The Birth Narratives of Jesus in the Quran

A Christian Analysis

Sam Shamoun

A common Muslim accusation leveled against the Holy Bible is the supposedly unacceptable language used by Luke in describing the virginal conception of the Lord Jesus. For instance, statements such as the Holy Spirit "overshadowing" Mary are claimed to contain sexual overtones. The Muslim polemicist Ahmad Deedat was one of the first Muslims to bring this accusation against the Holy Bible. Noted Christian Apologist John Gilchrist ably responded to this false charge:

Deedat's prejudices against the Christian Bible find further expression in his treatment of the conception and birth of Jesus. He quotes Luke 1:35 which records the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary to the effect that the Holy Spirit would "come upon" her and that the power of the Most High would "overshadow" her. He comments on these words:

The language used here is distasteful - gutter language - you agree!? (Deedat, Christ in Islam, p. 24)

In his booklet the words "gutter language" are emphasised in bold print. Someone has said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." It seems the converse is equally true. Deedat implies that there is something immoral about the Biblical account of the conception of Jesus. He very significantly omits the rest of the verse: "therefore the child to be born of you will be called holy, the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). The whole verse is set in an awesome context of holiness. Because this child was to be conceived, not by the medium of impure flesh, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, therefore the child would not be impure and sinful like all other men, but would be holy, even the Son of God. How anyone can see anything distasteful in this is beyond understanding. The Qur'an itself teaches that the reason for the conception of Jesus by divine power alone was his unique holiness (Surah Maryam 19:19). These words apply:

To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15

In Luke's Gospel one often reads of their Holy Spirit coming upon people and in every case the expression implies an anointing of his holy influence. Simeon was a man "righteous and devout" and the "Holy Spirit was upon him" (Luke 2:25) and when Jesus was baptised and was praying, the "Holy Spirit descended upon him" (Luke 3:22). Likewise we read that when the glory of God appeared above Jesus when he was transfigured, "a cloud came and overshadowed them" (Luke 9:34). How can anyone say, when similar expressions are used of the conception of Jesus (i.e. that the Holy Spirit "came upon" Mary and that the power of God "overshadowed" her), that this is "distasteful - gutter language"?

It is quite clear that the words used to describe the manner in which the Christ-child would be conceived are generally used in the Bible to describe any occasion where a very real anointing of the power and holiness of God might come upon a person. We really cannot see what the basis of Deedat's argument is and are once again led to the impression that he must be prejudiced against the Christian faith to make such unwarranted charges against it. ... (Gilchrist, Christ in Islam and Christianity)

It is surprising that Muslims would raise this as an issue, since it is actually the Qur'an that describes Jesus' virginal conception and birth in very graphic language:

And (remember) her who guarded her SEXUAL ORGAN (Arabic- farjahaa): We breathed into her from Our Spirit, and We made her and her son a Sign for all people. S. 21:91

And Mary the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her SEXUAL ORGAN (Arabic- farjahaa) and We breathed INTO IT 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

The word farjahaa, from farj, refers to a person's private area, to their private parts. Here are some verses which use this word in this connection:

Prosperous are the believers who in their prayers are humble ... and guard their private parts (lifuroojihim). S. 23:1-2,5 Arberry

Say to the believers, that they cast down their eyes and guard their private parts (furoojahum); that is purer for them. God is aware of the things they work. And say to the believing women, that they cast down their eyes' and guard their private parts (furoojahunna), and reveal not their adornment save such as is outward; and let them cast their veils over their bosoms, and not reveal their adornment save to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands' fathers, or their sons, or their husbands' sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or what their right hands own, or such men as attend them, not having sexual desire, or children who have not yet attained knowledge of women's private parts; nor let them stamp their feet, so that their hidden ornament may be known. And turn all together to God, O you believers; haply so you will prosper. S. 24:30-31 Arberry

Men and women who have surrendered, believing men and believing women, obedient men and obedient women, truthful men and truthful women, enduring men and enduring women, humble men and humble women, men and women who give in charity, men who fast and women who fast, men and women who guard their private parts (furoojahum), men and women who remember God oft -- for them God has prepared forgiveness and a mighty wage. S. 33:35 Arberry

and guard their private parts (lifuroojihim). S. 70:29 Arberry

In the above references which speak of Christ's conception, this word is used to describe Allah penetrating Mary's private area by breathing his Spirit into it.

Mahmoud M. Ayoub contrasts the birth narratives of the Gospel of Luke with that mentioned in the Quran. All bold and capital emphasis is ours:

"The language of this verse (author- Luke 1:35) is clearly circumspect. It implies no sexual union or divine generation of any kind. Furthermore, while Luke's description agrees both in form and spirit with the Qur'anic idea of the conception of Christ, the language of the Qur'an IS FAR MORE GRAPHIC AND OPEN TO INTERPRETATION." (Christian-Muslim Encounters, ed. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad & Wadi Z. Haddad [University Press of Florida, 1995], p. 67)

He goes on to say:

"... Then of Mary He (author-allegedly God) continues: ‘And she who guarded well [lit. fortified] her chastity [lit. GENERATIVE ORGAN], and thus We breathed INTO HER of our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign [or miracle, 'Aya] for all beings’ (S. 21:90-91) ...

"In the second instance the Qur'an speaks of Mary as a righteous woman who lived in strict chastity and obedience to God: ‘And Mary daughter of 'Imran who guarded well her GENERATIVE ORGAN farjaha, and thus We breathed INTO HER of our spirit’ (S. 66:12). THE BOLD AND GRAPHIC STATEMENT APPEARS TO HAVE SHOCKED TRADITIONISTS AND COMMENTATORS, so that most of them tried to cover it up with different and FARFETCHED significations or glossed over it with out comment...

"Ibn Kathir interprets the phrase ‘guarded well her generative organ’ to mean: ‘safeguarded and protected it. Guarding well ihsan signifies chastity and high birth.’ He comments on the phrase, ‘and thus We breathed into it of our spirit’ thus ‘that is, through the angel Gabriel. This is because God sent him to her, and he took for her the form of a man of good stature (S. 19:17). God commanded him to breathe INTO THE BREAST OF HER CHEMISE. HIS BREATH WENT DOWN AND PENETRATED HER GENERATIVE ORGAN, AND THUS CAUSED HER TO CONCEIVE JESUS ...’" (Ibid.)


"Abu Ja'far al-Tusi, the jurist doctor of the Shi'i community, as well as his well known disciple al-Tabarsi, read the words, ‘We breathed INTO IT’ literally. Al-Tusi says: ‘It has been held that Gabriel BREATHED INTO MARY'S GENERATIVE ORGAN then God created Christ in it’ ..." (Ibid., p. 68)

Ibn Kathir provides additional evidence for the very graphic and distasteful nature of the Quranic birth narratives. In his comments on S. 66:12, Ibn Kathir writes:

<And Maryam, the daughter of 'Imran who guarded her chastity (PRIVATE PART).> meaning who protected and purified her honor, by being chaste and free of immorality,

<And We breathed INTO IT (PRIVATE PART) through Our Ruh,> meaning, through the angel Jibril. Allah sent the angel Jibril to Maryam, and he came to her in the shape of a man in every respect. Allah commanded him TO BLOW into a gap of her garment and that breath went into her womb THROUGH HER PRIVATE PART; this is how 'Isa was conceived. This is why Allah said here,

<And We breathed INTO IT through Our Ruh, and she testified to the truth of her Lords Kalimat, and His Kutub,> meaning His decree and His legislation. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir - Abridged, Volume 10, Surat At-Tagabun to the end of the Qur'an, pp. 75-76; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir makes the following comments in reference to S. 19:22-23:

"Allah, the Exalted, informs about Maryam that when Jibril had spoken to her about what Allah said, she accepted the decree of Allah. Many scholars of the predecessors (Salaf) have mentioned that at this point the angel (who was Jibril) blew into the opening of her garment that she was wearing. Then the breath descended until it entered INTO HER VAGINA and she conceived by the leave of Allah." (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Volume 6, Surat Al-Isra', Verse 39 To the end of Surat Al-Mu'minun, first edition July 2000, p. 244; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir's notes on S. 2:223 also help us to see the very graphic nature of the term farj:

<as Allah has ordained for you.>

this refers to Al-Farj (THE VAGINA), as Ibn 'Abbas, Mujahid and other scholars have stated. Therefore, anal sex is prohibited, as we will further emphasize afterwards, Allah willing ...

Ibn Jurayj (one of the reporters of the Hadith) said that Allah's Messengers said ...

((From the front or from behind, as long as it occurs IN THE FARJ (VAGINA).)) ...

Abu Bakr bin Ziyad Naysaburi reported that Isma'il bin Ruh said that he asked Malik bin Anas, "What do you say about having sex with women in the anus?" He said, "You are not an Arab? Does sex occur but in the place of pregnancy? Do it only IN THE FARJ (VAGINA)." (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), Volume 1, Parts 1 and 2 (Surat Al-Fatihah to Verse 252 of Surat Al-Baqarah), first edition January 2000, pp. 618, 619, 622; bold and capital emphasis ours)

In responding to the Shia position regarding the permissibility of temporary marriages (mutah), this Sunni writer defines farj as:

I'arat al-Furuj (Loaning of Vaginas)

The Shi'ah books of fiqh carry a separate chapter entitled "I’arat al-Furuj." This could literally be translated as "The Loaning of Vaginas." ... (Dr. Ahmad 'Abdullah Salamah, Shi’ah Concept of Temporary Marriage (Mut’ah); online edition)

Here is the final Muslim example showing that farj refers to the female organ:

Narrated Basrah:
A man from the Ansar called Basrah said: I married a virgin woman in her veil. When I entered upon her, I found her pregnant. (I mentioned this to the Prophet). The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: She will get the dower, for you made her VAGINA (farj) lawful for you. The child will be your slave. When she has begotten (a child), flog her (according to the version of al-Hasan). The version of Ibn AbusSari has: You people, flog her, or said: inflict hard punishment on him. (Sunan of Abu Dawud, Book 11, Number 2126)

And here is how one lexical source defines the term:

Fa-Ra-Jiim = To open, separate, cleave, split, enlarge, part, let a space between, make a room, comfort anything in, dispel cares. An opening, intervening space [gap or breach] between two things. Ex: Parting hind legs or intervening spaces between fingers.
He opened, made room, ample space.
Furijat - Cloven, split, rent, opened.
Farjun (Pl. Furuj) - PUDENDA (SEX ORGAN); chastity, space between legs (of horse or mare), part/s of a person (male/female) INDECENT TO EXPOSE, EXTERNAL PORTIONS OF THE ORGANS OF GENERATION [OF A MALE/FEMALE]. ALSO THE POSTERIOR OF PUDENDUM because it is a place of opening, of between the legs.

faraja vb. (1) perf. pass. 77:9

farj n.m. (pl. furuj) 21:91, 23:5, 24:30, 24:31, 33:35, 50:6, 66:12, 70:29

LL, V6, p: 143, 144, 145 (Project Root List; capital emphasis ours)

Christian writer Abd al-Masih helps to put this in perspective. Commenting on S. 21:91, al-Masih notes:

"Whoever reads verse 91 of Sura al-Anbiya' 21 carefully could be embarrassed. It is scandalous how Muhammad and his spirit of revelation lift Mary up as the most important of all women, and at the same time tear away her veil of chastity. Her self-protection is not described in a euphemism, but is calculated brutally, as in a business deal:

And she guraded her vagina [farj] so we breathed into her of our spirit. (Sura al-Anbiya' 21:91)

This revelation is not an honour, but an exposition. Maybe it was customary among Bedouins to speak contemptuously and carelessly about women. But this only shows the rule of Arabic men and their contempt for women. If the best of women is spoken about like this, what about others! The men are never written about like this. They remain covered, holier-than-thou and self-righteous." (Abd al-Masih, Who Is The Spirit From Allah In Islam? [Light of Life, P.O. Box 13, A-9503, VILLACH AUSTRIA], pp. 46-47)

He notes regarding S. 66:12:

"The second problem is caused by the Arabic language. In Arabic, Allah does not say: ‘so we breathed into her of our spirit’, but ‘into him’. Who is it, into whom the spirit was breathed? The embryo 'Isa? That is difficult to accept, for then 'Isa would have existed in Mary's womb already before the spirit was breathed into her. That would mean that Allah created 'Isa beforehand or that he existed before he was conceived. Both options are out of the question for Islamic scholars.

Who is it then, into whom the Spirit from Allah was breathed? IT IS ALMOST UNSPEAKABLE, but the last expression in the previous sentence, which is masculine in Arabic, IS THE EXPRESSION FOR MARY'S GENITALS.[43] The literal meaning of Allah's statement in Arabic is then, ‘so we breathed into her vagina [farj] of our spirit.’ This turns the stomachs of some of our readers.

Rudi Paret, the best translator of the Qur'an into German, confirms the meaning of this phrase in a footnote. This seems not only to us, but also to many Islamic scholars to be a blasphemy. Ibn Mas'ud went so far as to suggest that the Qur'anic text should be changed to read ‘so we breathed into her [Mary] of our spirit.’ It is comforting to see that there are Muslims who prefer the possibility of a fallible Qur'an to a blasphemy like this.

Other commentators explain the expression into him as Mary's heart or body, which are masculine in Arabic, but not mentioned in the text. These are nothing but attempts to cover up the problem, but the problem itself remains. The assumption that it was an unclean spirit that spoke through Muhammad is obvious. It is almost impossible to imagine that Muslims claim that Jibril himself did this. Here the false statement of an unclean spirit stands against the noble Holy Spirit." (Ibid., pp. 53-54; capital emphasis ours)

In the above indicated footnote, the author states:

43. According to al-Nasafi: "in her vagina" (Madarik al-Tanzil, vol. 4, p. 272). (Ibid., p. 53)

What is the conclusion? Would not this argument that has originally been constructed as an attack against the Holy Bible rather apply to the Quran and then discredit the Quran as a text of divine origin?

Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page