The spiritual leaders of our time took decades of struggle before they emerged into universally recognized symbols, writes Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic studies at American University in Washington. Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are examples.
“Pope Francis came to us fully formed.” And in his first foreign policy address in March 2013, he reached out to Muslims, who share reverence for Mary, Mother of Jesus. Before 180 ambassadors, he explained how he wanted to build between peoples, Muslims and Catholics.
In today’s tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims, isn’t it essential to find common ground between these clashing Abrahamic traditions? asks Heather Abraham in her book titled “The Muslim Jesus” (2001). Mary’s shared importance is an opportunity for interfaith dialogue.
Muslims view Jesus as a prophet. In the Koran, an entire chapter focuses on Mary (Maryam in Arabic)—more than in the entire New Testament. Jesus was born by the will of God without a father. His mother was a virgin.
According to Muslim tradition, Mary told Joseph: “Do you not know that God, when he created the wheat, had no need of seed, and by his power made the trees grow without rain? All that God said: ‘So be it, and it was done.’”
The Koran has verses on the Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity. In the 19th chapter there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. The mother of Jesus is mentioned more in the Koran than in the entire New Testament and is also the only woman mentioned there by name.
Jesus was born miraculously of a chaste woman and a virgin, the Koran states.
“Behold!” the angels said. “O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee—chosen thee above the women of all nations.”
The 19th chapter of the Koran is named after her and is about her life. She is among only eight people who have a chapter named after them. Mary is specifically mentioned in the Koran, alongside Asiya, as an exemplar for all righteous women. Verses from the Koran relating to Mary are frequently inscribed on the mihrab of various mosques, including in the Hagia Sophia.
The birth of Mary is narrated in the Koran with references to her father Joachim as well as her mother Anne. (Amram is the equivalent of Joachim in Christian tradition.) Old and childless, the couple saw a bird in a tree feeding her young, and prayed. Anne prayed to God to fulfill her desire for a child. It was fulfilled.
The third chapter of the Koran places the history of Mary’s family in a genealogy that goes back through Abraham, Noah and Adam, the late archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote. When one compares the Koran’s description of the birth of Mary with the apocryphal Gospel of the birth of Mary, one is tempted to believe that Mohammed very much depended upon the latter.
For Muslims, Mary is the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, daughter of Mohammed. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: “Thou shalt be the most blessed of all women in Paradise, after Mary.” In a variation of the text, Fatima is made to say, “I surpass all the women, except Mary.”
Islam had its origin in the seventh century under Mohammed, Sheen wrote. It was possible to unite within it some elements of Christianity and of Judaism, along with particular customs of Arabia. Muslims take the doctrine of the unity of God, his majesty and his creative power.
Then Christian Europe barely escaped destruction by Muslims. At one point they were stopped near Tours and, later, outside the gate of Vienna. The Church throughout northern Africa was practically destroyed by Muslim power.
At the present time, the Muslim hatred of the West has ceased to be Christian.
Some Muslim writers say: “When the locust swarms darken countries, they bear on their wings these Arabic words: We are God’s host, each of us has ninety-nine eggs, and if we had a hundred, we should lay waste the world, with all that is on it.”
The problem is, how to prevent the hatching of the hundredth egg?
Sheen believed that Muslims would change—and in a way that even some of our missionaries never suspect. This will happen not through the direct teachings of Christianity, but through a summoning of the Muslims to a veneration of the Mother of God.
Missionaries in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Muslims will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady. In an apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which people already accept.
Many missionaries in Africa have broken down the bitter hatred through their acts of charity, their schools and their hospitals. It now remains to use another approach—namely, that of taking the 41st chapter of the Koran and showing them that it was taken out of the Gospel of Luke, that Mary could not be, even in their own eyes, the most blessed of all the women of Heaven if she had not also borne the Savior.
If Judith and Esther of the Old Testament were prefigures of Mary, then it may very well be that Fatima herself was a postfigure of Mary! She is different from all the other mothers.
And that anchors the Monday celebration worldwide as the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
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