As I walked into the “House of Mary”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_the_Virgin_Mary
in Turkey, our guide said, “As many Muslims as Christians come to visit this last home of Sayyidah Maryam (form of respectful way to refer to Mary, Mother of Jesus). The veracity of the historical claims of whether this was her home continue to be debated, but the relevance of her role in Muslim narratives continues to inform my community, and is also cherished by those of us who are mothers.
A Mother’s Heart
The verses of Surah Maryam in the Qur’an are oft recited throughout the history of Muslims and at times had great significance. Some scholars point to the bridge that these verses helped to build between the Muslims who were fleeing persecution and the Christian Abyssinian Negus (king) who gave these early Muslims asylum and safety in his Christian country.Beyond the way that the Jesus (or Prophet Esa, upon him be peace is referred to in Arabic and by Muslims) figures into Muslim religious history, so too does his mother hold a place of significance.
Sayiddah Maryam and the Birth Process
For many of my friends who are Muslim and seeking ways to find our guidance in being mothers, we turn to the story of Maryam, Surah (xix) in the Qur’an time and again. For many who are first time mothers, I share with them these verses from the moment they concieve, to remind them of special relationship she had while alone and in the throes of childbirth. As any woman might, she yells in agony (Surah Maryam, Verse 23) of such great pain that that “would that I had been a thing forgotten,” before this moment that was of great psychological and physical trial.
In this very moment, Allah (God) heard her cries and responds with providing her comfort through “Shake towards thyself, the trunk of the palm tree, it will fall fresh ripe dates upon thee, So eat, and cool thine eye.” (Verse, 25-26). A mother’s cries do not go unheeded and she is gifted through his intervention with comfort and love that a Creator provides the Created.
In some parts of the Muslim world, there is even an herb used during childbirth and is referred to as Sayyidah Maryam’s herb. Her story of birth is not forgotten, the miracle is not only the virgin birth but also the solace and beauty provided in the process of the birth by her plea for help and the Divine response. For any of us as mothers, this very moment of childbirth is a form of worship to our Creator and we call upon Allah for comfort.
The Beloved Esa (upon him be Peace)
Prophet Esa too is one who loves his mother, amongst his signs of piety is that he said, “God had made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or miserable.” (Verse 32). As the mother of a son, I ponder often these verses and think of the incredible power a mother’s love has, I also think of the strength of Sayyidah Maryam to be publicly exposed and to stand so strong to all the claims against her as a single mother that might have ensued.
I think also of the love that her son exhibited to her, and that his very goodness as a prophet also emanated from a deep relationship with his mother and a recognition of her own piety. So while of course, Christians and Muslims will forever hold differences on the role of Esa, upon him be peace as a prophet or a Son of God. There will not be agreement on this point, nor would I push for one.
This time of year, I take a moment to think also of the sacrifices of Sayyida Maryam and her strength, her grace, her ability to speak truth, and her son’s reciprocal respect and love. I pray for this fortitude and think too of how to raise a son that is kind to his mother, that speaks in defense of her and knows that the love we share is one that can guide us both to be better humans as we serve a Divine mandate to be kind to all who walk upon this earth, especially those who are cast out and left with no help but the love of a stranger.
Sayyida Maryam’s isolation in the time that most women in the world would be surrounded by loved ones reminds us not to judge others too quickly, to hear the full story of anyone who is feeling cast out and to remember that there is a place to reach out to those who might have a purpose that is far greater for the common good than we might have imagined.
This article is cross-posted on Najeeba’s World.
The following is a guest post written by Najeeba Syeed-Miller, J.D., Professor of Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology. She has extensive experience in mediating conflicts among communities of ethnic and religious diversity, and has won awards for her peacemaking and public interest work. Najeeba also writes her own blog, “Najeeba’s world,” and can be followed on Twitter @najeebasyeed.