Mary, the mother of Jesus belonged to the family of ‘Imran, one of the noble lineages mentioned in the Qur’an. Her father was from the line of the Prophets David and Solomon.
Mary’s father died before she was born. Her mother dedicated her child-to-be to the service of God:
I dedicate to You what is in my womb for Your special service: so accept this of me: for You hear and know all things. (Al ‘Imran, 3.35)
She had expected a son:
O my Lord! I am delivered of a female child!’-And God knew best what she brought forth-the male is not like the female. ‘I have named her Mary, and I beg Your protection for her and her offspring from Satan the accursed.’ (Al ‘Imran, 3.36)
Mary was favoured by God with nobility and virtue. A sura (chapter) of the Qur’an is named after her. Her motherhood to Prophet Jesus raises her rank. She was constant in prayer and remembrance of God, guarded her chastity, kept company with the righteous, and so attained moral perfection.
God protected Mary through her uncle, Prophet Zakariya, as He always protected His beloved slaves, albeit orphaned or poor:
Most graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: she was assigned to the care of Zakariya. (Al Imran, 3.37)
Moreover, God provided her with sustenance:
Whenever he [Zakariya] entered the sanctuary to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. ‘O Mary! Whence [comes] this to you?’ She said: ‘From God...’(Al ‘Imran, 3.37)
Mary’s answer inspired Zakariya to pray to God for the child he had so long desired (3.38). His prayer was answered with the promise of the birth of John (Yahya). In view of Zakariya’s being very old and his wife hitherto infertile, the birth of a son was a miracle of Divine power. There is a close parallel (not identity) in the words of the Our’an about the births of John and Jesus:
He said: ‘My Lord! How can I have a son when age has quite overtaken me and my wife is barren?’ He [the angel] said: ‘Just so. God does what He wills. (Al ‘Imran, 3.40)
She said: ‘My Lord! How can I have a child when no man has touched me? ‘He [the angel] said: ‘Just so. God creates what he wills....’ (Al ‘Imran. 3.47)
The announcement to Mary of Prophet Jesus
The angels reminded Mary of God’s favour to her and called her to obedient worship:
And when the angels said: ‘0 Mary! God has chosen you and purified you, and preferred you above the women of all nations.
O Mary! worship your Lord devoutly: prostrate yourself, and bow down [in worship] with those who how down.’…
And when the angels said: ‘O Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name is the Messiah [Christ] Jesus son of Mary, honoured in this world and in the Hereafter, and among those nearest [to God]. (Al ‘Imran, 3.42-45)
All the descendants of Prophet Adam, who was created from dust (3.59), were created from male and female spouses (49.13). The birth of a child without a father, as announced to Mary, was an event never yet witnessed. Therefore she exclaimed:
‘….O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?’
The answer was short and absolute:
‘Just so. God creates what He wills. When He has decreed a matter, He but says to it, “Be!” and it is.’
God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary: he appeared to her in the form of a man (Maryam, 19.17). She said:
‘1 seek refuge from you in the Most Gracious: [Do not come near] if you fear God.’ He said: ‘No. I am only a messenger from your Lord, [to announce] to you the gift of a holy son.’ (Maryam, 19.18-19)
The Qur’an continues the narrative:
So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She cried out [in her pain]:‘Would that I had died before this! Would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight.’ But [a voice] called to her from below [the palm-tree]: ‘Do not grieve! For your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you; and shake towards yourself the trunk of the palm-tree: it will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. (Maryam, 19.22-5)
When Mary came back to her people with the baby in her arms, she was met with words that accused her by implication of the gravest misconduct. She pointed to the child as if he would speak in her defence. They were amazed to be asked to converse with an infant in a cradle. But by Divine Power the infant did speak to them and silenced their calumny:
Then she brought him to her people carrying him. They said: O Mary! truly, you have brought an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Your father was not an evil man, nor was your mother unchaste!’ Then she pointed to him [the infant]. They said: ‘How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, an infant boy?’ He [the infant] spoke: ‘Surely I am a servant of God: He has given me Revelation and made me a Prophet; and He has made me blessed wherever I may be, and has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. And [He has made me] dutiful to my mother who carried me, and neither overbearing nor wretched. Peace is on me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life!’ Such [was] Jesus the son of Mary: [this is] a statement of truth about that of which they are in doubt. (Maryam, 19.30-4)
The Qur’an makes a comparison between Jesus and Adam, one born without a father and the other without father or mother:
The similitude of Jesus with God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be!’ and he was. (Al ‘Imran, 3.59)
The general principle of sound faith is that every human being is individuality the creature of God and that every person’s being human is dependent upon his being God’s creature. The fact that Adam had no father or mother does not make him God nor the son of God. The same is true for Jesus as well. God is not his father but his Creator, as he himself said (3.51, quoted below).
Prophet Jesus was supported with the Holy Spirit (ruh al-quds) (2.87). He knew the Scriptures and was literate (3.48). He was a most righteous and pious man (6.85) and blessed by God (5.113). In the Qur’an he is referred to as ‘the Messiah [Christ] son of Mary’, as ‘a Messenger from God and His word’, and as ‘a spirit from God’ (e.g. 4.171), but he is never referred to as ‘the son of God’.
The Prophethood of Jesus
Jesus announced his Prophethood to the Israelites after it had been revealed to him (3.48):
[I have come to you] to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what used to be forbidden to you with a sign from your Lord. So fear God, and obey me. It is God who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a Way that is straight. (Al ‘Imran, 3.50-1)
However, the Israelities, against this invitation to faith, tried to defend the Torah which they had distorted and disregarded (3.93). They would not believe him. Then Jesus showed them some miracles and said:
I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave: and I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by God’s leave; and I declare to you what you have eaten, and what you store in your houses. Surely therein is a sign for you if you believe. (Al ‘Imran, 3.49)
The Israelites rejected the miracles as sorcery or illusion (5.113).
The miracles of Prophet Jesus, like his creation, were different from those of other Prophets. They can be regarded as reflections in his prophethood of his extraordinary creation. If one believes in the miracles of Jesus such as reviving the dead-which were related by many trustworthy sources-then it is not reasonable for one to doubt the manner of his birth without a father.
In the face of the Israelites’ obstinacy and recalcitrance, Jesus called for helpers. Those who stepped forward were his disciples and, as they committed themselves to serve, they declared their submission to God:
When Jesus found unbelief on their part, he said: ‘Who will be my helpers toward God?’ Said the disciples: ‘We are God’s helpers. We believe in God, and bear you witness that we are Muslims. Our Lord! we believe in what You have revealed, and we follow the Messenger. Then, write us down among those who bear witness.’ (Al ‘Imran, 3.52)
The faith and support of the Apostles was a gift of God to Jesus as stated in the following verse:
I inspired the disciples to have faith in Me and My Apostle. They said: ‘We have faith, and do you bear witness that we surrender to God as Muslims.’ (Ma’ida, 5.114)
The disciples believed in Jesus and asked for a miracle from God:
The disciples said: ‘0 Jesus, son of Mary! Can your Lord send down to us from heaven a table set?’ Said Jesus: ‘Fear God if you have faith.’ They said: ‘We only wish to eat thereof and content our hearts, and to know that you have indeed told us the truth; and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle.’ Said Jesus, son of Mary: ‘0 God our Lord! Send us from heaven a table set, that there may be for us-for the first and the last of us - a solemn festival and a sign from You; and provide for our sustenance, for You are the best Sustainer.’ God said: ‘I will send it down to you but if any of you afterwards refuses faith, I will punish him with a penalty such as I have not inflicted on any one among all the peoples.’ (Ma’ida, 5.115-8)
It is not clear weather the table came or not.
The Israelites were resolute in their unbelief in Jesus and planned to have him assassinated. But God prevented their plans (3.54-5). Though they announced: ‘We killed the Messiah [Christ] Jesus the son of Mary’ (4.157), it was not the truth, which the Qur’an affirms as follows:
But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are frill of doubts with no [certain] knowledge but only conjecture to follow. For a certainty they killed him not. No! God raised him up to Himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Nisa’,4.157-8)
As the verse clarifies, Prophet Jesus was raised up without being killed. Prophet Muhammad, during the night of his ascension, saw him (see the hadith recorded in al-Bukhari, Anbiya’, 48).
Distortions about the message
Only a few believed in Jesus during his lifetime. Many of those who believed in him afterwards were caught in misconceptions and distortions. The most widespread distortion was the doctrine of the ‘Trinity’ which accords to Jesus and Mary a form of divinity beside God. Some said: ‘Jesus, the son of Mary, is God’ (5.75); others said: ‘he is the son of God’ (9.30); others said: he is ‘one of three’ (5.76).
It is stated most explicitly and emphatically in the Qur’an that all such doctrines are without foundation in truth and amount to blasphemy and unbelief (kufr):
O People of the Book! Do not commit excesses in your religion: nor say of God anything but the truth. The Messiah [Christ] Jesus son of Mary was [no more than] a Messenger of God, and His word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him…. (4.171)
The Messiah [Christ] son of Mary was no more than a Messenger.... (Ma’ida, 5.78)
Once Prophet Jesus said to the Israelites:
‘O Children of Israel! Worship my Lord and your Lord’. Whoever joins other gods with God, God will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will be for the wrong-doers none to help. They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a trinity: for there is no god except One God. (Ma’ida, 5.75-6)
The questioning of Jesus on the Day of Judgement and his reply
Prophet Jesus had no part in nor carries any responsibility for the doctrine of the ‘Trinity’ believed by some Christians. This becomes clear from the following verses of the Qur’an:
And God will say: ‘O Jesus son of Mary! Did you say unto men: Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God’? He will say: ‘Glory be to You! Never could I say what I had no right [to say]. Had I said such a thing, You would indeed have known it. You know what is in my heart, though I do not know what is in Yours. For You know in full all that is hidden. Never did I say to them anything except what You commanded me to say: ‘Worship God, my Lord and your Lord’. And I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them. When You took me up You were the Watcher over them, and You are a witness to all things.’ (Ma’ida, 5.119-20)
The Messenger foretold by Prophet Jesus
Prophet Jesus, son of Mary, completed his mission of proclaiming the true religion despite the Israelites’ efforts to prevent him. Before he was raised up, he announced the Messenger of God to come after him:
‘O Children of Israel! I am the Messenger of God to you, confirming the Law before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.’ (Saff, 61.6)
Also, the Prophet Muhammad said about Jesus: ‘I am the closest person to Jesus, the son of Mary, both on earth and in the Hereafter’ (Tajrid, IX.180). ‘There is no Prophet between me and Jesus’ (Tajrid, IX.179).
That, in brief, is what the Qur’an and other Islamic sources tell us about Mary and Jesus, upon them be peace. In the light of these sources, we know that there is no relation between Jesus and Mary and God other than as His beloved and distinguished servants. Though Jesus brought in essence the same message as other Prophets, there is a parallel, as taught in the Islamic sources, between the creation of Adam and that of Jesus. The special feature of his Prophethood, different from all Prophets, is that the whole life of Jesus represents Divine Power to us in the form of extraordinary, supernatural miracle. The extraordinariness begins in his mother womb, continues through his birth and life and the miracles he did, and goes beyond the limitation of a lifetime with his ascension to God. However, despite all of that, Jesus was a creature of God, a man; in the words of the Qur’an, he was the Messenger and the servant of God.