Mary - the Blessed Virgin of Islam
Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim.
"And when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! God hath chosen thee and purified
thee, and hath preferred thee above the women of all nations." (3:42)
On the eve of the symbolic celebration of the immaculate birth of Jesus, as we
contemplate the verse, "sirat al-ladhina an 'amta 'alayhim ,"
I have often wondered whether those who were inferred by this verse were all
male prophets (for our Sunni brothers and sisters in faith) in addition to all
male Imams (for our Shia brothers and sisters in faith). I also wondered if
there was any feminine dimension to those who were graced by Allah so that our
salat and/or du'a was not based primarily on a patriarchal paradigm of prophecy
and divine revelation.
Dr. Aliah Schleifer, a former professor of Islamic Studies at the American
University of Cairo, wrote her doctoral dissertation on just this topic, which
I invite you all to peruse. Clearly Miriam has been unconsciously present in
al-Fatiha despite the normal patriarchal commentaries of the past. For some of
us, let us not forget that the inference also includes Fatima the radiant
daughter of the Holy Prophet, pbuh.
In Dr. Aliah Schleifer's work, "Mary - the Blessed Virgin of Islam,"
published posthumously, she explored the theological status of Mary in Islam.
She referenced Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi (d. 456AH) who argued in favor of the claim
for Mary's prophethood and hence the highest status of woman as equal to that
" Ibn Hazm considers Mary to be unquestionably a prophetess. He states
that God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary with a message to her (19:19), which he
describes as 'genuine prophecy'
( nubuwwa sahiha). In addition, he refers to other miraculous
experiences such as the divine provisions in the mihrab. Ibn Hazm then
places Mary in the general category of Prophets by applying the statement in
19:58 to the Chapter of Mary as a whole:
Those were they among the prophets to whom God showed favour....(19:58)
He points out that Mary is mentioned among those prophets in the Chapter of
Mary, and this inclusion of her within the general category of prophets renders
it impossible to make an exception and exclude her from that category. He
further states that neither does the Qur'anic statement 'And his mother was a
righteous woman' (siddiqa) (5:75) rule out her being a prophetess, as
elsewhere the Qur'an , in connection with the prophet Joseph says: 'Joseph! O
thou truthful (upright) one.' (siddiq) (12:46), which does not impugn
his prophetic status.
Then he mentions the hadith kamula min ar-rijal, in which he indicates
that the Prophet was specifying Mary and Asiya, preferring these two above
other women who have been vouchsafed prophecy. To show that some human beings
are preferred above others, Ibn Hazm quotes the following text:
Those messengers: We have preferred (faddalna) some above others;-
of them there are those unto whom God spoke; and
He exalted some of them in degrees (above others)....(2:253)
Having considered the matter from various perspectives, Ibn Hazm concludes:
There are individuals whom God made more excellent than others, such as the
prophets Muhammad and Abraham, according to what has been transmitted to us;
and the perfection of Mary and Asiya over other women is confirmed by the
~ Excerpt from "Mary - The Blessed Virgin of Islam" by Alia Schleifer
(1997) pp. 85-86