Jesus virgin birth?
Christian believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, and there are some who claim to read in Qur’ânic verses that Mary gave birth to Jesus while she was “untouched”. The virgin birth of Jesus from Mary was never an issue at the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and in the early period of Islamic history. As more and more people embraced Islam—in particular, those who had been Christians in Syria and other parts of the Byzantine Empire—they, not being in command of classical Arabic, read into some Qur’ânic verses many of their firmly entrenched beliefs, such as that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus and that Jesus was resurrected with his body. When the gravity of knowledge shifted from the Muslim-dominated world to the European Christian world and the Western powers started to influence the Islamic territories, Western missionaries reinforced such wrong beliefs. To support the view that Mary gave birth to Jesus while she was a virgin and untouched by a man, verses as the following are referred to: “She [Mary] said, My Lord! How can I and whence shall I have a child while no man has yet touched me (in conjugal relationship)?” (3:47) and, “She said, How can I bear a son while no man (has married me and) has yet touched me, nor have I been unchaste.” (19:20) These verses plainly refer to the glad tidings through a prophecy to Mary (3:42, 45–46; 19:17–19) while she was still unmarried and in a state of virginity, as she herself confesses (3:47; 19:20). The wife of Abraham made a comparable statement (- Ibrâhîm) when she was given the good tidings of the coming birth of Isaac: “She said, O wonder for me! Shall I bear a child while I am a very old woman and this husband of mine (also) a very old man? This is a wonderful thing indeed! ” (11:72). In both cases the answer the received was the same. Nowhere does the Holy Qur’ân say that Mary gave birth to Jesus while she was still a virgin. You are told that Jesus mother “was a highly truthful woman” (5:75), not that she was a virgin at the time she received Divine Revelation in the form of a prophecy that she will give birth to such an such male child. She received Divine Revelations because of her virtues and piety: “(Recall the time) when the angels (of Allâh) said, O Mary! Surely, Allâh has chosen you, has rid you of all impurities, and has preferred you to the women of all (contemporary) people. O Mary! Be devout to your Lord and prostrate yourself and bow along with the congregations of the worshippers of God.” (3:42–43) Thus, the statement in verses 3:47 and 19:20 was clearly uttered at the time when Mary was still unmarried, and contrary to the practices of most of the women of her time, she “took care to guard her chastity” (66:12). The guarding of her chastity was made an example for the believers, as you read:
وَضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا امْرَأَتَ فِرْعَوْنَ إِذْ قَالَتْ رَبِّ ابْنِ لِي عِندَكَ بَيْتًا فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَنَجِّنِي مِن فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِ وَنَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ
“And Allâh compares those who believe to the wife of Pharaoh. Behold! She said, My Lord! Make for me an abode in the Garden (of Paradise) close to You and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work and deliver me from the wrongdoing people. And (Allâh next compares the believers to) Mary, the daughter of ‘Imrân, she who took care to guard her chastity, so we breathe into him [the believer who is exemplified here] Our inspiration. She declared her faith in the revelations of her Lord and His Scriptures and she became of the devoted ones to prayers and obedient to Him” (66:11–12).
Now, the Word used in the above verse in whom Allâh breathed into is fîhi (فِيهِ), which is masculine and thus cannot refer to Mary. This is the mistake made by many translators. The Holy Qur’ân did not say, “We breathed into her”; it states, “We breathe into him,” clearly indicating the believer who is compared to Mary. Divine breath (rûh) is always used in the Holy Qur’ân in the sense of Divine Revelation. A believer who is exemplified as Mary becomes the recipient of Divine Revelation. Here is another verse in the Holy Qur’ân when carefully read, negates the notion of a virgin birth for Jesus:
ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الْغَيْبِ نُوحِيهِ إِلَيْكَ ۚ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يُلْقُونَ أَقْلَامَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ يَكْفُلُ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يَخْتَصِمُونَ
“These are some of the important accounts of the things unseen We have revealed to you. You were not present with them when they [the priests] cast their quills (to decide) as to which of them should have Mary in his charge” (3:44).
The Word yakfulu (يَكْفُلُ) has a root in kafala, which means “to take charge” or “to be responsible for.” Yakfulu is a reference to putting Mary in charge of someone who will take care of her and be responsible for her including her marriage. The strongest argument comes from Allâh Himself:
أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لَهُ وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ تَكُن لَّهُ صَاحِبَةٌ ۖ
“How (and whence) can there be a son for Him, when He has no consort?” (6:101).
The Word used here is sâhibat (صَاحِبَةٌ), which is a female companion, or partner or a female friend (again see the Arabic-English Lexicon by William Edward Lane, Tâj al-‘Arûs by al-Zabîdî, and Lisân al-‘Arab by Ibn Manzûr). Here Allâh testifies that the birth of a child from someone requires two, and acknowledges that even He would need a consort, a sâhibah, to give birth to a child. This statement refers to Divine Law that a woman cannot bear a child without a consort. How can a Muslim believe in the notion of a virgin birth without doubting the statement of Allâh? That Mary was a married woman when she gave birth to Jesus refutes the charge by the Jews of the time that Jesus was illegitimate and therefore accursed. By keeping her “virgin” and “unmarried” at the time of conception will cast doubt and support the blasphemy charge of the Jews that Mary bore an illegitimate child? We know from the Gospels that Mary was married to an Israelite named Joseph and that Jesus was not the only son of Mary. The Holy Qur’ân has no need to mention the name of a person without any spiritual importance, just as the Holy Book never mentions the names of the relatives of the Prophets unless they themselves are Prophets or Saints.