Sunday, December 13, 2015

Muslims & Mary

One thing that Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox have in common is a devotion to Mary. In the Qur’an, women are never mentioned by name - only by their relationship to men (such as "the daughter of so-and-so", or "the wife of so-and-so"); however, there is one woman in the Qur’an who is named: Mary. She is mentioned in the Qur’an more times than in the entire New Testament. And, like with the beliefs of Catholics and Orthodox, Mary is never considered alone from her son, but is always connected to him; she is referred to as Maryam bint Imran, Mother of Isa (The Greatest Woman Mary, Mother of Jesus).

Going further, the Qur’an starts the story of Mary from her Immaculate Conception in the womb of Holy Anna. The story shared in the Qur’an is somewhat similar to the Orthodox's non-canonical Protoevangelium of James. In both testimonies it speaks of St. Anne offering her offspring (Mary) to the service of the Lord...

Orthodox: "And Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life."
Qur’an: "When a woman of ‘Imran said, My Lord! Surely I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the knowing.” (3:35)

In a Hadith attributed to Mohammad, he taught, "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son." The Qur’an states, "...the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds..."

In line with what we've discussed with Islam, the Catholic document Lumen Gentium explains, "Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth" (53).

In the Qur’an, Mary grows directly under divine protection, is nourished daily by angels, and has visions of God every day - NOT because she is so special by herself, but because she was chosen by Allah to bear Isa (Jesus), in their minds the greatest prophet (except for Mohammad). "O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ]...He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous...And He [Allah] will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel."

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Mary's role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it...No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source." Giancarlo Finazzo writes in L'Osservatore Romano, "Mary is unimaginable if dissociated from her Son: the divine election and the purity of the Mother are directly proportioned to the qualities of the Son; the moment of their interdependence is greatly felt, therefore, since the historical greatness of Mary is conditioned by that of her Son, and the Son in his turn depends on his Mother, who constitutes the indispensable promise for his presence on earth. In the Qur’an, Christ is called repeatedly Issa ibn Maryam — Jesus son of Mary."

Mohammad had a daughter named Fatimah. Muslims throughout the world revere her. Inspired by her love and support towards her father, Fatimah is one of the most popular name for girls in the Muslim world; Fatimah is seen as the perfect role model for Muslim women. For Catholics, there is a significance to the name 'Fatimah'. In 1952, Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in The World's First Love:

...after the death of Fatimah, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text Fatimah is made to say; I surpass all the women, except Mary.

This brings us to our second point; namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this 20th Century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son, too. Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

Muslims have named buildings after Mary, such as the Mary Mother of Jesus Mosque in Hoppers Crossing, Victoria, Australia, and the Mosque Maryam, the Nation of Islam National Center in Chicago, IL. Each year, millions of Muslims come on pilgrimage to the Catholic Marian shrines in places such as Fatima, Harissa, Damascus, Samalut, Assiut, and Zeitun. There are at least a dozen places of pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin in Egypt, commemorating the journey the Holy Family made there as they escaped the murderous rampage of King Herod. During some pilgrimages, Muslims make up nearly a quarter of the participants! Seeking to use Mary as a bridge between Muslims and Christians, the Lebanese parliament declared August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption (the day Mary died and was delivered, body and soul, into Heaven) as a national holiday, a decision supported by both Christians and Muslims in that country.

Aynur Gunenc, Ottawa native and practicing Muslim, said, "For us, Mary is a symbol of purity and patience, honesty and believing 100 per cent in God, even when things are difficult. I am full of respect and love for her. I cannot imagine, myself, keeping your faith when you have had a baby without a husband, close to people who disapprove. It would not be bearable. If there had been a woman prophet, it would have been Mary. She knew this life is temporary." Benedict XVI, on his 2006 visit to the pilgrimage House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus said:

Strengthened by God’s word, from here in Ephesus, a city blessed by the presence of Mary Most Holy – who we know is loved and venerated also by Muslims – let us lift up to the Lord a special prayer for peace between peoples. From this edge of the Anatolian peninsula, a natural bridge between continents, let us implore peace and reconciliation, above all for those dwelling in the Land called “Holy” and considered as such by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike: it is the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, destined to be the home of a people that would become a blessing for all the nations (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Peace for all of humanity! May Isaiah’s prophecy soon be fulfilled: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is 2:4). We all need this universal peace; and the Church is called to be not only the prophetic herald, but even more, the “sign and instrument” of this peace. Against the backdrop of universal peace, the yearning for full communion and concord between all Christians becomes even more profound and intense.

Muslims believe Jesus Christ is a great prophet, and will return to earth at the end of time to judge the living and the dead; and they love and revere his mother, Mary. The Second Vatican Council's document Nostra Aetate declares, "The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve, as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind, social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom."

Mary, Mother of God - Mary, Mother of Jesus - Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us. Our Lady of Fatima, bring peace between Christian and Muslim. As you are portrayed standing on the crescent moon on the tilma of St. Juan Diego, be that bridge between the Cross and the Cescent that we so desperately need in this violent and dark hour. Amen.