Introduction to Surah Mariam – Mother Mary

Most Christians don’t realize that none of the 27 books of the New Testament are named after mother Mary. One of the 114 chapters of the Quran is named after her and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran, a subtle hint at it being the literal word of God and not word of Muhammad. Mary is mentioned as a role model for not only Muslim women but also Muslim men in the holy Quran, another example of gender equality in Islam and the Quran. (66:11-12)

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in the introduction to this surah:

Mary represents a unique point of connection between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. She was born into a priestly Jewish family and dedicated to service in the Temple, but she was also the mother of Jesus and thus plays a central and miraculous role in the establishment of Christianity. In the Quran, Mary’s importance is indicated by the fairly substantial detail with which her story is recounted, both here and in 3:35-48. She also plays a role of significance in certain forms of Islamic piety.

This surah is reported to have played an important role in the history of the early Islamic community. After the Battle of Badr, in which many prominent Makkans were killed, the Makkan leaders sent a delegation to the Negus, the Christian king of Abyssinia, who had given refuge to a small group of the Prophet’s followers. The Makkan delegation demanded that the king hand over some of these Muslims, so that they could exact retribution upon them for the loss of those Makkans who died at Badr. The Negus summoned a delegation of the Muslims and asked them to recite something from the revelations that had been sent to the Prophet Muhammad. Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib (d. 7/629), the Prophet’s cousin and older brother of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, came forth and recited from this surah. Upon hearing the Quran’s words regarding Mary and Jesus, the Negus and the religious leaders of his court began to weep profusely and refused to hand over the Muslims, indicating that the religious teachings of the Quran were deeply related to those of the Christian faith (Q).

According Muhammad Ali, in the introduction to this surah:

The first two sections deal with the last representatives of prophecy in the house of Israel, viz., John and Jesus. The false doctrines that grew up round the name of the latter are clearly denounced at the end of the second section. The history of Abraham in the third, and that of some other prophets in the fourth, are referred to as showing that God always sent men as His prophets to reform the world. Towards the close of the fourth section it is stated that mere faith unattended with good deeds is nothing, and that faith cannot benefit a people except when it is translated into practice. The fifth section deals with the opponents of the prophets generally, while the sixth brings to a close the discussion of the Christian religion by outspokenly denouncing the false doctrine of the sonship of Jesus.

The surah reinforces the argument against the divinity of Jesus by stating that if all the prophets from Adam down to the last Israelite prophet were human beings, why should Jesus, who was only a prophet of God, be invested with Divine attributes and be regarded as God or Son of God. (F)

In our opinion the most important verse of this surah is: “Those who believe and do good deeds, for them the Compassionate God will surely ordain love.” (19:96) The purpose of religion in general and Islam in particular, is to create loving families and a compassionate society, if it fails to do that then we may be following the wrong interpretation of religion or Islam. Some food for thought!

As we ponder over creating a loving and a compassionate society, we will do well to include in our meditation a wonderful poem by Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859), who was an English critic, essayist, poet, and writer:

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

The holy Quran talks about how the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, created a loving society, for example it says:

And it is by the great mercy of Allah that you are kind towards them, and if you had been rough and hard-hearted, they would surely have dispersed from around you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them, and consult them in matters of administration; and when you are determined, then put your trust in Allah. Surely, Allah loves those who put their trust in Him. (3:159)

And:

God is enough for you: it was He who strengthened you with His help, and with the believers,  and put affection in their hearts and brought them together. Even if you had given away everything in the earth you could not have done this, but God brought them together. God indeed has the power to decide. (8:62-63)

During the lifetime of the prophet a loving society was built around the person of the prophet. After the lifetime of any prophet the constant stream of revelation ends and the believers have to find new and creative ways to build models of compassion and love. In case of the Muslims they have to base it on the teachings of the Quran, as the prophet advised in his farewell sermon, in 632 CE, at the time of his last Hajj. He said among other things and I report from Muhammad: Seal of the Prophets by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan: “I am leaving something with you that will safeguard you against all error, if you hold fast to it. That is Allah’s Book.”

So, the Muslims have the task and the responsibility of creating a moral and a compassionate culture, in the light of the Quranic teachings, in the context of our times.

Additional Reading

Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran

Forty Hadiths or Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad about Compassionate Living

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