation that Prophet Mohammed was a true prophet of God. There have emerged countless disputes and sources of controversy over the years in Christianity on a variety of issues. However, Islam without exception has a singular narrative, since the advent of Islam and until today. After providing such specific information, God singles out an exorbitant sin that emerged as a result of misinformation and disputation. In verse 35, God states: “Having a son is not attributable to God, who is beyond that, and when having determined something merely says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” Islam, through the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed, rejects the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who shares in his divinity. God does not beget a son because His glory and majesty is far removed from this act. It is quite reprehensible to accuse Almighty God of being in any way connected with such sexual matters. As a result, some newer versions of the New Testament have replaced “begotten” with “one and only son.” If your particular Bible does contain the word begotten, then ask yourself whether the God that you worship is capable of such an act. The reality is that God is quite capable of creating Prophet Jesus by His word, as He did with Prophet Adam whom no Christian would claim was begotten by God. This divine utterance “Be” can be found in the first chapter of Genesis in which “Be” repeatedly appears. The Christian belief articulated in Luke 1:35 is rejected by Muslims. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” It is from these types of verses that Christians have extrapolated this convoluted position that Mary was the daughter of the Father, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, and the mother of God. In response to such claims, God revealed Surah 112 which reads: “Say, ‘It is God, unique, God the eternal, not begetting or begotten, not having any equal.”