16 June 2017
The newly renamed Mosque of Maryam, the Mother of Jesus, stands in Abu Dhabi.
The Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi has a new name. It is now the Mosque of Maryam (Mary), Mother of Jesus. This gesture of the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Zayed al-Nahyan, is intended to promote greater understanding and harmony between Christians and Muslims.
In fact, Our Lady plays an important role in Islam. She is the virgin mother of Jesus, although with no connotation of the Incarnation as understood by Christians. She is the one who hears God’s word and believes it. And in the Qur’an, she is the focus of Chapter 19.
When members of the early Muslim community fled to Abyssinia (ancient Ethiopia) to escape persecution, they were required by the king to explain their new faith. When he heard of the devotion they had to Mary, he immediately accepted them as protected refugees.
Two women play a major role in Islam. The first is Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad and wife of Ali bin Abi Talib. The second is Mary, Mother of Jesus. Known among Muslims as Fatimah al-Zahra, “the Illustrious,” the daughter of the Prophet is widely revered in Sunni and especially Shi’ite Islam. While it is common among Shi’ites to have mosques bearing the name of Fatimah, to my knowledge this mosque is Abu Dhabi is the first to be named after the Virgin Mary.
This is not by any means to say that Mary plays no role in the popular piety of Muslims. Although it is seriously frowned upon by the Wahhabi/Salafi theological strain in Sunni Islam, many Muslims visit Marian shrines in Ephesus, Lebanon, Palestine and elsewhere.
The graciousness and breadth of spirit of Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan is to be applauded. One can only hope that it is the first of many gestures that Muslims and Christians can make to increase peace and understanding between our communities.