Thursday, April 29, 2010

Miriam, Mary and the Qur'an.

As you may know, Moses had a sister named Miriam. This is recorded all throughout the Old Testament, and is especially highlighted here:

The name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam.
(Numbers 26:59)

The children of Amram were Aaron, Moses and Miriam. And the sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
(1 Chronicles 6:3)

For those who are not yet aware, Miriam and Mary are actually the same name in Hebrew (מִרְיָם). This apparently has confused the author of the Qur'an, who wound up conflating the Old Testament Miriam with Mary, the mother of Jesus:

When a woman of Imran [note: this is more accurately translated as "the wife of Amram" (link)] said: My Lord! surely I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing. So when she brought forth, she said: My Lord! Surely I have brought it forth a female-- and Allah knew best what she brought forth-- and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Marium, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed Shaitan.

And she came to her people with him, carrying him (with her). They said: O Marium! surely you have done a strange thing. sister of Haroun! your father was not a bad man, nor, was your mother an unchaste woman.

And Marium, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our inspiration and she accepted the truth of the words of her Lord and His books, and she was of, the obedient ones.

Interestingly, Sahih Muslim records Muhammad himself producing what remains the standard response to this day:

Mughira b. Shu'ba reported: When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me: You read "O sister of Harun" (i.e. Hadrat Maryam) in the Qur'an, whereas Moses was born much before Jesus. When I came back to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) I asked him about that, whereupon he said: The (people of the old age) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them.

The problem with Muhammad's explanation is that it is simply false. The practice that he states has never been the practice of any of the Jews or Christians (otherwise the Christians of Najran would have known about it).

Also, Abdullah Yusuf-Ali's footnote on surah 66:12 is rather telling. Yusuf-Ali says that, "Imran was traditionally the name of the father of Mary the mother of Jesus." The footnote on surah 19:28 in N.J. Dawood's translation is also rather interesting. In it, he states,

Muslim commentators deny the charge that there is confusion here between Miriam, Aaron's sister, and Maryam (Mary), mother of Jesus. 'Sister of Aaron', they argue, simply means 'virtuous woman' in this context.

And in fact, many commentaries on surah 19:28 make this exact argument, whether you consult Yusuf Ali or some other well-known commentary on the Qur'an. Anyway, for further reading, I recommend these two articles that go into more detail on the glaring errors that have occurred in the above given texts:

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