The first part of today’s section further supports what I have been taught about a works-based justification with God in Islam.  A soul is “paid in full for what it has done” (3:25) on the Day when all good deeds and bad deeds are laid out before the person (3:30).  Because God is merciful and loving, forgiveness is possible if one returns to a disposition of submission and obedience (3:32). 

What has not been explained thus far is why Allah has the right to forgive sins.  It seems so far that the answer lies in his sovereign power: Allah is the “holder of all control” (love that phrase!, 3:26) so if he wants to forgive a person’s sin, he can.  But what about justice?  The propitiatory element of sin (i.e., sin incurs a debt that has to be paid, a wrath that has to be sated) seems to be missing in what I have read so far.  Maybe in Muslim theology forgiveness does not require a sacrifice.  Maybe Allah is only looking for an attitudinal or dispositional change from rebellion to submission (islam).  That would fit with the “works” focus we have seen so far; we determine it all — sin, punishment, obedience and forgiveness.  I’m going to keep reading with this question in mind.  Please join me.     

The far more intriguing part of this passage is the latter part about Mary the mother of Jesus.  I wasn’t expecting to find her here!  It turns out Mary holds a very esteemed place in Islam (though certainly not like the reverence she has in Catholicism).  Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an; she even has a surah named after her.  She is actually discussed more in the Qur’an than in the New Testament. 

The story of Mary in the Qur’an starts with her birth, something not discussed in the Bible.  Mary’s father was ‘Imran (hence the name for the surah) and tradition says her mother was Hannah.  When Hannah was pregnant she dedicated her baby to God for service, foreseeably as a priest, but to her surprise her baby was a girl.  All of this foreshadows Mary’s special status as the mother of Jesus, who is conceived miraculously with no physical contact with a man.  Like the biblical account, Mary goes off to her cousin Elizabeth’s house where God provided for her every need while pregnant.  Elizabeth’s priest husband Zachariah is moved by God’s provision and the birth of John (as in “the Baptist”) is promised even though Elizabeth is old and barren.  Sounds a whole lot like the Bible.

Mary and the baby Jesus in Islamic Art

This section ends with some interesting descriptions of Jesus.  Even in Islam, Jesus is born of a virgin and no mention of a father is ever made.  However, nothing in this section suggests  Jesus is anything more than a miracle-baby.  He is a “second Adam” as Romans 5 says, but only in the sense that he was created supernaturally from dust not sexual reproduction like Adam (3:59).  Jesus is referred to as “a Word from Him [God],” not “the Word of God” (3:45), referring to the command from God that Jesus “Be” and “he was” (3:47, 59), not some sort of mystical logos/wisdom/order/God as Jesus in Christianity.  Jesus is the “Messiah” (3:45) but that only carries the same “anointed one” connotation it had when referring to the kings of the Old Testament.  The Qur’an says Jesus will be held in honor in this world and the next, and that he did miracles (including breathing life into a clay bird, something mentioned in apocryphal gospels but not the Bible), and confirmed the Torah and Gospel.  It is even said that those who follow Jesus will be held in greater favor with Allah than disbelievers (3:55).  This is a very high view of Jesus, but it is not divinity, is it?