In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Today was always a special day for me, ever since my university days. For three years of my life, I would have this day off, in fact. I would do nothing special on this day, but it was still nice not to have to attend any classes. Before I attended Marquette University, I had no idea that this special day even existed. Nevertheless, ever since that time, there is a special place in my heart for this day: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Now, naturally, I had thought this day was about Christ (pbuh). Yet, I was surprised to learn that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was not about Christ, but rather his mother, Mary (pbuh). Her story is especially beautiful, as it is recounted in Scripture:
when a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow [the child] that is in, my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art 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” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and the male is not like the female - “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed. And thereupon her Sustainer accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth…
It may surprise you that this story is not from the Bible, but rather the Qur’an (3:35-37). Indeed, the story of Jesus and his mother (peace be upon them) is in several places in the Qur’an, and the Virgin Mary, in fact, is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an. She is also the only woman to have an entire chapter of the Qur’an named after her.
That is why this day, December 8, is special for me. No, it is not a religious holiday for me. It is not a “Holy Day of Obligation” for me as a Muslim. Yet, that does not mean that the subject of this day, the Holy Virgin, is not very special to me. Indeed she is. In fact, the Qur’an sets up the example of the Virgin Mary as the model of what a true believer should be:
And [We have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran,// who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of 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. (66:12)
Indeed, I will be truly successful if I am just a fraction as good as the Virgin Mary. What’s more, in the verses I quoted above from Chapter 3, there is an alternative interpretation of the literal phrase, “and the male is not like the female.” According to the classical commentator Zamakshari, whose interpretation I share, this phrase actually means:
The male [child] which she had prayed for could not have been like the female which she was granted” – which implies that Mary’s excellence would go far beyond any hopes which her mother had ever entertained.
I like this meaning much more. I have said before, and I say again, that I pray the Lord God on High that I may enter His garden and be admitted into the company of the Prophets. And then, I hope to seek out the Virgin Mary, greet her emphatically, and kiss her hand. It would be the best gift the Lord could ever bestow.