Was Mary a Prophetess of Islam?

Alif Azadi Taufik
Feb 6, 2017 · 11 min read

Many of us Muslims might have grown up being taught about the miraculous chosen Prophets and Messengers that were sent to spread the message about God, compassion and forgiveness, and the Day of Judgment while facing unspeakable obstacles from ignorant communities or oppressive authorities.

From the creation of Adam and Eve, the Flood of Noah, the Family of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Ismail, the Exodus of Moses and Aaron, the Family of Joachim, the Messiah Jesus, to the Last Prophet Muhammad, God shows through these men moral stories for us to reflect on and the power of God in reaching victory against impossible evil situations.

But that’s the thing… They’re all men.

This comes at a shock for most young Muslims, whom have either swept the issue under the rug or were shut down by older traditionalist patriarchal scholars for raising the issue, as it seems like a blatant inconsistency with Islam’s principle of egalitarianism between men and women.

God declares;

Their Lord has answered them: ‘I will not allow the deeds of any one of you to be lost, whether you are male or female, each is like the other…’ — The Family of Joachim: 195

Hadn’t Islam gave women the right to speech, the right to finance, the right to career, the right to education, the right to divorce, the right to inherit, the right to testimony, the right to a fair trial, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to deny marriage, the right to propose marriage, and many more. Hadn’t Islam stopped female infant burial, destroyed the practice of inheriting women like property, denied that Adam’s fall was the guilt of Eve, and repositioned her dignity as an equal half of humanity.

So why had God, seeming been sexist and biased in only choosing men to spread His message to humanity? The answer is simple, God did send female prophets but have for so long been hidden and denied by sexist and patriarchal scholars who put double standards on who could be considered a prophet and who could not, taking a disgusting act of excluding half of mankind from consideration.

The Virgin Mary was one of those Prophetesses, among many others. A distinction needs to be made before we continue between Prophet and Messenger. A prophet is a person who;

  1. Communicates with God or the angels
  2. Become examples and role models for their communities or all humanity
  3. Performs or warns of a miracle from God

A messenger is automatically a prophet too, but in addition;

  1. Preached a message to a community
  2. Receives a scripture

We all know that Mary did not receive a scripture or preached to a certain community, thus making her illegible for the title of a messenger, but Mary does fulfill all the necessary requirements to be considered a prophet of Islam.

  1. Received revelations
    One of the most obvious criteria that a person must fill to be a prophet is to have received direct revelation or communication with God or Angels.
    Mention in the Qur’an the story of Mary. She withdrew from her family to a place in the east and secluded herself away; We sent Our Spirit to appear before her in the form of a perfected man. She said, ‘I seek the Lord of Mercy’s protection against you: if you have any fear of Him!’, but he said, ‘I am but a Messenger from your Lord, to announce to you the gift of a pure son.’ She said, ‘How can I have a son when no man has touched me? I have not been unchaste,’ and he said, ‘This is what your Lord said: “It is easy for Me — We shall make him a sign to all people, a blessing from Us.’” — Mary: 16–21 The angels said, ‘Mary, God gives you news of a Word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be held in honor in this world and the next, who will be one of those brought near to God. — The Family of Joachim: 45
    Here we see that angels communicating to Mary and Mary even communicating back towards them. Not only that, one of the angels brought her a direct message from the Lord [‘This is what your Lord said: “It is easy for Me- We shall make him a sign to all people, a blessing from Us.’”], which is very similar to the experience of Muhammad.
  2. Raised among her community as a chosen person
    Another criteria of being a prophet, is that God has raised that person from among their community to become a role model or a sign from God. This person is supposed to be generally pure and clean from major sins, thus allowing them the ability to become good role models to their communities.
    God confirms this in the Qur’an, by again communicating directly with Mary;
    The angels said to Mary: ‘Mary, God has chosen you and made you pure: He has truly chosen you above all women. Mary be devout to your lord, prostrate yourself in worship, bow down with those who pray.’ — The Family of Joachim:42–43
    Mary here is;
    (1) chosen directly by God Himself;
    (2) made pure; and
    (3) raised above all women.
    This shows that Mary was a righteous character fitting for any prophet. Furthermore;
    God has given examples of believers: Pharaoh’s wife, who said, ‘Lord, build me a house near You in the Garden. Save me from Pharaoh and his actions; save me from the evildoers,’ and Mary, daughter of Joachim. She guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her from Our spirit. She accepted the truth of her Lord’s words and Scriptures: she was truly devout. — Prohibition: 11–12
    Not only was Mary a role model that was to be an example for her community, God later explains that she is a role model/example for all believers, may they be men or women. This further proves her role as a prophet, which serves as a sign from God.
  3. Miracles
    Every prophet is given a miracle with the power of God which serves as proof and evidence about their prophet hood. Mary not only has one miracle, but has miracles that are bestowed to her.
    a. Divine provisions
    Her Lord graciously accepted her and made her grow in goodness, and entrusted her to the charge of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah went in to see her in her sanctuary, he found her supplied with provisions. He said, ‘Mary, how is it you have these provisions?’ and she said, ‘They are from God: God provides limitlessly for whoever He will.’ — The Family of Joachim 37
    Here we see something miraculous that very few known prophets ever receive, which is receiving direct supplies and needs from God. Mary is given provisions to her sanctuary by God Himself as she studies and prays in the sanctuary.
    b. Miraculous virgin birth
    One of the most known miracles of Mary is conceiving the Messiah Jesus in her womb without being touched by a man. God explains to Mary, again directly communicating with her through angels, how this is possible.
    She said, ‘My Lord, how can I have a son when no man has touched me? [The angel] said, ‘This is how God creates what He will: when He has ordained something, He only says, “Be”, and it is.” — The Family of Joachim: 47
    And so it was ordained:
    she conceived him. She withdrew to a distain place. — Mary: 22
    c. Miraculous stream
    Like the miracle sent to Hagar when left in the desert with Ismail, Mary was also given the gift of a stream of water for her to drink of when she felt the pain of childbearing by God.
    and, when the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree, she exclaimed, ‘I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before all this!’ but a voice cried to her from below, ‘Do not worry: your Lord has provided a stream at your feet and, if you shake the trunk of the palm tree towards you, it will deliver fresh ripe dates for you, so eat, drink, be glad, and say to anyone you may see: “I have vowed to the Lord of Mercy to abstain from conversation, and I will not talk to anyone today.”’ — Mary: 23–26
  4. Qur’anic verses indicating her prophet hood
    The widely known fact in Islam is that Mary is put at such an honorable position that one entire chapter of the Qur’an is named after her, which is a high ranking position. Most of the human names in the Qur’an that have a chapter named after them are also prophets, i.e. Jonah, Hud, Joseph, Abraham, Muhammad, and Noah. Apart from that, the Qur’an mentions Mary and her story more often than the entire New Testament. But apart from her honorable position in the Qur’an, the strongest reference to her prophet hood comes from the following chapter, The Prophets. Almost the entire chapter is presenting the stories of the prophets.
    We gave Moses and Aaron [the Scripture] that distinguishes right from wrong, a light and a reminder for those who are mindful of God, — The Prophets 48
    Long ago We bestowed right judgment of
    Abraham and We knew him well. — The Prophets: 51
    We saved him and
    Lot to the land We blessed for all people, — The Prophets: 71
    and We gave him
    Isaac and Jacob as an additional gift, and made each of them righteous. — The Prophets: 72
    Long before that, We answered
    Noah when he cried out to Us: We saved him and his family from the great calamity — The Prophets: 76
    And remember
    David and Solomon, when they gave judgment regarding the field into which sheep strayed by night and grazed. We witnessed their judgment — The Prophets: 78
    Remember
    Job, when he cried to his Lord, ‘Suffering has truly afflicted me, but you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.’ — The Prophets: 83
    And remember
    Ismail, Enoch, and Ezekiel: they were all steadfast. — The Prophets: 85
    Remember
    Zachariah, when he cried to his Lord, ‘My Lord, do not leave me childless, though You are the best of heirs.’ — The Prophets: 89
    We answered him — We gave him
    John, and cured his wife of barrenness — they were always keen to do good deeds. They called upon Us out of longing and awe, and humbled themselves before Us. — The Prophets: 90
    Remember
    the one who guarded her chastity. We breathed into her from Our Spirit and made her and her son a sign for all people. — The Prophets: 91
    The chapter ends all mentions of any other prophets’ name, while asserting the Muhammad’s prophet hood without mention of his name and in the form of a present tense command instead of a story reminding about the past. At the end of the list, Mary and Jesus are the last people mention in the chapter of The Prophets. Not only are they said to be sign for all people, which is the function of a prophet, but the verse begins with the word “Remember” which is used as a label for the other prophets mention earlier. Many traditionalist scholars are unable to accept this obvious case for Mary and insist on the long patriarchal notion that prophets can only be a man.

The following are some arguments that these scholars have used to deny women of prophet hood.

  1. Prophets must be perfect and only men can be perfect
    This argument is ridiculous and highly bigoted.
    a. No prophet was perfect, not even Muhammad. In fact, an entire chapter of the Qur’an is dedicated to a time when Muhammad frowned at a needy man who wanted his advice. God scolded Muhammad for this and it is recorded in chapter, He Frowned. The idea that prophets must be perfect is highly ambitious, as it would contradict the very nature of humanity. Perfection only belongs to God and perfect obedience only belongs to the angels. All prophets had times when they were too impatient, when they were frustrated, when they did not know what to do, when they did accidents, thus the frequent requests for forgiveness.
    b. Men are not perfect. If the prophets can’t be perfect than neither can men.
    c. Men are not more perfect than women.
    Their Lord has answered them: ‘I will not allow the deeds of any one of you to be lost, whether you are male or female, each is like the other…’ — The Family of Joachim: 195
  2. Consensus among scholars have determined that prophet hood is only for men
    There was never consensus on this matter. The following are the names of scholars who believed that prophets can be women.
    - Imam Al — Qurtubi
    - Imam Al — Razi
    - Imam Al — Suyuti
    - Imam Al — Kamal Ibn Al — Humaam
    - Muhammad Siddiq Khan
    - Imam Al — Mubarkafur
    So it is wrong to believe that scholars have had a consensus on the nature of prophet hood.
  3. A Qur’anic verse indicates only men can be prophets
    The verse in question is;
    All the Messengers We sent before you were simple men to whom We had given Revelation: you can ask those who have knowledge if you do not know. — The Bee 43
    a. This verse is irrelevant to the actual context of prophet hood, because even if we assume but not concede that this verse indicates that God only sent men, the context of the verse is talking about messengers not prophets, which means that women prophet hood is still valid.
    b. This verse does not actually mean males. The Arabic word used to translate into men in this verse in “Rijal”, which doesn’t refer to males but refers to the humanness and mortality of prophets and messengers. This verse was a response to the request of the unbelievers that God should send an angel or something of supernatural origin to confirm the truth. They argued that they didn’t need to follow Muhammad because he was a simple human.
    c. Further inspection also indicates the grammatically, Rijal is in the form of a plural gender mix tense, which refer to both men and women. This is common in Arabic grammar to have words that represent both genders. Evidence of this can been seen in other verses of the Qur’an where the word Rijal is used.
    A barrier divides the two groups with men in its heights recognizing each group by their marks: they will call out to the people of the Garden, ‘Peace be with you!’ — they will not have entered, but they will be hoping, — The Heights: 46
    This is a reference to the Hereafter. The word “men” appears again to refer to Rijal but it refers to both men and women, because both men and women will be present in the Hereafter.
    Never pray in that mosque. You should rather pray in a mosque founded from its first day on consciousness of God: in this mosque there are men who desire to grow in purity — God love those who seek to purify themselves. — Repentance: 108
    This is a reference to certain mosque that Muslims should pray at. We know of a fact that both men and women enter and pray at the mosque, so the word “men” meaning Rijal here also means both men and women. There are even more examples of Rijal meaning both men and women, in chapter Light verse 37 and chapter The Jinn verse 6.

Conclusion

So we can conclude that prophet hood is not only isolated to men. Others have argued for the prophet hood of Eve, Asia, Sarah, Yuhanz, Anne, and many other prominent female figures in Islam, but cases made for them might be difficult since historically ancient manuscripts about them hardly exist or have been highly distorted through bigoted interpretation.

One can be made sure of, in light of all the analysis, evidence, historical, and Qur’anic verse, Mary did communicate with the Divine, was highly favored by the Lord, and was given miracles within her lifetime. Consistent with Islam’s idea of social equality, Mary is a prophetess of Islam.

Alif Azadi Taufik

Written by

Studying management in University of Indonesia. Debater, goofball, and a passionate advocate for equality and justice

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