GUEST COMMENTARY: The Virgin Mary Isn’t Just for Christians

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c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Today (Dec. 8) is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I, like I suspect many people, had always thought it was to commemorate the conception of Christ. But the Feast actually celebrates the conception _ without original sin _ of the Virgin Mary.

I have happy memories of this feast day, even though I am not even Christian. I must admit that’s partly because Dec. 8 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.”

That story doesn’t come from the Bible, but rather from the Quran. Muslims have honored and revered the Virgin for more than 14 centuries. Also in the Quran is the story of how she came into the care of Zakariya (Zechariah in the Bible), the father of John the Baptist. In addition, the story of Jesus’ birth is also told more than once in the Quran.

The Quran bestows enormous praise on the mother of Jesus Christ. It says the Lord accepted Mary “with a gracious reception and caused her to grow up beautifully.” 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”

The Virgin Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran, and she is the only woman to have an entire chapter (Chapter 19) named after her.

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.”

There’s no way for me to fully describe 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. 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 tradition.

Perhaps people could use this phenomenon as inspiration to build more bridges of love and understanding between Christians and Muslims around the world, especially after the pope’s comments in September about Islam _ and the furor they erupted. Christians and Muslims are natural allies when it comes to working toward 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.” 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 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.

KRE/JL END HASSABALLA

(Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet. His book, the “Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” was published by Doubleday. You can read his blog at http://www.drhassaballa.com.)

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