Dec 082007

Adapted from: The Mystery Of The Historical Jesus: The Messiah in the Qur’an, the Bible, and Historical Sources

It has been claimed by some that the Qur’an does not confirm explicitly the virginal conception of Jesus. Geoffrey Parrinder states that while the Qur’an makes it clear that the conception involved divine intervention, it does not say whether it was natural or not. He also points out that in the past, commentators considered Jesus to have been born without a father, but that some modern Muslim writers deny, on scientific and historical grounds, that the Qur’an teaches the virginal conception (Parrinder, 1995:70-74).

This is probably one of the most obvious misreadings of a Qur’anic text. The Qur’an can hardly be any clearer in stating that Mary conceived Jesus without having a relation with a man. This is clear in the story of annunciation, which we have already studied; the story of the birth of Jesus (§10.4); and some other verses. This is a list of explicit and implicit confirmations in the Qur’an that Mary did not have a sexual relationship and that her conception was caused miraculously:
1) After hearing the good news about Jesus, Mary replied to Gabriel: “How can I have a son when no man has touched me, neither have I been unchaste?” (19.20), and “How can I have a child when no human being has touched me?” (3.47). Gabriel did not reply with something such as “yes, but you will get married,” but he rather responded with a statement emphasizing that the conception was going to happen miraculously: “Thus Your Lord has said: ‘It is easy for Me. And so that We may make of him a sign for people and a mercy from Us, and it is a matter that has been ordained’” (19.21), and, “Thus Allah creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it ‘Be!’ and it is” (3.47).
2) These are two verses that refer to Mary guarding her private parts, emphasizing that she was made to conceive miraculously while a virgin: “And [Allah set forth an example] Mary, daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her private parts, then We breathed therein of Our spirit. And she believed in the words of her Lord and His Book, and was one of the obedient” (66.12), and, “And she who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our spirit and made her and her son a sign for the peoples” (21.91). The Qur’an keeps stressing Mary’s chastity to make it clear that the conception of this unmarried woman did not involve a sexual relationship.
3) Gabriel’s words to Mary that he was sent to bestow on her a pure son mean that he was directly involved in causing the conception of Jesus. This does not mean that Gabriel had a relationship with Mary, because in his reply to her question about how she could get pregnant without having a sexual relationship with a man he still maintained that the pregnancy was going to happen through a miracle. In a subtle way, Gabriel’s presence in that room caused Mary’s ovum to be fertilized. In another verse, Mary’s conception is also described as happening by the breathing of God’s Spirit into Mary, confirming Gabriel’s involvement and the non-sexual nature of his role: “And she who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our spirit and made her and her son a sign for the peoples” (21.91).
4) God stresses in another verse that He “made the son of Mary and his mother a sign” (23.50). While Jesus being a “sign” for people may be understood in terms of the many miracles he performed from his birth, calling Mary also a “sign,” which is a term associated with miracles in such a context, can only denote her virginal conception of Jesus. There is nothing else in Mary’s story to make her a sign for people. The miracle of having food brought to her in the sanctuary was probably witnessed by Zechariah only, as she was living in isolation. This conclusion is also confirmed by the significant observation that the mention of Mary being a sign is made in the context of calling her with her son a sign.
We may also note that the word “sign” is used in the singular, i.e. the speech is not about two signs but one, so it must be about the virginal conception. Additionally, verses 21.91 and 23.50 talk about making Mary and her son themselves a sign, which suggests a miracle that happens to them as opposed to miracles that they perform. Probably even Jesus’ ability to perform miracles was related to his paranormal conception.
5) Mary’s words during the pangs of birth, “I wish I had died before this and had become someone totally forgotten” (19.23) — which reflect distress, despair, a deep sense of shame, and utmost apprehension — indicate that the childbirth was not going to be seen favorably by people, because they would not recognize the legitimacy of the child.
6) When Mary went back to her people with baby Jesus they said to her: “O Mary! You have come up with a grave thing. O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a bad man, and your mother was not an unchaste woman” (19.27-28). The accusation means that she was known not to have been married.
7) When baby Jesus spoke to defend his mother against her people’ accusation, he did not say that he was the legitimate son of Mary and her husband. He spoke instead about his status as a prophet and showed that he was indeed a miraculous boy: “I am Allah’s servant. He has given me the Book and has appointed me a prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I may be. He has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive. And [He has made me] kind to my mother, and has not made me arrogant or wretched” (19.30-32). He is clearly telling people to believe in his miraculous origin on the basis of his miraculous nature.
8) In his words above, Jesus states that God made him kind to his mother, but he does not mention his father, because he did not have one.
9) The Qur’an calls Jesus “son of Mary” 23 times — 13 times as “Jesus son of Mary,” 5 times as “the Messiah son of Mary,” 3 times as “the Messiah Jesus son of Mary,” and 2 times with no other name or title. Jesus is also referred to once as “her son,” i.e. Mary’s son (21.91). The title “son of Mary” is clearly intended to emphasize the fact that Jesus had no father. It cannot mean that Jesus had an unknown father, because it is a title that God Himself used for Jesus, not simply one used by people who did not know Jesus’ father. God is described as omniscient in the Qur’an, so it cannot be claimed that this title implies that Jesus’ father was unknown.
10) The Qur’an identifies people after their fathers, so its identification of Jesus after his mother is a unique case. People in general are referred to as “the sons of Adam” (e.g. 7.26, 17.70), the Israelites are called “the Children of Israel” (e.g. 5.72, 20.80), Adam’s two sons are called “the sons of Adam” (5.27), and Mary herself is called “the daughter of ‘Imran” (66.12). Note that Mary’s father died before her birth (p. 49), but she is still called after him. Even if Jesus’ father was no more around after his birth, he would have still been called after his father, had he had one.
I do not think these arguments leave any room to doubt that the Qur’an emphasizes that Mary was virgin when she conceived Jesus and that this conception was not through a sexual relationship with a man. It was a miraculous, virginal conception.
We discussed in the previous section the insinuation that started at least as early as the 2nd century that Jesus was the fruit of an illicit relationship between Mary and someone other than Joseph. We also saw that this defamatory allegation was used by opponents of Christianity, including Jews. The Qur’an also mentions the Jewish accusation to Mary of unchastity. This occurs in the context of criticizing Jews for misbehaviors, including breaking their covenant and killing prophets:

And because of their disbelief and of their speaking against Mary a tremendous calumny. (4.156)

The Qur’an stresses that Mary was virgin when she conceived Jesus miraculously and strongly criticizes those who accused her of unchastity. There is no mention in the Qur’an of Mary’s getting married or having other children.


Copyright © 2007 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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Michael Roderick
Michael Roderick
7 years ago

You wrote, “In a subtle way, Gabriel’s presence in that room caused Mary’s ovum to be fertilized.” This is supposition that is not supported by the text.