One of the most important aspects of being a good writer is also being a good reader. Both characteristics require consistency and practice as one continues to evolve their craft. Both Nakita and Michele of The Drawing Board are avid readers that have a perpetually evolving reading list. It’s often hard to nail down just what we are reading at any given time because it changes daily, but here is a list of current books, open to varying degrees, on Nakita’s desk. Let’s hope they inspire and feel free to share your reading list too!

patterns-culture-ruth-benedict-paperback-cover-artPatterns of Culture: Ruth Benedict – In Patterns of Culture, Benedict presents sketches of three cultures, the Zuni, the Dobu, and the Kwakiutl, and uses these cultures to elaborate her theory of ‘culture as personality-writ-large.’ Before introducing the ethnographies, Benedict includes two theoretical chapters and introduces the term ‘pattern,’ which she interchanges with similar phrases in the rest of the text.

9780300085242Introduction to Metaphysics: Martin Heidegger – This is the published version of a lecture course he gave in the Summer of 1935 at the University of Freiburg. The book is famous for its powerful reinterpretation of Greek thought. The content of these lectures was not published in Germany until 1953.

maaloufIn the Name of Identity: Amin Maalouf – In this work, Maalouf discusses the identity crisis which Arabs have experienced since the establishment of continuous relationships with the west, adding his personal dimension as a Christian Arab. The book is intended for both Arabs and Westerners (as well as for people with mixed heritage). This work is divided into five major chapters, “Identity and Belonging”, “When Modernity Comes From the Other”, “The Era of Cosmic Tribals”, “Taming the Shrew” and a glossary. He begins with universal values of identity, which he dissects, describes the extremes, then applies them to the Levant. He tries to describe how the average modern Arab feels, along a wide spectrum of ideologies in practice throughout the Arab world…from religious beliefs and traditional practices to total secularism. The book also sheds light on recent events in the Arab world, from civil wars to relations with the west.

0226285111Islam Observed: Clifford Geertz – “In four brief chapters,” writes Clifford Geertz in his preface, “I have attempted both to lay out a general framework for the comparative analysis of religion and to apply it to a study of the development of a supposedly single creed, Islam, in two quite contrasting civilizations, the Indonesian and the Moroccan.”

Genealogie_der_Moral_coverOn the Genealogy of Morals: Friedrich Nietzsche – An1887 book by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It consists of a preface and three interrelated essays that expand and follow through on doctrines Nietzsche sketched out in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). The three Abhandlungen trace episodes in the evolution of moral concepts with a view to undermining “moral prejudices”, specifically those of Christianity and Judaism.Some Nietzsche scholars consider Genealogy to be a work of sustained brilliance and power as well as his masterpiece. Since its publication, it has influenced many authors and philosophers.

816RGvGUV0LThe Yacoubian Building: Alaa-Al-Aswany – Published in Arabic in 2002 and in an English translation in 2004, the book, ostensibly set in 1990 at about the time of the first Gulf War, is a roman à clef and scathing portrayal of modern Egyptian society since the Revolution of 1952. The locale of the novel is downtown Cairo, with the titular apartment building (which actually exists) serving as both a metaphor for contemporary Egypt and a unifying location in which most of the primary characters either live or work and in which much of the novel’s action takes place. The author, a dentist by profession, had his first office in the Yacoubian Building in Cairo.The Yacoubian Building was the best-selling Arabic novel for 2002 and 2003, and was voted Best Novel for 2003 by listeners to Egypt’s Middle East Broadcasting Service. It has been translated into 23 languages worldwide.

41JlIxpjNuLArchaeology of Knowledge: Michel Foucault – The premise of the book is that systems of thought and knowledge (“epistemes” or “discursive formations”) are governed by rules (beyond those of grammar and logic) which operate beneath the consciousness of individual subjects and define a system of conceptual possibilities that determines the boundaries of thought and language use in a given domain and period. Most prominently in its Introduction and Conclusion, the book also becomes a philosophical treatment and critique of phenomenological and dogmatic structural readings of history and philosophy, portraying continuous narratives as naïve ways of projecting our own consciousness onto the past, thus being exclusive and excluding. Characteristically, Foucault demonstrates his political motivations, personal projects and preoccupations, and, explicitly and implicitly, the many influences that inform the discourse of the time.

Mary is a Many-Splendored Thing

Mary_magdalene_caravaggioMary Magdalene is an anomaly in Christian hagiography for her varied, and sometimes contradictory roles. The earliest texts elevate her to the status of the Companion of God, the mouthpiece of the Gnostics, Apostola Apostolorum (the apostle of the apostles), the New Eve, and the Sweet Friend of God. She is named in the Bible and is one of the most frequently depicted saints in Catholic history. After an analysis of numerous texts devoted to her, Mary Thompson points to Magdalene’s centrality to Christianity stating, she “appears repeatedly with the chosen disciples; she is given the leading role in the dialogs; she is singled out as a primary disciple; she is, more than once, in direct conflict with Peter from which conflict she emerges as the stronger.”[1] Her relics have been dispersed across Europe, and monasteries dedicated to her name have shaped pilgrimage routes and trade networks. Artistic depictions of her lead to her rise as the favourite female saint of the Middle Ages, and her role as an intercessor lead the famous poets of Europe to call on her for forgiveness. Her name has persisted in modern literature such as comic books, novels and films where her mythology has been used to garner popular success and raise questions about the Church’s treatment of women in history. An enormous corpus of work has been dedicated to Mary Magdalene over the centuries – volumes of hagiographical texts, poetry and plays that could fill library shelves, and paintings and sculptures that could fill museums. And yet, a simple glance into the realm of Islam and Mary Magdalene vanishes. Jesus assumes a very prominent role, as does his mother, the Virgin Mary; however, his companion, his apostle, his happy penitent friend is gone. There is not a single mention of Mary Magdalene in any of Sunni Islam’s accepted literature and this leaves me with a nagging question about why. Given how much of orthodox Islam continues from mainstream Christianity, the influence of which is well-documented at the time of Muhammad’s revelation, how can there be no evidence whatsoever of Mary Magdalene’s existence from the Muslim perspective? The work of this paper is to answer this question. In order to understand her absence, I must first look to the Islamic construction of Jesus as a man and a prophet. Her absence also hinges on Islamic orthodox interpretations of the crucifixion, the resurrection, attitudes towards ascetic practices, attitudes towards repentance and salvation, and the problem of intercession. Throughout this article, I will uncover her many and varied roles in Christianity, weighing their relevancy in Islam. Ultimately, I will be left to question her very existence along with the historical sources which are used in Christianity to justify it.

Before beginning, a note about methodology is in order. Due to the fact that I am dealing with the absence of a religious figure in a cross-religious comparison, the construction of the dossier of this saint is tricky, to say the least. On one hand, I will be looking at the Christian dossier to determine her many roles. The purpose of this is to assess which roles are in contradiction with orthodox Islamic principles and might explain the lack of crossover. For these purposes, I will be relying mainly on accepted scriptural texts from Christianity and Islam: namely, the New International Version of the New Testament, an acceptable (and heavily scrutinized) English translation of the meaning of the Holy Qur’an, authenticated historical sources from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and tafsir or Qur’anic exegesis from celebrated, mainstream Islamic scholars. In doing this, however, I am not seeking to determine what can be said to be true about Mary Magdalene. As such, my analysis is not preoccupied with historical verification of this individual (at least not at first), but rather centers on what about her elevation in Christianity is either problematic or not relevant in Islam to warrant not a single mention in 1400 years.

[1] Thomas, Mary R. Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Leader. Paulist Press: New York. 1995. Pp. 102.

Magdalene, The Intercessor

maryIf, in Islam, there is no original sin and no single figure can absolve a person of their sins except God Alone, then what role do intercessors play? In the mid 13th century, Petrarch referred to Magdalene in a poem, stating: Dulcis amica dei, lacrymis inflectere nostris: atque meas intende preces, nostraeque saluti consule, namque potes.[1] This particular inscription was said to hang in her grotto and Petrarch fashioned her as his very own mediatrix – something enabled by the close relationship Magdalene had to Christ. While Magdalene was increasingly invoked for these purposes in Christianity, this is a concept completely foreign to orthodox Sunni Islam. In fact, intercession implies a kind of prayer called duaa or supplication which is something reserved for Allah Alone. Any supplications made to a figure other than God is considered major shirk – the association of another in worship with God and the only unforgivable sin in Islam. The Qur’an states, “And they worship other than Allah that which neither harms them nor benefits them, and they say, “These are our intercessors with Allah ” Say, “Do you inform Allah of something He does not know in the heavens or on the earth?” Exalted is He and high above what they associate with Him”[2] The role of Magdalene as having any remote influence on the knowledge or influence of God amounts to blasphemy in Islam.

It is interesting to note that the figure of Mary Magdalene would have collided with the Islamic world in a very big way during the Crusades. According to Haskins, it was around this time that the crusaders’ fervor for recapturing the Holy Sepulchre reignited an interest in the Passion and Magdalene’s role in it. As illustrations of the dramatic scene increased, as a way to build up religious zeal, depictions of Magdalene in the Holy Land rose in numbers.[3] In Jerusalem alone, there was a convent founded in her honour and a church dedicated to her in the Jewish sector. Due to the religious battles being fought, the Church’s emphasis turned to those characters who had suffered along with Christ in his last, horrific days as a way to build solidarity and remind followers of the sacrifices of those who followed him. Magdalene was edified in literature and imagery surrounding the crucifixion and the resurrection again and again.[4] Though impossible to track, I wonder how the visual impact of Magdalene as a sort of battle banner during the Crusades would have impacted those Muslims targeted by the animated Christians – possibly serving as a deterrent for adopting her into later Islamic narratives because of her status as a visible representative of the Crusaders.

Mary the Desert Ascetic

st-mary-magdaleneThe last point of divergence between the Christian and Islamic faiths that can account for the absence of Mary in the latter is her representation as a desert ascetic. I have included this last as I do not feel that it represents a scriptural depiction of Magdalene such as those above – whether those scriptures are considered legitimate or heretical like the Gnostic gospels. This is because Magdalene, the desert ascetic, is a much later, improper conflation of the woman we have seen so far with Saint Mary of Egypt and is not based on Scripture but rather the inventions of hagiographical authors and pure accident.

The concept of zuhd or asceticism in Islam is far different than what is found in medieval Christianity. The retreat of individuals to solitude in the desert, particularly single women such as Mary of Egypt, is forbidden in Islam. Other points of Christian asceticism such as excessive fasting, celibacy, nudity or scruffy clothing, impure states of being such as uncleanliness, self-flagellation, and wanton displays of poverty are all either forbidden or discouraged in Orthodox Islam as well. In fact, abstinence from any activities that are permissible or fard (obligatory), such as sexual intercourse within a marriage, is forbidden in Islam. Real zuhd in Islam is the renunciation of what is forbidden and utter contentment (qana’ah) with the portion that Allah has given you, including accepting abundances. Spiritual poverty, a Muslim’s most prized attribute, signifies his utter dependence and submission to Allah but is not represented by outward excesses such as those found in medieval Christianity. It is a full understanding of the Qur’anic verse: “O mankind! You are the poor in your relation to Allah. And Allah is the One free of all wants, worthy of all praise.”[5] Another verse strictly forbids asceticism: “O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion; nor say of Allah aught but the truth.”[6] This is further qualified by the following hadith:

Anas bin Malik narrated: A group of three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet asking how the Prophet worshipped (Allah), and when they were informed about that, they considered their worship insufficient and said, “Where are we from the Prophet as his past and future sins have been forgiven.” Then one of them said, “I will offer the prayer throughout the night forever.” The other said, “I will fast throughout the year and will not break my fast.” The third said, “I will keep away from the women and will not marry forever.” Allah’s Apostle came to them and said, “Are you the same people who said so-and-so? By Allah, I am more submissive to Allah and more afraid of Him than you; yet I fast and break my fast, I do sleep and I also marry women. So he who does not follow my tradition in religion, is not from me (not one of my followers).[7]

One could make the argument that asceticism merely differed between the two religions, except that the Qur’an further charges the Christians with the invention of asceticism and monastic life, something “not prescribed for them by Allah.”[8] Thus, Magdalene’s conflation with Mary of Egypt and her excessive ascetic actions in the desert would have been foreign, even condemned, behavior for most Sunni Muslims – something abnormal, not to be edified or celebrated and actually contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Future Research

This analysis has uncovered that the many roles of Mary Magdalene in scriptural, artistic and hagiographical sources embody key theological considerations that are unique to the Christian tradition. They do not translate to Islam, despite the figure of Jesus and other biblical characters being of exalted status in the Qur’an and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. With many prophets not being named, and other prophets’ wives or lady companions only being named out of didactic necessity, it is reasonable to assume that if Magdalene was, in fact, the wife or companion of Prophet Jesus, she simply did not warrant a mention in the Qur’an or hadith sources. The fact that the crucifixion and resurrection are not accepted in Islam renders her most crucial roles in Christianity irrelevant. Further to this point, certain ascetic practices that were absorbed into the character of Saint Magdalene are considered forbidden religious innovations for Muslims as well. In this way, the single figure of Mary Magdalene is the point around which many crucial divergences between the two faiths orbit. While this conclusion might seem obvious to readers, it is further complicated by the prominent position that Magdalene enjoys in the Baha’i Faith – a religion that comes after both Christianity and Islam, accepting the teachings of both. Future research is necessary to establish reasons for her being “skipped” by Islam. In this way, we are offered a method of understanding not concerned with the real historical woman of Mary Magdalene, but the faiths in which she is either exalted or ignored.

For Part One, click here. For Part Two, click here.

Bibliography

‘Ali Zai, Hafiz Abu Tahir Zubair, Nasiruddin al-Khattab, Huda al-Khattab and Abu Khaliyl. Trans and Ed. Sunan Al-Nasa’i: Volume 1. Darussalam Publishing: Riyadh. 2007.

‘Ata ur-Rahim, Muhammad. Jesus: Prophet of Islam. Diwan Press: Norfolk, England. 1977.

Bell, Richard. The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment. Frank Cass & Co: London. 1968.

Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. Doubleday: New York. 2003

De Boer, Esther. Mary Magdalene: Beyond the Myth. Trinity Press International: Harrisburg, Pennysylvania. 1997.

Fedele, Anna. Looking for Mary Magdalene. Oxford University Press: NYC, New York. 2013.

Fletcher, Richard. The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation. Penguin Books: New York. 2003

Garth, Helen Meredith. Saint Mary Magdalene in Mediaeval Literature. John Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science: Series 67, N°3. 1950.

Haskins, Susan. Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor. Harper Collins: Hammersmith, London. 1993.

al-Hilali, Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din and Muhammad Muhsin Khan, trans. Translation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language. King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an: Madinah, KSA. No date given.

Hooper, Richard. The Crucifixion of Mary Magdalene: The Historical Tradition of the First Apostle and the Ancient Church’s Campaign to Suppress It. Sanctuary Publications: Sedona. 2005.

Jacobovici, Simcha. The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene. Harper Collins: Canada. 2014.

Jansen, Katherine Ludwig. The Making of the Magdalen. Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey. 1999.

Khan, Muhammad Muhsin, trans. Summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari. Darussalam Publishing: Riyadh. 1996.

Loewen, Peter V. and Waugh, Robin. Mary Magdalene in Medieval Culture: Conflicted Roles. Routledge: NYC, New York. 2014.

Al-Mundhiri, Al-Hafiz Zakiuddin Abdul-Azim. Summarized Sahih Muslim: Volumes 1 and 2. Darussalam Publishing: Riyadh. 2000.

Siddiqui, Mona. Christians, Muslims, and Jesus. Yale University Press: London. 2013.

Thomas, Mary R. Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Leader. Paulist Press: New York. 1995.

Ward, Benedicta. Harlots of the Desert. Cistercian Publications Inc. Kentucky.1987.

The Holy Bible. New International Version. Zondervan House: Grand Rapids, 1984.

The History of al-Tabari, Volume II: Prophets and Patriarchs, William M. Brinner, Trans.; State University of New York: Albany. 1987.

Online Sources:

Kuruvilla, Carol. “Jesus Married Mary Magdalene And Had Kids, Controversial Researcher Simcha Jacobovici Claims.” The Huffington Post. November 12, 2014. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/12/mary-magdalene-jesus-wife_n_6146170.html.

Mount, Harry. “Is This Proof Jesus Married and Had Two Sons? Ancient Manuscript Said to Be ‘lost Gospel’ with a Sensational Twist .” Mail Online. November 10, 2014. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2827310/Jesus-married-prostitute-Mary-Magdalene-two-children-lost-gospel-reveals.html.

Spengler. “Scandal Exposes Islam’s Weakness.” Asia Times Online :: Asian News, Business and Economy. November 18, 2008. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JK18Aa01.html.

The Gnostic Society Library: The Nag Hammadi Library. http//: gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html

  • Pistis Sophia
  • Gospel of Mary
  • Gospel of Phillip
  • Second Treatise of Seth
  • Apocalypse of Peter

Sunan Abudawud. English Translation. (Translator not listed). http://www.biharanjuman.org/hadith/sunan-abu-dawud-english.pdf

Jaami at-Tirmidhi. English Translation. (Translator not listed). http://yassarnalquran.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/download-at-tirmidhi-full-set/

 

[1] Sweet friend of God, bend to our tears : and direct my prayers, and upon our salvation reflect, for you are able to do so. Haskins, p 192

[2] Qur’an 10 :18

[3] Haskins p.192-3

[4] Ibid

[5] Qur’an 35 :15

[6] Qur’an 4:171

[7] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 1

[8] Qur’an 57 :27, “Then, in their wake, We followed them up with (others of) Our messengers: We sent after them Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel; and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. But the monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them: (We commanded) only the seeking for the good pleasure of Allah; but that they did not foster as they should have done. Yet We bestowed, on those among them who believed, their (due) reward, but many of them are rebellious transgressors.

 

Mary is a Many-Splendored Thing

Mary_magdalene_caravaggioMary Magdalene is an anomaly in Christian hagiography for her varied, and sometimes contradictory roles. The earliest texts elevate her to the status of the Companion of God, the mouthpiece of the Gnostics, Apostola Apostolorum (the apostle of the apostles), the New Eve, and the Sweet Friend of God. She is named in the Bible and is one of the most frequently depicted saints in Catholic history. After an analysis of numerous texts devoted to her, Mary Thompson points to Magdalene’s centrality to Christianity stating, she “appears repeatedly with the chosen disciples; she is given the leading role in the dialogs; she is singled out as a primary disciple; she is, more than once, in direct conflict with Peter from which conflict she emerges as the stronger.”[1] Her relics have been dispersed across Europe, and monasteries dedicated to her name have shaped pilgrimage routes and trade networks. Artistic depictions of her lead to her rise as the favourite female saint of the Middle Ages, and her role as an intercessor lead the famous poets of Europe to call on her for forgiveness. Her name has persisted in modern literature such as comic books, novels and films where her mythology has been used to garner popular success and raise questions about the Church’s treatment of women in history. An enormous corpus of work has been dedicated to Mary Magdalene over the centuries – volumes of hagiographical texts, poetry and plays that could fill library shelves, and paintings and sculptures that could fill museums. And yet, a simple glance into the realm of Islam and Mary Magdalene vanishes. Jesus assumes a very prominent role, as does his mother, the Virgin Mary; however, his companion, his apostle, his happy penitent friend is gone. There is not a single mention of Mary Magdalene in any of Sunni Islam’s accepted literature and this leaves me with a nagging question about why. Given how much of orthodox Islam continues from mainstream Christianity, the influence of which is well-documented at the time of Muhammad’s revelation, how can there be no evidence whatsoever of Mary Magdalene’s existence from the Muslim perspective? The work of this paper is to answer this question. In order to understand her absence, I must first look to the Islamic construction of Jesus as a man and a prophet. Her absence also hinges on Islamic orthodox interpretations of the crucifixion, the resurrection, attitudes towards ascetic practices, attitudes towards repentance and salvation, and the problem of intercession. Throughout this article, I will uncover her many and varied roles in Christianity, weighing their relevancy in Islam. Ultimately, I will be left to question her very existence along with the historical sources which are used in Christianity to justify it.

Before beginning, a note about methodology is in order. Due to the fact that I am dealing with the absence of a religious figure in a cross-religious comparison, the construction of the dossier of this saint is tricky, to say the least. On one hand, I will be looking at the Christian dossier to determine her many roles. The purpose of this is to assess which roles are in contradiction with orthodox Islamic principles and might explain the lack of crossover. For these purposes, I will be relying mainly on accepted scriptural texts from Christianity and Islam: namely, the New International Version of the New Testament, an acceptable (and heavily scrutinized) English translation of the meaning of the Holy Qur’an, authenticated historical sources from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and tafsir or Qur’anic exegesis from celebrated, mainstream Islamic scholars. In doing this, however, I am not seeking to determine what can be said to be true about Mary Magdalene. As such, my analysis is not preoccupied with historical verification of this individual (at least not at first), but rather centers on what about her elevation in Christianity is either problematic or not relevant in Islam to warrant not a single mention in 1400 years.

[1] Thomas, Mary R. Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Leader. Paulist Press: New York. 1995. Pp. 102.

Part Two

The Crucifixion Through Muslim Eyes

If the following excerpts recounting the crucifixion of Jesus sound similar to the reader, they ought to:

I was not afflicted at all. Those who were there punished me. And I did not die in reality but in appearance, lest I be put to shame by them because these are my kinsfolk. I removed the shame from me and I did not become fainthearted in the face of what happened to me at their hands. I was about to succumb to fear, and I <suffered> according to their sight and thought, in order that they may never find any word to speak about them. For my death, which they think happened, (happened) to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death. For they did not see me, for they were deaf and blind. But in doing these things, they condemn themselves. Yes, they saw me; they punished me. It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder.[1]

The Savior said to me, “He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.”[2]

They said, “We killed the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah.” But they neither killed him nor crucified him but it was made to appear so. Those who differ in it are full of doubt with no knowledge except conjectures to follow. They did not kill him of surety. Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself and Allah is exalted in power, wise. And there is none of the people of the book, but must believe in him before his death and in the Day of Judgment he will be a witness against them.[3]

The first account of the crucifixion of Jesus is from the Second Treatise of Seth and is a Gnostic text dating from the 3rd century. The second account is from the Apocalypse of Peter and is also a Gnostic text. The third excerpt comes from the Qur’an. All three texts assert that Jesus was not crucified but only appeared to be to the people who crucified him. Some scholars improperly conflate the presence of “Christian” ideals or “Gnostic” ideals that are also found in Islam as being a sign of historical influence. Some even go so far as to assert that the finding of Christian-like or Gnostic-like doctrine in Islam is a sign that Muhammad either did not exist or had false myths attributed to him.[4] However, I have yet to find actual historical evidence of this beyond conjecture with poor intentions. Additionally, the finding of similarities between Islam and Christian traditions (or heresies) is not unusual as Islam regards itself as a continuation and purification of these traditions; the Qur’an is a correction of corrupted texts such as the Bible and other scriptures. While the historical influence of this unique Gnostic divergence from the Church over Islam is not clear, it is safe to say that both assertions directly contradict the most central point of Christianity: the Passion of Christ and his Salvation by dying for the sins of humanity.

mary            Before I look into why this subversion of the centrality of the crucifixion is crucial for our purposes, I want to establish the presence of Magdalene at this event. For the Church, her presence at the foot of the cross is very significant in the account of the crucifixion in the Gospel of John. In John 19:25-27, the Gospel states, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”[5] Theologians are divided on what is meant by the term “the disciple whom he loved”, with many dismissing its possibility that it could be Magdalene because of the use of the masculine term uios, highlighted in the above quote. However, still others claim that uios refers to a spiritual son and could technically refer to either a man or a woman – particularly compelling because in naming the four people standing by the cross, John names only women.[6] Regardless of whether or not Magdalene is being named as the disciple whom Jesus loved, her presence at the crucifixion is noted here and elsewhere.[7] The fact that she and other women were the only witnesses to this historic event (from the Christian camp) is significant.

Magdalene’s role at the crucifixion was beyond a mere spectator. According to Benedicta Ward in Harlots of the Desert, the character of Magdalene became a composite of several figures including unnamed women and Mary of Bethany, Martha’s sister. In the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, an anonymous woman comes to anoint Christ before the Passion begins, for “his burial”,[8] “whom all the evangelists number [to be] Mary of Magdala.”[9] This theme of being the anointer would continually follow the picture of Magdalene when in most images of her she is depicted with the anointing oil or resin. The earliest visual depiction of her comes from a wall painting circa 240 AD and, even in this early account, she is carrying the anointing oil.

Now that I have established Magdalene as a primary witness to the single most important event in the Christian religion and potentially as an anointer of Jesus just prior to the Passion, one would think that such a crucial role would warrant a mention in Islam. However, as I have established, in the Islamic narrative, the centrality of the crucifixion is undermined. In the Islamic framework, Jesus did not die for the sins of humanity; in fact, according to the Qur’an, he did not even die (though this point is disputed by some peripheral Islamic scholars). The authenticated Qur’anic exegesis from Ibn Kathir (which has been accepted by most Sunni scholars) points to the process behind the substitution of Jesus prior to crucifixion:

Ibn Abbas said, “Just before Allah raised Jesus to the Heavens, Jesus went to his disciples, who were twelve inside the house. When he arrived, his hair was dripping with water (as if he had just had a bath) and he said, ‘There are those among you who will disbelieve in me twelve times after you had believed in me.’ He then asked, ‘Who among you will volunteer for his appearance to be transformed into mine, and be killed in my place. Whoever volunteers for that, he will be with me (in Paradise).’ One of the youngest ones among them volunteered, but Jesus asked him to sit down. Jesus asked again for a volunteer, and the same young man volunteered and Jesus asked him to sit down again. Then the young man volunteered a third time and Jesus said, ‘You will be that man,’ and the resemblance of Jesus was cast over that man while Jesus ascended to Heaven from a hole in the roof of the house. When the Jews came looking for Jesus, they found that young man and crucified him. .. Ever since that happened, Islam was then veiled until Allah sent Muhammad. [10]

The crucifixion, then, was an illusion to those enacting it and serves as a relatively moot point for Muslims who believe it to be one small part of the story of Jesus. As mentioned, Muslims believe that Jesus’ story will continue just prior to the End of Days. In the Qur’an, it is stated that “There shall not be anyone from People of the Book [Christians and Jews], but shall believe in him before his death and on the Day of Resurrection, he (Jesus) shall be a witness against them.”[11] Additionally, the Qur’an states, “And he (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Resurrection); therefore have no doubt about it (the Hour). And follow me (Allah), this is a Straight Path.”[12] With crucifixion relegated to the status of peripheral unimportance, being mentioned in one, singular ayah (verse) of 6236 verses, it is hardly surprising that witnesses to it, such as Mary Magdalene, would warrant little mention in the Islamic theology.

The Resurrection

st-mary-magdaleneThe necessary finale to the spectacle of the Christian crucifixion is the Resurrection in which Mary Magdalene plays her most important role: apostola apostolorum. First of all, she had been a direct witness to his burial, with Mark 15:47 proclaiming that “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus saw where he was laid.”[13] After the Sabbath passed, it is related in all the Gospels, that Mary Magdalene (sometimes accompanied by two other women – thought by some to be the widow’s mourning entourage) was the first to venture to the tomb in the dark. This is portrayed in the earliest visual depictions by having Magadalene hold a burning torch for light. In the other hand, she holds myrrh to anoint the body of Christ. Related in Mark, Magdalene finds the tomb open and “a young man dressed in a white robe” who tells them that Jesus has risen and implores her to tell the others.[14] Later, Jesus “appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven devils.”[15] John offers a bit more detail when he relays that Magdalene visited the tomb alone and upon finding it empty, she ran to Simon Peter and another disciple to tell them. After the tomb was seen to be empty, they returned home, leaving Mary there crying. In this moment, two angels appeared to her and ask her why she is crying to which she replies that Jesus has gone missing. He then appears to her but she mistakes him for a gardener until he says “Mary”, when she turns to him and cries out “Rabboni!”[16] She is then charged with the honorific task of relating the good news to the other disciples.

While this is considered to be one of the most prestigious incidences in Christian history, no mention of it is made in Islam at all. This is understandable considering what I have already covered about the Islamic crucifixion being an illusion and the death of Christ being false. As he did not die, he could not be resurrected. Had the incident happened – in the Islamic viewpoint – and Magdalene was indeed the bride of Jesus, it would make sense for her to be the first visitor to the tomb and that she be the first to whom he appeared resurrected. Such is not the case in the Qur’an though, which makes no mention of this secondary event post-“crucifixion.” The Islamic silence on this goes even deeper than a superficial level though and harkens back to a more disparate theological chasm between Christianity and Islam.

The role of the Apostle of the Apostles was celebrated and given literary fame in the commentary of Hippolytus of Rome on the Canticle of Canticles. Through the story of Solomon and Shulamite, Hippolytus invokes an allegory for Magdalene seeking out Jesus. The crucial point to take from his famous elaboration or embellishments is his overt reference to Eve and his linking of Magdalene with her. Having found Christ in the garden (and not-so-subtlely mistaking him for the Gardener), Magdalene becomes the New Eve, the first sign of the reversal of the fall of Adam.[17] This link was not lost on other theologians as well, such as Gregory the Great, who stated “Lo, the guilt of the human race is cut off whence it proceeded. For in paradise, a woman gave death to man; now from the tomb a woman announces life to men and tells the words of the Life-giver just as a woman told the words of the death-bearing Serpent.”[18] In Christian mythology, the Fall from the garden is related in Genesis, Chapter 3, where the serpent tempts Eve with fruit that will obtain her knowledge stating, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”[19] After Eve is tempted and eats some of the fruit, she brings it to Adam who eats it also. Immediately following this, they realize the shame of their nudity and are rebuked by God for their deviancy. The punishment of the snake is to be cursed above all other animals; women will be ruled by their husbands and suffer in childbirth; and finally, because Adam listened to his wife, he is condemned to a life of toil to obtain his food from the land which he came. Both Adam and Eve, thus named in that moment, were banished from the Garden of Eden.[20] This story accounts for the dogma of Original Sin, which claims that because of this transgression and banishment from the Garden, the rest of humanity suffers under the weight of this guilt. This doctrine necessitates the crucifixion of Christ as the sacrifice to absolve all of humanity of this original sin.

While the Qur’an too relates the story of the fruit in the Garden,[21] there is no snake tempting Adam and Hawwa (Eve). Rather, this role is filled by Shaytan (satan) – a creature from the world of the jinn, those creatures made from fire by God who remain unseen. Like mankind, they possess reason and freewill, and existed before the creation of mankind. ‘Iblis (Satan) was considered the most righteous of the jinn to the point that he was elevated among the angels. However, when God created Adam and ordered the angels to prostrate to him, Satan disobeyed and “refused to be among the prostrators.” He became cast out and cursed by God.[22] In the Islamic tradition, satan did not operate his evil by whispering temptations about fruit to Hawwa, but rather planted waswasi (whispers) in the hearts of both Adam and Eve so that their thoughts became consumed by desire for the fruit. When they became preoccupied with their own thoughts, forgetting the warning of God, they ate the fruit and were reprimanded by God. There is nowhere in the Qur’an that singles out Hawwa as the lesser or weaker sex that convinced Adam to give up Paradise for a fruit. In the Islamic tradition, both Adam and Hawwa are to blame for their mistake, bearing equal responsibility. Remarkably, they are also both immediately forgiven by God in His infinite Wisdom and Mercy – a sentiment echoed by the opening of every single chapter of the Qur’an except one: In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Therefore, in Islam, there is no original sin, no need for crucifixion or resurrection, and no need for the New Eve, embodied in Mary Magdalene.

For Part One, click here. For Part Three, click here.

[1] The Second Treatise of Great Seth, Roger A. Bullard and Joseph A. Gibbons trans. The Nag Hammadi Library. http://gnosis.org/naghamm/2seth.html

[2] The Apocalypse of Peter, Roger A. Bullard and Joseph A. Gibbons trans. The Nag Hammadi Library. http://gnosis.org/naghamm/apopet.html

[3] Qur’an 4 :157-159.

[4] Spengler. “Scandal Exposes Islam’s Weakness.” Asia Times Online :: Asian News, Business and Economy. November 18, 2008. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JK18Aa01.html.

[5] John 19 :25-27

[6] Hooper, Richard. The Crucifixion of Mary Magdalene: The Historical Tradition of the First Apostle and the Ancient Church’s Campaign to Suppress It. Sanctuary Publications: Sedona. 2005. P217.

[7] Mark 15 :40, Matthew 27 :56

[8] Matthew 26 :6-13 and Mark 14 :3-8.

[9] Matthew 28 :1, Mark 16 :1, Luke 24 :10, John 20 :1

[10] Al-Nasa’i,  6:489

[11] Qur’an 4 :159

[12] Qur’an 43 :61

[13] Mark 15 :47

[14] Mark 16 : 4-7

[15] Mark 16 :9

[16] John 20 :10-18

[17] Haskins p. 65 ; Ward, Benedicta. Harlots of the Desert. Cistercian Publications Inc. Kentucky.1987. p 14

[18]Ward p.14, originally quoted in Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospels, Hom. Xxv, PL 76, col. 1189.

[19] Genesis 3 :5

[20] Genesis 3 :6-20

[21] Qur ‘an 2 :35, 7 :20

[22] Qur’an 15 :30-35

Mary is a Many-Splendored Thing

Mary_magdalene_caravaggioMary Magdalene is an anomaly in Christian hagiography for her varied, and sometimes contradictory roles. The earliest texts elevate her to the status of the Companion of God, the mouthpiece of the Gnostics, Apostola Apostolorum (the apostle of the apostles), the New Eve, and the Sweet Friend of God. She is named in the Bible and is one of the most frequently depicted saints in Catholic history. After an analysis of numerous texts devoted to her, Mary Thompson points to Magdalene’s centrality to Christianity stating, she “appears repeatedly with the chosen disciples; she is given the leading role in the dialogs; she is singled out as a primary disciple; she is, more than once, in direct conflict with Peter from which conflict she emerges as the stronger.”[1] Her relics have been dispersed across Europe, and monasteries dedicated to her name have shaped pilgrimage routes and trade networks. Artistic depictions of her lead to her rise as the favourite female saint of the Middle Ages, and her role as an intercessor lead the famous poets of Europe to call on her for forgiveness. Her name has persisted in modern literature such as comic books, novels and films where her mythology has been used to garner popular success and raise questions about the Church’s treatment of women in history. An enormous corpus of work has been dedicated to Mary Magdalene over the centuries – volumes of hagiographical texts, poetry and plays that could fill library shelves, and paintings and sculptures that could fill museums. And yet, a simple glance into the realm of Islam and Mary Magdalene vanishes. Jesus assumes a very prominent role, as does his mother, the Virgin Mary; however, his companion, his apostle, his happy penitent friend is gone. There is not a single mention of Mary Magdalene in any of Sunni Islam’s accepted literature and this leaves me with a nagging question about why. Given how much of orthodox Islam continues from mainstream Christianity, the influence of which is well-documented at the time of Muhammad’s revelation, how can there be no evidence whatsoever of Mary Magdalene’s existence from the Muslim perspective? The work of this paper is to answer this question. In order to understand her absence, I must first look to the Islamic construction of Jesus as a man and a prophet. Her absence also hinges on Islamic orthodox interpretations of the crucifixion, the resurrection, attitudes towards ascetic practices, attitudes towards repentance and salvation, and the problem of intercession. Throughout this article, I will uncover her many and varied roles in Christianity, weighing their relevancy in Islam. Ultimately, I will be left to question her very existence along with the historical sources which are used in Christianity to justify it.

Before beginning, a note about methodology is in order. Due to the fact that I am dealing with the absence of a religious figure in a cross-religious comparison, the construction of the dossier of this saint is tricky, to say the least. On one hand, I will be looking at the Christian dossier to determine her many roles. The purpose of this is to assess which roles are in contradiction with orthodox Islamic principles and might explain the lack of crossover. For these purposes, I will be relying mainly on accepted scriptural texts from Christianity and Islam: namely, the New International Version of the New Testament, an acceptable (and heavily scrutinized) English translation of the meaning of the Holy Qur’an, authenticated historical sources from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and tafsir or Qur’anic exegesis from celebrated, mainstream Islamic scholars. In doing this, however, I am not seeking to determine what can be said to be true about Mary Magdalene. As such, my analysis is not preoccupied with historical verification of this individual (at least not at first), but rather centers on what about her elevation in Christianity is either problematic or not relevant in Islam to warrant not a single mention in 1400 years.

Jesus, Prophet of Islam

Considering that Mary Magdalene’s close proximity to Jesus is largely what warrants her edification and sainthood in Christianity, his construction in Islam demands closer observation to understand her absence. Jesus is mentioned fifty-nine times in the Qur’an, significantly more than Muhammad who is mentioned only five times.[2] Through these references, a clearer picture of Jesus in Islam comes to the fore with additional hadith to supplement it. The purpose of this paper is not to debate Islamic understandings of Jesus, for which there is much discourse. Instead, I will briefly recreate the image espoused by mainstream, Sunni Islam – the sect I am primarily concerned with.

In the Qur’an, Jesus is removed of all divinity[3] and claims of being the son of God[4]. Indeed, he is stripped down to his humanity: a mere messenger in a long line of messengers[5] imploring people to worship one God alone. Jesus is considered, by Muslims, to be a prophet of God,[6] the word of God[7], and the Messiah.[8] It should be noted that while Muslims respect and love Jesus, he is not regarded as a singular unique event in history. Rather, he is perceived to have been sent at his particular time for his people with the same message as those that came before him: strict monotheism.[9] Many of his miracles are maintained in Qur’anic scripture and some even differ from those found in the Christian tradition, such as his abilities to walk on water and speak immediately after birth, respectively.[10]

The hadith (sayings and witnessing of the life of Prophet Muhammad) are another area of Islamic literature that offer us greater insight into the Muslim understanding of Jesus. For the purposes of this paper, only hadith that have been scientifically and historically verified to be rigorously authentic will be used. These are found mainly in the vast collected volumes of Imams Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, An-Nisa’I and Ibn Majah, and were gathered together between 150 and 275 years following the death of Prophet Muhammad (or between 750 and 875 years after the ascension of Jesus). The compendium of these authenticated resources are the second of two religious texts accepted by Sunni Muslims – the first being the Qur’an. In the Qur’an itself, Muslims are commanded to recognize the authority of these hadith and the messages they transmit.[11]

According to these sources, prophecies are relayed about Jesus’ return to earth as a sign of the End of Days and in order to defeat the dajjal (antichrist).[12] During this return, it is stated repeatedly that Jesus will “break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizya (taxes)”[13] As well, his proximity to the Prophet Muhammad is noted continuously: “I am most close to Jesus, son of Mary, among the whole of mankind in this worldly life and the next life.”[14] Jesus is furthered described as being “a man of medium height, reddish fair, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops were falling down from his head though it will not be wet.”[15] Insofar as both the Qur’an and the authenticated hadith are used as the foundations for Sunni Islam, I can safely conclude that there is absolutely zero mention of Jesus’ divinity or of him being anything more than a mere Prophet of God and both sources go far to refute these claims as blasphemy – anything else would be contradictory to the foundations of Islamic monotheism.

This construction of Jesus as only a prophet is crucial to our understanding of Mary Magdalene’s absence in Islam. In the Christian tradition, there has been much debate and speculation about the nature of her relationship to Jesus – particularly as to whether or not it was sexual or marital. This issue has come to the fore recently as popular cultural texts have been produced in the last decade that use The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Pistis Sophia, and The Gospel of Mary as evidence that Magdalene was the lover of Christ and this was one of the main reasons for the suppression of these Gnostic texts.[16] Whether or not this is true is not my purpose. Rather, if we understand that one of the first (and most controversial) roles of Magdalene- at least for the Gnostics- was as the Companion of the Saviour, it will become easier to understand why this did not carry over to Islam.

maryIn the aforementioned Gnostic texts, Magdalene is referred to as either Mary Magdalene or Maria the Magdalene and her roles as “disciple, visionary, mediatrix and messenger of esoteric revelations” are illuminated.[17] She is further described as “the woman who knew All”, “the chief interlocutrix of the Saviour”, “the inheritor of Light” and the most important of the three women “who were always with the Lord.”[18] In the Gospel of Mary, a unique authority is assigned to Magdalene because of her closeness with Christ – something that is acknowledged when Peter says: “Sister, we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of the women.”[19] When Magdalene is depicted explaining an inner vision she has had (a privilege not conferred on the other disciples), a confrontation occurs in which Magdalene’s authority is questioned. Remarkably, she is defended by Levi who states, “Surely the Saviour knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us [to give her these visions alone].”[20]

Finally, Magdalene is also referred to as Jesus’ “companion” – a role that necessarily precedes all others that followed. What kind of companionship was this though? Most of the historical scholarship on this issue centers around the terminology used, particularly the Greek term koinonos, which Susan Haskins feels is imperfectly translated as companion because it neglects the implied subtext of partner, consort or a woman with whom a man has had sexual intercourse.[21] In the Gospel of Phillip, the sexual nature of their relationship is made clearer and offered as a reason for her special status with Christ:

But Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Saviour answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her?[22]

This particular passage is considered a major point of contention among scholars with some interpreting it literally and others metaphorically. When taken metaphorically the ‘kiss’ represents spiritual nourishment and Jesus reflects the disciples question to them by reversing it.[23] When the passage is completed, it becomes clear that Jesus sets Magdalene apart because she is the only one in the presence of the Light of Jesus who is not blind to it: “When a blind man and one who sees are both together in the darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in the darkness.”[24] Regardless of the scholarly interpretation of the kiss as erotic or otherwise, there is a distinguishing of Magdalene among her peers that cannot be denied. In the Pistis Sophia, another jealous rivalry takes place between Magdalene and the disciples, ending with her telling Jesus about her worries regarding Peter “because he wont to threaten me, and he hateth our sex.”[25] Several interpretations of this level of companionship are possible. Perhaps the most provocative of these is that “Peter’s antagonism towards Mary Magdalene may reflect the historical ambivalence of the leaders of the orthodox community towards the participation of women in the Church” and so might reflect a political tension between Gnostics (who saw Magdalene as their mouthpiece) and the early church (which was represented by Peter).[26]

The reasons for the suppression of these texts by the mainstream Church are numerous, particularly the controversial nature of a sexual or marital relationships with Magdalene and the role of powerful women at the time of revelation. The issue of a marital relationship for Christ has been an ongoing debate among Christians since at least the third century after his death. As recently as November 9, 2014, the Daily Mail reported a new book that had interests in this subject matter called The Lost Gospel by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson. They claim to have unearthed new evidence which describes not only Christ’s marriage to Mary Magdalene but the existence of two of his sons as well. Based on the content of a vellum manuscript dating from 570AD, the writers claim that is actually a copy of the lost fifth gospel of the New Testament that describes the scenario above. It was, however, written in code that was deciphered by the writers to reveal its controversial findings: “it tells of Jesus’ marriage through the story of the Old Testament character Joseph and his wife Aseneth.”[27] If this sounds familiar, it should. Another famous novel, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, is centered around the same theme of proving Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene and the existence of Christ’s progeny on earth today. The book and film have grossed Brown over $100 million in profits. The controversial nature of this ongoing debate shows its central importance as an issue for the Church. Numerous “modern theologians have suggested that he may[…]have been married, as a rabbi of his age in orthodox Judaism is more than likely to have been.”[28] This lends itself well to theories of marriage to Magdalene, “particularly given his rabbinical background… [where] a woman could only become a disciple if her master or husband were a rabbi.”[29] Either way, the Church simply does not have the ability to reconcile their dogma on the divinity of Christ with the possibility of his earthly marriage and the idea of divinity engaging in human sexual behavior.

For Muslims, this is not an issue because Christ is not divine. As a man, first and foremost, Islamic doctrine not only takes no issue with his marriage or permissible sexual activity, it expects and encourages it. According to Hadith 3096 as recorded by Imam At-Tirmidhi, Anas ibn Malik narrated that the Messenger of Allah said, “When a man marries he has fulfilled half of the ‘deen’ (religion); so let him fear Allah regarding the remaining half.”[30] Marriage is a cornerstone of faith in Islam because it prevents zina or unlawful sexual intercourse between two adults. It is considered one of the major kabaa’ir sins after shirk (associating other things in worship with Allah – the only unforgivable sin in Islam) and murder.[31] Elsewhere, the Qur’an states, “And come not near to unlawful sexual intercourse (Zina). Verily, it is a faahishah (anything that transgresses its limits-a great sin) and an evil way (that leads one to Hell unless Allah forgives him).”[32] Marriage in Islam is not only a preventative prohibition of evil in recognizing the natural inclinations of men and women to desire intercourse (as they were created) but also signifies God’s power and glory. The Qur’an says, “From His signs is that He has created for you spouses from yourselves so that you may get peace [and tranquility] through them; and He placed between you love and mercy. In these are signs for the people who reflect.”[33] This is not a concept unique to Islam though, but was also present in Judaism – the idea of expecting a man, particularly a preaching Rabbi as Jesus was, to remain celibate was not only unusual but signaled his incompleteness.

In this understanding, there would be no issue with the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene or whomever else he proposed. The Qur’an acknowledges that prophets are in need of marriage like any other man – And certainly We sent messengers before you and gave them wives and children, and it is not in (the power of) an messenger to bring a sign except by Allah’s permission; for every term there is an appointment”[34]but makes no mention of whether or not Jesus did. While most Islamic scholars agree that this might indicate that Jesus did not marry (making him an anomaly among messengers), the absence of mention for his potential wife is not unusual. In fact, of twenty-six named prophets in the Qur’an, only twelve of them have wives that are either named or noted in a significant way.

In all instances where a wife of a prophet is named, it is only with a particular didactic purpose behind it. Hawwa (Eve), wife of Adam, is named for obvious purposes regarding the fall from the Garden – a story I will cover in the coming sections. In recognized scholarly tafsir (exegesis of the Qur’an), Ibn Kathir tells the stories of Ayub’s (Job) wife as being susceptible to the whisperings of the devil and the role of Dawud’s (David) wife in warning him of Saul’s jealousy. Ibrahim (Abraham) has two wives that are not named in the Qur’an but whose roles are cited elsewhere as being central to Islam. His first wife, Sarah, was barren for a long time before giving birth to Isaac (the father of the Israelites) at an extremely old age. The annunciation of this miracle child is found in Surah Hud of the Qur’an, verses 69-72. Hajar, Ibrahim’s second wife, bore him a son named Isma’il (Ishmael) thirteen years prior. Isma’il is not only the father of the Arabs from which Muhammad eventually came, but in Islam, he was the son to be sacrificed by Ibrahim (not Isaac) and his protection is the reason that Muslims celebrate ‘Eid-ul-Adha annually. When Ibrahim brought Hajar and Isma’il to the desert near Mecca, the story of her running between two hills in search of water and eventually finding the miracle Zamzam spring is recorded in Surah Ibrahim of the Holy Qur’an. It is an integral part of the Hajj pilgrimage. Both women, Hajar and Sarah, served as exemplars of patience in faith. Isma’il would eventually marry a woman from the Jurhum people who had settled near the Zamzam, but would divorce her and remarry another woman from the same tribe when his father, Ibrahim, was rebuked by her and she lacked hospitality.[35] Many times, such as this, a wife of a prophet is mentioned in order to show the lineage of prophets among one another. Such is also the case of Ishaq (Isaac), brother of Isma’il and son of Sarah and Ibrahim. He would go on to marry Rebekah, the mother of Al Eis and, another prophet, Yaqub (Jacob).

In the case of the wife of Lut (Lot), her mention in the Qur’an is purely as a warning for believers when her destruction, along with their towns (commonly believed to be Sodom and Gomorrah, though unnamed in the Qur’an), came as a result of her transgression. Twice the Qur’an states her fate:

O Lut ! Verily, we are the Messengers from your Lord! They shall not reach you! So travel with your family in a part of the night, and let not any of you look back, but your wife (will remain behind), verily, the punishment which will afflict them, will afflict her. Indeed, morning is their appointed time. Is not the morning near?”[36] [and] “So we saved him and his family, all except an old woman (his wife) among those who remained behind.[37]

st-mary-magdaleneNuh’s wife is mentioned in a similar fashion, for didactic purposes regarding disbelief. Her name is believed to have been Umzrah bint Barakil (or Wahilah) and she refused Nuh’s message of Islam throughout his lifetime of preaching. The Qur’an notes the two women together:

“Allah has struck a similitude for those who disbelieve – the wife of Nuh and the wife of Lut. They were under two of our righteous servants, but they betrayed them, so that they (their husbands) availed them nothing whatsoever against Allah; so it was said (to them) enter the fire along with the enterers.”[38]

 The wives of Sulaiman (Solomon) are mentioned numerous times in the Sahih hadith collections, particularly those of Imam Bukhari who recorded that Abu Huraira narrated the following story:

(The Prophet) Solomon son of (the Prophet) David said, “Tonight I will go round (i.e. have sexual relations with) one hundred women (my wives) everyone of whom will deliver a male child who will fight in Allah’s Cause.” On that an Angel said to him, “Say: ‘If Allah will.’ ” But Solomon did not say it and forgot to say it. Then he had sexual relations with them but none of them delivered any child except one who delivered a half person. The Prophet said, “If Solomon had said: ‘If Allah will,’ Allah would have fulfilled his (above) desire and that saying would have made him more hopeful.[39]

The trope of patience during barrenness is a common theme among prophets and is one of the main reasons for mentioning their wives. The same is true of Zakariya (Zechariah) – married to al-Yashbi’ who was from the family of Prophet Harun (Aaron).

Finally, Luqman’s marriage is not explicitly mentioned but is implied by his encouraging of his son to pray.[40] It is in the last example perhaps that the utility of naming wives becomes most clear in Islam. If there is no didactic purpose to their story, then they are simply not mentioned, even if their existence is implied. In this case, it is certainly possible that Jesus was married to someone – even Mary Magdalene- without that person being named or mentioned at all.

What needs to be made clear though is that this is not unique to wives or even women. It should be noted that there are many other prophets recognized to have existed in Islam but without being named explicitly in the Qur’an. It states not only that there was never a nation without a messenger, but that there are other messengers that God does not mention or name in the Qur’an.[41] That all prophets were not fully named but people might expect all wives to be named is unrealistic. Furthermore it does not point to misogyny in early Islam either as we saw in the early disputes of the Church. The Gnostic texts that have been looked at so far were written at a time when the Church was growing in its institutionalization, eventually “evolving into a three-tiered organization with a hierarchy of male bishops, priests and deacons.”[42] Though some women enjoyed prominent positions in the structure of the Church only a few generations after Christ, these would quickly be abandoned by the second century. African Church Father Tertullian is quoted as writing, “It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church, nor is it permitted for her to teach, to baptize, nor to offer [the eucharist], nor to claim for herself a share in any masculine function.”[43] As Haskins has pointed out, this echoes the general sentiments of Paul, particularly throughout letters to Timothy I.[44]

The status of women in early Islam is incomparable to those in the early Church. In examining only the role of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives, it becomes clear that they were central to the propagation and understanding of the faith. His first wife – with whom he remained uncharacteristically monogamous for 25 years before her death- was a business woman who hired him and, when impressed with his prowess as a merchant, asked for his hand in marriage despite being fifteen years older than him. She was the first convert to Islam after he raced down the mountain shouting Zamilooni! Zamilooni! (Cover me! Cover me!) from abject fear of his revelation. Muhammad was so startled by prophethood and so feared that he had become possessed or gone mad that he contemplated suicide. Arguably, without the consolation and guidance of Khadija, the message of Islam might have been lost.

Additionally, the first shaheed (martyr) of Islam, Summayah, was female, and women also comprised the mujuhadeen (holy warriors) including Nusaibah. The Qur’an and hadith repeatedly exalt the status of women and mothers in particular.[45] In fact, one of the reasons there are so many authentic hadith available is because of the presence of numerous female muhaddithin (traditionists or transmitters). While women are mainly riwayah (narrators) rather than shahadin (witnesses or testifiers), the difference is very subtle and their influence in early Islam cannot be overstated. Perhaps one of the most influential Muslim women in the early history of Islam was the favourite wife of Muhammad, A’ishah bint Abu Bakr. She was not only responsible for transmitting an enormous number of hadith (at least 2000), she is considered one of the greatest of four hadith narrators including Abu Hurairah, Abdullah Ibn Omar, and Anas Ibn Malik. Her influence was so great that she served as the advisor for her father, Abu Bakr – the first Righteous Caliph- and his successor, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab. In Sahih Tirmidhi, Abu Musa narrated that not only was there not a single person more eloquent than Aisha, but also that “Whenever there was any hadith that was difficult [to understand] for us (the Companions of the Messenger of Allah), we asked Aisha we always found that she had knowledge about that hadith.” [46]

If the religious voices of Islam’s early women were not suppressed and the wives of Prophets (and indeed prophets themselves) were only mentioned with religiously didactic purposes in mind, where does this leave us with regards to Mary Magdalene? If she was, in some way, the consort of Jesus, was she simply unimportant enough to not warrant a mention as few others had in the Qur’an and hadith? Almost before I finish writing that sentence, I can hear the Christian (albeit conflicted) outcry. Was Mary Magdalene not at the crucifixion? Does this not point to her significance, if it does not point to some other status of significance in early Christianity? Therein is the second role of Magdalene that holds little weight in Islam and will be explored in the next section.

For Part Two of this article, click here. For Part Three, click here.

[1] Thomas, Mary R. Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Leader. Paulist Press: New York. 1995. Pp. 102.

[2] Muhammad is mentioned in verses 3:144, 33:40, 47:2, 48:29 and as Ahmed in 61:6) Jesus is called by his Arabic name ‘Isa, or Al-Masih, or Ibn Maryam.

[3] Qur’an 5 :17, 5 :72, 5 :116-118, 9 :30, 9 :31

[4] Qur’an, 19 :88, 19 :92, 23 :50

[5] Qur’an 2 :136, 3 :49, 3 :84, 4 :163, 4 :171, 5 :46, 5 :75, 6 :85, 19 :30, 19 :33, 33 :7, 42 :13, 61 :6            

[6] See note 4.

[7] In the ayat 19 :21 (the annuciation), Maryam receives news that she will give birth to Jesus even though she is a virgin. When she asks how this is possible, the angel replies that God has said that it is easy for Him. He needs only to say “Be” and he is. This is what is meant by being the word of God.

[8] Qur’an 3 :45, 5 :72-77, Qur’an 43 :61

[9] Qur’an 5 :46

[10] Qur’an 5 :110

[11] Qur’an 3 :32, 3 :132, 4 :59, 4 :64, to name a few

[12] Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 34, Number 425, Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 43, Number 656, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 657: Volume 4, Book 55, Number 658:

[13] Ibid.

[14] Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55, Number 651: Volume 4, Book 55, Number 652:, Sahih Muslim Book 030, Number 5834:, Book 030, Number 5835:, Book 030, Number 5836: Sunan Abu Dawud Book 37, Number 4310:

[15] Sunan Abu Dawud Book 37, Number 4310

[16] Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. Doubleday: New York. 2003.; Jacobovici, Simcha. The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene. Harper Collins: Canada. 2014.

[17] Haskins 37

[18] Ibid 38

[19] Ibid 38, original quote from Gospel of Mary p.472

[20] Ibid 39 original quote from Gospel of Mary p.473-4

[21] Ibid 40

[22] Ibid 40 original quote Gospel of Phillip

[23] Hooper, Richard. The Crucifixion of Mary Magdalene: The Historical Tradition of the First Apostle and the Ancient Church’s Campaign to Suppress It. Sanctuary Publications: Sedona. 2005. p 118

[24] Gospel of Phillip

[25] Pistis Sophia

[26] Haskins, Susan. Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor. Harper Collins: Hammersmith, London. 1993. p 42

[27] Kuruvilla, Carol. “Jesus Married Mary Magdalene And Had Kids, Controversial Researcher Simcha Jacobovici Claims.” The Huffington Post. November 12, 2014. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/12/mary-magdalene-jesus-wife_n_6146170.html.

Mount, Harry. “Is This Proof Jesus Married and Had Two Sons? Ancient Manuscript Said to Be ‘lost Gospel’ with a Sensational Twist .” Mail Online. November 10, 2014. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2827310/Jesus-married-prostitute-Mary-Magdalene-two-children-lost-gospel-reveals.html.

 

[28] Haskins p 82

[29] Ibid p 84

[30] At-Tirmidhi, 3096.

[31] Qur’an 25 :68-70

[32] Qur’an 17 :32

[33] Qur’an 30 :21

[34] Qur’an 13 :38

[35] The History of al-Tabari, Volume II: Prophets and Patriarchs, William M. Brinner, Trans.; State University of New York: Albany. 1987. P. 77.

[36] Qur’an, 11:81

[37] Qur’an 26:170-171

[38] Qur’an 66:10

[39] Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 169

[40] Qur’an 31 :12-19.

[41] Qur’an 4 :163-164, 23 :44, 35 :24,

[42] Haskins p. 53

[43] Ibid

[44] Ibid.

[45] Qur’an 46 :15. A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? The Prophet said: Your mother. The man said, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man further asked, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your mother. The man asked again, ‘Then who?’ The Prophet said: Then your father. (Sahih Bukhari, Muslim). It is narrated by Asma bint Abu Bakr that during the treaty of Hudaibiyah, her mother, who was then pagan, came to see her from Makkah. Asma informed the Messenger of Allah of her arrival and also that she needed help. He said: Be good to your mother (Sahih Bukhari, Muslim).

[46] At-Tirmidhi. Chapters on Excellences, under ‘Virtues of Aisha’.

[47] The Second Treatise of Great Seth, Roger A. Bullard and Joseph A. Gibbons trans. The Nag Hammadi Library. http://gnosis.org/naghamm/2seth.html

[48] The Apocalypse of Peter, Roger A. Bullard and Joseph A. Gibbons trans. The Nag Hammadi Library. http://gnosis.org/naghamm/apopet.html

[49] Qur’an 4 :157-159.

[50] Spengler. “Scandal Exposes Islam’s Weakness.” Asia Times Online :: Asian News, Business and Economy. November 18, 2008. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JK18Aa01.html.

 

[51] John 19 :25-27

[52] Hooper, Richard. The Crucifixion of Mary Magdalene: The Historical Tradition of the First Apostle and the Ancient Church’s Campaign to Suppress It. Sanctuary Publications: Sedona. 2005. P217.

[53] Mark 15 :40, Matthew 27 :56

[54] Matthew 26 :6-13 and Mark 14 :3-8.

[55] Matthew 28 :1, Mark 16 :1, Luke 24 :10, John 20 :1

[56] Al-Nasa’i,  6:489

 

[57] Qur’an 4 :159

[58] Qur’an 43 :61