For Christian children their first introduction to Mary and Joseph is looking at a nativity scene.
The iconic image of baby Jesus lying in a crib in a stable, standing around him are his parents, Mary and Joseph, and several farm animals.
Joseph is mentioned quite briefly in the gospels; in the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, the family’s flight to Egypt, and their return to Galilee.
Mary is also mentioned only briefly, predominantly at the time of Jesus birth and occasionally she is mentioned at some of the more well know events in Jesus’ life.
The Gospels tell us that Joseph was engaged to Mary and that God informed him in a dream that Mary had conceived a child by the Holy Spirit.
After marriage Joseph raised Jesus as his son, loving and protecting him as his own child.
The stories of Mary in Islam and in the Gospels have many aspects in common; however the opinion that Mary was betrothed or married is totally rejected.
Islam tells us absolutely nothing about a person named Joseph or like the Joseph we read about in the Christian teachings.
On the other hand Islam holds Mary and her entire family, the family of Imran, in very high regard.
Chapter nineteen of the Quran is named Maryam, (Mary) and Chapter three is named Al Imran (the family of Imran).
Mary’s family is mentioned by God in the same esteemed company as Prophet Noah and our forefather Adam as well as the entire family of Abraham.
God chose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham and the family of Imran over all others… (Quran 3:33)
Mary is one of the most esteemed and respected women in Islam; she is known as a devout and pious woman and the teachings of Islam actually give us quite a lot of detail about her.
In the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad we find a very well rounded account of her early life and the birth of Jesus.
Mary – The Best Woman
Not only is Mary’s family mentioned by God, Mary herself is said to be one of the best women in all of humankind.
Prophet Muhammad told his companions that:
The best women of humankind are four: Mary, daughter of Imran, Assiyah, the wife of Pharaoh, Khadija, daughter of Khuwailid, and Fatima the daughter of the Messenger of God (Prophet Muhammad). (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Prophet Muhammad’s son in law and close companion Ali ibn Abu Talib said:
“I heard the Messenger of God saying Mary, the daughter of Imran was the best among women.” (Al-Bukhari)
The Arabic meaning of Mary means the maidservant of God and Islam tells us that Mary was dedicated to God even before she was born.
The Bible does not give us an account of Mary’s birth but Islamic sources tell us that when Hannah, Mary’s mother, found out she was pregnant after a long time of not being able to conceive, she dedicated her offspring to the service of God.
When Hannah delivered a girl she turned to God and said:
‘O my Lord, I have delivered a female child,’ and the male is not like the female, and I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge with You for her and her offspring from Satan, the outcast. (Quran 3:36)
It was unusual for a girl to go into the service of God, in the House of prayer, but through the influence of God, Mary went into seclusion.
Her uncle saw to it that she had private quarters and was able to pray and study. Even before this Mary was well known for her devotion and piousness.
Esteemed Islamic Quran scholar Imam Ibn Kathir tells us that Mary was supplied daily with fresh fruits.
In winter she would have the fresh fruits of summer and in the summer she would have the fresh fruits of winter.
When her uncle, Prophet Zachary inquired about how the fruit got there, Mary replied that her sustenance came from God.
It is from God. Verily, God provides sustenance without limit, to whomever He wills. (Quran 3:37)
Islamic sources make no mention of Joseph or a betrothal of any kind.
Mary expected that her entire life would pass without her routine of prayer and study being interrupted. However God had other plans that were soon revealed when Mary was confronted by a man appearing in her private quarters.
The Quran tells us that:
We sent to her Our Spirit, and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects. “Verily! I seek refuge with God from you, if you do fear God.” Mary said to him. The angel replied, “I am only a Messenger from your Lord to you, announcing the gift of a righteous son.” (Quran 19:19)
Islam and Christianity on Mary and Jesus
Islam and Christianity both agree that Mary was a virgin at the time she conceived Jesus and the stories of Jesus conception vary only in minor details.
However the story of Jesus’ birth is very different and does not take place in a stable; in fact the young Mary is quite alone when Jesus is born and it is God Himself that takes care of her needs.
Late in her pregnancy, Mary became afraid wondering how the people would accept that she was a virgin about to give birth. She decided to leave Jerusalem and traveled towards Bethlehem.
As the birth became imminent Mary cried out in pain and collapsed at the foot of a date palm tree.
She called out in anguish wishing that she had not been put into this predicament; however she delivered her child and sat exhausted under the tree.
Grieve not! Your Lord has provided you a stream of clear water under you; and shake the trunk of palm tree towards you; it will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink and be glad… (Quran 19:24)
Mary had no choice now but to go home and face the wrath of the people.
God had instructed Mary not to speak at all when the people surrounded her accusing her.
She followed God’s instructions and she pointed to the child she carried in her arms.
While the gospels tell us that Jesus first miracle took place at a wedding in Canaan, the Quran tells us that his first miracle took place when he was a babe in his mother’s arms.
With the permission of God this tiny baby Jesus spoke to those people surrounding and harassing his exhausted and frightened mother.
Verily! I am a slave of God. He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet; and He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me prayer, and alms, as long as I live, and to be dutiful to my mother, and made me not arrogant, unblest.
And peace is upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! (Quran 19:30-34)
Islamic sources tell us very little else about Mary. However, she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.
In Chapter five, The Table Spread with Food, named for the dinner enjoyed by Jesus and his close companions, Mary is referred to as a siddiqah (the truthful one).
The word siddiqah implies more than a person seeking the truth, in Islam it denotes one who has achieved a very high level of righteousness and is truthful with themselves, with those around them, and with God.