- Maryam bint 'Imran as "Our Lady of Muslims"
Mary, Maryam, Our Lady, Mary in the Qur'an, Marian devotion
Ample comparative analysis about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her place in Christianity and Islam has already emerged in Muslim-Christian dialogue. This essay explores how appropriate it might be to refer to Mary in Islam as "Our Lady" and to use the expression "Our Lady of Muslims." It also inquires into the advantageous common use that this title may have among Muslims and Christians for interreligious dialogue. The appellation "Our Lady" is typically an honorific title addressed to Mary by Roman Catholics and high Anglicans. The idea that Muslims would refer to Mary as their lady, too, or that the expression "Our Lady of Muslims" would be used by either Muslims or non-Muslims may sound strange at first hearing, probably due to its strong association with Roman Catholic and high Anglican devotion. Its strangeness may even be strengthened by presumptions that "Our Lady" does not exist in Islam or that using such an expression would exploit commonalities between Islam and Anglo-Roman Catholicism. Furthermore, to speak of Mary in Islam as "Our Lady" may even be seen to confuse historical and religious identities by betraying the meaning of "Our Lady" in Catholic and Anglican traditions and distorting the significance of Maryam bint 'Imran for Muslims. All this might only add to the revulsion of religious syncretism perceived by zealous believers in each religion.
However, the Arabic term "sayyidah," equivalent to the English word "lady," is already popularly ascribed to Mary by both Catholic and Muslim voices. For example, in 1952, Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen stated, "Mary is for the Muslims the true Sayyidah, or Lady." 1 In his book La Madonna dei musulmani (Our Lady of Muslims), Gino Ragozzino, former Professor of the history of religion at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in [End Page 465] Naples, explored what Muslims thought of Jesus' mother, concluding that Mary was not only "la Madonna" (The Lady) but also their Madonna, a woman whom he called "Sittina Maryam" (Lady Mary). 2 From within Islam, Najeeba Syeed-Miller, professor of interreligious education at Claremont School of Theology, called Mary "sayyidah," 3 and at the madrasa Al-Hidaya, Mary is spoken of as "Sayyidah Maryam." 4 There are, in fact, many stories in Islam that talk about "Sayyidah Maryam," so it might not be news to some readers that Muslims attribute the title "Sayyidah" (Lady) to her or call her "Sayyidah Maryam" (Lady Mary). 5
In Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, the title "Our Lady" typically associates Mary with a particular place, such as Fatima, Lourdes, or Walsingham, or with spiritual values such as good counsel, perpetual help, sorrow, and equity, or even with some object such as the snow, a pillar, a pew, or even hens. Despite these peculiar associations, it seems sensible to believe that, based on Catholic teaching on Mary's universal value, no Catholic would object to sharing this title with Muslims. Conversely, according to Islamic teaching from the Qur'ān, it would seem that no Muslim would object to honoring Mary with a respectful title. Mary's universal value is often associated with a kind of maternal spiritual quality, as if she were a spiritual mother or sister for Muslims. This assertion is made based on the fact that devout Muslims call each other "brothers" and "sisters" in Allah's Ummah (see Q. 49:10); 6 therefore, Mary would be symbolically "sister" to all Muslims, also understood in the sense that the mu'hsin are spiritual children [End Page 466] of Allah. Similarly, if Jesus were the brother of all Christians and Muslims, then Mary's maternal qualities toward him could be extended to all Christians and Muslims as well.
Already in Roman Catholicism Mary has been referred to as spiritual mother of all peoples. For example, in the encyclical Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II stated that Mary was "for all people their 'mother in the order of grace,'" 7 that her motherhood was humanity's "inheritance," 8 and that "[h]er exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference . . . for all humanity...