THE BIRTH OF JESUS
Allah prepared Mary, the mother of Jesus to undertake the sacred mission of bringing into the world someone who was to be special. This was nothing new in the plan of the Lord, as He did this with the majority of the messengers He sent before. Take for example; He made the birth and survival of Moses possible and even got Pharaoh to appoint his mother to take care of him in the palace.
He allowed Mary to grow up free from any kind of blame or accusations as she was known to have guarded her chastity, and had no kind of interaction with any male human being, except for her caretaker Zakariah, who was a very old man.
Because her son Jesus was to be a unique person Mary underwent all the exercises which made her fit to undertake the special mission of bringing Jesus into the world. In this connection Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:
Behold, the angels said: O Mary, Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee and chosen thee above the women of all nations. (3:42)
We know that Allah created the body of Adam; give it life and then cause the soul (Ruh or spirit) to enter into it. It is necessary to know that the soul is a special creation of the Lord; and not a part of any thing found in the entire universe. It is not something physical. As a result it is outside our capacity to comprehend on the basis of rational thinking. Allah tells us about this in the following verse of the Holy Qur'an:
And they will ask thee concerning the Ruh, say; it is from the Command of my Lord; and I (Allah) have not given you knowledge (of it) except a little. (17:85)
The soul does not die with the body, but leaves and will re-enter it when the body is resurrected on the Day of Judgment.
Because the soul came from a Command of Allah and did not grow from any created thing in the universe Allah calls it My Spirit. For example He says about the creation of Adam the following:
Behold, the Lord said to the angels; I am about to create man from sounding clay; from mud moulded into shape. So, when I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My Spirit; fall down in obeisance unto him. (15:28-29)
When Allah calls the soul "My Spirit", He does not mean that the soul is part of His own being as some religions believe. It means that it is something special which came into existence from a process different from the way He created the universe and all that is in it.
We can understand something about this if we take an example by saying, for example, to a person: You are a part of my heart. It means that such a one is very dear to me, but is not actually a piece of the flesh of my heart.
So too, when Allah singles out the soul and calls it "My Spirit" or "My Word", it does not mean that it actually came out as a piece of His Being. Take for example, the Qur'an is the Word of Allah, that does not mean that it is actually something from His Divine Being, but something that came from Him.
So when He says about Adam, And We breathed into him of Our Spirit, He means that Adam's soul is a special creation.
The difference between the creation of Adam and Jesus is that Adam's body was created first and then the soul was breathed into it, but in the case of Jesus, the soul was created first, placed into the womb of Mary and then the body was formed around it.
Such a thing is possible with Allah, and perhaps, one reason for doing so is to let mankind, now and the Children of Israel then know that Allah is capable of doing anything. This was one reason why He told Mary's mother that Allah knows what she brought forth. (3:25). Allah knew that He was about to give her daughter Mary a special mission.
Spiritual experiences are outside the realms of reason and logic, and one should not attempt to try to explain such experiences by using mundane arguments. For example, it is not possible to explain rationally how the creation of a person like Jesus is in a way different from the normal process of conception and growth of the zygote into a full human being.
It is therefore incorrect for Maulana Muhammad Ali to say the following:
Jesus was conceived in the ordinary manner and that Mary became a wife and mother in the ordinary way. (Fn. 422)
Allah tells us two things about Mary. These are:
• Allah purified her private part. (69:12) Purification here means that no types of impurities were allowed to enter into her sexual organ. Muslims believe that sperm is a type of impurity and when it comes out of the body that person has to take a bath. Also if it touches the garment, at least, that portion of the garment has to be purified. So that no such a thing was allowed to enter into Mary, as her sexual organ was specially purified against the entry of an impure fluid.
Allah tells us about seminal discharge being impure in the following verse of the Holy Qur'an: O you who believe, go not near to prayer when you are intoxicated until you know what you say, nor after sexual intercourse, except you are merely passing by (the mosque) until you have taken a bath. (4:43). Or, If you are sexually defiled then purify yourself. (5:6)
So Allah preserved Mary from becoming sexually defiled; a process from which a person can conceive.
• The other important thing to understand is what exactly did the angel do to Mary, when he was putting the soul of Jesus into her? According to the Bible, Mary was conceived in the following way: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. (Lk.1:35) This means that Mary was physically overpowered by a being which was not human. Islam does not uphold this particular belief.
There was no need for the angel to have any type of physical contact for the soul of Jesus to enter into her. Allah caused the soul of Adam to enter his body without any kind of contact from the angel. We know that light—x-ray—can pass through the body without any kind of actual contact, or radiation can enter the body without any one actually putting it into the person.
There are angels that enter and leave the body at the will and command of Allah so that Allah can direct any angel to do whatever He wishes.
Allah sent the soul of Adam into his body after the whole body was formed and fashioned. He says: So when I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My Spirit. (15:29). The question is: How did Allah breathed His Spirit into Adam? The Qur'an did not elaborate.
In the same way Allah says about the entry of the soul of Jesus into Mary. He says: And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her private part (in other words, she made it inaccessible for any man): so We breathed into it, (i.e. her private part) from Our Spirit. (69:12)
There was no need for the angel to have any form of contact with Mary in order to do what he had to do. According to some of the scholars he blew into her; he could have stood in front of her and blew into her. There was no need for any physical posture from Mary etc. in order for the angel to blow into her; he blew into the space between her legs.
The soul that entered the body of Mary was not a complete person. So it is not correct when Christians say that God came in the flesh in Mary as the son. What came in Mary was the soul or the Spirit, which was a special creation, just as the soul of Adam was a special creation; and so too the souls of every human being.
Sending the soul of Jesus into Mary, and not creating him completely as a special entity was in order to make Jesus part of the human species. In this way he is part of the progeny of Adam, but only with what he got from his mother.
Perhaps one of the reasons why Jesus was created in this unique way was because of the mission to which he was to be assigned, viz. he came into the world, he was taken up by Allah and he is due to return.
Allah tells us in the Qur'an that Jesus is similar to Adam is some ways: He says:
The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam: He created him (Adam) from dust, (and created Jesus from dust) then said to him, Be and he was. (3:59)
Mary resided in the temple from the age of about three years old to when she was a little more than thirteen. As she grew older and older she became more conservative and never allowed herself to be seen by anyone. When she became pregnant, she kept herself secluded until it was time for to give birth to the one who was designated to be a Sign unto mankind. Allah says:
That We (Allah) may appoint him as a Sign unto men, and in a mercy from Us; it is a thing decreed (19:22)
Mary left the temple a few days before the birth of Jesus, and according to the Qur'an, she went eastwards. Allah says:
And mention in the book of Mary, when she withdrew in seclusion from her family to a place facing east. (19:16)
According to some of the Commentators of the Qur'an, Mary went to a place called Bethlehem. For example, Wahab bin Munabbih said that Mary left and went to a village eight miles away called Bethlehem.
But is this Bethlehem the same as the one mentioned in the Bible. When we look back at the records we will see that at that time there were two places called Bethlehem; one was Bethlehem of Judea and the other is Bethlehem of Galilee (a place near Nazareth).
Bethlehem of Judea, according to archaeological findings did not exist at the time of the birth of Jesus; it existed long before his birth. The other Bethlehem is the one of Galilee. This was a busy Jewish centre, just a few miles from where Mary was while she was in the temple.
Jesus is commonly known as Jesus of Nazareth, that is the place near Bethlehem of Galilee and not the other one. It seems practical that it could have been the Bethlehem of Galilee as the one of Judea is more than a hundred miles away from the temple in which Mary was residing and it would have been impossible for her to travel that distance in a short space of time with her condition.
But there are differences of opinion between the Church's position regarding where Jesus was actually born and that of the Scholars; or among the Conservatives and Liberal thinkers.
The conservative thinkers of the Church uphold that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. This is because both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke support this position. In these Gospels we find the following:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. (Mt.2:1)
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea unto the city of David, which is called the city Bethlehem. (Lk.2:4)
The reason for supporting this position is because of the prediction in the Old Testament of the coming of the one who will rule over Israel. It says:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah.5:2)
Scholars of the Bible agree that there was no place called Bethlehem Ephrathah, as Ephrathah is the name of a clan of Judah and not the name of a place.
The liberals among the scholars do not accept the Church's position that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem of Judea. That is why a lot of the Evangalists commonly say Jesus of Nazareth, this being a place near the Bethlehem of Galilee.
The Gospels of Mark and John seem to support this view as in both Gospels there is the belief that Jesus came from Nazareth and not from the Bethlehem of Judea. We find in them the following;
And he went out from there and came to his own country (i.e. Nazareth), and his disciples follow him. (Mk.6:1)
Others said, this is the Christ. But some said: Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? So there was a division among the people because of him. (Jn.7:41-43)
There is a lot of discussion regarding the location of Mary when Jesus was born. Allah did not give any detail in the Holy Qur'an regarding the exact place. All He says is that she went "to a place facing east".
What is important for us to know at this point in time is that Mary was alone when she was to give birth to Jesus, and it was only the Lord Who was with her, and He assisted her through His angels to have this special person, a Sign to mankind to come into the world.