Mary in the Koran

Who Venerates Her More, Muslims or Christians?

The media, in trying to find common ground between religions, must be careful not to mislead. For example, on December 21, 2006 the Ottawa Citizen invited its readers to read about The Muslim Mary in an article by Jennifer Green. A wonderful initiative until the writer starts making superficial, misleading comparisons.

If you are looking for the religious text with the most references to Mary, the mother of Jesus, look no further than the Koran. The Koran mentions Mary 34 times, and names an entire chapter after her -- more than she gets in the Bible.

She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran, and some scholars say Muslims actually revere her more than Christians do.

Ottawa Citizen

Yes, in the Koran there is a chapter (surah) named after Mary. But, like most chapters of the Koran, the title is not indicative of what is really on Allah's mind. Chapter 19, Mary (or Maryam) contains maybe a dozen verses (ayat) out of ninety-eight verses that could be said to be exclusively about Mary. In the Mary surah, as if to add insult to injury, Allah has Jesus loudly denouncing his own divinity a few hours after his birth.

Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran because it serves Allah's purpose. She is, after all, the mother of a nontrivial, historical, well-known and respected personality whose reputation will be used to enhance that of the Prophet Muhammad. More importantly, she is here to deny that her son is the Son of God.

The New Testament may not mention Mary thirty-four times (I suspect it's more than that) but it does mention countless other women by name and when it does, it is usually to elevate them, and to remind men that women are their equal with the same failings and weaknesses, e.g., “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Can the same be said of the Koran?

Mary is second to Jesus in having churches and places of worship named in her honour. Christians can pray to Mary, and do so in the hundreds of millions every day. That is real devotion! In Islam, less than a handful of men can intercede on humanity’s behalf with Allah. There is no point in praying to the Koranic Mary, Allah won’t listen to her, she is a woman. The fact that she is the mother of Jesus does not make a difference.

In Christian churches all over the world pictures and frescoes dating to the earliest time of the Christian church almost always show Mary—except when she is shown nursing or cuddling the infant Jesus—on an equal footing with her son. Even if Islam allowed representation of the human form on canvas or plaster, would Mary even be in the picture?

Bernard Payeur December 2006

Mary the Erstwhile Messenger