In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
This article was published today by the Religion News Service.
Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I had always thought it was to commemorate the conception of Christ. Unbeknownst to many, I suspect, the Feast actually celebrates the Virgin Mary. Thinking of this Catholic feast day always brings me a happy memory, even though I am not even Christian. This is partly because, I must admit, December 8th was a day off from school when I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution. Yet, my happiness at commemorating the Virgin Mary goes much more deeply than that.
The story of her birth is one of my favorites: “When a woman of the [House of] Imran prayed: ‘O my Sustainer! Behold, unto You do I vow [the child] that is in my womb to be devoted to Your service. Accept it, then, from me. Verily, You alone are all-hearing, all-knowing.’ But when she had given birth to the child, she said: ‘O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female…and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Your protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.”
I did not get this story from the Bible. Rather, this story is quoted from the Quran (chapter 3, verses 35-36). This should come as no surprise, really, for Muslims have honored and revered the Virgin for more than fourteen centuries. Not only is the story of her birth in the Quran, but the story of how she came into the care of Zakariah, the father of John the Baptist, is also recounted in the self-same chapter (3:37-38). In addition, the story of the birth of Jesus, the commemoration of which our nation will observe in a few weeks from now, is also told more than once in the Quran (3:45-47, and in chapter 19).
The Quran bestows enormous praise on the mother of Christ. It says the Lord accepted Mary “accepted her with a gracious reception and caused her to grow up beautifully” (3:37). The Quran also recounts how the angels said to her: “O Mary! Behold, God has chosen you, made you pure, and raised you above all the women of the world” (3:42). The Virgin Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran, and she is the only woman to have an entire chapter named after her, Chapter 19.
In fact, the Quran holds up the Virgin Mary as the ideal example of a believer: “And [God has propounded another example of God-consciousness in the story] of Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], and who accepted the truth of her Sustainer’s words – and [thus,] of His revelations – and was one of the truly devout” (66:12).
I truly cannot describe in full the love, respect, and reverence I have for the Virgin Mary (and her son). I think I can speak for the rest of the Muslim world when I say that no devout Muslim would even fathom maligning the Virgin Mary (or Jesus Christ), as some who claim to follow Christ have done with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is truly amazing that a major religious figure of one religious tradition is loved, revered, and adopted as sacred by the followers of a another major religious tradition.
I wish more people would take this phenomenon as inspiration to build more bridges of love and understanding between Christians and Muslims across the world, especially in light of the Pope’s recent comments about Islam – and the furor they erupted – last September. Christians and Muslims are natural allies when it comes to working towards the betterment of the world for all peoples.
The Quran says, when speaking of the birth of Mary, that “the male is not like the female” (3:36). Many have traditionally interpreted this to mean that the fact that Mary was a woman made it more difficult for her to become a priest, as her mother wanted for her.
Yet, there is another interpretation of that statement: “no male child [that Mary’s mother might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female.” I like this interpretation much better. I pray that, by God’s precious grace, I am admitted to Paradise and will get to see the Virgin Mary, kiss her hand, and tell her how much I loved her while I was on earth. There could be no greater reward for me than that.