Lady Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is one of the most iconic religious individuals in the history of the world. Her image is seen everywhere and very few fail to recognize her. We know the reverence our Christian brothers and sisters in faith have for her, but what does or should this look like for Muslims?
As a child, I remember having parts of her story recited to me from the Quran, where an entire chapter is dedicated to her “Surat Mariam” , as well as another chapter about her family “Surat Ale Imran”. Whenever Christmas holidays came we would sit as a family and watch the movie series “Maryam al Muqadasa” or “The Holy Saint Mary”, based on her story from the Quran and depicting her early years up until the birth of Prophet Jesus. I would watch this movie with tears of awe streaming down my cheeks as the angel Gabriel came down to speak with Mary and when she went into the desert alone, to give birth, with her trust in none but God. From her story we took lessons of ultimate dedication and servitude to God, as well as the important status of women in Islam, modesty and chastity among others. But how could my relationship with this holy lady go beyond and tap into deeper levels of spiritual connection?
The answer I received this past December when I had the opportunity to participate once again in an interfaith dialogue program that took place in Loppiano, Italy. It was a week dedicated to identifying and building on commonalities between two faith groups and forging a sense of unity and spiritual connectedness as a group of practicing Muslims and Christians.
One of the things that was born out of this unity was a renewed sense of love and reverence for Lady Mary, Mother of Jesus. We were able to witness firsthand the true dedication and wholehearted respect the Catholic participants have for her. Many of the volunteers who made the week possible stated that they were constantly inspired by her to do the work that they do and tried to be a channel through which God’s work is carried out. We had the chance to witness their reverence in Church one day when we were invited to attend a mass. This experience especially resonated with me with the most touching hymn, “Ave Maria” or “Hail Mary” glorifying Mary and calling upon her help, was sung in Italian.
“Lady of the present and mother of the return
Lady of the earth and mother of love
Pray for us”
Standing there during the mass, singing this hymn with Christians and Muslims alike, calling on Lady Mary to pray for us, it was very humbling. I felt a warmth and a presence with us as if a mother, parted only from the physical world, was looking down at her children and praying for them.
This inspiration from Lady Mary was not one-sided. During discussion, many of the Christian participants cited a similar feeling of the presence of Mary, as they felt the Hijab of the Muslim women present was a kind of physical manifestation of the modest demeanor and covering of Lady Mary herself. I was touched when one of the participants from Australia admitted how she admired our strength for wearing our faith on our heads and that it inspired her to feel more comfortable about her openness about faith, especially in a world losing its moral compass.
By renewing my love for Lady Mary I learned that we can and must pay attention to other holy individuals and prophets alike whose stories are told in the Quran so we can also learn from their lives. Perhaps we can invoke Lady Mary in the ways we invoke Lady Fatima al-Zahra, daughter of The Holy Prophet. who represents a similar mother figure for Muslims. I think to myself how they are close to each other spiritually and how we can draw inspiration from their stories to assist us in serving our purpose in this world and ultimately attaining closeness to Allah, swt.
I was fortunate to have had this profound experience and that we were able to come together as servants of God and experience our commonalities as brothers and sisters in humanity through the common love of Mary.