The Second Vatican Council in its declaration on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions Nostra Aetate declared that “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems… (who) also honor Mary, His (Jesus’) Virgin Mother, and at times they also call on her with devotion.” That is true, as far as it goes, but incomplete. There are very important differences in the understanding of the Virgin Mary’s role in human history which reflect on the entirely different worldview that the Catholic has regarding his Creator, his relationship with that Creator, and his destiny.
The Qur’an relates the story of the Annunciation twice, both in sura 3 (The Family of Imran) and in sura 19 (Maryam). Both of these episodes reveal a strong familiarity with Saint Luke’s account (they both begin with the message of the angel to Zechariah concerning John the Baptist and an altered version of his subsequent dumbness) of the same event, but both are also a manipulation and a strategic mutilation of this event and its significance for the human race.
The accounts in sura 3 and sura 19 are slightly different but for our purposes in this brief post they serve the same function.
Here is the account given in the Qur’an in sura 19, Maryam (16-22):
وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ مَرْيَمَ إِذِ انتَبَذَتْ مِنْ أَهْلِهَا مَكَانًا شَرْقِيًّا ﴿١٦﴾فَاتَّخَذَتْ مِن دُونِهِمْ حِجَابًا فَأَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْهَا رُوحَنَا فَتَمَثَّلَ لَهَا بَشَرًا سَوِيًّا ﴿١٧﴾ قَالَتْ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِالرَّحْمَـٰنِ مِنكَ إِن كُنتَ تَقِيًّا ﴿١٨﴾قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَنَا رَسُولُ رَبِّكِ لِأَهَبَ لَكِ غُلَامًا زَكِيًّا ﴿١٩﴾ قَالَتْ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ وَلَمْ أَكُ بَغِيًّا ﴿٢٠﴾ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكِ قَالَ رَبُّكِ هُوَ عَلَيَّ هَيِّنٌ ۖ وَلِنَجْعَلَهُ آيَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَرَحْمَةً مِّنَّا ۚ وَكَانَ أَمْرًا مَّقْضِيًّا ﴿٢١﴾ فَحَمَلَتْهُ فَانتَبَذَتْ بِهِ مَكَانًا قَصِيًّ
English translation by Maulana Muhammad Ali
And mention Mary in the Book. When she drew aside from her family to an eastern place. So she screened herself from them. Then We sent Our spirit and it appeared to her as a well-made man.
She said: I flee for refuge from thee to the Beneficent, if thou art one guarding against evil.
He said I am only bearer of a message of the Lord: That I will give thee a pure boy.
She said: How can I have a son and no mortal has yet touched me nor have I been unchaste?
He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord says: It is easy to Me; and that We may make him a sign to men and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed.
Then she conceived him; and withdrew with him to a remote place.
Notice anything missing there? Let’s take a look at Saint Luke’s (1: 26-38) account of the same event written more than half a millennium before in the Douay-Rheims Challoner translation:
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angle being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.
And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?
And the angel answering, said to her: the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold they cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with here that is called barren: because no word shall be impossible with God.
And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.
Just looking at these two passages alone, one from the Qur’an and the other from the Gospel of Luke, one can see immediately the depth and richness of the Catholic Faith compared to the paltriness of Islam. In Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation the depth of the human being’s relationship with God that comes to its fullness in the person of Jesus Christ is in full view while in the Qur’an things happen in a strange and nonsensical way: the spirit of Allah appearing to Mary in some eastern place as a well made man? What is that? But we are getting beyond my point here.
What is missing from the account in the Qur’an? Many things, but one thing in particular: the Blessed Mother’s fiat, the most significant event in human history. Because here it was that a choice was made. By the Virgin Mother of God’s yes to God she reversed the choice of Adam and of Eve and made it possible for each one of us to make the same choice each day of our lives. Her yes brought a new world into being and made all of us sons of God by adoption through her son our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Angelus prayer reminds us that the Blessed Mother’s fiat brought about the Incarnation of God in human flesh and the Redemption of mankind. And it is a reminder to all of us that our way of participating in our own salvation and that of mankind is to issue our own fiat to the will of God each day of our lives.
This is what the Qur’an denies. In the Qur’an the answer of the angel to the virgin’s question is simply something along the lines of “Allah can do whatever he wants.” She neither accepts nor rejects this scenario but conceives and withdraws to a desert place.
And this is Islam’s view of the universe. Allah is an arbitrary god, giving and taking away often for no particular reason. Human beings must follow the law as revealed to them in the Qur’an but there is zero sense of any cooperation with the divine will. Just as they reject the divine Nature of Jesus Christ, in fact because they do this, there is no possibility of a human being sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity because for them there is no Trinity. For Catholics God is relationship. For Muslims Allah is necessarily solitary and alone, all powerful, aloof and distant. In truth Allah must be a dead god, because he has not the life of relationship in him. Muslims hope to achieve some worldly paradise after death at the whim of Allah but can never hope to share in his life because, in the end, he has none.
Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples. And join the Rosary Confraternity!