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18. Bible and Qur'an Series
(A Comparative Study of the Christian and Muslim Attitudes to the Person of Jesus Christ)
Answers to Ahmad Deedat's Booklet: CHRIST IN ISLAM

1. Mary in the Qur'an and the Bible

Deedat has much to say, not only about the Qur'anic teaching about Jesus, but also its teaching about his mother Mary. Under the heading “Mary's birth” he says:

The story is that the maternal grandmother of Jesus, Hannah, had hitherto been barren. She poured out her heart to God: if only God will grant her a child, she would surely dedicate such a child for the service of God in the temple. (Deedat, Christ in Islam, page 9)

Every Christian child who has attended Sunday school knows about the story of Hannah and how she prayed earnestly to God for a son and promised to deliver him to the service of the Lord all his days if her prayer was answered. The only problem is that the child that was born to her was Samuel, who became a prophet and anointed David to be king over Israel about a thousand years before the time of Mary and Jesus! Her prayer is recorded in 1 Samuel 1:11 and later in the same chapter we read:

In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:20)

How, then, did Mr. Deedat, a supposed “Muslim scholar of the Bible” as he describes himself, come to make such a blunder as to confuse the mother of Samuel with the mother of Mary? The reason is that the Qur'an itself confuses the two women and, although it does not name Hannah, nevertheless records the anachronism which confounds the two women (Sura Al Imran 3:35-36). (Some of the works of Hadith openly say that the name of Mary's mother was indeed Hannah and both ancient and modern commentators of the Qur'an accept that this was her real name.)

On the next page of his booklet Deedat says:

“This was the story. But where did Muhammad (pbuh) get this knowledge from? He was an Ummi (unlettered). He did not know how to read or write.” (Christ in Islam, page 10).

As an obvious mistake has been made this is a very good question indeed! Deedat refers to the fact that Muhammad was unlettered as a back-up to the claim that the Qur'an is the Word of God. But, as he has clearly mixed up the two women, surely it is obvious that the fact that Muhammad was unlettered is all the more proof that he was the real composer of the book. If he had been well-read in the Jewish Scriptures he would never have made such mistakes.

In fact the whole story of Mary's birth and dedication in the Qur'an is a strange confusion of various passages of the Bible. Mary herself is clearly confused with Elijah, for a start, for he was the prophet confined to solitude who was fed by ravens that brought him food from above (1 Kings 17:6 - the Qur'an states that Mary, too, was fed from heaven in Sura Al Imran 3:37). Nevertheless it is the name given to Mary's mother, namely Hannah, that really gives us the clue as to where the composers of this story obtained their material. We should perhaps at this stage mention that the original story is first found in an apocryphal work entitled "Proto-Evangelium of James the Less" and that it was simply taken over by Muhammad into the Qur'an without him being aware of its mystical origin.

The story arises from a confusion between the record of Hannah's prayer for a son and this passage in the Gospel of Luke:

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

One can clearly see how the anachronism came about. Once again we have a woman whose original Hebrew name was Hannah and yet we find that it is this woman who remained in the Temple night and day, significantly worshipping and fasting for a good many years. Mary has clearly been confused, not only with Elijah and Samuel, but with Anna the prophetess as well! It is clear that the two respective Hannahs - the mother of Samuel and the daughter of Phanuel - have been confused with one another and the story in Sura Al ‘Imran 3 in the Qur'an is therefore clearly a peculiar blending of the two totally different stories in the Bible about these two women.

Clearly, therefore, Deedat has committed a major blunder by mixing up the mother of Mary with a woman who lived ten centuries before her. But as if this were not enough he quotes another verse from the Qur'an in his booklet that confuses Mary herself with another woman who lived nearly twenty centuries before her. On page 15 of his Christ in Islam he quotes these words which are addressed to Mary by her neighbors:

Yaa ukhta Haaruuna - “O Sister of Aaron”. (Sura Maryam 19:28)

On the next page he quotes Ali's commentary on this title, “Sister of Aaron”, where the translator says, “Mary is reminded of her high lineage and the unexceptionable morals of her father and mother.” The problem here is that the only Harun mentioned in the Qur'an (Aaron in English) is the Levitical priest who was the brother of Moses and who lived nearly two thousand years before Jesus! Moses is expressly quoted as speaking of Haaruuna akhi - “Aaron my brother” - in the Qur'an (Sura Ta Ha 20:30). How therefore could Mary, the mother of Jesus, be the sister of Aaron and Moses as well?

In this case Muhammad's error cannot be attributed to an apocryphal writing as in the case of Hannah and Samuel. This time the confusion is entirely his own. During his own lifetime he was confronted by Christians with this anachronism and his answer was that the people of old used to give names to their compatriots after the names of apostles and pious persons who had gone before them (Sahih Muslim, Volume 3, page 1169). It is extremely hard to credit this line of reasoning, however, as there is no other instance in the Qur'an where anyone else is so called. Indeed it is also most unlikely that Aaron would be called the brother (akha) of Moses in the Qur'an, as often as he is, in the direct sense if Mary was only called his sister (ukhta) in a figurative sense. Elsewhere in the Qur'an the word ukhtun (a sister) is always applied to an immediate sister (as in Sura al-Nisa 4:12,23,176) and the use of the word in Mary's case can only mean a “blood-sister of Aaron”. It cannot sincerely be explained away as meaning one simply named after her ancestor Aaron as Muhammad is said to have suggested.

Even if it was intended to carry this meaning we would still be faced with extreme difficulties, for it leads to untenable suppositions. In those days people were only named as sons or daughters (never brothers or sisters, incidentally) of people from whom they directly descended (e.g. Matthew 1:1 where Jesus is called the “the son of David, the son of Abraham”, and Luke 1:5 where Elizabeth is called one of the “daughters of Aaron”). The problem is that Mary was never descended from Aaron at all! Aaron was a Levitical priest, descended with his brother Moses from Levi, one of the sons of Jacob. On the other hand Mary was descended from Judah, one of Jacob's other sons, through the line of David (Luke 1:32). She was not even of the same tribe as Aaron. The only relationship between them was purely national and ethnic, the remotest there could be. It is true Elizabeth is called her “kinswoman” in Luke 1:36, but if there had been any intermarrying between their ancestors in any way, it must have been on Elizabeth's side. One of her ancestors must have married into the tribe of Judah (which is hardly surprising as, after the exiles to Assyria and Babylon, this tribe constituted the overwhelming remnant of Israel that finally returned to the Promised Land). On the other hand it is expressly stated in the Bible that Jesus is an eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek, and he, therefore, could not have been descended in any way from Levi through Aaron. Accordingly his mother Mary could likewise not have had any Levitical blood in her and so was in no way descended from or related to Aaron:

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. (Hebrews 7:11-16 - my italics)

It is therefore only too obvious that Mary had no connection with Aaron at all and the title given to her in the Qur'an does indeed appear to be entirely inappropriate. How then did this error arise? We have to turn to the Bible and here we read:

Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand. (Exodus 15:20)

The woman spoken of here was the real sister of Aaron, who lived centuries before the mother of Jesus, and the confusion has arisen because the names of the two women are the same in Hebrew, namely Miriam (as they are in Arabic, viz. Maryam).

We have seen that ukhta Harun in the Qur'an must mean the blood-sister of Aaron and this is precisely what Miriam was. Muhammad clearly confused Maryam, the mother of Jesus, with this woman. Furthermore the evidence is strongly substantiated by the name given to Mary's father in the Qur'an. In the Bible we read that Jochebed “bore to Amram, Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister” (Numbers 26:59). So the father of Aaron and Miriam was a man named Amram - and yet this is the very name given to the father of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Qur'an! He is called Imran, the Arabic form of Amram (as Ibrahim is the Arabic form of Abraham). Mary, accordingly, is expressly called Maryama-bnata Imran - “Mary, daughter of Imran” - in the Qur'an (Sura al-Tahrim 66:12). So she is not only called the sister of Aaron but also the daughter of Imran. We therefore have a double-proof of the fact that she has been confused with Miriam, the true sister of Aaron and daughter of Amram.

Furthermore it may well be asked why Mary is called the “sister of Aaron” in the Qur'an if she is not confused with Miriam. We have shown that she was in no way descended from him and no more closely related to him than to any other patriarch or figurehead of Israel. Accordingly, what relevance is there in the appellation? Why was she called after Aaron rather than Moses, Elijah, Solomon, Joseph or some other prophet? Not only can we find no relevance in the title, the passage quoted above from the Book of Hebrews also makes it plain that it is, on the contrary, ill-conceived and quite inappropriate.

Not only, therefore, does the Qur'an confuse the two Hannahs but also the Marys as well. Deedat is at pains in his booklet to try to show that the Qur'anic account of Mary's life is superior to that of the Bible, but when it patently contains such anachronisms as those we have considered, surely it is obvious that the Biblical account is the true one.

Three more points made by Deedat about Mary should be treated briefly in conclusion. On one page he quotes Sura Al Imran 3:42, where angels are quoted as saying to Mary that God had “chosen thee above the women of all nations” and comments:

Such an honour is not to be found given to Mary even in the Christian Bible! (Deedat, Christ in Islam, page 8)

This charge is completely unfounded for the Bible makes exactly the same point as that made in the verse quoted from the Qur'an when it quotes Elizabeth as saying to Mary:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42)

In fact it is in this verse that we find out why Mary was preferred above all women of all nations. The statement that she was chosen as such, in both the Qur'an and the Bible, appears solely in the context of the promise that she was to bear a son, the holy child Jesus, the Messiah so long awaited (Sura Al Imran 3:45; Luke 1:31-33). “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth so rightly said. Mary was only the greatest among women, chosen above the women of all nations, because she gave birth to the greatest among men, chosen above the men of all nations as the Savior of the world, even Jesus Christ.

The second point made by Deedat worth considering is that there is a whole chapter in the Qur'an, Sura Maryam (Sura 19), “named in honour of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ (pbuh)” (Christ in Islam, page 11). He would have done even better to disclose that Mary is the only woman expressly mentioned by name in the Qur'an, and that on many occasions. No other woman is so named. Muhammad did well to give such prominence to her, but surely it is clear that Mary was only worthy of such honor because she was the mother of the most prominent man who ever lived, namely Jesus Christ.

Lastly Deedat, always seeking occasion to find fault with the Bible, criticizes the title “woman” used by Jesus when addressing his mother in John 2:4, alleging that Jesus “behaved insolently towards his mother” (Christ in Islam, page 19). He suggests that it would have been more appropriate to have simply called her “mother”.

Once again Deedat exposes his ignorance of the Bible and the times in which it was written, for the title “woman” was an endearing title of respect and was so used by Jesus whenever he addressed women. In one passage we read that the Jewish leaders sought to stone a woman caught in adultery and asked Jesus for his verdict in the matter. He replied: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) When they had all walked away he gently said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10) When she said, “No one, Lord”, he said “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:11) While compassionately extending to her the hand of mercy he called her “woman”. Was this “insolent behavior”? The title was purely one of honor and respect, like “Madame” in French or “Dame” in Afrikaans.

Jesus also used the title when comforting the woman of Samaria (John 4:21) and once again addressed his mother in this way as he was dying on the cross, and saw her and his beloved disciple John standing next to her. He said to her:

“Woman, behold your son.” (John 19:26)

He then said to John, “behold your mother” and from that hour “the disciple took her into his own home” (John 19:27). Even though he was enduring all the horrors of the cross, he did not forget his mother and tenderly committed her to his closest disciple among the men who followed him. After his resurrection he again used the title “woman” when speaking to Mary Magdalene, his closest disciple among the women who followed him (John 20:15). No one sincerely reading these narratives can possibly draw the conclusion that the title “woman” was anything but a gentle title of respect.

In conclusion we can only say that Deedat has made a sorry mess of his treatment of Mary's life and the titles given to her in the Qur'an and the Bible. There can be little doubt that the Biblical record of Mary's honor, lineage and life is the true one.

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