Dr. Hassaballa in the Chicago Tribune

In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

Thanks be the Lord God, my article was published in the December 11, 2005 edition of the Chicago Tribune. Here it is:

Can you believe it?
Mary holds a special place for Muslims

By Hesham A. Hassaballa
a Chicago doctor and freelance writer
Published December 11, 2005

There’s something about Mary.

Dec. 8 will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and even though I am not Catholic, I have fond memories of that day because it meant an extra day off at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution where I was a student.

I had thought Dec. 8 celebrated the conception of Jesus Christ. I was surprised to learn that the Immaculate Conception was that of the Virgin Mary. It was a pleasant surprise because the Koran also contains the story of the birth of the Holy Virgin.

“My Lord, I devote what is in my womb exclusively to the service of God, so accept this from me, for You are the all-hearing, the all-knowing,” Mary’s mother says in the Koran. She was expecting to have a boy, whom she would dedicate to the priesthood at the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet, “when she gave birth to [a girl], she said, `My Lord, I have given birth to a girl … And I have named her Mary, and I commend her and her progeny to Your protection from Satan the accursed'” (3:35-36).

Muslims hold Mary in high esteem. The Koran states that God “accepted her with a gracious reception and caused her to grow up beautifully” (3:37). The angels, speaking to Mary, tell her, “God has chosen you and purified you and chosen you over the women of all peoples” (3:42).

She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran, and an entire chapter, Chapter 19, is named after her. Moreover, the Koran sets Mary as the ultimate example of an ideal believer. Thus, whenever I think of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my heart stirs with happiness, for I love and revere the Virgin Mary very much.

Throughout history, there have been countless sightings of the Holy Virgin by myriad believers. The Portuguese village of Fatima has become a major pilgrimage site for Catholic faithful because of several sightings, officially endorsed by the Catholic Church, of the Holy Mother by three small children in 1917. Chicago had its own “little Fatima” at the Fullerton Avenue underpass of the Kennedy Expressway, which attracted waves of awestruck believers.

But why is the Virgin Mary, who plays a small role in the Gospel accounts of Jesus, the object of so much love, adoration and reverence for more than 2 billion Muslims and Christians across the world?

For one thing, the story of Mary is about the limitless potential of the human being. Although of noble and prophetic lineage, Mary could not become a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem because of her gender.

Yet, she did not let the vicissitudes of her time imprison her. Mary took for herself a special place in the temple, devoting all of her time to the worship of God. And God rewarded her handsomely. He gifted her with a status unrivaled by anyone: to bear the Son of God, if you are a Christian, or to bear the long-awaited Messiah, if you are a Muslim.

The story of Mary tells me that I can accomplish anything in life as long as I have God on my side.

On a deeper level, the veneration for Mary speaks volumes about the state of humanity.

Our world is a most dreadful place, ravaged by war, terrorism, ethnic and religious hatred, pestilence, natural disaster and poverty. Throughout history, human beings have committed unspeakable crimes against other human beings, many times in the name of the God to whom Mary so devoutly turned herself.

Such a world of pain and suffering robs us of innocence, and it is a theft most difficult to bear.

Seeing the Virgin Mary, the epitome of sacred innocence, reminds us of that lost innocence, and we seek to soothe our pain in her comforting presence. She is akin to a loving mother, comforting the crying child of humanity with a soothing song and delicate, warm embrace.

To be certain, as a Muslim, I do not attach any sort of divinity to the Holy Virgin. She was nothing more than a mortal human being. Yet, she was a most special human being, the best of all women.

“The male is not like the female” (3:36). That is what, according to some commentators of the Koran, the mother of Mary said when she bore her female child, knowing that Mary could never become a priest.

Yet, there is an alternate interpretation: that no male child Mary’s mother might have hoped for could have been like this female, Mary. I like this interpretation better. Even though I disagree with the idea that Mary is the “Mother of God,” it does not diminish my love and adoration for her in the least.

In fact, I hope and pray that the Lord God allows me to be in the company of Mary and her son in the hereafter.

That way, I can greet the Virgin, kiss her hand and tell her in person how much I truly loved and adored her throughout my time on Earth.

There could be no better reward.

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune


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