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Mary in the Qur’an

Mary in the Qur’an


Friend of God, Virgin, Mother

by Muna Tatari and Klaus von Stosch
translated by Peter Lewis

Format: Royal Hardback
Published: November 2021
Pages: 350
ISBN: 9781909942622


An entire surah of the Qurʾan bears her name. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qurʾan indeed; her name appears more frequently than that of either Muhammad or Jesus. From the earliest times to the present day, Mary has continued to be held in high regard by Christians and Muslims alike. And yet Mary has also been the cause of much rancour and tension between these two world religions. In this groundbreaking study, Muna Tatari and Klaus von Stosch painstakingly reconstruct the picture of Mary that is presented in the Qurʾan and show how veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church intersects and interacts with the testimony of the Qurʾan. Their sensitive and scholarly treatise is an important contribution to constructive interfaith dialogue in the 21st century.

Muna Tatari read Islamic Studies and Theology at the universities of Hamburg and Amman. She is currently Professor of Islamic Systematic Theology at the University of Paderborn.

Klaus von Stosch is Professor of Catholic Theology and Didactics and Chair of the Centre for Comparative Theology and Cultural Studies at the University of Paderborn.


Note on Transcription ix Introduction 1


1. Mary in the Bible

a) Mary in the Corpus Paulinum and the Gospel of Mark

b) Mary in the Gospel of Matthew

c) Mary in the Gospel of Luke

d) Mary in the Gospel of John

e) Summary

2. Mary in Patristics

a) The Protevangelium of James

b) Mary as the New Eve

c) Mary as the archetype of the Church

d) Mary’s purity and lack of sin

e) Virginity and labour pains

3. Dogmatic Precepts of Mariology

a) Perpetual virginity

b) Mary as the new human being freed from original sin

c) Other dogmatic precepts

4. Mary in the Political Theology of Late Antiquity

a) The political situation during the emergence of the Qurʾan

b) The religious propaganda of Heraclius

c) Mary as military commander

d) Jewish apocalyptic counter-images


1. The Surah Maryam

a)  Zechariah and John the Baptist

b)  Mary’s withdrawal and the proclamation of Jesus’s birth

c)  Pregnancy and birth

d)  Mary’s conflicts and Jesus as the bringer of peace

e)  Mary as the mother of Jesus and as a prophet?

f)  Summary

2. The Surah Āl ʿImrān

a)  On the genealogy of Mary

b)  Mary’s birth and childhood – the connection with Zechariah

c)  The first Annunciation scene

d)  The second Annunciation scene

e)  Other verses from the Medinan period prior to the confrontation with Byzantium

f)  Summary

3. The Surah al-Māʾida

a)  Criticism of the political Mariology of Byzantium

b)  Criticism of the imperial downplaying of Mary’s humanity

c)  On the significance of Mary’s eating

d)  Limits and opportunities of the presentation of Mary in the Surah al-Māʾida



1. The Qurʾanic Mary as an Impulse for Prophetology

a)  The portrayal of Mary as an impulse for Islamic prophetology

b)  On the meaning of vulnerability in the relationship with God

c)  Was Mary a prophet?

2. The Qurʾanic Mary as a Stimulus to a Traditional
Understanding of God’s Actions

a) Distinctions in the perception of miracles in classical scholastic theology

b) On the crisis of the classical perception of the concept of miracles in the modern period and its consequences for the distinctions drawn by classical theology

c) A reappraisal of our understanding of miracles through the Qurʾanic Mary

d) Mary and Muhammad

3. Mary as a Figure of Emancipation

a) The story of Mary in the Qurʾan as a stimulus for greater

gender equality

b) Mary as a boundary breaker

c) Mary as a stumbling-block and an incitement to subversion

4. Mary as an Aesthetic Role Model

a) An invitation to visibly reserve something for God alone

b) An invitation to a culture of disruption and renunciation

5. In Dialogue with Christianity

a) Obstacles to dialogue

b) Between appropriation and syncretism

c) A warning against projecting


1. Christian Perspectives

a) Intensification: freedom through devotion

b) Recovery: Mary as a prophet and as a protagonist of anti-imperial theology

c) Reinterpretation: Mary as a transgressor of boundaries

d) Appropriation: from a Christian mascot to a typological figure binding together religions

e) Rectification: rehabilitation of a Mariology based on prerogatives

f) Reaffirmation: Mary’s lowliness as a pointer to God’s kenosis

2. Islamic Perspectives

a) Intensification: on the beauty and the political significance of Mary

b) Recovery: Muhammad’s special connection with Mary

c) Reinterpretation: on the dialectical interconnectedness of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ before God – clarity in the process

d) appropriation: Mary and God’s unqualified gift of grace

e) Rectification: Mary as a warning to exercise care in passing theological judgement on others

f) Reaffirmation: radicalism and the Golden Mean





Mary is the only woman who is mentioned by name in the Qurʾan. After Moses, Abraham, and Noah, Mary is also the person most frequently named in the Qurʾan; in other words, her name appears more frequently than those of either Muhammad or Jesus. And in general, the manner in which she is portrayed in the Qurʾan is one of great respect and reverence.1 The history of Islam is also replete with examples of Mary being seen in a positive light. And to the present day, Christians and Muslims alike hold this figure in high regard.2 As a result, you might think that Mary would be an obvious choice as a bridging figure promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims.3

Unfortunately, however, the figure of Mary has also been repeatedly embroiled in conflicts between the two religions. Time and again, she has become a lightning rod for expressions of mutual mistrust and lack of understanding between Christians and Muslims.4 Mary has even been turned into a protagonist for imperialist policies and something like a goddess of war. If one were to view the veneration of Mary from a purely historical standpoint, one would find a roughly equal number of positive signs of fellowship between Christians and Muslims and tokens of alienation and enmity. Equally, one would encounter touching and fascinating tales alongside absurdity and ugliness.

The aim of our book, however, is not to go in search of such historical traces;

its purpose, rather, is a theological one. Following all the rules of the art of exegesis, we will attempt to reconstruct the evidence about Mary in the Qurʾan and use this to make normative deductions regarding the Islamic faith. At the same time, the intention of this work is to bring the belief in Mary as practised in the Catholic Church into conversation with the evidence from the Qurʾan and to show how both sides can learn from one another to their mutual benefit.

In a methodological sense we are breaking new ground with this book in three ways. To begin with, we are presenting what is in all likelihood the first work about Mary jointly written by a Muslim theologian and a Christian theologian. We really have written the whole book together and take joint responsibility for it in its entirety. Only in the final part does each of us draw her/his separate conclusions, whereby our different confessional perspectives lead us to summarise our findings in our own particular ways. Apart from this, we authored the book jointly – even in those places where we struggle to get to the truth on an exegetical, historical and systematic level.

A second innovation of this book in comparison with previous works is that, in undertaking our exegesis of the Qurʾan, we have worked in a consistently diachronic fashion while at the same time adopting a holistic approach toward the surahs. This means on the one hand that, in the case of every verse of the Qurʾan that mentions Mary, we investigate how the verse functions within the literary context of the surah in question. On the other hand, we attempt to organise the verses of the Qurʾan chronologically and to contextualise them historically. We learned this form of Qurʾanic exegesis from Angelika Neuwirth, and in writing this book we were assisted by Zishan Ghaffar, whose work has been shaped by Professor Neuwirth’s philological approach and who has since become a valued academic colleague of ours at Paderborn.

The third distinctive feature of our exegetical modus operandi resides in the fact that we attempt to deal with each of the verses of the Qurʾan in a com- prehensively intertextual fashion.5 A great deal of preparatory work has already been achieved in the field of Islamic Studies in this regard. However, because no extensive work has yet been carried out on intertextual relations precisely in the Syriac tradition, we were able to make some exciting discoveries of our own in this realm. However, we did not just undertake a thorough study of the Syriac Church Fathers, we also systematically investigated the veneration of Mary in

Greek patristics and were thus able to place the texts from the Qurʾan in their patristic context within Late Antiquity. We are greatly indebted to Nestor Kavvadas for his invaluable help with this historical research. Without his energetic assistance, we would never have attained the historical precision that we aspired to reach in this book.

Throughout, we compare the results generated by the three innovative steps mentioned with the findings of classical Islamic exegesis, so that the exegetical outcome has the broadest possible basis. In this, we were grateful for the assistance of the Muslim members of our work group, who ensured that we were constantly alert not only to classical approaches but also the great variety of interpretational methods offered by modern Islamic theology in our exegetical endeavours. We would especially like to thank Nasrin Bani Assadi, Ahmed Husic, Muhammad Legenhausen, Vahid Mahdavi Mehr, Abdul Rahman Mustafa and Nadia Saad. They have all rendered a great service to this book and helped give the Muslim tradition a very vivid and diverse profile in the work. In addition, Ahmed Husic ensured that the transcriptions from Arabic were consistent, while Elizaveta Dorogova was responsible for proofreading the text.6

As a background for our intertextual work, in the first part of this book we start by providing an outline of the belief in Mary within the Christian tradition; this begins by considering the biblical evidence7 before raising the question of how this phenomenon manifested itself among the Syriac Church Fathers. After a brief look at the dogmatic cornerstones of the belief in Mary in the Catholic Church and how these evolved during the history of ecclesiastical dogma, we finally explore the particular question of the veneration of Mary in Byzantium around the time when the Qurʾan came into being.8

The second part, which forms the core of our book, comprises an exegesis of the Qurʾan, the guiding principles of which we have just laid out. If one com- pares our approach with classical exegesis, the latter is primarily concerned with confirming the faith, and motifs of apologia become repeatedly evident in it. Yet

the work of classical exegesis was naturally also interested in reconstructing historical events and connections. It operated on a very high level, especially in philological terms, and should not be ignored in any modern treatment of the subject. Methodologically, however, this classical approach does not always make a clear enough distinction between what can be reconstructed through historical–critical analysis and a historical account based on faith. The beginnings of a historical–critical exegesis of the Qurʾan here will supplement the rich fund of classical Qurʾanic exegesis and reveal levels of profundity that have hitherto largely remained undiscovered.

Our efforts in the third part are directed at sounding out the evidence within the Qurʾan regarding Mary from the standpoint of Islamic systematic theology. In the process, we incorporate findings from Islamic literature and works from the field of Islamic Studies, in an attempt to underscore the contemporary relevance of Mary from a Muslim perspective.

In the fourth and final part, we summarise from a Christian and Muslim view- point respectively the results of our foregoing endeavour. To do so, we use the methodology of comparative theology; as a general rule, this has also been our guiding principle throughout the book.9

We would like to thank the University of Paderborn, which granted us both a sabbatical in the winter semester of 2019–2020 and also provided us with the means and the opportunity to invite four internationally renowned guest academics to participate in our working group. By thus providing research arrangements specially tailored to our needs, the university furnished us with the perfect conditions and impetus to write this book. Our thanks are also due to the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft and the Federal Ministry for Education and Research, whose funding of a total of five research assistant posts enabled us to get on top of the great mass of material that we had to deal with in this book.10 This special support framework has, we believe, enabled us to present a number of genuinely exciting findings, which we are now delighted to share with interested readers.

Muna Tatari and Klaus von Stosch

Paderborn, October 2020

1 Cf. Geagea, Mary of the Koran, 113.
2 Cf. Horn, ‘Intersections’, 121.
3 Indeed, from the very outset she was regarded as just such a bridge by Eastern Christians, whereas Byzantine Christians preferred to emphasise the contrasts between the Qurʾanic and the biblical images of Mary (cf. George-Tvrtković, Christians, Muslims, and Mary, 33 f.). While the latter position was also dominant in the Latin West, William of Tripoli and Nicholas of Cusa are prominent examples of Latin voices which, even in the Middle Ages, drew attention to Mary’s role as a bridge-building figure between Islam and Christianity (cf. ibid., 69 f.).
4 Cf. Smith and Haddad, ‘The Virgin Mary in Islamic tradition and commentary’, 85.

5 On the significance of intertextual work for modern Islamic systematic theology, cf. also Abboud, Mary in the Qurʾan. A literary reading, 4, 6; Ali, ‘Destabilizing gender, reproducing maternity’, 92, f. 5.

6 In addition, the complete manuscript was given a final proofreading by Hamideh Mohagheghi and Lukas Wiesenhütter. Julian Heise was responsible for preparing the index. We would like to thank all of them most sincerely.
7 Our thanks are due here to our colleagues and experts on the NewTestament, Hans-Ulrich Weidemann and Christian Blumenthal, both of whom provided numerous helpful suggestions for the part of our book which covers the Bible.
8 Our colleagues Martha Himmelfarb, James Howard-Johnston and Johannes Pahlitzsch gave us a number of extremely helpful hints in this regard, and we are most grateful to them for taking the time to come to Paderborn. With his iconographical expertise, Lars Rickelt was also of great assistance to us.

9 For an introduction to this methodology, cf. Klaus von Stosch, Komparative Theologie als Wegweiser in der Welt der Religionen, Paderborn and elsewhere 2012 (Beiträge zur Komparativen Theologie; 6).
10 Special mention should be made here of Elizaveta Dorogova, who in addition to proofreading the text raised many pertinent content-related queries.


Mary in the Qurʾan is a splendid example of comparative theology at its best: clear and straightforward, dutifully attentive to history and to textual evidence, respectful of both communities’ distinctive sensitivities, yet constructive in its conclusions today.’
– Francis Clooney, Harvard University

‘Mary in the Qurʾan offers a groundbreaking example of how to engage in comparative theology in a reciprocal way. Through their mutual interrogation and creative collaboration, Muna Tatari and Klaus von Stosch succeed in shedding significant new light on the role and meaning of the figure of Mary in both the Muslim and the Christian traditions.’
– Catherine Cornille, Boston College