Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Who are they in Islam?

Two days ago, many people celebrated Christmas around the world. Although nearly a third of the world’s population is Christian, a lot of the time this festival ceases to have deep religious connotations. Many atheists, non-religious and also people of other faiths celebrate simply because it is a huge part of their culture.

We too, grew up to wake up on Christmas morning with stockings full of chocolates and fruit (!) and a big roast dinner in the afternoon (while listening to the Queen’s speech), as my parents were happy to indulge in the celebration on a cultural level. Even now, I enjoy this time of year as it’s full of warmth and good wishes and joy. It serves as a time of happiness and celebration; the twinkly lights and crazy shopping expeditions make the long Winter more bearable, it seems!

Thinking about Winter without the celebration of Christmas going on around us would be very strange indeed. As CS Lewis wrote, the Pevensie children thought it a huge crime to erase Christmas from the lives of the Narnians. “Always Winter And never Christmas” -they couldn’t perceive such a world!

So what can Muslims get from this remembrance of our Prophet Jesus (Isa), May peace be upon him and the terrifying but ultimately empowering birth his beautiful mother Mary (Maryam) had?

It is a time for reflection and contemplation. Who were Mary and Jesus to us? And how do the stories compare?

It was a miraculous birth because no man touched the Virgin Mary. However the difference occurs in that Muslims believe he was created, just like Adam was created- without the need for conception. God is One, he has no partner or son. Mary was a very pious woman, indeed she was highly praised when she was mentioned in the Quran (along with Asiya, the wife of the Egyptian Pharoah from the story of Moses, Musa, may peace be upon him) and when she was told of the impending birth by Angel Gabriel, Mary said “How can I have a son, when no man has ever touched me, nor am I a woman of loose morals?” [Qur’an, 19:20].

Tradition states that she found a tree (of Frankincense) under which the birth occurred. The story of Mary and Joseph and the donkey, sweet though it is, has no origin in the Holy Books. There are various stories of Joseph recorded in some Islamic books but they are said to have been founded directly from the accounts written in the Old Testament and therefore, taken with a pinch of salt. These accounts mention that Joseph was a carpenter who was to marry Mary, when the birth occurred.

Muslims believe that Jesus was able to miraculously speak whilst he was still in the cradle. At this time he was given this miracle in order to clarify any doubt and as a proof that he was indeed, sent as a messenger to renew the message of One God.

The Quran devotes a chapter to this story that is called ‘Maryam’. It is an account of her virtues and piety and the difficulty she encountered when dealing with the judgement of people around her.

When she became pregnant, she left the immediate area so that she could be away from the people who accused her of fornication. Being such a chaste woman, who spent her life in worship she would have found this hard to endure, to say the least. She was also mindful of setting a good example of piety and was aware that people may turn away from religion because of this new turn of events.

Throughout this whole ordeal, she relied on no other than Allah Most High- no man or woman from this earth at all- and that is a powerful lesson we can gain from this story.  Allah is telling us that she could attain great heights of piety without the help of a man, and Allah Himself would be enough for her and defend her from all charges and slander.

There are many accounts of women who are oppressed in Islam. Indeed, one of the main reasons why I began writing was to turn this narrative inside out, by giving the true picture of what was happening. Yes, women are oppressed in the Middle East, where Islam is prevalent – but this is due to the culture and not the teachings of Islam. Women and especially mothers are given a high status in Islam. Their goodly characteristics, gentle nature and willingness to serve without arrogance are emphasised in our religion. This story is a reminder that women, through their own merit can reach true piety without the need of a man to help or intervene for them. They can establish and maintain a strong connection and therefore are sufficed through their relationship and closeness to God and nothing else.

Many many women who wear hijab (the headscarf) do so out of love of The Creator. Through reflecting on everything He has done for us, should we not show gratitude by this simple act of piety? It’s a reminder for us to always strive to be our best self and to remember our mission in life, which is to worship Him in the best way, to do as many good deeds as possible; to serve, be strong and ultimately rely on Him only. To trust in Him that we are in safe hands and that everything will be OK in the end.

We are reminded again and again in the Quran that this world isn’t Paradise and actually is a place we will be tested. It is through this understanding that we can get through all the hardships of this world- with the knowledge that justice will be done in the end, for eternity. When all worries will cease.

The Christian tradition that states Adam and Eve were to blame for eating from the forbidden tree and therefore the whole of humanity will be punished for their sin has a completely different take in Islam.

The story goes that they ate from the tree, when they were told not to, because (rather than the snake) Satan came to tempt them. However, the blame doesn’t lie on the first couple on earth! Rather, it was the Almighty’s plan to have human beings on Earth, so that we may know Him.

In this way, we have come down to Earth with a mission, to be the best people we can be. We are accountable for everything and we will be rewarded accordingly. ‘Small deeds are never overlooked’ as the Almighty says in the Quran. One can hide every little thing he does or declare it to the world, either way God will know your true intention and everybody will have their due. He has put inside us a moral compass, called the conscience which helps us on this journey. There are people who are not accountable, and these are the people with mental illnesses, the disabled and the elderly who are unaware of what they do. Of course children are children and also not held to account for their deeds. It is up to the parents to fulfil the right of parenting so that the child is given what is due and can make their own way in the world.

So, yes it’s Christmas, not everyone is celebrating but we can all do with this reminder to be mindful of our relationship with the Creator and/or ponder our purpose in life.

So, from reflection to comparison to a reminder that you can only do your best at the end of the day.

So that’s it from me for now,

Until next time,

Peace and Love,

Sidra Ansari

PS To help me on my journey to enoughism I will write down 3 things I am grateful for at the end of each post. These are:

1. Holidays! With the holiday season well and truly in swing, I am grateful for the break- for time out of the incessant cycle that is life and family time. AlhamduLillah!

2. Central heating and my car! I was a late starter when it came to driving and I have many memories of taking three little ones out, fully dressed and ready to combat the cold when we ran out of something simple like milk. My heart goes out to those people who have to battle the cold weather without these two gifts that we mostly take for granted. I am so grateful for the ability to stay warm in this cold season. (I am also grateful it hasn’t snowed yet! I now have negative memories connected to the snow now and rather than playfulness I’m reminded of my fall…No matter! I must be strong and focus on the positive side- the transformation of the world as we know it, the morning after heavy snowfall is a glorious sight to behold! Plus, days off school and work are always good!)

3. My new WordPress app! It’s fantastic to keep in touch with you guys whilst I’m on the go. It’s so much easier than sitting down with the laptop. I’ve had it for a while but I’m recently realising the benefit of writing my blog post from it. I’d advise anyone who is interested in writing to download it and begin using it today!

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