Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Islamic Understanding of Mary (a.s.) Being Married

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

In the Christian tradition, it is the majority position that the Virgin Mary (a.s.), the mother of Jesus (a.s.) was married to Joseph the carpenter.  In Islam, we reject that claim.  The Qur’an not only does not support the claim of her marriage, it also denies that May (a.s.) had further children.  Essentially, she remained a virgin.

The Gospels state Mary (a.s.) was betrothed to Joseph the carpenter:

Matthew 1:18
18 And this was the manner of Christ’s birth.  His mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, but they had not yet come together, when she was found to be with child, by the Power of the Holy Ghost.

Luke 1:26-27
26 When the sixth month came, God sent the angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 where a virgin dwelt, betrothed to a man of David’s lineage; his name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Also, four men in total are named as Jesus’ (a.s.“brothers” in the New Testament.  And he was said to have sisters as well.

Matthew 13:55, 56
55 Is not this the carpenter’s son, whose mother is called Mary, and his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?

Mark 6:3
3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon?  Do not his sisters live here near us? ...

The exact nature of their relationship to Jesus (a.s.) is never clarified in the New Testament.  The various Christian denominations differ regarding whether the virginity of Mary (a.s.) was until the miraculous birth of Jesus (a.s.), or whether it was a “perpetual virginity” throughout her life.  The predominant view of the Catholic and Orthodox churches is that Mary (a.s.) was always a virgin.  This is also the positon of most of the Lutheran and Anglican churches.  There is no real consensus.

The Qur’an and the ahadits do not mention a betrothal for Mary (a.s.).  They do not mention Joseph.  They do not mention a later marriage.  And thus, they do not mention any siblings.  Whilst the Qur’an has an entire chapter Named after Mary (a.s.) that Mentions the story of the virgin birth, it does not mention the betrothal.  Something that significant is unlikely to have been left out.  The Qur’an does State Explicitly that Mary (a.s.) was a virgin; and that she was never married before or during the time of the birth of Jesus (a.s.).  She was surprised when told she would have a child:

She said, “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?” (Surah Maryam:20)

Imam Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuthi (r.a.), in his Tafsir al-Jalalayn, distinguished the first reason Mary (a.s.) gave, that, “no man has touched me,” from the second reason, “and I am not unchaste,” because the first reason signified being “touched” in lawful wedlock, whereas the second reason meant she had never committed fornication.  Thus, her virginity at the time of the birth is established.

With regards the Biblical claim that Mary (a.s.) was only “betrothed” to Joseph but had not yet consummated her marriage, Jewish law viewed a betrothal as a binding as a marriage contract, it is unlikely that Mary (a.s.) would have reacted as she when told to that she would bear a son.  It was going to be a problem, and that means she was most certainly not married or even close to it.

Allah (s.w.t.) Praises Mary (a.s.) as “the one who guarded her chastity,” twice:

And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We Breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We Made her and her son a Sign for all peoples. (Surah al-Anbiya’:91)

And Mary the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We Breathed into her (body) of Our Spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (Servants). (Surah at-Tahrim:12)

The Arabic word translated as “guarded” is “ahswanat.”  The root word is “hiswn,” meaning, “fortress.”  The active verb form of the root means, “cause to be inaccessible”, implying that Mary (a.s.) actively guarded her chastity.  Imam al-Baqa’i (r.a.), commented in his Tafsir that Mary (a.s.) preserved herself from that which was lawful, meaning marriage, and that which was unlawful, meaning fornication, to a degree that it deserved to be Mentioned in the Qur’an.  He said, “Because of the highest level of chastity, abstinence, and disavowal of worldly pleasures, preferring to be cut-off from all creatures and being isolated in the worship of Allah Most High,” meaning that she was a zahidah, an ascetic.  We understand from this statement that the position of the scholars of Islam is that Mary (a.s.) was never married, or even betrothed since she one actively preserved herself from lawful sexual relations.  Betrothal eventually implies consummation; the avoidance of it means that she would not be betrothed in the first place.  The verse implies Mary’s (a.s.) abstinence from intercourse, and from the social contract of marriage in order to devote herself exclusively to worship.

For the miracle of the virgin birth to be an effective Sign from Allah (s.w.t.) to the Children of Israel, there could be no element of doubt.  Mary’s (a.s.) betrothal would have supplied that element.  Had she been betrothed, the community would have simply concluded that the child was conceived though intercourse.  As it is, people insinuated that she was guilty of fornication:

At length, she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms).  They said, “O Mary!  Truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!  O sister of Aaron!  Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!” (Surah Maryam:27-28)

When she became pregnant, she fled knowing that her people would accuse her of fornication.  And this had severe penalties.  It was a great test for a woman who had spent her whole life chaste and in constant worship.  She feared to be a fitnah of the people against the religion itself since she was known as the most pious woman of her time.  Throughout her ordeal, she relied on Allah (s.w.t.) alone.  Allah (s.w.t.) Himself Defends her from all charges and slander.

In that same surah, there is Mention that Jesus (a.s.) is Commanded to look after his mother.  There is no mention of any siblings or further family:

“And He hath Made me Blessed wheresoever I be, and hath Enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live; (He) hath Made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable.” (Surah Maryam:31-32)

Joseph is not mentioned in the Qur’an and ahadits, and neither is there mention of any marriage, husband, fiancé or siblings.  Some books of Qur’anic exegesis do mention him though, such as Tafsir ats-Tsa’labi and Tafsir ath-Thabari.  But it is clear that these reports are taken from the Christians.  They are akin to the Isra’iliyyat narrations, apocryphal stories of biblical figures found in sirah literature.  They are not to be taken as any proof.  No serious exegete, mufassir, ever held the opinion that there was Joseph betrothed to Mary (a.s.).  All of them mentioned it as weak, with no real basis n Scripture.  Some speculated that Joseph was a male cousin, guardian after the passing of her uncle, the prophet, Zakariya (a.s.).  Others though he was merely the person who helped her to flee the tyrant Herod.  In any case, this is also weak considering that slaughter of the innocents has not historical proof.  From a Christian perspective, Christian theologians have long debated the authenticity of this “Joseph”.  Some, including myself, held the opinion that he was inserted at a later date.

Accounts of Mary’s (a.s.) betrothal to Joseph are almost all linked to Shaykh Wahb ibn al-Munnabih (r.a.), who was weak.  He was known for relating Isra’iliyyat narrations, accounts from the Judeo-Christian tradition with no real basis in Islam.  His narrations, while recorded, were never taken seriously as a basis for sirah.  They were recorded as literature of the People of Scripture, and not used as a source for theology or jurisprudence.

Imam al-‘Aluwsi (a.s.), in his Ruh al-Ma’ani, summarised the Muslim theological position based on this verse:

And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We Breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We Made her and her son a Sign for all peoples. (Surah al-Anbiya’:91)

He wrote, “And thus, it is known that that which the scholars have come to consensus on is that Mary had no other son save Jesus.”  He summarised the position of the Christians around him, the Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Churches, that after she gave birth to Jesus (a.s.), she married Joseph the Carpenter, and she bore him three sons.  He wrote that “The reliable position amongst them is that when she was in her childhood, she was betrothed to Joseph the Carpenter and he contracted marriage with her but did not go near her.”  He also reported that they said, that  when she gave birth, she stayed in his care with Jesus (a.s.), Joseph helped to raise him and was a guardian over him along with children from another wife, and that Joseph never went near her at all sexual relations despite marriage.  Islam does not accept this since the Qur’an Explicitly Mentions Jesus (a.s.) being told to look after his other only.

He said, “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath Given me Revelation and Made me a prophet; and He hath Made me Blessed wheresoever I be, and hath Enjoined on me prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath Made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; so Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”! (Surah Maryam:30-33)

We note also that in ahadits, Mary (a.s.) is honoured as “al-Batul” and “al-‘Adzra’”, both essentially meaning, “chaste maiden.”  Imam Raghib al-Asfahani (a.s.) wrote in his Mufradat Alfazh al-Qur’an, “In Arabic, ‘tabattul,’ means ‘to cut oneself off in worship, and he continued, “And in this context, it means cutting off from marriage.  And from this meaning, Maryam was called, the virgin, because she completely cut herself off from men.”  “Batul” is an intensive form showing emphasis,

Imam ibn al-Atsir (a.s.) wrote in an-Nihayah fi al-Gharib al-Ahadits, “‘al-‘Adzra’’ means, ‘a young woman whom no man has touched, and she is a virgin.’”

Mary (a.s.) was given these epithets by the companions in ahadits recorded by Imam Ahmad (r.a.), Imam Hakim (r.a.), Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.) and others.  These ahadits record the occasion when the companions, when in Abyssinia, had to explain the Muslim position on Mary (a.s.) and Jesus (a.s.) to the Negus, the Christian king.  These epithets, the companions learned from the Prophet (s.a.w).  All this is sufficient for us.

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