SHE TALKS PEACE: Do Muslims Believe in Mary?

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 05 December)Recent events, with the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, have created a backlash of negative sentiment over Muslims and Islam in general.  Witness the Islamophobia exhibited by a few members of the United States Congress, particularly Representative Lauren Boebert.  This gun-toting Republican had a campaign video where she was in her truck, showed her bible, then her gun.  The same gun-toting mama rejected the need for paid maternity leave, claiming she gave birth in her truck and went back to work.  Wow!  This Republican extremist, playing to the baser instinct of her constituents (and playing for campaign dollars), publicly labelled fellow Representative, Ilhan Omar, as a Muslim terrorist.   Boebert was videotaped a couple of times recounting an incident in the US Capitol where she was in the elevator with Rep Omar:

“So the other night on the House floor was not my first jihad squad moment, I was getting into an elevator with one of my staffers and he and I were leaving the Capitol, we’re going back to my office and we get in the elevator and I see a Capitol Police officer running hurriedly to the elevator. I see fret all over his face. And he’s reaching. The door is shutting. I can’t open it.”

“What’s happening? I look to my left and there she is, Ilhan Omar, and I said, ‘Well she doesn’t have a backpack, we should be fine,'” (Laughter)  “So we only had one floor to go and I say, do I say it or do I not? And I look over and I say, ‘Look, the jihad squad decided to show up for work today.’ Don’t worry, it’s just her staffers on Twitter that talk for her. She’s not tough in person.”

Rep Omar said it never happened.

What a circus the Republican Conference has become!  Well, not that.  A circus is entertaining, a venue where families have good, clean fun.  What is fun in fueling hatred for people of another faith, inflaming violence?  The gun-toting Christian mama certainly is no follower of the Virgin Mary, Lady of Peace.

Speaking of the Virgin Mary, I wonder if our Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters know that Muslims have a reverence for her, whom we call Maryam?  Mary is the English form of the name Maria, which is a version of  Maryam, or Miryam.  I have always felt that Maryam is the perfect bridge between Muslims and Christians. As a matter of fact, there is a chapter in our Holy Quran named after her – Sura Maryam.

Our guests on “She Talks Peace” this week are two scholars who are very knowledgeable on the history of Mary or Maryam.  Dr Awang is an Associate Professor at the Department of Usul al-Din and Comparative Religion, Kullia of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Science, International Islamic University, Malaysia.  Sr. Mary John Mananzan is the former President of St Scholastica’s College and former Chair of Gabriela.

According to Prof. Awang, not only is a chapter named after her but Maryam is mentioned several times, the only woman mentioned by name.  She is a very important figure in Islam.  Sr Mary John recounts that during the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, Muslim women participants of the civil society side event were the ones who suggested to her that there should be a procession with Maryam.  And so they did.

Mary/Maryam is venerated as the mother of Jesus or Nabi Issa and is set up as a model of a woman of purity and goodness.  We asked our Prof. Awang and Sr. Mary John: In today’s world, where gender has become an issue, can she be a model for the modern Christian/Muslim woman?

Both our guests emphatically said “Yes”!

Sr. MJ sees Mary not just as the mother of Jesus Christ but a strong woman in her own right. In the Magnificat, she tells the world “God shall put down the mighty from their seat and exhalt the humble” which makes her a revolutionary. Definitely not meek and mild. Sr MJ thinks the Church is very patriarchal, men-centered.  She is happy that the Virgin Mary balances the hierarchy.  She also talks about her courage – how a 14 or 15-year old girl stood her ground against the community when she agreed to be the mother of Jesus Christ.  By today’s standard, she is a teenager who has a child out of wedlock.  We have to go back to the biblical Mary, a humble simple girl.  She definitely won’t be comfortable with how she is dressed today– she wore simple clothes, no crown no gold embroidered dress.

Prof Amilah agrees and talks about the challenges Maryam faced, that the Quran records what is in the heart of Maryam.   Imagine the challenges she faced and how she reacted.  She speaks of Maryam’s wisdom, analyzing the situation before reacting.   Amilah says it’s very clear in the Quran that Maryam had a bright mind with self  control.  When the angel told her she would bear a son, a gift from Allah, she questioned him saying how was that possible when she was a virgin and unmarried?  But once she was convinced, she stood her ground against all odds.

Can Mary/Maryam be a bridge between Christians and Muslims?  Prof. Amilah and Sr MJ believe so, since all Muslims and Christians venerate (again, not adore) her.  If Christians know how Muslims view Mary as a model, an important figure in Islam, would they have a more positive view of Muslims?  Our guests think so.

There is urgent need to counter this wave of anti-Muslim sentiment before it entrenches permanently in the minds of people.  Under this toxic environment,  measures must be undertaken to dispel such negative misconceptions of Muslims and of Islam though a gentle, more collaborative and interactive manner.  Dialogues, informal discourse and exchanges of viewpoints are non-threatening and non-invasive means of bridging the gaps created by ignorance and intolerance. Refocusing the attention of the public to the religious mandates of loving one’s God and loving one’s neighbor, would help reestablish trust and confidence in the ability and commitment to behave with civility, tolerance and kindness.  Transforming the minds of the people, to make them more tolerant and understanding of their neighbors, especially in times of conflict, is key to attainment of unity and harmony.  Let Mary/Maryam be that key, be the bridge of peace that unites divided communities.  Now if  Rep Boebert will only read her bible instead of using it as a prop, then maybe she will stop calling Rep Omar a terrorist member of the “jihad squad.”  Maybe.

Listen to more stories about Mary/Maryam from Prof. Amilah and Sr. Mary John on “She Talks Peace”, available on Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MidnaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights and democracy)