Mary in the Islamic Perspective:
Additional Proof for Jesus’ Superiority over the Prophet of Islam

Sam Shamoun

The Quran and Islamic literature say some rather interesting things about Jesus which, when examined closely, portray him as the most exalted and greatest of all of God’s messengers and prophets, be they angels or men. These materials clearly present Jesus as being vastly superior to Muhammad. In this specific article, we will focus on what the Islamic sources teach regarding Jesus’ blessed mother and contrast that with what Muslim tradition says in reference to Muhammad’s parents in order to illustrate our point.

Yet before proceeding into the topic we do need to qualify our use of the Islamic source material. We are not quoting the Quran or the Muslim traditions because we believe that God inspired these sources. Nor do we accept that these texts carry any real historical significance since they are not first century accounts which provide accurate eyewitness testimony on the Person and work of Christ. Rather, our reason for quoting them is to confront the Muslims that believe in these sources with what their own religious tradition teaches regarding Jesus’ superiority over their own prophet.

With this in mind we can now proceed into our discussion.

Muslim piety has elevated Muhammad to the highest position possible for a creature. (In fact, some would dare say that they have even taken it too far and have actually crossed the line in their devotion to their prophet.) According to the majority of Islamic scholars Muhammad is the greatest creature that God has made, superior to all created beings whether angels, jinn or men.

Note, for instance, what the following Muslim writer says regarding Muhammad’s superiority:

One of the names by which the Prophet Muhammad is known- upon him blessings and peace - is Khayru-l-Khalq or "Best of Creation." Other similar names of his with identical meaning are Khayru-l-Bariyya, Khayru Khalqillah, Khayru-l-`Alamina Turra, Khayru-n-Nas, Khayru Hadhihi-l-Umma, and Khratullah. These titles refers to his high status over all human Prophets and Messengers as well as over the Jinn and angels - upon them peace.
The Consensus of Muslims past and present - i.e. Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama`a - over the matter was indicated in Shaykh Ibrahim al-Laqqani's (d. 1041) words, "steer clear of dissent" in his famous poem Jawharat al-Tawhid
("The Gem of Monotheism"):

65. wa afdalu al-khalqi `ala al-itlqi
Nabiyyun fa mil `ani al-shiqqi.

Meaning:
And the best of creatures in absolute terms
is our Prophet, so steer clear of dissent.

Al-Bajuri (d. 1276), Sharh Jawharat al-Tawhid (1971 ed. p. 290): "I.e. among jinn, humankind, and angels, in the world and the hereafter, in all the attributes of goodness." Al-Sawi (d. 1241), Sharh Jawharat al-Tawhid (1999 ed. p. 295): "This assertion-of-superiority (tafdl) is by Consensus (ijm`) of the Muslims, both Sunnis and Mu`tazila, except al-Zamakhshari [in al-Kashshaf (4:712), Surat al-Takwir] who violated the Consensus." `Abd al-Salam ibn Ibrahim al-Laqqani (d. 1078), Sharh Jawharat al-Tawhid (1990 ed. p. 186): "It is obligatory (wjib) on every legally responsible person to believe that he is the best of all, and one who denies it commits a sin, is guilty of innovation, and deserves to be taught a lesson." …

Al-Bajuri (p. 293): "Al-Qadi Abu `Abd Allah al-Halimi [see on him the introduction to our translation of al-Bayhaqi's al-Asma' wa al-Sifat] together with others, such as the Mu`tazila, considered that the angels are better than the Prophets except our Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu `alayhi wa Alihi wa Sallam. Al-Sa`d [al-Taftazani] said [in Sharh al-`Aqa'id al-Nasafiyya]: 'There is nothing decisive in these issues.' Taj al-Din [ibn] al-Subki said [in Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra]: 'Safety lies in refraining from speech on this question and to enter it in detail without decisive evidence is to enter into great peril, a ruling over something over which we are incapable of ruling.'" …

Al-Sawi (p. 297-298), al-Bajuri (p. 296): "Its conclusion being that our Prophet is the best of creation in absolute terms, then Ibrahim, then Musa, then `Isa, then Nuh - upon them peace - then the rest of the Messengers, then the non-Messenger Prophets - some of them being superior to others, but Allah alone knows in what detail, then Gibril, then Israfil, then Mika'il, then `Izra'il, then 'common human beings' (`awamm al-bashar) such as Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, and `Ali, then the mass of the angels." …

There are, in fact, 6,666 Qur'anic proofs that the Messenger of Allah - Sallallahu `alayhi wa Alihi wa Sallam - is (not "was") without doubt the Best of creation, namely, the verses of the Holy Qur'an, since it is the greatest of all revealed Books and their Seal, the only Book that Allah guaranteed to preserve, and the universal Revelation for all creation (including angels, cf. al-Haytami, Fatawa Hadithiyya p. 69, 151-154) as opposed to previous Revelations which were only for the people among whom they were revealed. And this Book was revealed to the heart of the Prophet Muhammad: "And lo! it is a revelation of the Lord of the Worlds which the True Spirit hath brought down upon thy heart" (26:192-194). They might be confused by the narrations forbidding the Companions from boasting the merits of one Prophet over the others, or preferring him over Musa, or preferring him over Yunus, Allah bless and greet our Prophet and them. However, these narrations denote humbleness on the part of the Seal of Prophets. That is what all the Ulema said in reply to the superficial contradiction between the latter narrations and the verses and narrations that firmly establish his superior status…

"Al-Sha`rani in Tabaqat al-Awliya' narrated from [his Shaykh] the Knower of Allah Abu al-Mawahib al-Shadhili that the latter said: 'A dispute took place between me and a certain person in the Mosque of al-Azhar over the statement of the author of al-Burda [Imam al-Busiri]:

Famablaghu al-`ilmi fhi annahu basharun
wa annahu khayru khalqillhi kullihimi

Meaning:
The apex of knowledge concerning him is that he is a human being
and that he is the best of all the creation of Allah.

Whereupon that person said: He has no proof for this. I said to him: Consensus (ijma`) has formed over this. He did not change his view. Later I saw the Prophet - Sallallahu `alayhi wa Alihi wa Sallam - and with him were Abu Bakr and `Umar, Allah be well-pleased with them, sitting at the pulpit of the Azhar Mosque. He said to me: Marhaban bihabibi - Welcome to my dear beloved! Then he said to his friends: Do you know what happened today? They said No, O Messenger of Allah. He said: So-and-so the Wretch (Fulan al-Ta`is) believes that the angels are better than me!... What is wrong with him, disbelieving in the Consensus?'" …

May Allah send blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and all his Companions. Even the Christians and Jews of old knew that the Prophet Muhammad is the best of creation, as evidenced by some of his names and attributes reportedly found in the Bible, such as "Ikleel = Crown [of creation]" and "Parakletos = Spirit of Holiness." (G. F. Haddad, The Prophetic Title – "Best of Creation"; source; underline emphasis ours)

What makes this rather ironic is that the parents of the "Best of creation" died as pagans and under the judgment of Allah. For example, the Quran forbade Muhammad from praying for his pagan relatives who died in unbelief:

It is not fitting, for the Prophet and those who believe, that they should pray for forgiveness for Pagans, even though they be of kin, after it is clear to them that they are companions of the Fire. And Abraham prayed for his father's forgiveness only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became clear to him that he was an enemy to God, he dissociated himself from him: for Abraham was most tender-hearted, forbearing. S. 9:113-114 Y. Ali

According to certain Muslim expositors the above passage was directed to Muhammad and his companions who were invoking Allah to forgive their dead unbelieving folk:

The following was revealed regarding the Prophet (s) asking forgiveness for his uncle Abu Talib, and some of the Companions asking forgiveness for their idolatrous parents: It is not for the Prophet, and those who believe, to ask forgiveness for the idolaters, even though they be kinsmen, relatives, after it has become clear to them that they are inhabitants of the Hell-fire, for having died as disbelievers. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source)

And the exegetes also claim that the following verse:

It is true thou wilt not be able to guide every one, whom thou lovest; but God guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance. S. 28:56 Y. Ali

Was composed to censure Muhammad for trying to convince his uncle to become Muslim:

(Lo! thou) O Muhammad (guidest not) know not (whom thou lovest) i.e. whom you love to accept faith: i.e. Abu Talib, (but Allah guideth) He gives success and leads (whom He will) to His religion: Abu Bakr, 'Umar and their fellow believers. (And He is best aware of those who walk aright) to His religion. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source)

And:

The following was revealed regarding the Prophet's longing for his uncle Abu Talib to embrace faith: You cannot guide whom you like, to be guided, but [it is] God [Who] guides whomever He will, and He knows best those who will be guided. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source)

Finally:

(Lo! thou (O Muhammad) guidest not whom thou lovest…) [28:56]. Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Shirazi informed us> Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn Khamrawayh> ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Khuza‘i> Abu’l-Yaman al-Hakam ibn Nafi‘> Shu‘ayb> al-Zuhri> Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab> his father who said: "When death was about to overtake Abu Talib, the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, went to see him and there he found with him Abu Jahl and ‘Abd Allah ibn Abi Umayyah. The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, addressed his uncle: ‘O uncle, say, there is no deity save Allah, and I will argue, by means of it, in your favour with Allah, Glorious and Exalted is He’. Abu Jahl and ‘Abd Allah ibn Abi Umayyah said: ‘O Abu Talib, would you shun the religion of ‘Abd al-Muttalib?’ The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, kept inviting him and repeating his words until the last thing that Abu Talib said was: ‘I follow the religion of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’, and he refused to say, there is no deity save Allah. At that point the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: ‘By Allah, I will ask Allah for your forgiveness for as long as I am not forbidden from doing so’. Then, Allah, glorious and majestic is He, revealed (It is not for the Prophet, and those who believe, to pray for the forgiveness of idolaters even though they may be near of kin (to them) after it hath become clear that they are people of Hell-fire) [9:113]. He also revealed about Abu Talib (Lo! thou (O Muhammad) guidest not whom thou lovest, but Allah guideth whom He will)". This was narrated by Bukhari> Abu’l-Yaman> Shu‘ayb and also by Muslim> Harmalah> Ibn Wahb> Yunus; and both Yunus and Shu‘ayb related it from al-Zuhri. Master Abu Ishaq Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim informed us> al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Shaybani> Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Hafiz> Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Bishr> Yahya ibn Sa‘id > Yazid ibn Kaysan> Abu Hazim> Abu Hurayrah who said: "The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said to his uncle: ‘Say: there is no deity save Allah, and I will be witness, by means of it, for you on the Day of Judgement’. ('Ali ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi, Asbab al-Nuzul; source; bold emphasis ours)

Moreover, Allah didn’t merely prohibit Muhammad from praying for his pagan uncle. The allegedly sound narrations unapologetically state that Allah also forbade Muhammad from praying for his dead mother:

Chapter 204: THE APOSTLE OF ALLAH (MAY PEACE BE UPON HIM) SEEKING PERMISSION FROM THE LORD, THE EXALTED AND HIGH, FOR VISITING THE GRAVE OF HIS MOTHER

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger, (may peace be upon him) as saying: I sought permission to beg forgiveness for my mother, but He did not grant it to me. I sought permission from Him to visit her grave, and He granted it (permission) to me. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 2129)

Abu Huraira reported: The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) visited the grave of his mother and he wept, and moved others around him to tears, and said: I sought permission from my Lord to beg forgiveness for her but it was not granted to me, and I sought permission to visit her grave and it was granted to me. So visit the graves, for that makes you mindful of death. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 2130)

And:

Abu'l-Qasim 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad al-Harrani informed us> Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Nu'aym> Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Umawi> Bahr ibn Nasr> Ibn Wahb> Ibn Jurayj> Ayyub ibn Hani'> Masruq ibn al-Ajda'> 'Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud> who said: "The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, went out one day to look at the graveyards and we went out with him. He ordered us to sit and then proceeded across until he stopped at one particular grave. He spoke to it for a long time and then the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, wept loudly and we wept for his weeping. After a while, he came toward us and was met by 'Umar ibn al-Khattab who asked him: 'O Messenger of Allah, what has made you cry, for we also cried and we were also scared?' He came toward us, sat with us and then said: 'My weeping made you scared?' We said: 'Yes, O Messenger of Allah!' He said: 'The grave you saw me talking to is the grave of Aminah bint Wahb. I sought permission from my Lord to visit her and He allowed me to do so. Then, I asked His permission to pray for her forgiveness and He did not grant it. The words of Allah, exalted is He (It is not for the Prophet, and those who believe, to pray for the forgiveness of idolaters even though they may be near of kin (to them) after it hath become clear that they are people of hell-fire. The prayer of Abraham for the forgiveness of his father was only because of a promise he had promised him.) were revealed and I was seized by the tenderness which a son has toward his mother. This is the reason why I wept." ('Ali ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi, Asbab al-Nuzul; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Another source claims:

He (Ibn Sa‘d) said: Then they said: O Apostle of Allah, our mother Mulaykah Bint al-Hulw used to secure the freedom of prisoners, feed the mendicant and show compassion to the poor. She had died. She had interred alive a daughter of very tender age, so what would be her condition. He said: She who interred her (daughter) alive and she who was interred alive are both in hell fire. Thereupon they got infuriated. He said: Come to me. They came back and he said: MY MOTHER IS WITH YOURS. They rejected it, and went away saying: By Allah! This man who made us eat the heart and thinks that our mother is in hell-fire, is not worthy of being followed. They set out and on the way they confronted one of the Companions of the Apostle of Allah who was bringing camels of sadaqah. They tied him and carried away the camels. This news reached the Prophet. He cursed them along with those whom he was cursing in these words: May Allah curse Ri‘l, Dhakwan, ‘Usayyah, Lihyan, and two sons of MulaykahIbn Harim and Murran. (Ibn Sa'ad's Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, English translation by S. Moinul Haq, M.A., PH.D, assisted by H.K. Ghazanfar M.A. [Kitab Bhavan Exporters & Importers, 1784 Kalan Mahal, Daryaganj, New Delhi - 110 002 India], Volume I, Parts I & II, pp. 383-384; capital and underline emphasis ours)

The so-called sound reports further claim that Muhammad’s father is actually burning in hell:

Chapter 86: HE WHO DIED WITH UNBELIEF WOULD BE (THROWN) INTO THE FIRE, INTERCESSION WOULD BE OF NO AVAIL TO HIM AND THE RELATIONSHIP OF HIS FAVOURITES WOULD NOT BENEFIT HIM

Anas reported: Verily, a person said: Messenger of Allah, where is my father? He said: (He) is in the Fire. When he turned away, he (the Holy Prophet) called him and said: Verily my father and your father are in the Fire. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0398)

Muslims were obviously troubled by these claims since some of them fabricated certain narrations stating that Allah raised Muhammad’s parents back to life in order to give them an opportunity to profess faith in their son’s prophethood and thereby be saved. These reports, however, are rejected as forgeries by the Muslim Ulema (scholars):

Al-Suyooti (may Allaah have mercy on him) was of the view that the parents of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) will be saved (from Hell), and that Allaah brought them back to life after they had died and they believed in him.

This view was rejected by the majority of scholars who ruled that the ahaadeeth which indicate that are fabricated (mawdoo’) or very weak (da’eef jiddan).

It says in ‘Awn al-Ma’bood:

Most of the reports that been narrated to the effect that the parents of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) were brought back to life and believed in him and were saved are fabricated and false. Some of them are very weak and cannot be saheeh under any circumstances, as the imams of hadeeth are unanimously agreed that they are fabricated, such as al-Daaraqutni, al-Jawzaqaani, Ibn Shaheen, al-Khateeb, Ibn ‘Asaakir, Ibn Naasir, Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Suhayli, al-Qurtubi, al-Muhibb, al-Tabari, Fath al-Deen ibn Sayyid al-Naas, Ibraaheem al-Halabi and others. The scholar Ibraaheem al-Halabi explained at length the fact that the parents of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) have not been saved from Hell in a separate essay, as did ‘Ali al-Qaari in Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar and in a separate essay. The basis for this opinion is the soundness of this hadeeth ("My father and your father are in Hell"). Shaykh Jalaal al-Deen al-Suyooti differed from the huffaaz and scholars and affirmed that they had believed and had been saved, and he wrote numerous essays on that topic, including al-Ta’zeem wa’l-Minnah fi anna Abaway Rasool-Illaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) fi’l-Jannah.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked: Is there any saheeh report from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) that Allaah brought his parents back to life so that they could become Muslims, then they died (again) after that?

He replied: There is no saheeh report to that effect from the scholars of hadeeth. Rather the scholars are agreed that this is an invented lie… There is no dispute among the scholars that this is one of the most obvious of fabrications, as was stated by those who have knowledge. That does not appear in any of the reliable books of hadeeth, either in the Saheehs or the Sunans or the Musnads or any other well-known books of hadeeth. It was not mentioned by the authors of the books of Maghaazi or Tafseer, even though they narrated da’eef (weak) reports along with saheeh (sound) ones. The fact that this is a lie is clear to any one who has any knowledge of religion. If such a thing had happened there would have been a great deal of motivation to transmit it, because it is something that is extraordinary on two counts: the raising of the dead and believing after death. Such a thing would have been more deserving of being transmitted than anything else. Since no trustworthy narrated transmitted it, it may be understood that this is a lie.

Moreover, this goes against the Qur’aan and the saheeh Sunnah, and the consensus of the scholars. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

"Allaah accepts only the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and foolishness and repent soon afterwards; it is they whom Allaah will forgive and Allaah is Ever All-Knower, All-Wise.

18. And of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil deeds until death faces one of them and he says: ‘Now I repent;’ nor of those who die while they are disbelievers"

[al-Nisa’ 4:17-18]

So Allaah states that there is no repentance for one who dies as a disbeliever. And Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

"Then their Faith (in Islamic Monotheism) could not avail them when they saw Our punishment. (Like) this has been the way of Allaah in dealing with His slaves. And there the disbelievers lost utterly (when Our Torment covered them)"

[Ghaafir 40:85]

So He tells us that the way in which He deals with His slaves is that faith will be to no avail once they have seen the punishment, so how about after death? And there are other similar texts. Then he quoted the two hadeeth which we quoted at the beginning of our answer.

Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 4/325-327. (Question #47170: Are the parents of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) in Paradise or in Hell?; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

And:

Praise be to Allaah.

There is no saheeh hadeeth which says that Allaah, may He be exalted, brought the parents of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) back to life, and that they believed in him then died. Rather the saheeh ahaadeeth that have been narrated indicated that they died in kufr and that they are among the people of Hell… It is sufficient to refute this hadeeth by remembering the words of Allaah, may He be exalted, in the verse (interpretation of the meaning): "and dies as a disbeliever, then his deeds will be lost in this life and in the Hereafter, and they will be the dwellers of the Fire. They will abide therein forever" [al-Baqarah 2:217]. And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "I asked my Lord for permission to pray for forgiveness for my mother, but He did not give me permission." Some people used to fabricate ahaadeeth and insert them into the books of the negligent, who would then narrate them. Our Shaykh, Abu’l-Fadl ibn Naasir, said: This is a fabricated hadeeth. The mother of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) died in al-Abwa’, between Makkah and Madeenah, and was buried there, not in al-Hajoon. End quote.

Al-Mawdoo’aat, 1/283 (Question #70297: How sound is the hadeeth about the parents of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) being brought back to life?; source)

See also:

http://islamtoday.com/show_detail_section.cfm?q_id=67&main_cat_id=2
http://islamtoday.com/show_detail_section.cfm?q_id=928&main_cat_id=2

It is therefore clear that, according to certain sources which Muslim scholars deem to be authentic, Muhammad’s parents are burning in hell. If I were a Muslim, I too would be greatly bothered by this fact.(1)


This leads us to another observation. The Quran says that the mother of Jesus Christ is the most exalted and the greatest of all women:

Lo! Allah preferred Adam and Noah and the Family of Abraham and the Family of 'Imran above (all His) creatures. They were descendants one of another. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Remember) when the wife of 'Imran said: My Lord! I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower! And when she was delivered she said: My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female - Allah knew best of what she was delivered - the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast. S. 3:33-36 Pickthall

Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! God hath chosen thee and purified thee - chosen thee above the women of all nations. S. 3:42 Y. Ali

The family of Imran whom Allah chose above all creatures is supposed to be the family of Jesus, specifically his mother’s parents. The Quran even identifies Mary as Imran’s daughter:

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). S. 66:12 Y. Ali

Hence, the Quran admits that Mary is the greatest woman of all time and that Allah exalted her family above all of his creation! In fact, one narration expressly states that Mary was the best woman of her time:

Narrated 'Ali:
The Prophet said, "The best of the world's women is Mary (at her lifetime), and the best of the world's women is Khadija (at her lifetime)." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 163)

The main problem with the above narrative is that the Quran doesn’t simply say that Mary was the best of her time but that she was preferred and chosen above all women, period.

As if this weren’t amazing enough Mary will even be the most prominent woman in paradise:

Narrated Umm Salamah

In the year of the Conquest Allah's messenger (peace be upon him) called Fatimah and spoke privately to her and she wept; he then spoke to her and she laughed. When Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) died she asked her about her weeping and her laughing and she replied, "Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) informed me that he was going to die, so I wept; he then informed me that, with the exception of Mary, daughter of Imran, I should be the chief lady among the inhabitants of Paradise, so I laughed."

Tirmidhi transmitted it. (Tirmidhi Hadith, Number 1646; taken from the ALIM CD-Rom version)

Can there be any doubt that Islam teaches that not only is Mary the greatest woman of this world but that she is also the greatest in the world to come? As one Muslimah (female Muslim) put it:

… the clarification of the second part of the verse which states that God ‘hath preferred thee above the women of all nations’, aroused considerable discussion amongst the commentators. Qushayri holds that Mary is preferred over all the women of her time. But, while Qurtubi includes a mention of this opinion in his exegesis, attributing it to al-Hasan and Ibn Jurayj, he declares his own view to be that Mary is preferred over all women until the Day of the Sounding of the Last Trumpet, saying that this is the obvious understanding of the passage, and that it is the view of Zajjaj and others. Ibn Kathir cites the statement of Ibn Abi Hatim that in a similar context in 21:91, the phrase al-‘alamin includes both the world of the jinn and that of the people.

The reasons for this seem to be based on specific hadiths, the first of which is the following:

‘Ali narrated that he heard the Prophet say: ‘The best of the women of her time was Mary the daughter of ‘Imran, and the best of the women of her time is Khadija.’ (Bukhari; Muslim; Dhahabi)

Tabari’s personal assessment of this matter is found in his gloss on 3:43: ‘Be obedient, worship and thank God for blessing, purifying and cleansing you and for preferring you to all the other women of your time.’ However, he includes two identical versions of the following hadith with different chains of authority:

‘Ammar ibn Sa‘d said: ‘The Messenger of God said: "Khadija was preferred over the women of my community [umma] as Mary was preferred over the women of all nations".’ (Tabarani)

Perhaps there is a reluctance on the part of some of the commentators to relinquish the supreme position to one of another community, but the above hadith and further hadiths indicate that the correct understanding of this verse is that Mary is preferred above all the women of all times:

‘A’isha asked Fatima: ‘Did I see [you truly] when you leaned over the Messenger of God and cried; then you leaned over him and you laughed?’ She said: ‘He informed me that he would die from his illness, so I cried; then he informed me that I would precede the other members of his family in being reunited with him, and he said, "You are the chief lady [sayyida] of Paradise, with the exception of Mary the daughter of Imran."’ (Bukhari; Hakim; Dhahabi)

Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir include another version of this hadith which further affirms the priority of Mary:

Al-Darawardi with his chain of authorities [isnad] said, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas, ‘The Messenger of God said: "The chief lady of the women of Paradise after Mary is Fatima, and Khadija, and the wife of Pharaoh, Asiya".’ (Dhahabi; Ibn ‘Asakir)

In the version of Ibn ‘Asakir, instead of the copula waw (‘and’), Ibn ‘Abbas is quoted as having said thumma (implying sequence: then Khadija, then Asiya), upon which Ibn Kathir concludes that Mary’s status as the most preferred of Paradise is sahih al-‘ayn (the soundest choice). He thus ranks the four as follows: firstly, Mary the daughter of ‘Imran, secondly Fatima, thirdly, Khadija and fourthly Asiya. Ibn Kathir then concedes that ‘Indeed, God purified and preferred Mary above the women of her time, and it is possible that her preference was above all women.’ … the Qur’anic text and numerous sound hadiths indicate that the four most outstanding women are Mary, then Khadija, Fatima and Asiya, although not necessarily in that order. Moreover, Mary is the most outstanding woman of all nations of all times and places, as certified by the Qur’an itself–and she and Asiya are the only two women named in the Qur’an–while Khadija and Fatima showed excellence above all women of their time and will be rewarded as such in Paradise. (Aliah Schleifer, Mary The Blessed Virgin of Islam [Fons Vitae January 1, 1997], Chapter Four: The Pure, the Best of Women, pp. 62-65; underline emphasis ours)

And:

… Ibn al-Qayyim concludes his argument with the following statement:

And in the citing of Mary as an example for the believers, there is also another point, which is that from God’s perspective there is no blemish on her. God’s enemies accused her of fornication, attributing to her that which God had liberated her from, by His creating her to be the supreme example of the most righteous [al-siddiqa al-kubra], the most preferred [al-mustafa] of the women of all nations

Mary’s preference over other outstanding women appears in a number of hadiths, some of which have already been cited. It also appears in the context of a conversation with the Prophet’s companion Ibn Safwan, in which ‘A’isha extols Mary and cites verses which were revealed about her, alluding to the episode of the false accusation… Finally, the following hadith sheds further light on Mary’s supreme position. It warns believers not to neglect the importance of four women. Mary, being the first mentioned, is by implication given the highest status:

Anas bin Malik said: The Prophet said, ‘Reckon with the outstanding women of all nations: Mary, and Khadija, and Asiya the daughter of Muzahim, and Fatima the daughter of Muhammad.’ (Tirmidhi and Dhahabi)

In response to this hadith and Qur’an 3:42, Razi deduces:

that these four women are preferred above other women, while the verse indicates that Mary is preferred above all women. And statements of those who limit this preference for her to the world of her time only have missed the obvious meaning [of the passage].

Qurtubi summarises his assessment of this aspect of Mary’s characteristics in similar terms: ‘The obvious sense of the Qur’an and hadith DEMANDS the conclusion that Mary is the most preferred woman of all the world, from Eve to the last woman on earth at the Final Hour.’ … Thus, the evidence of the Qur’an and hadith indicates that while Khadija or Fatima may be considered the best of women of her time, Mary, peace be upon her, is the best woman of all times. She is physically and spiritually pure, and conclusively singled out as a sign for all peoples (21:91)… (Ibid., pp. 70-72; capital and underline emphasis ours)

To further support that Mary is vastly superior to Muhammad’s wife and daughter it is important to note that Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Muslim scripture and even has an entire chapter named in her honor (Surat al-Maryam [Q. 19], "Chapter of Mary"), whereas neither Khadija nor Fatima is ever explicitly mentioned in the entire Quran!

Moreover, Islamic traditions state that Allah answered the prayer of Jesus’ grandmother, as recorded in Q. 3:36, by making him and his mother the only individuals whom Satan was unable to touch upon their births:

Narrated Said bin Al-Musaiyab:
Abu Huraira said, "I heard Allah's Apostle saying, ‘There is none born among the off-spring of Adam, but Satan touches it. A child therefore, cries loudly at the time of birth because of the touch of Satan, EXCEPT MARY AND HER CHILD.’" Then Abu Huraira recited: "And I seek refuge with You for her and for her offspring from the outcast Satan" (3.36) (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 641)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "When any human being is born. Satan touches him at both sides of the body with his two fingers, except Jesus, the son of Mary, whom Satan tried to touch but failed, for he touched the placenta-cover instead." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 506)

And when she gave birth to her, a girl, and she had been hoping for a boy, since only males were consecrated to the service of God, she said, apologetically, 'O, Lord, I have given birth to a female' - and God knew very well what she had given birth to: a parenthetical statement constituting God's speech (a variant reading [for wada'at, 'she gave birth', has wada'tu, 'I gave birth' [making these Hanna's words, sc. 'and God knows very well what I have given birth to']); the male, that she had asked for, is not as the female, that was bestowed upon her, because he is designed for the service [of God], while she would not be suitable on account of her lesser physical ability, her private parts, the effects of menstruation on her, and so on. 'And I have named her Mary, and commend her to you with her seed, her children, to protect them from the accursed, the outcast, Satan'. In a hadith [it is stated]: 'Every new-born is touched by Satan and begins [life] by crying, except for Mary and her son', as reported by the two Shaykhs [Bukhari and Muslim]. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The above comments presuppose that Muhammad, his wives, as well as his daughters were all pricked by Satan at their births. Thus, Allah didn’t protect Muhammad or his family from the harm of Satan whereas he did so for Mary and her glorious Son!

The foregoing reports also presuppose that Mary and Jesus are the only sinless persons in Islam, a point supported by Muslim scholar Qatadah (as quoted by Muslim historian and commentator al-Tabari):

Jesus and his mother did not commit any of the sins which the rest of the children of Adam commit. (Mahmoud M. Ayoub, The Quran and Its Interpreters: The House of Imran [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1992], Volume II, p. 94)

And in the Memoriam that is found to Aliah Schleifer in her work, Mary The Blessed Virgin of Islam, her colleague Gray Henry says that:

Very few Christians have any idea of the importance of the Virgin Mary in Islam, and that Islamic doctrine maintains that Jesus and Mary are the only two in all eternity to have been born without sin and that Mary is considered the purest woman in all creation. She is considered to be an example for both men and women. (Ibid., p. 5; underline emphasis ours)

Finally, Muhammad is said to have believed that Mary was one of the very few women that attained perfection:

Narrated Abu Musa Al Ashari:
The Prophet said, "Many men reached perfection but none among the women reached perfection except Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, and Asia, Pharaoh’s wife. And the superiority of 'Aisha to other women is like the superiority of Tharid to other kinds of food." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 65, Number 329)

With the foregoing in perspective, one is left wondering what it is about Mary that makes her the most exalted of all women. Why is she the greatest woman who ever lived and will ever live? Why is she the only woman mentioned by name in the Muslim scripture and the only one with an entire chapter named after her? Why isn’t Muhammad’s mother given that honor seeing that Muslims claim that their prophet is the greatest creature of Allah?


Since the Quran fails to provide the answer we must therefore turn to the Bible for this important information:

"In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’ ‘I am the Lord's servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her. At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’ And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.’" Luke 1:26-49

The answer to the question of why Mary is so highly exalted is because she was favored by God to give birth to his holy and pure Son, the Lord Jesus. To put it another way, it is her Son who makes her the greatest woman of all time since he happens to be the Lord from heaven who is superior to every created thing.

Moreover, the Holy Bible presents Mary as a woman of faith (cf. Luke 1:38, 45), which means that Jesus (in his human existence) was blessed by having such a god-fearing and pious mother (and adoptive father Joseph whom the Bible calls a righteous man [cf. Matthew 1:19]), over against Muhammad whose pagan father died before his birth, who had a pagan mother, who gave him away to a wet-nurse for a long time, and who later grew up as an orphan among other pagan family members.

So Jesus was able to benefit/bless his parents, while Muhammad very clearly and explicitly was of no benefit to his parents who are now in hell according to the Islamic sources.

And contrary to the assertions made by G.F. Haddad and others regarding Muhammad’s status, the Holy Bible says that Jesus is the beloved of God, the Son whom the Father has loved even before creation:

"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’" Matthew 17:1-5

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." John 17:24

Jesus, not Muhammad, is the believers’ Intercessor and Mediator:

"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Romans 8:31-34

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time." 1 Timothy 2:5-6

"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:1-2

"Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever." Hebrews 7:23-28

Jesus is also the reason why creation exists since the Father created everything through the Son and for the glory of the Son. In other words, God appointed Christ to be the Agent and Redeemer of creation so that he could hold complete supremacy and sovereignty over all created things, resulting in the Son being honored and worshiped by every creature:

"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.' But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’" Mark 12:6-7

"Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him." John 5:22-23

"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and FOR him. He is before all things, and IN HIM all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." Colossians 1:13-18

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him.’" Hebrews 1:1-6

Amazingly, as was noted in the beginning, even the Quran agrees with the Holy Bible regarding Jesus holding supremacy over all creation, including Muhammad:

http://answering-islam.org/Shamoun/jesus_most_exalted_q.htm
http://answering-islam.org/Shamoun/jesus_most_high_q.htm
http://answering-islam.org/Quran/Contra/jesus_unlike_adam.html

Thus, Jesus isn’t the "Best of Creation," but infinitely greater than all of creation since he is the eternal Creator and sovereign Lord of all beings! Is it any wonder, then, that Mary is the greatest woman God created in light of her being the mother of God’s eternally beloved Son, the One who is infinitely superior to all created things? And doesn’t this again show that either Muhammad or the author of the Quran "borrowed" Christian theology without realizing the serious implications that this would have on refuting the Islamic claim that Jesus was only a human being?

Unless noted otherwise all Quranic verses taken from the Arthur J. Arberry version.


Endnotes

(1) Some Muslims may claim that the parents of Muhammad are not in hell on the grounds that the Quran says that Allah will never punish a people to whom no messenger has been sent:

Whosoever is guided, is only guided to his own gain, and whosoever goes astray, it is only to his own loss; no soul laden bears the load of another. We never chastise, until We send forth a Messenger. S. 17:15

Since Muhammad’s parents died before a messenger was sent to them Allah will therefore pardon them.

There are two main problems with this argument. First, this position contradicts the narrations which we cited, reports that are deemed authentic by Muslim scholars, which unabashedly teach that the parents of Muhammad are in hell. Muslims, therefore, are faced with a contradiction between the Quran and the so-called sound narratives.

Secondly, Muslims believe that Muhammad was a descendant of Ishmael and that the latter supposedly settled in Mecca where he and his father built the Ka’ba (cf. Q. 2:125-129).

The Quran itself asserts that Ishmael was one of the inspired prophets who received a book and who exhorted his people to observe prayers and alms-giving:

We have revealed to thee as We revealed to Noah, and the Prophets after him, and We revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, Jesus and Job, Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and We gave to David Psalms, S. 4:163

And We gave to him Isaac and Jacob -- each one We guided, And Noah We guided before; and of his seed David and Solomon, Job and Joseph, Moses and Aaron -- even so We recompense the good-doers -- Zachariah and John, Jesus and Elias; each was of the righteous; Ishmael and Elisha, Jonah and Lot-each one We preferred above all beings; and of their fathers, and of their seed, and of their brethren; and We elected them, and We guided them to a straight path. That is God's guidance; He guides by it whom He will of His servants; had they been idolaters, it would have failed them, the things they did. Those are they to whom We gave the Book, the Judgment, the Prophethood; so if these disbelieve in it, We have already entrusted it to a people who do not disbelieve in it. S. 6:84-89

And mention in the Book Ishmael; he was true to his promise, and he was a Messenger, a Prophet. He bade his people to pray and to give the alms, and he was pleasing to his Lord… These are they whom God has blessed among the Prophets of the seed of Adam, and of those We bore with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and of those We guided and chose. When the signs of the All-merciful were recited to them, they fell down prostrate, weeping. S. 19:54-55, 58

Since the Muslims believe that the Quran is historically accurate they must therefore accept that Muhammad’s parents were not ignorant of the religion of Allah and must have known that their ancestor Ishmael was a prophet who enjoined upon his progeny Tauhid (Islamic unity) and specific religious practices such as the rites of the pilgrimage (Hajj). After all, the Quran plainly says that Muhammad’s pagan contemporaries knew that Allah was the creator of the heavens and the earth:

And if thou wert to ask them: Who created the heavens and the earth, and constrained the sun and the moon (to their appointed work)? they would say: Allah. How then are they turned away? Allah maketh the provision wide for whom He will of His bondmen, and straiteneth it for whom (He will). Lo! Allah is Aware of all things. And if thou wert to ask them: Who causeth water to come down from the sky, and therewith reviveth the earth after its death? they verily would say: Allah. Say: Praise be to Allah! But most of them have no sense. S. 29:61-64 Pickthall

Hence, the foregoing plainly demonstrates that Muhammad’s parents weren’t ignorant of the "truth" but knew full well that Allah had sent them a prophet who taught the people the religion and had personally built the Ka’ba and instituted the Hajj practices. They, therefore, died without having any excuses before Allah

Ironically, Muhammad’s father had the name Abdallah (servant of Allah). However, in the tribe and clan of Muhammad’s grandfather (Abd al-Muttalib), Allah was worshiped not alone but alongside many other gods. Whatever the case, it is clear from the Quran and Muslim reference works that Muhammad’s parents knew about the existence of Allah.


Articles by Sam Shamoun
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