Portrayal of Jesus and Mary in the Quran (Koran)

Written: 14 July, 2000

Today I was looking over a copy of the Quran (or Koran, as my copy is titled) that I'd bought back in the mid-1980s, to see what that book said about Jesus. I was a bit surprised at the frequent references to Jesus' mother, Mary, in a favorable way, although the Quran denies the idea that Jesus was God or the son of God. I was also surprised that the Quran makes at least one claim about Jesus that I think is probably mentioned in Christian apocrypha (material not included in the New Testament because it's not considered to be divinely inspired).

The Quran is a book consisting of many short writings urging the reader to believe in one god, Allah, who is said to be the God of the Torah and Old Testament whom Jews and Christians have not been faithful to, having become followers of human traditions instead.

(For example, see 57:27: "We sent after them Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel; and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him Compassion and Mercy. But the Monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them: (We commanded) only the seeking for the Good Pleasure of God; but that they did not foster as they should have done. Yet We bestowed, on those among them who believed, their (due) reward, but many of them are rebellious transgressors.")

The writings were "revealed" to a man named Mohammed who lived from around 570 to 632 A.D. The religion that he began is called Islam, and its followers are called Muslims. Muslims believe that the Quran is "the infallible word of God, a transcript of a tablet preserved in heaven, revealed to the Prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel" and that except for a few particular passages, "the speaker throughout is God."

Examples from both the Old and New Testaments are used to show how men of God have benefitted from following Allah, and calls the reader to follow their example and not be fooled by those who would try to reduce or ignore Allah. The angel Gabriel, for example, is the angel mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, who informs the Virgin Mary that she will bear a son. References to Old Testament figures such as David, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and so on also are cited as men of God.

Jesus is said to be a faithful prophet of Allah, and is even acknowledged to be the Messiah, but the Quran denies that Jesus was God or the son of God. "In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary. Say: "Who then hath the least power against God, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every - one that is on the earth?" (5:19)

"It is not befitting to (the majesty of) God that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, "Be", and it is." (19:35)

"O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of God aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in God and His apostles. Say not "Trinity" : desist: it will be better for you: for God is one God: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son." (4:171)

"They do blaspheme who say: "God is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O Children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with God,- God will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help. They do blaspheme who say: God is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to God, and seek His forgiveness? For God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. Christ the son of Mary was no more than an apostle; many were the apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how God doth make His signs clear to them; yet see in what wa ys they are deluded away from the truth! Say: "Will ye worship, besides God, something which hath no power either to harm or benefit you? But God,- He it is that heareth and knoweth all things." (5:75-5:79)

In the Quran, Jesus is shown denying that he (Jesus) is God. "And behold! God will say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God'?" He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say, to wit, 'worship God, my Lord and your Lord'; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou didst take me up Thou wast the Watcher over them, and Thou art a witness to all things. If Thou dost punish them, they are Thy servant: If Thou dost forgive them, Thou art the Exalted in power, the Wise." (5:119-5:121)

However, it would seem that Muslims and Christians would agree that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit. "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)." (66:12) And the phrase "breathed into (her body) of Our spirit" agrees that the spirit (or Holy Spirit, as Christians call it) belongs to God. I have read on the web that the Holy Spirit is interpreted by Muslims to mean the angel Gabriel, not God. Christians believe that the spirit is an aspect of God, as Jesus is, without violating the idea of God being One. So, from the above excerpt, it appears that Muslims believe the spirit belongs to God but isn't an equal facet of God's being. (Although oddly enough, Allah refers to himself in the plural in The Quran, as God does in the Bible. If the One God is not composed of a trinity, as The Quran claims, why does Allah refer to His spirit as "Our spirit"?)

The status of Mary in the Quran is interesting, because she is referred to as often as Jesus is. In fact, chapter 19 of The Quran is titled "Mary". Muslims share with Christians the belief that Jesus was born from a virgin, Mary. "Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute." (19:34) I guess the "they" could refer to the Jews who dispute the virgin birth, or the "they" could refer to the Christians who claim God as the child's father. "But the sects differ among themselves: and woe to the unbelievers because of the (coming) Judgment of a Momentous Day!" (19:37)

The Quran even describes Mary giving birth to Jesus, something not described in the New Testament, and portrayed differently, too. "And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): "Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!" (19:23)

Chapter 3 of the Quran, called "The Family of 'Imram", even tells of Mary being born (3:35-36), something not recounted in the New Testament. It says that God "made her grow in purity and beauty" (3:37). The verses then go on to recount the story given in The Gospel of Luke 1:5-26 where a barren woman and her husband Zechariah are able to produce a child, who would become John the Baptist. In that Gospel, we are then told of how the angel appeared to Mary and said she would give birth to a child also, despite being a virgin.

This seems to be the only time in the entire New Testament where Mary is referred to as being particularly blessed, with the angel telling her she is "highly favored" and "have found favor with God." In Luke 1:46-48, Mary says "My soul glorifies the Lord....From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me." Likewise, in the Quran, it reads: "Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! God hath chosen thee and purified thee- chosen thee above the women of all nations." (3:42) In the Quran, after the angel tells Mary more, the story jumps ahead to an adult Jesus preaching faith in God, and saying that his ability to make a clay bird come alive, and heal lepers, and so forth, are proof of God's favor (3:49).

In the Quran, Jesus is not killed, but taken straight up to God: "Behold! God said: "O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself." (3:55).

"That they rejected Faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge; That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of God";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) know ledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, God raised him up unto Himself..." (4:156-4:158)

Christians believe that Jesus was indeed taken up to the Father, but after being crucified. Both the Quran and New Testament compare Jesus and Adam, but in different ways. The Quran says: "The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: "Be". And he was." (3:59). Whereas the New Testament says that where sin entered us through Adam, sin was removed from us through Jesus (Romans 5:12, 18-21).

The Last Supper appears in the Quran in a different, more fantastic form than in the New Testament. Some Christians disagree on whether Jesus himself considered the bread and wine to be transformed into his actual flesh and blood during that Last Supper. The Catholic interpretation of communion is more supernatural than a Protestant's, but the scene portrayed in the Quran is more supernatural still:

"Behold! the disciples, said: "O Jesus the son of Mary! can thy Lord send down to us a table set (with viands) from heaven?" Said Jesus: "Fear God, if ye have faith." They said: "We only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that thou hast indeed told us the truth; and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle." Said Jesus the son of Mary: "O God our Lord! Send us from heaven a table set (with viands), that there may be for us - for the first and the last of us - a solemn festival and a sign from thee; and provide for our sustenance, for thou art the best Sustainer (of our needs)." God said: "I will send it down unto you: But if any of you after that resisteth faith, I will punish him with a penalty such as I have not inflicted on any one among all the peoples." (5:115-5:118)

Well, at least, I think that's supposed to be about The Last Supper -- the mention of the table makes me think so. Jesus also provided food in the New Testament when a crowd of thousands were fed with a small supply of food.

The Quran acknowledges the existence of the Holy Spirit, as does the New Testament, and acknowedges the powers of Jesus described in the New Testament: "Then will God say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel and behold! thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold ! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave." (5:110-111) As I said before, I think the bit with the bird is something described in Christian apocrypha -- so there is an example of Muslims believing a legend about Jesus' powers that even many Christians dismiss. (Does anyone know the source of the bird story? I assume that it's apocryphal, but maybe I just overlooked it or something. I know that in the TV movie "Mary, Mother of Jesus" there was a scene during Jesus' boyhood where he brings a dead bird back to life. I think that was taken from one of the apocryphal stories about Jesus' childhood that was floating around after the first century.)

The Quran also speaks frequently about a coming Day of Judgement when Allah (God) will judge all mankind but disagrees with Christians who say that Jesus will intercede with the Father for us. "None shall have the power of intercession, but such a one as has received permission (or promise) from (God) Most Gracious. They say: "(God) Most Gracious has begotten a son!" Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous! At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin, That they should invoke a son for (God) Most Gracious. For it is not consonant with the majesty of (God) Most Gracious that He should beget a son. Not one of the beings in the heavens and the earth but must come to (God) Most Gracious as a servant. He does take an account of them (all), and hath numbered them (all) exactly. And everyone of them will come to Him singly on the Day of Judgment." (19:87-19:95)

I very much respect Muslims' beliefs, but I obviously disagree with the idea that Jesus was not divine, and I don't believe some of the bits, such as the conversation between Allah and Jesus quoted earlier which sound to me like something that somebody just made up. I looked over some of the Gospels again after reading some of the parts of the Quaran, and the Gospels seem to me to be more believable and realistic, more matter-of-fact in tone, and possessing more depth, and concrete writing about the events. The frequent references to Mary in The Quran show that by the 7th Century, the Virgin had already acquired a stature in the public mind that surpassed the way she was described in the New Testament. The Quran verse 5:119 has Allah asking, "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God'?" This "worship me and my mother as gods" comment echoes the criticism that some Protestants level at Catholics to this very day.

The Quran can be read online at