Islamic Studies Mary in Islam
by
Zeki Saritoprak
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0143

Introduction

Mary (also Maryam, Mariam, and Meryem [Turkish]) is considered by Islam to be one of the preeminent women to have ever lived and is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an. In fact, there are more references to Mary in the Qur’an than there are in the canonical Gospels. In total there are at least seventy Qur’anic verses that mention Mary. The story of Mary and her family can be found in chapter 3, “The Family of Imran,” verses 33–47 as well as in chapter 19. This chapter that bears her name expands on her story, particularly her pregnancy, and her place as the mother of Jesus. Other references to Mary are found in chapters 4, 5, 21, 23, and 66. According to the Qur’an, she is not divine but is a servant of God and is chosen above all the other women of the world (3:42). She is not to be worshiped, but she is among the great worshipers of God (66:12). She is a righteous servant of God (5:73) and, along with Jesus, a sign from God (23:50). In most Qur’anic verses that mention Jesus either by name or by his title, the Messiah, he is referred to as “the son of Mary,” another indication of her importance for Islam. There are also many references to Mary in the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet). The Prophet on many occasions describes her as the master of the women of Paradise. There is an important hadith, which is found in various forms in most of the major, authenticated hadith sources in which Mary is mentioned together with Khadija (the wife of the Prophet), Fatima (the daughter of the Prophet), and Asiya (the wife of Pharaoh) as the dignitaries of Paradise. There is also another hadith that relates that Fatima was told by the Prophet that she is the second master of the women of Paradise after Mary. One of her titles in the Hadith is “Batul” or “the chaste,” which means that she remained chaste throughout her life. One important subject that theologians and scholars of Islam continue to debate with regard to Mary is whether or not she was a prophet.

General Overviews

Despite the importance of Mary in the Islamic tradition, there are no known complete book- length general accounts of Mary’s role in Islam. Therefore, the best way of getting a general picture of Mary is to look at broader works that have a sustained focus on her. Thus, for most of the works in this section, the focus of the work as a whole is not on Mary in Islam but on the information on Mary that each section contains and how it helps to place her in the Islamic tradition. Kaltner 1999 is a chapter in his book that is aimed at introducing readers of the Bible, and particularly its Christian readers, to the Qur’an. The book’s chapters each examine a specific key figure found both in the Qur’an and Bible. Kaltner does a solid job of elucidating the Qur’anic story of Mary for nonspecialists. Kaltner 2009 is in a “volume [that] boldly claims to offer ‘new perspectives’ on the stories of Jesus’ birth” (p. 1). The new perspective in this essay pertains to the Qur’an and the Islamic tradition. Although it in part covers the same material as Kaltner 1999, this article is broader in scope but much more limited in depth. Winter 2007 is largely a collection of Islamic writings about Mary and is useful for anyone who might have difficulty acquiring the texts. Smith and Haddad 1989 is one of the more complete short resources in this category, as it includes information not just on the Qur’an but also on several commentaries and other associated texts. Stowasser 1994 is an important scholarly book on women in Islam that intricately weaves the Qur’anic narratives in with their commentaries, Hadith sources, and other Islamic texts to present a scholarly, yet accessible account of the women of the Qur’an. The section on Mary is no different in this regard and would be considered required reading for any full study of Mary’s place in Islam. Reynolds 2010 is a highly technical work aimed at reading the Qur’an in light of Jewish and Christian texts and exegesis. In this regard it is highly revisionary; however, it remains a useful comparison of the Bible and Qur’an and will be of significant interest to the student of Mary in Islam. Wandi and Khuri 1996 is a good overview of the history of Qur’anic commentaries on the verses about Mary in the Qur’an.

  • Kaltner, John. “Mary.” In Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Quran for Bible Readers. By John Kaltner, 207–239. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1999.

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    The chapter gives a detailed description of the story of Mary in the Qur’an while making comparisons to the Gospel texts, particularly Luke. Kaltner argues that the elements of Mary’s story found in the Qur’an allow for a more contextualized understanding of the biblical Mary.

  • Kaltner, John. “The Muslim Mary.” In New Perspectives on the Nativity. Edited by Jeremy Corley, 165–179. London and New York: T & T Clark International, 2009.

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    The chapter is a good short overview of various aspects of Mary’s place in Islam including regional traditions within Islam. In addition to being in a book on the Christian nativity, the chapter also explicitly notes that Mary can be an important figure in interfaith dialogue.

  • Reynolds, Gabriel Said. The Qurʾān and Its Biblical Subtext. London: Routledge, 2010.

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    One section is specifically about the nativity of Mary (pp. 130–147), but there are references to Mary scattered throughout the book. There are specific discussions of Muslim commentators’ approaches to Mary as the daughter of Imran and the sister of Aaron.

  • Smith, Jane I., and Yvonne Y. Haddad. “The Virgin Mary in Islamic Tradition and Commentary.” Muslim World 79.3–4 (July/October 1989): 161–187.

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    A solid article looking at the Qur’anic verses on Mary and various commentaries on the verses. It also examines the literature on her and Fatima. It does this generally with an eye toward the possible role of Mary as a figure promoting Catholic-Muslim dialogue and cooperation.

  • Stowasser, Barbara Freyer. “The Chapter of Mary.” In Women in the Qur’an, Traditions, and Interpretations. By Barbara Freyer Stowasser, 67–82. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    Probably the best concise introduction to Mary in Islam, this chapter presents the Qur’anic story of Mary augmented by elements of the story drawn from other Islamic sources, particularly the Qur’anic commentaries. It also examines theological elements that are at stake in Mary’s story.

  • Wandi, Riyad Abu, and Yusuf Qazma Khuri. Isa wa Maryam fi al-Qur’an wa al-Tafasir. Amman, Jordan: Dar al-Shuruq, 1996.

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    Examines Qur’anic verses from chapters 2–112. It can be considered a thorough examination of the Qur’anic verses on both Jesus and Mary and gives space to both classical and contemporary commentators from al-Tabari to Sayyid Qutb.

  • Winter, Tim. “Mary in Islam.” In Mary: The Complete Resource. Edited by Sara Jane Boss, 479–502. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Gives examples of stories about Mary in the Islamic tradition, including two sections from the Qur’an, three from the hadith, sections from Ibn Kathir and Rumi, and several vernacular writings all translated into English with commentary and explanation. It ends with an original composition on Mary by an American Muslim poet.

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