In 630, the Prophet Muhammad and his followers conquered the sacred Arabian city of Mecca. Now in control of the city that had persecuted Islam, Muhammad ordered that the Ka’ba, a shrine believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael for the worship of God, be cleansed of all signs of pagan corruption. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad instructed his followers to remove all the idols and to wash away the images on the walls of the Ka’ba with one exception, an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child. The Prophet is said to have placed his hands upon the holy image and commanded that it remain untouched.
While the above may come as a surprise to some Orthodox Christians, especially given the Islamophobic rhetoric spewed by some church leaders, the Virgin Mary has always held a special place in Islam. Muslims often refer to Mary as al-Batūl (Arabic for “the Virgin” or “the Chaste”). She is given this title not only for her physical purity, but for her willingness to submit her entire being, body and soul, to God’s will. A minority of Muslim scholars, including Ibn Ḥazm, have gone as far as to number Mary among the prophets of Islam. Moreover, Mary is also the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’ān, and the nineteenth Sura (chapter) is even named in her honour. In fact, many Qur’ānic verses about Mary are so similar in both spirit and content to the Eastern Christian understanding of her, that when the first Muslims attempted to escape persecution in Mecca by seeking refuge in Abyssinia, the Christian ruler of the country is said to have been so moved by some of what was written about Mary in the Qur’ān, that he granted sanctuary to the followers of the new religion.Read More