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World Religions and Mary

World Religions and Mary

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: What about Mary and non-Christian religions?

A: To answer your question, we include an article by Rev. Thomas A. Thompson of the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute. This article appeared in the winter 1996-97 Marian Library Newsletter.

We also include a contribution sent to us by a reader. Please see below: Reader Contribution

The forty-seventh annual meeting of the Mariological Society of America was held on the campus of Villanova University, Philadelphia, May 29-31, 1996. The theme for the 1996 meeting was "Marian Spirituality and the Interreligious Dialogue." Ecumenical dialogues have occurred between the Catholic Church and the other Christian churches during the last thirty years. Alongside the ecumenical dialogue, there is also the interreligious dialogue, between Catholicism and the major religions of the world.

The interreligious dialogue has its origins in Vatican II's Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (1965). This document speaks of the respect which the Church has for "the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of the truth which enlightens all people." The dialogue with the world religions is coordinated by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and, in the United States, the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope John Paul II has made no little contribution to advancing the interreligious dialogue. Many of his insights are contained in Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1991) from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. As the title indicates, dialogue and proclamation are inseparable, are both integral to the Church's evangelizing mission.

The interreligious dialogue, according to the pope, is not limited to theological exchange between scholars. It also involves dialogue dealing with social problems and the challenges facing humanity. Interreligious dialogue deals with spirituality and religious experience where persons, "rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the absolute." (#42)

The Mariological Society's program was one of the first programs to relate Mary to the interreligious dialogue. The historical figure of Mary is present in some of the world's religions; in others, there are traits of spirituality which we identify as Marian. The spirituality of first-century Judaism contributes to a better understanding of Mary, daughter of Israel, and true child of Israel. (See Lawrence E. Frizzell's "Mary and the Biblical Heritage," Marian Studies 46 [1995] 26-40).

Mary is mentioned thirty-four times in the Qur'an, the only woman mentioned by name, and Islam pays Mary its highest compliment, namely, that she is a person of faith and of submission to God, a model to be imitated by all Muslims. In some parts of the Middle East, Muslims, particularly women, visit Marian shrines to seek her intercession. Speaking of Muslims, Vatican II had said, "Although not acknowledging him as God, they [Muslims] venerate Jesus as a prophet; his virgin Mother they also honor and even at times invoke."

In the great religions of Asia, there are female images of compassion which bear a similitude to Mary. Maria Reis-Habito's presentation at this meeting spoke of how Japanese Christians transformed the Buddhist deity of compassion into a thinly veiled image of Mary, known as Maria-Kannon. In a recent study, Francis X. Clooney, S.J., has shown the similarity between Christian and Hindu texts. As you read the following poem of the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, place the verses of Mary's Magnificat alongside the verses:

Thou has made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again
and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou has carried over hills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy
and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still though pourest, and still there is room to fill.

In Redemptoris missio, Pope John Paul II wrote, "God does not fail to be present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression" (55). There is also a sense in which we join others in the search for God. At the end of the day of prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage for peace with leaders of the world religions at Assisi, Pope John Paul II said: "Let us see here an anticipation of what God would like the developing history of humanity to be: a fraternal journey in which we accompany one another toward the transcendental goal which is set before us" (Dialogue 79). The Virgin Mary can also be seen in this context. "In Mary is summed up the longing and searching of the whole human race for God." (Society of Mary's Rule of Life, 7)


Reader Contribution

The holy Qur'an, the Final Testament which God revealed to Prophet Muhammad as the guidance for all mankind, speaks highly not only of Mary, but also of Jesus, her son. According to the Qur'an, Jesus is a prophet as are Noah, Abraham and Moses. As far as Mary is concerned, The Qur'an has hailed her as a model for the women of all the world. The following passage of the Qur'an will further explain this:

"Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee; chosen thee above the women of all nations.

"O Mary! worship thy Lord devoutly; prostrate thyself and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down." Qur'an: Chapter 3, Verse 42

The Qur'an further states that it is a shameful statement to accuse Mary of unchastity, as did the Jews: "That they rejected faith: that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge." Qur'an: chapter 4, Verse 156

In the Qur'an, Mary has been mentioned several times, especially in the chapters called "Al-Imran" and "Marium," the Arabic name for "Mary".

Before Mary was born, her mother prayed that her born baby should be given the protection of God so he or she would lead a good life. God heard her plea and accepted Mary the baby girl into His protection, under the care of Zachariah, the father of John "the Baptist". Whenever Zachariah visited Mary in her sanctuary, he found her provided with food and upon questioning her, she would reply:

"...He said: "O Mary! whence (comes) this to you?" She said: "From Allah : for Allah provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure." Qur'an: chapter 3, Verse 37
The Qur'an also gives an account of the birth of Jesus by Mary.

Just prior to Jesus' birth, Mary retired to an eastern place where she prayed. It was in this state that the angel appeared to her in the shape of a man. As she thought the angel was a man, she was frightened and asked him not to invade her privacy: "She said: "I seek refuge from thee to (Allah) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou cost fear Allah." Qur'an: Chapter 19, Verse 18. The angel then allayed Mary's fears by saying:

"He said: "Nay I am only a messenger from thy Lord (to announce) to thee the gift of a son." Qur'an: Chapter 19, Verse 19
Mary was naturally confused by this as she proclaimed that she had not been touched by any man to which the angel then replied:

"He said: "So (it will be): thy Lord saith: 'That is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us': it is a matter (so) decreed." Qur'an: Chapter 19, Verse 21
The Qur'an continues the narration: "So she conceived him and she retired with him to a remote place. Qur'an: Chapter 19, Verse 22

Mary, being human, suffered the effects of childbirth as any expectant mother would during these times then and in her anguish she called: "And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: she cried (in her anguish): Ah! would that I had died before this! Would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight" But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; "And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: it will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. "So eat and drink and cool (shine) eye. And if thou dost see any man say 'I have vowed a fast to (Allah) Most Gracious and this day will I enter into no talk with any human being."' Qur'an: Chapter 19, Verses 23-26

When Mary showed the baby to her people, they said that this was truly an amazing thing that had happened. The newly-born baby (Jesus) replied to the people:

"He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; "And He hath made me Blessed wheresoever I be and has enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; "He hath made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or miserable; "So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"! Qur'an: Chapter 19, Verses 30-33
Even though Mary is the mother of Jesus and occupies a highest position among the women, neither Mary nor Jesus have any divine attributes in them. The Holy Qur'an makes this clear in the following verse:

"They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O children of Israel! worship Allah my Lord and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah, Allah will forbid him the garden and the Fire will be his abode. there will for the wrong-doers be no one to help. "They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One, Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy) verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. Why turn they not to Allah and seek His forgiveness? For Allah is Oft-forgiving Most Merciful. Christ the son of Mary was no more than an Apostle; many where the Apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth makes His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! Say: Will ye worship besides Allah something which hath no power either to harm or benefit you? But Allah He it is that heareth and knoweth all things." Say: O people of the Book! exceed not in your religion the bounds (of what is proper) trespassing beyond the truth nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by who misled many and strayed (themselves) from the even way. Qur'an: Chapter 5. Verses 79-77

Say: He is Allah the One and Only; Allah the Eternal Absolute; He begetteth not nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him. Qur'an: Chapter 112.

Adel Sobh, Islam Presentation Committee.

All About Mary includes a variety of content, much of which reflects the expertise, interpretations and opinions of the individual authors and not necessarily of the Marian Library or the University of Dayton. Please share feedback or suggestions with


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