How Mary can be a bridge between Christians and Muslims

Photo by Lewis Westwood Flood on Unsplash

He said, ‘I am but a messenger from your Lord, [come] to announce to you the gift of a pure son.’ She said, ‘How can I have a son when no man has touched me? I have not been unchaste.’

—Qur’an, Sura 19:19-20

Advertisement

It might surprise some Christians to learn that the excerpt from the Annunciation narrative above comes not from the Gospel of Luke but the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. In fact, the Qur’an contains not one but two Annunciation stories. (The other is in Sura 3.) Mary, the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, has an entire chapter named after her (Sura 19, “Maryam”) and is honored by Muslims as the Virgin Mother of Jesus.

In an era when Islamophobia is on the rise, it seems especially important for Catholic Christians to know that in addition to sharing our belief in the one God, Muslims also share a reverence for Mary. While contrasting ideas about Jesus have long been a dividing line between Christianity and Islam (Christians call him the Son of God, while Muslims call him a prophet), his mother Mary can more easily be seen as an interreligious bridge.

This is exactly how she is viewed in the Second Vatican Council’s document on the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Christians, “Nostra Aetate,” which explicitly mentions Mary as a point of agreement between Catholics and Muslims: “[Muslims] also honor Mary, [Jesus’] Virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion.”

Mary, the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, has an entire chapter named after her and is honored by Muslims as the Virgin Mother of Jesus.

Like Catholics, Muslims believe Mary to be pure, courageous and faithful. They also believe that she was free from sin. The Qur’an calls her an example for believers, a woman of truth, a sign for all peoples and chosen above all women. Some medieval Muslim scholars even argued that Mary was a prophet. (This was a minority position, however.) The famous Muslim poet Rumi devotes a full chapter of his magnum opus, the Mathnawi, to the Visitation—when John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at Mary’s greeting in Lk 1:41. Rumi described Mary as a “woman with a silent heart” and “a lovely branch which when touched by a sweet breeze gave birth to Jesus the rose.”

Not only can Christians and Muslims gain insights into each other’s faiths by comparing their images and stories of Mary, but they can also visit several Marian shrines throughout the world that are frequented by Catholics, other Christians and Muslims alike. Some of the more popular shared Marian shrines include Our Lady of Saidnaya Monastery in Syria, Our Lady of Africa in Algeria and Meryem Ana Evi in Turkey, the latter of which was visited by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In Lebanon, a Muslim-majority country with a significant Christian minority, March 25 (the feast of the Annunciation) has been declared a national holiday. The idea originated with a Muslim, who also created the day’s motto, “Together around Mary, Our Lady.”

Yet despite the similar Annunciation stories, common attributes, shared shrines and the acknowledgment in “Nostra Aetate” of Muslim Marian devotion, the Virgin remains largely underutilized as a resource for Christian-Muslim dialogue and understanding. Aside from Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who recently held Mary up as a “model of dialogue,” few church leaders today have highlighted Mary’s potential role as a bridge between the two religions. This seems like a missed opportunity.

If Muslims and Christians in Lebanon can come together around “Mary, Our Lady,” why can’t we?

John Sharpe
2 weeks 1 day ago

What’s it going to take for Muslims to bridge other Muslims?

J. Calpezzo
2 weeks ago

What is it going to take for Christians to bridge with other Christians?

John Sharpe
1 week 6 days ago

How many Christians do you see immigrating to Muslim countries? How many Shite-Muslims are immigrating to Sunni-Muslim countries...or vice versa? You have to open your eyes if you want see what's going on. Spouting pc nonsense doesn't not make you cool and open minded, just foolish.

Oz Jewel
1 week 6 days ago

Are you suggesting that we Christians stop enslaving each other, making sex slaves out of captive Christian virgins, instructing our young men that any female not dressed from head to toe deserves to be raped, cease beheading each other and blowing each other up in acts of self-immolation?

J Cosgrove
2 weeks ago

Mary is the third person of the trinity in Christianity according to Muslims. This is not reverence but misunderstanding. There is also a theory that Islam is an offshoot of a Syrian Christian sect originating in the fourth century.

Zaheer Hasan
1 week 6 days ago

I don't know where you heard this. This is the first time I'm hearing of it. We do not believe in a trinity, but if talked about it is the Christian trinity, which we understand is mentioned as God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Our definitions of each is different though. I have heard speculation that some believe the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible is in reference to the archnanger Gabriel. The one who carries down the word of God.

Stephen Cowley
1 week 6 days ago

It's in Quran 5.116.

Alan Johnstone
2 weeks ago

There are two utterly different issues to discuss. Islam and Muslims.
A vast number of people who are born and raised in families which are Muslim believe the faith they are raised in.
A large number of them do not speak Arabic but read and pray in Arabic without knowing what it means and what they are saying.
They are precious children of the Father and some time in their lives need to hear the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
They can only do this if we talk to them, visit with them, befriend them as neighbours and talk religion as well as practice our faith.

Islam on the other hand has a few problems.
They absolutely forbid belief in the Trinity, our Triune God.
They categorically insist that Jesus was not God. They clearly state that Jesus did not die on the Cross, someone else did. No Resurrection.
They claim Abraham came from Mecca and was the first Muslim.

We must be clear about these facts in any mature discussion and debate on the subject.

J. Calpezzo
2 weeks ago

Many Christians read the Bible and have no idea what it means. Many Muslims, and atheists for that matter, lead better Christian lives than many Christians. Of course those who are free of sin, like Donald Trump (by his own confession) are the true gods.

Zaheer Hasan
1 week 6 days ago

I see your point in some cases, but there are also some things that need clarification. Yes, there are many of us who are ignorant of our own knowledge, but you must know that the things you mentioned such as forbidding the trinity and such come from our book, the Qur'an. As such, it is not a topic of debate as it would be disbelieving the book, which amounts to disbelieving the word of God. Pretty much even the most basic of Muslims understand this.

Next, we are not the only ones who disbelieve in the trinity and believe Jesus was a prophet. Christianity itself has many sects, and certain sects such as Orthodox Christianity and Jehovah's witness share our POV. Anyone who does enough research will also find that the trinity is a newer concept that did not exist in early Christianity. So this is also a topic of debate among Christians themselves.

Lastly, about prophet Abraham. I am not sure about the Mecca thing, I need to read up on that, but you must understand the definition of Muslim. A Muslim is one who peacefully submits to God, without resistance. And also one who accepts the messages of God. In our time, according to Islam, prophet Muhammad brought the latest message of God, so it includes that to be Muslim we must accept his teachings as well. In prophet Abraham's time, he would have to accept whatever was the latest revelation for his period. This is something I believe we both agree on that prophet Abraham definitely submitted himself to God and followed His guidance.

Mike Theman
1 week 5 days ago

The issue is that the Islamists are the ones who run for office and are voted for by Muslims. The US needs to continue to limit the number of Muslims immigrating to this country.

Harry Rovers
1 week 6 days ago

Christians and Muslims believe in one God, but not the same God.
Anyone who has read the Q'ran and the Bible carefully knows that. We are not on common ground on this issue.

Zaheer Hasan
1 week 6 days ago

What do you mean exactly? We believe that the God of Adam, of Abraham, of Moses, of Jesus, and of Muhammad are all the same. Do you mean that we do not believe Jesus is also God? Yes, that is true. But that is debatable among Christian sects as well. On the other hand, in terms of the trinity, the one referred to as the Father is the one we believe falls in line with God of the prophets mentioned above.

Zaheer Hasan
1 week 6 days ago

What do you mean exactly? We believe that the God of Adam, of Abraham, of Moses, of Jesus, and of Muhammad are all the same. Do you mean that we do not believe Jesus is also God? Yes, that is true. But that is debatable among Christian sects as well. On the other hand, in terms of the trinity, the one referred to as the Father is the one we believe falls in line with God of the prophets mentioned above.

Zaheer Hasan
1 week 6 days ago

Yes, we mostly agree on the virgin Mary. But in general it is not that we devote to her, it is that God devoted a chapter to her. From that we understand that her story was important for us to know, and contains important lessons for us to learn, and also contains solutions to certain problems.

The shrine visiting and such mentioned in the article. This is not something we can do. That is like worshipping Mary, we only worship one God. If you mean discussion that is something else.

Lebanon is also not a good example. The Muslims there are among those most loosely attached to their faith, to my knowledge. Celebrating a day for someone else in itself is a sin, but it's also a sin for us to create new traditions. This is not something the majority of Muslims will be agree with.

If you want to open dialogue, it doesn't have to be a specific person. It can be, and imo should be, our actions instead. For what are we sent to this world for? We have duty, we are both similarly told how to care for humanity. Loving our neighbors, treating enemies with kindness. It is nearly endless in terms of recommended actions we have in common. That would be a better point to talk about. It would also mean getting more done. For all this talk is wasteful in this life if it doesn't bring about good action.

Corinne Cavanagh
1 week 6 days ago

I agree that our actions toward love and justice are a central place in which we can find common ground and agreement. But understanding one another's beliefs, even those we are not going to agree on, can also lead to respect and cooperation..
Catholics and other Christians do not worship Mary either, and going to shrines does not mean worship which is given only to God. Whether going to a shrine connected with Maryam is something a Muslim can rightly do I don't know, but you would be welcome.
You are right that Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity. Orthodox Christians (Eastern Christianity) do believe in the Trinity of Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit as one God. Perhaps you are thinking of Orthodox Jews who like all Jews do not believe in the Trinity.
I thank you for your willingness to engage and dialogue. Thank you for your respectfulness. I hope that people of our faiths can talk with each other with that respect.

Corinne Cavanagh
1 week 6 days ago

I agree that our actions toward love and justice are a central place in which we can find common ground and agreement. But understanding one another's beliefs, even those we are not going to agree on, can also lead to respect and cooperation..
Catholics and other Christians do not worship Mary either, and going to shrines does not mean worship which is given only to God. Whether going to a shrine connected with Maryam is something a Muslim can rightly do I don't know, but you would be welcome.
You are right that Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity. Orthodox Christians (Eastern Christianity) do believe in the Trinity of Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit as one God. Perhaps you are thinking of Orthodox Jews who like all Jews do not believe in the Trinity.
I thank you for your willingness to engage and dialogue. Thank you for your respectfulness. I hope that people of our faiths can talk with each other with that respect.

Oz Jewel
1 week 6 days ago

The true Christians writing here are disagreeing with the author of the article.
We know too much about what is in the Qu'ran, Hadith and Sira to be at all confused about the differences between our faith and other religions.
Several key issues below are examples.

The only true Christians are people who now and in the past accept that the one true God, the only God who is real, is One and is Three.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three persons in one nature. God is Triune.
NO DEBATE, clear and unchangeable.

We only acknowledge as Christians those who do not believe that Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man, born of a woman by virgin birth. NO DEBATE, clear and unchangeable.

We do not recognise that the person named in the Qu'ran, Isa, is Jesus of Nazareth and our Lord and God.
We insist as an absolute historical fact that the Jesus who is our Lord was REALLY crucified and REALLY died and REALLY came back from the dead. Not that someone else died and people thought it was Jesus, not that Jesus was taken from the cross unconscious but still alive. NO DEBATE, clear and unchangeable.

Combining that with recent scholarship which proves that what have been called identical passages in the Qu'ran with passages in our bible are NOT. They have their origin in Jewish and other writings which we have never owned as true prophetic revelation.

Mike Theman
1 week 5 days ago

Tell me about the belief in blowing things up in the name of Allah. That's the one that concerns me.

Peter Mitchell
1 week 5 days ago

Mary’s appearance at Fatima, the village named after Mohammed’s daughter, is a sign of Mary’s great love and concern for the Muslim peoples. By promoting devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and Mary’s Immaculate Heart, Cardinal Cupich could provide an authentically Catholic outreach to Muslims that would avoid the false “all-religions-are-equally-valid” ecumenism of Bergoglio. Since Bergoglio created Cupich as Cardinal, it would take a lot of courage for Cupich to respectfully disagree with Bergoglio. If Bergoglio is sincere in his call for frank dialogue, this kind of disagreement with him will be welcome.

Daniel B
1 week 5 days ago

Bishop, but why stop there? What about evangelization? Aren't Christians also called to spread the Word through non-violent means to all peoples, including Muslims? Yes, co-existence is important, but Christians are not meant to keep their faith to themselves. And neither are Muslims for that matter. I think Christians that live in Muslim-majority countries are well aware that Mary is respected in Islam. In fact, because Christian missionaries are aware of this, they use it as a tool not just as a bridge but to evangelize. Unfortunately, most-Muslim majority countries impose criminal penalties on Christians, along with other non-Islamic faiths, if they try to evangelize to Muslims. So there are many Muslims that have never actually heard or know much about the Christian faith from a Christian perspective.

Al Cannistraro
1 week 1 day ago

Cardinal Cupich is onto something if he will focus attention on Mary as a rich religious literary character, or as a rich theological character, and not so much as an historical one. Ditto the commenters here who might be able to relax their unjustifiable certainty about theological matters..

But it's difficult-to-impossible to come together on conflicting supposedly historical assertions that some will inevitably view as ungrounded, unprovable or simply contrary to their own traditional or legendary beliefs.

James M.
1 week 1 day ago

Fake-Mary the mother of fake-Jesus cannot be a bridge between Mahometans and Christians, because such a Mary is a Mahometan falsification of the Virgin Mary of the Gospels. Mahometan Mary is as much a sham as Mormon Jesus. If Mormonism is recognisable as a cult, why is Mahometanism - which Mormonism resembles - not equally recognisable as a cult ?

Mary Gillespie
1 week 1 day ago

I'm sorry but I have to say James, and others who commented on this post, you need to study. You need to look at comparative religions. You need to read the Koran or Koranic studies to refute what was said here. I'm sorry for the fact that you miss the beauty of sharing love of God and of Mary.

Ken Osis
6 days 1 hour ago

We, James and myself and others, have done the necessary research and study.
What did you not understand about the "Fake Mother" of the "Fake Jesus"?
I think you did not because you are completely ignorant of the actual content of Islamic teaching.
You need to do YOUR homework.

You could start with the teaching of the Oxford scholar and polemicist Jay Smith.
Just open Youtube and search for Jay Smith. And watch at least 3 of his more than hour long videos.

Mark M
1 week ago

Nice try, Cdn Cupich, but you will not buy your way out of sharia with this lukewarm gruel. The true believers will come for you when they are good and ready and you will convert or live in dhminitude or worse. Bet on it, dear priest.
Fourteen hundred years of bloody history says so.

Sarah Dolski
6 days 4 hours ago

I have a fabulous idea for Cardinal Cupich. How about he personally goes to Muslim countries and encourages dialogue himself. Not in a let’s take happy pictures on a cushy first class flight with Islamic diplomats who want the media to like them kind of way, but in a “smell like your sheep” get your hands dirty sacrifice your comfort sort of manner, and then we can start thinking about taking this guy seriously.

John Smith
5 days 4 hours ago

The author of this article may be a Cardinal, but he's woefully ignorant of both the Bible and the Koran.

Sura 23:91 - "Say not that Allah begot a son."

2 Cor. 6:14 - Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised; Bible prophecy is coming to pass, and the One World Religion is rapidly coming together, thanks to the help of men like Mr. Cupich.

Advertisement

The latest from america

At the time of his death, U.S. Army Veteran Timothy Fowl left behind no known friends or family. But every student left school that day keeping Mr. Fowl’s memory alive.
A Honduran asylum seeker released from detention holds her son while waiting at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, on May 19. (CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters)
Federal officials are releasing thousands of asylum seekers in Texas. A Catholic Charities facility is taking up the challenge of providing temporary food and shelter after grueling journeys.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 24, 2019
Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott in ‘Aladdin.’ (CNS photo/Disney)
There was a moment during “Aladdin” when I thought, “This would have made a terrific animated movie.”
John AndersonMay 24, 2019
Responses to 10 of the principal objections that are commonly raised against the Catholic Church's teaching on the ordination of women.
Avery DullesMay 24, 2019