The birth of Jesus according to the Quran
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
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This is the Islamic account of the Birth of Jesus, also known as the Nativity story
The miracle of childbirth is in and of itself a miracle that leaves humanity in awe every single day a child is born to a new mother and father. So it is no wonder that the birth of Jesus, who was born without a father, is a miracle that has encapsulated the hearts and minds of billions of people around the world, whether they be Muslim or Christian. Jesus is considered one of the five greatest Prophets of Islam and is mentioned precisely 25 times in the Quran.
The Islamic depiction of Jesus’ birth occurs primarily in Chapter 3 ‘Al-Imran’ and Chapter 19 ‘Maryam’ of the Quran. When we look at the Islamic doctrine depicting the birth of Jesus or ‘Isa, we realise that it is very similar to the Christian scriptures.
The story begins when Mary is approached by the Angel Gabriel within her sacred quarters in Bayt Al-Maqdis, Jerusalem. Naturally being a woman who had lived a life of solitude and worship, she was left quite frightened and startled by this encounter.
“And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man. She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of God .” Quran 19:17-18
In a bid to comfort her, the Angel went on to reveal to her that he was in fact an Angel sent from God and that she had a high status with her Lord.
“And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed God has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.” Quran 3:42 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!” Luke 1:30
Angel Gabriel then goes on to give Maryam the glad tidings of a newborn child.
He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.” Quran 19:19 [And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to God ]. Quran 3:45 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. Luke 1:31
This news, of course, came as a complete shock to Maryam who was a pure virgin and had never been approached by a man. She immediately exclaims in shock, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?”.
She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?” Quran 19:20 She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” Quran 3:47 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
Luke 1:34 Angel Gabriel then responds to Maryam’s question with a very succinct yet powerful statement; God merely says “Be” and the matter will be. [The angel] said, “Such is God ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.
Quran 3:47 He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’ “ Quran 19:21
Gabriel then proceeds to blow a breath into the sleeve of Maryam which causes her to become pregnant instantaneously. According to Ibn Kathir, one of the great Quranic commentators, this pregnancy was to last 9 months long as per ordinary.
And [the example of] Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We blew into [her garment] through Our angel, and she believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures and was of the devoutly obedient.
Quran 66:12As symptoms of her pregnancy soon came to fruition, suspicions by those around her soon began to develop. A famous incident also found in the commentary of Ibn Kathir describes her encounter with Yusuf Al-Najjar or Joseph the Carpenter. He asks Maryam, “I am going to ask you a question, do not be quick in replying.
Could there be a plant or tree without a seed or a son without a father?” She replied, “Yes! The first plant and tree which God created was without a seed. The answer to the second question is that God created Adam, not only without father, but without father and mother.” Yusuf the carpenter understood that this birth would be similar to Adam’s birth and a divine miracle.”
It is at this point, that Maryam realises the potential emotional and physical toll such suspicions will weigh upon her pregnancy so she decides to move to Bethlehem some four to six miles from Jerusalem.
“So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.” Quran 19:22
Following her retreat to Bethlehem, Maryam continues on to bear Jesus in hardship and difficulty. This is until her labor pains drive her to the trunk of a palm tree, whereby she falls to its base and cries out in agony. It is in this moment of immense pain that a voice calls out from beneath her informing her that she should not be sad for her Lord has brought forth a stream from underneath her.
The voice also calls upon her to gently shake the palm tree to which ripened dates will fall. Whether or not this voice is that of Gabriel or Jesus is a point of contention amongst the scholars. Nevertheless this is perhaps one of the first miracles to take place at the moment of Jesus’ birth. It is also reported that when Jesus is born he did not cry or scream as babies usually do. This is recorded in Sahih Muslim whereby the Prophet ﷺ states:
“No child is given birth to, but the devil pricks it so that it weeps due to the pricking of the devil, except Maryam and her son.”
After having delivered the baby and rested a short while, Maryam is then commanded to an oath of silence in the face of anyone who asks her concerning this matter. As she makes her way home carrying her child, the townspeople are immediately taken by surprise. They quickly subject her to suspicion and questioning, shocked at the uncanny scene they see before them.
Having vowed an oath of silence, she remains quiet and rather signals towards the child. Astounded and baffled by her response, the people exclaim “How can we speak to a child in the cradle?”. It is at this moment that Jesus leaves the townspeople lost for words, as he miraculously speaks from the cradle in defence of his mother.
He informs the people that he is a servant of God who has received the Gospel and was made a Prophet. He enlightens them of his noble rank and the blessings that God had bestowed upon him. And of course he spoke of his obligation towards worshipping God alone without any partners.
[Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of God . He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.
And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.” Quran 19:30-33 [Jesus said], “And indeed, God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.” Quran 19:36
It is at this point, where we raise one of the greatest points of contention we hold with Christian doctrine and that is the miraculous birth of Jesus without a father did not in any way amount to Jesus being the literal son of God. For most definitely God is not in need of a son nor is it befitting for Him to take a son.
It is not [befitting] for God to take a son; exalted is He! When He decrees an affair, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is. Quran 19:35 They say, ” God has taken a son.” Exalted is He! Rather, to Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. All are devoutly obedient to Him, Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.
Quran 2:116-117 And they say, “The Most Merciful has taken [for Himself] a son.” You have done an atrocious thing. The heavens almost rupture therefrom and the earth splits open and the mountains collapse in devastation that they attribute to the Most Merciful a son. And it is not appropriate for the Most Merciful that He should take a son. Quran 19:88-92
What’s interesting to note, is that God couples the birth of Jesus in the Quran alongside the birth of Yahya (John), the son of Zachariah, who was born to elderly parents. This coupling is found in both Surah Al’ Imran and Surah Maryam.
Many Quranic commentators state that the pairing of such accounts is used to highlight the powerful ability of God to create life in all situations, regardless of the circumstances. This contrast is also hinted in the Bible, whereby Maryam asks Gabriel as to how she may have a son and Gabriel responds by saying:
“And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” Luke 1:36-37
More importantly, if God could give life to Adam who was void of a father and a mother, surely it would have been far more simpler to create Jesus who solely lacked a father. As God mentions in the Quran.
Indeed, the example of Jesus to God is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was. Quran 3:59
And thus the story of the birth of the noble Prophet of God concludes, while his legacy of monotheism, justice and peace remains. He stands as one of the greatest figures in human history and billions of Muslims around the world patiently await his momentous return to restore justice to this Earth. Peace be upon him the day he was born, peace be upon him the day he will die and peace be upon him the day he will be resurrected.
Allah knows Best