MESSENGER OF MARY IMMACULATE published the attached article in its current issue. Any comments?USED WITH PERMISSION
Does Mary Bridge Islam and Christianity?
Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
Non-Muslims generally harbor a pejorative view of Islam. This presentation offers a different perspective, a Marian outlook espoused by the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, The World’s First Love, and shared by other devotees of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mary in the Muslim holy book
Contemporary interest in Islam and the Qur’an, its sacred book, runs high.
Among the queries raised concerning the Qur’an is the place Mary, the Mother of Jesus, occupies in Islam. For the past two millennia people have given many faces to Mary. Some of the most impressive images of her are found in the Qur’an. And ample evidence exists that the sources of its Marian references are found in earlier Christian traditions.
Mary and her son Jesus the prophet have a privileged place in the Qur’an. Mary is the only female whose name is cited. Her name is repeated frequently. The expression, “Jesus son of Mary” appears 13 times, and “Jesus, the Messiah, son of Mary,” is found three times. About 45 times we find Mary’s name or references to it.
According to the Qur’an, God made Mary and Jesus a sign, a witness to faith. “And We made the son of Mary and his mother a portent” (Sura 23:50; Sura 21:91).
Both the Qur’an and the entire Islamic tradition consider Mary the most blessed and prominent of women. This belief reaches back to Muhammad as noted in Musnad by Ibn Hanbal. The founder of Islam placed Mary above even his daughter Fatimah, and said Fatimah would have been highest among women were it not for Mary.
Christianity and Islam are both missionary faiths originating among Semitic peoples. They have this in common: belief in one God, who is just, merciful, omnipotent, omniscient, and who acts in history. Accepting Jesus as prophet and Messiah, Islam thus elevates his mother, Mary, to a special position and role.
Islam is the only great post-Christian religion of the world. Since it originated in the seventh century under the leadership of Muhammad, it was possible to include some elements of Christianity and Judaism along with some customs of Arabia.
Islam seems to use the doctrine of the unity of God, his majesty and his creative power, to reject Christ as the Son of God. Not understanding the notion of the Trinity, Muhammad recognizes Christ as a prophet and announces himself, that is, Muhammad.
Christian Europe, the West, barely escaped eradication at the hands of the early Muslim jihadists. At various times the Muslims were repulsed near Tours, Vienna, Lepanto and other areas. The Church across North Africa was destroyed by Muslim invasions. Presently Islam is again on the rise and flexing its power.
If Islam is a heresy, which Hilaire Belloc declared it to be, it is the only heresy that has never declined. Rather, it has rebounded. Other heresies experienced a period of vigor and influence, but later declined and lapsed into doctrinal decay at the death of the leader, and eventually faded away as a social movement. Islam, on the contrary, endured and has not declined in numbers or in the loyalty of its followers.
On the surface of things, the missionary efforts of the Church with Muslims have failed. They seem almost unconvertible. Muslims believe they have the final and definitive revelation of God and that Jesus Christ was only a prophet announcing Muhammad, the last of God’s real prophets.
Currently, the hatred of Muslim countries toward the West is becoming hatred against Christianity itself. There is still grave danger that the temporal power of Islam may return and bring with it the menace that will overcome the West that has ceased to be Christian, and affirm itself as the great anti-Christian world power. Muslim literature says, “When the locust swarms darken countries, they bear on their wings these words in Arabic: We are God’s host, each of us has 99 eggs, and if we had 100, we should lay waste the world, with all that is in it.”
The problem is how to prevent the hatching of the hundredth egg. Some believe firmly these fears concerning the Muslims will not be realized. They believe that Islam will eventually turn to Christianity, and in a way that missionaries do not expect. These Christians believe that this will happen not through the teachings of Christianity, but through inviting the Muslims to veneration of the Mother of God. This is their line of reasoning.
Role of Mary
The Qur’an, the Muslim bible, contains many passages about the Blessed Virgin Mary. It speaks of her Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth. The third chapter details the history of Mary’s family in a genealogy that goes back through Abraham, Noah and to Adam. Comparing the Qur’an’s description of Mary’s birth with the apocryphal gospel version reveals a similarity that indicates Muhammad probably depended on the latter. Both books describe the old age and sterility of Mary’s Mother, Ann. When Ann conceives Mary, she says in the Qur’an, “O Lord, I vow and consecrate to you what is already within me. Accept it from me.” When Mary is born, her mother says, “I consecrate her with all her posterity under your protection, O Lord, against Satan.”
The Qur’an makes little mention of Joseph, but the Muslim tradition appreciates him. Joseph asks Mary, who is a virgin, how she conceived Jesus without a father. Mary responds: “Do you not know that God, when he created the wheat had no need of seed, and that God by his power made the trees to grow without the help of rain? All that God had to do was to say. ‘So be it,’ and it was done.”
The Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity are also included in the Qur’an. Angels are depicted accompanying our Blessed Mother and saying, “Oh, Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and elected you above all the women of the earth.” In the 19th chapter alone are 41 verses about Jesus and Mary. The defense of the virginity of Mary is so strong and clear in the fourth book of the Qur’an that it attributes the condemnation of the Jews to their monstrous calumny against the Virgin Mary.
For Muslims, Mary is the true Sayyida (Lady). In their creed only Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad, would rival her. After the death of Fatimah, Muhammad wrote, “Thou shall be the most blessed of all women in Paradise, after Mary.” In a variation of this text, Fatimah says, “I surpass all the women, except Mary.”
This highlights another point; namely, why our Blessed Mother in the 20th century should have revealed herself in the insignificant village of Fatima, Portugal, so that all future generations will know her as Our Lady of Fatima. Because nothing happens without divine reason, some believe the Virgin Mary chose to be known as Our Lady of Fatima as a pledge and sign of hope to the Muslim people, and as an assurance, that they who show her great respect will one day accept her divine Son too.
Evidence to support these views is found in the history of Muslim occupation of Portugal for centuries. When they were finally driven out of Portugal, the last Muslim ruler had a beautiful daughter named Fatimah. She fell in love with a Catholic young man. For him she not only stayed behind when the Muslims left, but she also embraced Catholicism. Her young husband loved her so much that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Consequently the very place where Our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad.
The relationship of Our Lady of Fatima to Muslims is evident in the enthusiastic reception Muslim people in Africa, India, and elsewhere offered to the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima. They attended prayer services in honor of her and allowed religious processions and prayers in front of their mosques. In Mozambique some Muslims became Christians soon after the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was erected.
A half-century ago Archbishop Sheen wrote: “I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as Our Lady of Fatima as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Muslim people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son, too. Mary is the portal for Muslims to accept Christ.”
In a number of countries Muslims frequent Marian shrines to pray and to honor Sayyida.
Christians and Muslims in Lebanon share the feast of the Annunciation as an official national holiday in a spirit of dialogue and of mutual understanding and respect.
In an effort to show a common ground between Christians and Muslims, an Australian imam named his house of worship in the sheep country between Melbourne and Geelong the Virgin Mary Mosque. This was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 27, 2007. “Let us prove that Christianity and Islam have many things in common,” said the blind Somali named Sheik Isse Musse. “We both revere the Virgin Mary. Generally Muslims name their schools, their mosques, their streets, everything after men. Let us show there is nothing wrong in naming a mosque after a person like Mary.” He added, “Some people could not digest it, but I kept explaining. Is not the Virgin Mary mentioned in the holy Qur’an? Isn’t she a very important and pious person? Yes. So what is stopping us giving her name to our mosque?”
Increasingly we will see that the Christian missionary apostolate among the Muslims will be successful in the measure that it preaches Our Lady of Fatima. Mary signals the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ himself is born. It is sound apologetics, then, for our missionary effort to begin with something the people already accept. Because Muslims are devoted to Mary, our missionaries wisely endeavor to enlarge that devotion with the realization that Our Lady will bring Muslims along the rest of the journey to her divine Son. She never accepts any devotion for herself, but always brings the devotee to her Son. As those who lose devotion to her lose belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, so those who intensify devotion to her gradually acquire that belief.
Many missionaries, in Africa especially, have already broken down the bitter hatred and prejudice of Muslims against Christians by their works of charity, their schools and hospitals, and other social services.
It remains now to employ this Marian approach: to interpret chapter 41 of the Qur’an to show them it was taken from the Gospel of St. Luke and that Mary cannot be seen as the most blessed of women if she had not borne the Savior of the world. If Judith and Esther were prefigures of Mary in the Old Testament, we may assume that Fatima herself was a post-figure of Mary.
Let us pray that Muslims acknowledge that, if Fatima gives place in honor of Mary, the reason is that Mary is different from all other mothers of the world and that without Jesus she would be nothing. May they find refuge in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was given to us by God himself.
Mary is clearly a bridge between Islam and Christianity.