Mary is described as introducing her miraculous son to his people. We are not sure how much time has elapsed since his birth (and Quranic scholars debate the meaning of of verse 27 that, on the face of it, suggests she carried him). Mary’s people describe her son as a ‘scandal’ (fari فري), although there are variations in how that word be translated. They then address her as ‘sister of Aaron’ (’ukhtu Harun اخت هرون), suggesting that she is of priestly lineage, and remind her that she is of good parentage. She points to her child, and they retort ‘How should we speak to one who is a child in the cradle?’ Miraculously (perhaps?) he says to them he is a servant of God (‘Abdullah عبد الله), and that God has given him the Book (al-Kitab الكتب) and made him a prophet (nabi نبي); he adds that he has been enjoined to live a life of prayer and poverty, and mentions that he will die and be raised to life (although the majority of Islamic scholars say he did not die, was not crucified, but assumed directly to heaven).
The Qur’an calls him Jesus son of Mary (‘Isa bnu Maryam عيسى ابن مريم). Verse 35 then tells us that God would not have a son, but just says ‘Be!’ and it is. This outlines the Islamic view of Jesus, that despite his miraculous birth, his Gospel (’Injil إنجيل), his miracles and his being taken up to heaven, he is not God, the Son of God, but a prophet and messenger (nabi wa-rasul نبي ورسول), he is Messiah and the word of God (al-Masih wa-kalimatullah المسيح وكلمة الله), forerunner of Muhammad the ultimate prophet, but still a man and no more. In Islamic tradition, Mary is celebrated as the Lady of the Women of the World (Sayyidatu Nisa’il-‘Almin سيدة نساء العالمين).
The image of Mary giving birth to Jesus while clinging to a palm tree in the middle of nowhere is quite appealing given the rather confused, crowded imagery we get from the Christian tradition that weaves the Lucan and Matthean accounts with other titbits of stories. However, there is clear evidence that the Quranic account owes something to the Syriac Infancy Gospel (itself a blending of the Gospel of James and the Thomasine Infancy Gospel) which had a popular translation in North Arabic. This underlines the intricately intertwined history between Christianity and Islam, against the modern misconception of our being alien to each other.
When it comes, have a happy Christmas — ‘Idu l-Milad عيد الميلاد!