Muslims, Christians discuss Mary

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a revered figure not only in Christianity, but in Islam as well, according to the speakers at a Christian and Muslim conference on the role Mary plays in each religion.

Eva Diaz, parish consultant for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, spoke first on the relevance of Mary in the Christian religions during the conference held Saturday at Alverno College.

"Mary is the model for strong men and women who give birth to the future," Diaz said. "Mary shows how both men and women must approach the will of God."

Diaz said Mary is a revered figure in much of the Americas and Europe, where forms of her, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and the apparitions at Lourdes, France, are venerated, but Mary's relevance in American's lives waned after Vatican II, a Vatican council to update the church held from 1962 to 1965.

However, Mary is fast becoming a more prominent figure in religious life once again, Diaz said, as evidenced by the increasing popularity of Mary's feast days and rosary groups in many parishes.

"I think we've realized that we didn't have to let go of Mary," Diaz said.

The rosary in particular draws Christians into a closer relationship with the mother of Jesus, Diaz said.

"The rosary begins with Mary's experience and so is called Mary's prayer," Diaz said. "The rosary has always been the prayer of the people."

Janan Najeeb, director of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition, followed Diaz's comments by addressing the role Mary plays in the Islamic faith.

Muslims do not believe Mary, who is known as "Mariam" in their faith, is the mother of God, Najeeb said. Nor do they believe her free of the human stain because they have no concept of original sin.

Muslims do, however, revere Mary as the mother of Jesus, one of the five greatest prophets — though not the son of God — in the Islamic faith and see her as a "perfected saint" whose purity and faithfulness make her an example for all Muslims to follow.

"All Muslims are taught from an early age to love, revere and honor Mary," Najeeb said. "It is hard to find a Muslim who is not spiritually elevated when reading the story of Mary."

Mary is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the Bible, according to Najeeb. The 19th chapter of the Quran — entitled "Mariam" — is devoted to Mary, and she is the only woman in the Muslims' sacred text who is referred to by her given name and not by reference, such as "wife of" or "daughter of."

"So significant is her position in Islam that there are many Islamic scholars who believe her a prophet," Najeeb said.

Although only men can be prophets in Islam, Mary's spirituality and the fact that she was visited by the angel Gabriel, who also visited the other prophets, is grounds enough for some to defend the assertion, according to Najeeb and another Muslim who spoke briefly during a question-and-answer session.

The conference hosted approximately 200 people, according to Wendy Rappe, director of religious education for Gesu Parish. Many of those who attended said they had learned something important.

"I learned some things about the Muslim religion that I didn't know, and it was enlightening," said Sister Madeline Meyer, who works at Alverno.