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Misinterpretation of Qur'an...Once Again


Tuesday, April 29, 2008 

Sorry to ruin someone's quoting game once again....

This time it is Michael Weiss from in his article "Mary, Mary--Why, Bin Laden?" Weiss makes this assertion:

In sura 19.28, 29, Mary is approached by the people of Nazareth and told, "O Mary, now you have done an extraordinary thing! O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a bad man, nor was your mother a whore!" In sura 66,12; 3.31, Mary is referred to as the "daughter of Imran," as Bin Laden refers to her above. Still later the reader is informed that "We gave unto Moses the Book and appointed him his brother Aaron as vizier."

Those with Sunday School, let alone Hebrew School, backgrounds might be scratching their heads at this point. As the great atheist Ibn Warraq puts it in one of his countless examples showing the Koran's manmade and highly fallible origins,

It is pretty obvious that Muhammed [PBUH] has confused Miriam the sister of Moses, with Mary the mother of Jesus.

Is Weiss correct? I had to investigate, and from what I found it is NOT obvious that Muhammad (PBUH) confused Miriam, the sister of Moses, with Mary, the mother of Jesus. On the surface it does, but when you dig deeper it is not the case at all, but usually those who play the Qur'an quoting game give little time to in depth research, especially into the historical aspects or analyzing the Arabic text itself.

To give you another translation of Surah 19: 27-29:

"And in time [Mary] returned to her people, carrying the child with her. They said: "O Mary! Thou hast done an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man, nor was thy mother a loose woman!" Thereupon she pointed to him. They exclaimed: 'How can we talk to one who [as yet] is a little boy in the cradle?'"

Another referenced Surah (3:31) has nothing to do with Mary, the mother of Jesus whatsoever, so I am confused as to why it is cited. Here is what 3:31 says:

"Say [O Prophet]: 'If you love God, follow me, [and] God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace."

The other verse in question is 66:12:

"And [We have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb]**, and who accepted the truth of her Sustainer's words-and [thus,] of His revelations-and was one of the truly devout."

**Note from M. Asad: "i.e., into the as yet unborn child (Razi, thus explaining the pronoun in fihi). For an explanation of the much misunderstood allegorical phrase, 'We breathed of Our spirit into it", see note 87 on 21:91."

Before we go any further I know my critics are looking at "Our spirit" part of this quote. We've already talked about the concept of "ruh al-qudus" in another post of mine, but this quotations takes a little more digging into because it involves an Arabic word "fihi", specifically the phrase "fihi mir-ruhina", which is in both 66:12 and 21:91, which says:

"And [remember] [Mary] who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit and caused her, together with her son, to become a symbol [of Our grace] unto all people."

Now I will quote Muhammad Asad's note that was referenced about "Our spirit". (I highly suggest that you use the Qur'an Search tool because it uses the same translation that I use in hard copy form.)

"This allegorical expression, used here with reference to Mary's conception of Jesus, has been widely-and erroneously-interpreted as relating specifically to his birth. As a matter of fact, the Qur'an uses the same expression in three other places with reference to the creation of man in general-namely in 15:29 and 38:72, 'when I have formed him...and breathed into him of My spirit' and in 32:9, 'and thereupon He forms [lit., 'formed'] him fully and breathes [lit., 'breathed'] into him of His spirit'. In particular, the passage of which the last-quoted phrase is part (i.e., 32:7-9) makes it abundantly and explicitly clear that God 'breathes of His spirit' into every human being. Commenting on the verse in consideration, Zamakhshari states that 'the breathing of the spirit [of God] into a body signifies the endowing it with life'; and explanation with which Razi concurs. (In this connection, see also note 181 on 4:171.)"

note continues on speaking about Mary's chastity which is not the purpose of this post. Also, I'm not going to examine 'fihi mir-ruhina' at the moment. I'll leave you to research those on your own with the links that I provided to Qur'an Search.

I will make the claim that Mary is not being confused with Miriam, who was the sister of Moses. The controversy derives from referring to Mary as "the daughter of Imran" and "sister of Aaron". First off let's go to 3:33 and the corresponding note:

"Behold, God raised Adam, and Noah, and the House of Abraham, and the House of Imran above all mankind, in one line of descent.** And God was all-hearing, all-knowing when a woman of [the House of] Imran prayed: 'O my Sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow [the child] that is in my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept, it then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing.'"

This the story about the birth of Mary if you haven't caught on yet. I won't finish quoting it, but will turn onto
this corresponding note.

**Lit., "offspring of one another" - an allusion not merely to the physical descent of those prophets but also to the fact that all of them were spiritually linked with one another and believed in one and the same fundamental truth (Tabari). Thus, the above passage is a logical sequence to verses 31-32, which make God's approval contingent upon obedience to His chosen message-bearers. The names which appear in this sentence circumscribe, by implication, all the prophets mentioned in the Qur'an inasmuch as most of them were descendants of two or more of these patriarchs. The House of `Imran comprises Moses and Aaron, whose father was `Imran (the Amram of the Bible), and Aaron's descendants, the priestly caste among the Israelites - thus including John the Baptist, both of whose parents were of the same descent (cf. the reference, in Luke i, 5, to John's mother Elisabeth as one "of the daughters of Aaron"), as well as Jesus, whose mother Mary - a close relation of John - is spoken of elsewhere in the Qur'an (19:28) as a "sister of Aaron": in both cases embodying the ancient Semitic custom of linking a person's or a people's name with that of an illustrious forebear. The reference to the House of `Imran serves as an introduction to the stories of Zachariah, John, Mary, and Jesus.

Other corresponding notes made to 19: 27-29 and 66:12:

In ancient Semitic usage, a person's name was often linked with that of a renowned ancestor or founder of the tribal line. Thus, for instance, a man of the tribe of Banu Tamim was sometimes addressed as "son of Tamim" or "brother of Tamim". Since Mary belonged to the priestly caste, and hence descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses, she was called a "sister of Aaron" (in the same way as her cousin Elisabeth, the wife of Zachariah, is spoken of in Luke i, 5, as one "of the daughters of Aaron")

I.e., a descendant of the House of 'lmran (cf. the last third of note 22 on 3:33).

Sorry to all of those whose quoting game I have ruined, but I see little evidence of Muhammad's (PBUH) revelation of the Qur'an confusing Mary, the mother of Jesus, with Miriam, the sister of Moses in these verses.

Posted by Kay at 11:37 PM


Labels: Qur'an 

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