She was alone, as she was wont to do, worshiping in the Eastern part of the Temple when a stranger entered into her presence. Startled, she immediately did what she knew best: turn to her Lord for protection.
“I seek refuge from you,” she told the stranger, “with the Most Gracious. Approach me not if you are conscious of Him!”
Yet, this was no brigand or criminal. He was a Holy Messenger, sent from the One on High, and he sought to assuage her fear: “I am but a messenger of thy Lord, who says: ‘I shall bestow upon thee the gift of a son endowed with purity.'”
She was shocked at this news.
“How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me, and I have not been an unchaste woman?” she asked in terror.
The Angel, again, sought to assuage her fear: “Thus it is, but your Lord says: ‘This is easy for Me! You shall have a son so that We might make him a symbol for humanity and an act of grace from Us. And it was a thing decreed by God.'”
And thus, as everyone knows, Mary became with the child Jesus.
This story that I quoted here is not found in the Bible. I took it from the Qur’an: Chapter 19, verses 16-21. In fact, the story of the birth of Christ is all over the Qur’an, as is the birth of Mary herself:
When a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Lord! Behold, to You do I vow [the child] that is in my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, You alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!”
But when she had given birth to the child, she said: “O my Lord! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female – “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Your protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.”
And thereupon her Lord accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth… (3:35-37)
In fact, it is this event that Catholics the world over commemorate in their Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is December 8. When I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, I would get that day off, and it was always welcome. But, I had always thought that it was a day commemorating the conception of Christ. I was surprised – pleasantly – that it was about the Virgin Mary.
She, and her magnificent son, have always been highly honored and revered in Islam. I have grown up holding Jesus (and his mother) in the highest regard, as a mighty and magnificent Prophet and the Messiah sent to the Children of Israel. In fact, the Qur’an points to the Virgin Mary as the archetype of the believer, whether male or female:
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 Lord’s words – and [thus] of His revelations – and was one of the truly devout. (66:12)
No, as Muslims, we do not worship them as divine beings. That does not mean, however, that we hold them in contempt or would even fathom maligning them as, sadly, some followers Christ have done with our Prophet Muhammad.
The bottom line is this: Muslims, Christians, and Jews have so much more in common than in distinction. We worship the self-same God of Abraham; we revere all of His Prophets; we are all called to work together for the common good of our world.
Is it not high time that we, the Children of Abraham, forgo differences in belief and come together as servants of, not only our Lord, but all of humanity?