A messenger is a prophet who is given revelation from God. Examples include Moses, to whom the Torah was revealed,and Jesus, who received the Gospel. Many people may be surprised that Muslims love both Jesus and Mary, his mother (peace be upon them all). In the Quran, no woman is given more attention than Mary, being one of only eight individuals who have a chapter named after them. The third chapter in the Quran is named after her father, Imran.
The Quranic story of Mary begins while she is still in her mother’s womb. The mother of Mary, said: “O my Lord! I do dedicate to You what is in my wombfor Your service. So accept this of me,for You hear and know all things. When she was delivered, she said,‘O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child’ – and God knew best what she brought forth – ‘And no wise is the male like the female. I have named her Mariam, and I commend her and her offspring to Your protection from Satan, the Rejected.'” Mariam literally means “maidservant of God.”While she had expected her baby to be a male who would grow up to be a scholar or religious leader, God had a better plan. God is the best of planners.
In the next verse, the Quran states that God accepted Mary as her mother had asked. He made Mary grow in purity and beauty. She was assigned to the care of a priest named Zacharias. We are then told, “Every time that he entered her prayer chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said, ‘O Mary! From where is this coming to you?’ She said, ‘From God. For God provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure'” (Quran 3:37). Upon hearing Mary’s answer, “There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying, ‘O my Lord! Grant unto me from You a progeny that is pure; for You are He that hears prayer!'” (Quran 3:38).Although his wife was barren and he was very old, God blessed Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth with John, known to Christians as John the Baptist. Zacharias was skeptical after the angels announced John’s birth. The response to his skepticism was “Thus does God accomplish what He wills” (Quran 3:40). John would become a noble and righteous prophet as the angels had stated (Quran 3:39).
We should direct our reverence and devotion to God alone, as “He is God the Creator, the Maker, the Shaper.
Mary’s Miraculous Conception
The Quran discusses Mary’s miraculous conception as well. “And call to mind, through this Book, Mary. Lo! She withdrew from her family to an eastern place and kept herself in seclusion from them, whereupon We sent unto her Our angel who appeared to her as a man in all respects” (Quran 19:16-17). After seeing the angel, she said: “I seek refuge from Youwith the Most Gracious, if you are God-fearing” (Quran 19:18). The angel responded: “Nay, I am only a messenger from your Lord, to bestow upon you the gift of a pure son” (Quran 19:19). She asked: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?” (Quran 19:20). The angel said: “So [it will be]: your Lord says, ‘That is easy for Me: and We will appoint him as a Sign unto people and a Mercy from Us.’ It is a matter decreed” (Quran 19:21). Mary then became pregnant.
To give birth, Mary went to a distant place. The story continues: “And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She cried, ‘Ah! If only I had died before this and had become a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten.’ But [a voice] cried to her from beneath: ‘Grieve not! For Your Lord has provided a stream beneath you; and shake toward yourself the trunk of the palm-tree. It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink and be consoled. And if you see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to the Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being'” (Quran 19:23-26).Joseph, the magi, and the manger are not mentioned in the Quran.
Jesus, a Sign for All Peoples, Confirms the Oneness of God
Muslims do not accept the virgin birth of Jesus as evidence of his divinity: “The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be.’ And he was.” (Quran 3:59). Adam’s creation was even more miraculous because he was born without father and mother. After giving birth,Mary brought the baby to her people.They said, “O Mary! Truly a strange thing you have brought! O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!” (Quran 19:27-8). Mary then points to the baby. They said, “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” (Quran 19:29). Then a miracle occurs that is not mentioned in the Bible. In defense of his mother, Jesus said, “I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me revelation and made me a prophet; and He has made me blessed wherever I be, and has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live; and to be kind to my mother, and not arrogant or bereft of grace. So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life [again]!” (Quran 19:30-33).
The virgin birth of Jesus was a sign: “And [remember] her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples” (Quran 21:91). While the trinity (a three-fold God) is the fundamental concept of God in Christianity, tawheed (absolute oneness) is the fundamental concept of God in Islam. All previous prophets, in fact, confirmed the oneness of God. Muslims do not believe in the concept of the trinity (Quran 5:73) and Jesus, himself, proclaimed that worship is of God alone (Quran 5:72). On the Day of Judgment, when Jesus is asked if he had called people to worship him and his mother as two deities along with God, Jesus will say: “Glory to You! Never could I say what I had no right [to say]. Had I said such a thing, You would indeed have known it. You know what is in my heart, whereas I know not what is in Thy Self. For You know in full all that is hidden” (Quran 5:116).
Jesus was a prophet and a messenger, sent as a mercy, guidance, and sign from God. “And God will teach him [Jesus] the Book and Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel, and [appoint him] as a messenger to the Children of Israel [with this message]:’I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I bring the dead into life, by God’s leave; and I declare to you what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if you believe. [I have come to you] to attest the Torah which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was [before] forbidden to you. I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear God, and obey me. It is God Who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a Way that is straight'” (Quran 3:48-51).
Guidance to Worship Rightly
God sent human messengers with answers to the profound questions concerning human existence: What happens after I die? How can I discern right from wrong? Is the material world all there is, or is there a realm that transcends the physical universe? What’s the meaning and purpose of my life? The prophets have answered all these questions and have made it abundantly clear that we should not worship any of God’s creation, including Jesus and Mary. We should direct our reverence and devotion to God alone, as “He is God the Creator, the Maker, the Shaper. To Him belong the Names Most Beautiful. All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies Him; He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise” (Quran 59:24).Although God can do all things, begetting a son is not consonant with God’s Majesty (Quran 19:92, 19:35).
The prophets also taught that each human being is responsible only for his or her own actions. In fact, God forgave Adam and Eve for their sin of disobedience after they sincerely repented (Quran 2:35-37). Since we are responsible for our own deeds and will not be punished for the deeds of another person (Quran 53:38-42),in Islam there is no doctrine of original sin. Although Adam and Eve were punished, God, the All-Merciful, sent guidance again and again to mankind. “We said: ‘Get down all of you from this place [the garden], then whenever there comes to you guidance from Me, and whoever follows My guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve'” (Quran 2:38).
The Arabic word Islam comes from the root “salama” which means peace through submission to God. Muslims are those who submit. While Islam is the organized religion which started in the 7th century CE with Prophet Mohammed, Muslims believe that all those who submitted to the will of God in line with divine revelation received before Prophet Muhammad and the advent of formal Islam, were themselves also Muslim. Thus, Muslims believe that we are part of one continuing faith community with Jesus and Mary, and all those who followed previous prophets of God. Mary, Jesus, and the disciples were all “Muslims” because they submitted to God:”Behold! The angels said: ‘O Mary! God has chosen you and purified you – chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary! Worship your Lord devoutly;prostrate yourself and bow down [in prayer] with those who bow down'” (Quran 3:42-43). And in another verse we are told: “When Jesus found unbelief on their [the disciples] part he said, ‘Who will be my helpers in [the work of] God?’ The disciples said, ‘We are God’s helpers: We believe in God, and bear witness that we are Muslims'” (Quran 3:52).
Muhammad Was the Last in the Long Line of Prophets
Another prophet with a message similar to that of Jesus would later be born in Arabia in the sixth century. He also called people to the worship of the one and only God. Although unable to read and write, Muhammad (peace be upon him) would recite beautiful verses of the Quran as they were revealed to him. The Quran is a miracle, a sign, a mercy, a warner, and a guidance for all people. Muhammad is the last prophet from a line of prophets that included Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them). All prophets were models for righteous living. Muhammad’s sunnah – his teachings by word and deed, his way of living – is considered as being directly taught by God, through the Prophet:”Indeed in the Messenger of God you have a good example to follow for him whose hope is in God and the Last Day, and remembers God much” (Quran 33:21).
God created all people to worship Him and to live life based on His wisdom and guidance. We accomplish this by bearing witness to God’s oneness and accepting His final revelation in our daily lives. “O you who believe! Fear God as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam [submission]” (Quran 3:102).
There is none worthy of worship but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.