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Maryam: You get lost when you’re not Christian or Muslim or Jewish

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I read this sura a couple of times before I realized I had to go to the New Testament.

It's called Mary. Jesus' mom, right? So this should be about Jesus. except that the first 15 lines are talking about god creating a child in Zachariah's wife's womb when they're barren. OK, that's pretty clear, it's not an immaculate conception. But when you read it quick…

Then it goes right to Mary who gives birth to a son despite the fact that "no man has touched" her.

There's no mention of Zachariah's wife's name, so I thought she was Mary. But the kid was named John (Yahya) not Jesus ('Isa). I even checked the Arabic to make sure there wasn't some mistake.

I couldn't make heads or tails of it, and it's part of the reason I haven't blogged in two weeks.

I went to the Bible, looked up Zachariah, and there's nothing in there about his wife, let alone her getting knocked up at god's command.

Well, yeah. Muhammad's followers knew all the biblical stories. Including that of John the Baptist's birth as described in the Gospel of Luke. Me, not being Christian, it was news to me. I don't really know anything about John, except that he lost his head after making a living of dunking people in the little stream called the Jordan River.

Beyond that, the sura is basically a litany of biblical figures to be commemorated in the Book. Each major figure is introduced with the same words: "Wa udhkur fi il-Kitab" or "And remember in the Book," though "remember" is a bit more formal in this case than mere recollection, but more of a command to remember.

It's another in example of placing Muhammad in the already existing chain of messengers from god.

There's an additional theme about piety and the granting of children, an interesting fertility theme. Zachariah is devout but his wife is barren; she is given a miraculous birth. Abraham is devout but without childern; his wife eventually gives a miraculous birth. Mary is devout and a virgin, and god creates a fetus in her womb.

Then we come to the last set of ayas:

88: They say: "God has begotten a son."
89: You have uttered a grievous thing
90: Which would cleave the skies asunder, rend the earth, and split the mountains,
91: For they have attributed a son to Ar-Rahman,
92: When it does not behove the Merciful to have a son.
95: Every one of them will come before Him all alone on the Day of Resurrection.
96: Surely Ar-Rahman will show love for those who believe and do the right.

Islam was very much more hostile to Christianity's Nicean Creed holding Jesus to be the same being as God, both the son and the father, than it was to Judaism, where the prophets were all human. But even then, those who would make such a shocking claim–that Isa was the son of god–will still be judged by their actions, not just by their erroneous belief.

Part of me wonders whether there was any news of the debates at the First Council of Nicea in Mecca, or even any remembrance of Arianism–the doctrine which held Jesus was specially created by god, but not the same being as god. Only 300 years had passed since the time when a bunch of bishops in Turkey decided that Jesus was god.