Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Queen of Paradise مريم


A couple of days ago I came across the following tweets, written by a Muslim:
“Mary = Maryam/Miryam. “None among women have reached perfection except Mary the Virgin” - P. Muhammad”

“Since the Quran venerates her & the Prophet Muhammad called her […] the Queen of Paradise, I do recourse to her intercession.”
As you can imagine, it stopped me in my tracks and I have been trying to find out more about where these statements fitted within Islamic teaching. While I was vaguely aware of the Qur’an considering Jesus a prophet and also mentioning Mary (and doing so more extensively even than the New Testament), what I learned over the last couple of days goes so far beyond that and I would like to share it with you.

Muslims believe that God sent the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad, who transmitted to him God’s words, verbatim - the Qur’an. There Mary is mentioned from the start and the Annunciation, is recounted as follows in the third chapter (Surat 'Āli `Imrān):
“[T]he angels said, “O 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].”” (Qur’an, 3:42-43)

“[T]he angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah].
He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous.”
She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.
And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.
And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], ‘Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah. And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead - by permission of Allah.”” (Qur’an, 3:45-49)
The Qur’an also talks about Mary’s birth, the years leading up to the Annunciation and her life of prayer under the supervision of the prophet Zechariah in earlier verses:
“[W]hen the wife of 'Imran [Joachim] said, “My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.”
But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, “And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah].”
So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, “O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?” She said, “It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.””(Qur’an, 3:35-37)
Later on, chapter 19 (Surat Maryam) is dedicated to Mary, which after an account of John the Baptist’s birth proceeds to re-tell the Annunciation (having the angel say to Mary: “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.”) and then proceeding to the birth of Jesus:
“So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.
And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.”
But he called her from below her, “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream.
And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates.” (Qur’an, 19:22-25)

“[S]he pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?”
[Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.
And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive
And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.
And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.”” (Qur’an, 19:29-33)
Mary is mentioned 34 times in the Qur’an (the only woman to be referred to by name) and there is a wealth of ways in which she is revered and taken as an example in Islam. What am I, a Catholic, to make of this though? Primarily, my reaction is one of joy at having discovered a previously unknown community of my Mother’s sons and daughters. There is no doubt in my mind that Muslims who look to Mary as a role model (which I didn’t know existed before) have a lot in common with me and that is unquestionably a delight. Even from the few quotes above (that barely scratch the surface and don’t even touch on exegesis), it is clear though that there are dramatic differences here both in direct contrast (e.g., the account of Jesus’ birth being at odds with its Christian understanding) and in terms of lacking parallel accounts (Mary’s youth not being recounted in the New Testament), not to mention the very different conception of Jesus as compared to the Christian one. While it would be a mistake to look for syncretism (it always is), I believe it would also be a missed opportunity to only focus on differences. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear about there being goodness and truth to be found in all religions (§843) and that they all “reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men” (Nostra Aetate 2). I certainly feel enriched from having read the above passages of the Qur’an and will seek to further deepen my understanding.

Allāhu Akbar.