Noor Saada .
ZAMBOANGA City – The City Hall is spending millions to spruce up the holiday ambiance. True enough, as with previous years, it is a huge attraction to city residents and visitors alike. Interestingly, Mary holds a special devotion among Chavacanos because of her association with local history as the “Lady of the Pilar,” whose early beginning is traceable to the Senora del Pilar de Zaragoza in Spain.
As Muslim Filipino, we have been exposed to the festive season since birth. We grew up being part of the Christmas party in schools and now in the Armm simply labeled as yearend gathering. Either way, it has been part of our formative years and growing up in Notre Dame schools, Christmas decors center around the belen, that tableau depicting a scene in the nativity story. I once played the character of Saint Joseph in a school play because the day before the original actor got sick. While I was in grade school at Notre Dame Walled City in Jolo, we also watched biblical movies on weekend either at the cathedral or Buldoc Auditorium across the street. Central to the nativity story are Jesus and his mother Mary and this is what I know from the beginning.
As I immersed into my Islamic faith, Jesus and Mary were not alien to our teaching. Jesus is known in Arabic as Isa and after mentioning his name, part of our etiquette is to say the phrase, alayhis salam (AS), may peace (of Allah) be with him. Mary is Maryam and we grew up adding the word “Sitti” or lady as a sign of endearment and respect. In our context, he is Isa alayhis salam and she is Sitti Maryam.
Who is Jesus and Mary in our theology then?
Jesus in Islam
In Verse 87 of Chapter 2: Al Baqarah of the Holy Qur’an, Jesus is mentioned alongside Moses who was given the Torah. Jesus is considered a messenger. He is often addressed as “Isa Ibn Maryam” or Jesus, son of Mary, and that he is supported by Al-Qudusi or the Holy Spirit.
In Verse 136 of the same chapter, it mentions the fraternity of prophets from Abraham to his sons Ishmael and Isaac, to Jacob and his descendants, from Moses to Jesus, who believed in Allah and what was revealed to them was also revealed to Prophet Muhammad.
In Verse 253 of the same chapter, Jesus, son of Mary, was provided with clear proofs and supported by the Holy Spirit. In Islamic theology, the Holy Spirit refers to the archangel Gabriel who appeared before the virgin Mary and informed him of God’s design. Gabriel is known as Jibril in Islam. From Verses 45 to 54 of Chapter 3: Ali Imran of the Holy Qur’an, tells of this encounter. Gabriel informs her, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the hereafter and among those closer to God. He is to speak to people in his cradle and in maturity and he is among the Musliheen, the righteous ones..
Lady Mary in bewilderment spoke, how can I have a child when no one has touched me?
The archangel Gabriel replied, such is Allah, He creates what He wills and when He decrees a thing, he only says, “kun!” (Be!”) and it is. This child will be taught by Allah the book of wisdom, to confirm the Torah, clarify what is lawful and what is not. He will become a “rasul”, a messenger to the children of Israel. He will transform a clay into a bird, cure the blind and the leper and gives life to the dead, all by permission of Allah. He will declare Allah as his lord and the lord of humanity, call on them to worship Him, as this is the “siratul mustaqim” or the right path.
As there will be those who will follow him, there are also those who disbelieved in him and plotted to kill him. However, as they plan to kill him, Allah is planning too and He is Khayrul-Makirin, the Best Planner.
Here is where we diverged, while Christians believed in the crucifixion of Jesus, we Muslims are taught in our theology that the person who was crucified was someone who looks like him. It is stated in verse 157 of Chapter 4 Al Nisa’ of the Holy Qur’an, that Jesus son of Mary was neither killed or crucified. Jesus himself was spared and kept safe. In Verse 55 of Chapter 3: Ali Imran of the Holy Qur’an, we are taught Jesus was taken and raised to heaven as a form of purification from those who disbelieved in him, and Allah will judge their differences.
In Chapter 43 Al Zukhruf, the Qur’an reminds us that despite of his extraordinary birth, Jesus was simply His servant, a favored one. We are reminded in verse 59 of Chapter 3: Ali Imran of the Holy Qur’an, Jesus and Adam are examples of God’s creative power – Jesus created by His word and Adam created by Him from dust.
Mary in Islam
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a revered woman in Islamic theology. Muslim girls are named after her like Maryam, Miriam or Meriam, to honor her chastity, humility and faith in Allah.
Several verses in Chapter 3 Ali Imran of the Holy Qur’an mention about the circumstances of Mary’s birth and how her mother offered her to God and sought Allah’s protection for her. God’s affirmation manifested in her good conduct, the protection of Zachariah and the angels praising her as chosen by Allah and elevated from among the women of the worlds.
When she bore a child, people slandered her. But she was steadfast in her belief. In the chapter (Chapter 19 Maryam) of the Holy Qur’an named after her, we are taught that as she carried her pregnancy to fore, she withdrew from her family. When she finally delivered her baby, she showed her to the people, the people laughed loudly and mockingly (Verses 57-58, Chapter 43 AL Zukhruf). But those who laughed at her and mocked her are considered in grave error.
These are some of the many stories we have about Jesus and Mary in Islam. Jesus or Isa, may peace be with him, whom we revered among the prophets and messengers, who will guide humanity to the straight path. Mary as a virgin, a pure lady of noble character worth emulating in her faith, worship and righteous deeds.
(Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former assistant regional secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)