Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Chapter Three

Bibi Maryam

Preferred to All Other Women


Mary the Mother of Jesus in the Qur’an

Allah has elected you, purified you and chosen you above the women of the world. Surah 3:41

One of the great anomalies of the Qur’an is that, although it mentions many women individually, it names only one of them – and does so 34 times! The privileged woman is Mary, the mother of Jesus, known in the Qur’an as Maryam, the Arabic form of the original Hebrew Miriam. Most of the occasions in which she is mentioned by name are in the definition the Qur’an constantly gives to Jesus, ibn Maryam – the son of Mary. On a number of occasions he is referred to as ‘Isa ibn Maryam, Jesus, son of Mary. Ironically, despite her equally hallowed status in the New Testament, she is only named 19 times in the Christian scriptures.

The Qur’an says that an angel appeared to Mary and told her that Allah had selected her and chosen her out of all the women in the world. It is probably because of this special privilege that she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Like the story of John the Baptist, in its 3rd and 19th chapters, the Qur’an mentions the birth of Mary, her infancy years, and the circumstances surrounding the birth of her son Jesus, even naming the latter chapter after her, Suratu-Maryam. Once again its scriptural material is almost exclusively drawn from the Gospel of Luke and its proclamation in the verse at the head of this chapter parallels an exclamation in this gospel, although it is Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, who declares to her: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’ (Luke 1:42).

Just as the Qur’an contains the same story about her infancy as the Proto-Gospel of James, but substitutes Zechariah for Joseph as the one into whose care she was placed, so here it substitutes the angel for Elizabeth in declaring her exalted status before God. This is a common irregularity in the Qur’an, showing that the Qur’an is secondary literature in the way it repeats these narratives.

In the Christian scripture the angel says to her ‘Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ (Luke 1:28), going on to tell her ‘you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High’ (Luke 1:32-33). It is no wonder that she was exalted above all other women – who else would ever have the honour of bearing the unique person of the Son of God in her own womb? In the other passage where the birth of Jesus is announced to her in the Qur’an, the angel says to her: ‘I am only a messenger of your Lord to give you a holy child’ (Surah 19:19). The words in Arabic are ghulaman-zakiyyan, meaning literally ‘a little boy, most pure.’ The angel is clearly saying to her that she would experience a very special conception solely because there was something very special about the son she would bear.

The Qur’an has another direct reference to Mary’s conception of Jesus but in a rather strangely-worded text. It reads: ‘And Mary, the daughter of Amran, who guarded her purity, so We breathed into him our inspiration (literally ‘from our spirit’), and she accepted the words of her Lord’ (Surah 66:12). It is unusual to find the word fihi here (‘into him’) rather than fiha (‘into her’) as Jesus is nowhere mentioned in this text or the preceding passage and the Qur’an does not state who the male recipient was into whom the inspiration was breathed.  As the text immediately goes on to address her again one cannot help suspecting that an error in identification is made here, and that it was into Mary (into her) that a spirit from Allah (Jesus) was breathed. This is confirmed in another very similar text: ‘And she who guarded her purity, so We breathed into her from our inspiration (literally ‘spirit’), and made her and her son a sign to the nations’ (Surah 21:91). Here the word used is fiha (‘into her’) – there is clearly a grammatical error in Surah 66:12 which is missing the feminine alif found in Surah 21:91. The latter text is harmonious and makes sense, the former is very confusing even though the two statements are otherwise virtually identical.

What is most interesting, however, is the Quranic dictum that Mary and her son Jesus were a ‘sign’ to the worlds (ayatalil-‘alamin). It is repeated in other passages, for example: ‘And We made the son of Mary and his mother a sign’ (Surah 23:50). The Qur’an constantly links Mary and Jesus together and emphasises the fact that he was her son. In the fifth chapter of the Qur’an we read that Allah will one day say to Jesus: ‘O Jesus, son of Mary, remember my favour to you and to your mother, when I strengthened you with the Holy Spirit’ (Surah 5:113). Two verses later his disciples address him in the same way: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary!’ (Surah 5:115) and, just two verses later again, the Qur’an calls him ‘Jesus the son of Mary’ (Surah 5:117).

The Qur’an venerates John the Baptist, but primarily because he would ‘verify a word from Allah’ (kalimatim-minallah – Surah 3:38), and likewise venerates Mary but, once again, only because Allah had breathed into her ‘from our spirit’ (min-ruwhina – Surah 21:91). Jesus himself, and no one else, is called ‘a Word from him (Allah)’ in the Qur’an (Surah 3:39) and ‘a Spirit from him’ (Surah 4:171) and it is clear that the Qur’an is referring to Jesus in both the declarations to John the Baptist and Mary. They were renowned solely because they were to respectively announce the one who is God’s own Word, and to conceive him from his own Spirit. In both cases the one spoken of, who would accredit them, was Jesus.

A hadith confirms that the birth of Jesus was absolutely unique, not just because he was born of a woman alone, but because he alone was beyond the power of the evil one. It reads: ‘Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The satan touches every son of Adam on the day when his mother gives birth to him with the exception of Mary and her son’ (Sahih Muslim, Vol.4, p.1261). Once again Mary and her son are a sign – but it is the identity and exceptional birth of the son that are its signature. The Christian scripture brings this out very clearly. The angel said to Mary: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born of you will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35).

Significantly although the Qur’an, when announcing the conception of Jesus, says that he and his mother will become a ‘sign’ to the nations, it does not say the same when announcing the unusual birth of John to his parents. Instead the angel said John would testify to Jesus – a clear sign that John was called to be a prophet purely to prepare the way for him, to reveal him as God’s chosen deliverer to the world. Likewise Mary’s role was to give birth in a most unique way (a virgin-birth), an event which would be a sign to the world. What else could that sign have been other than that he was a divine person, from God’s own spirit, coming into the world in a very unique way?

The Qur’an only speaks so prominently of Mary because of her relation to Jesus as his mother. For this reason alone she is the only woman named in the Qur’an and receives a special position and honour. It was all because of Jesus – the one she was privileged to bear and bring forth into the world.

The Infancy Narratives and their Various Sources

In Surahs 3 and 19 the Qur’an supplements its story of the nativity of John the Baptist, Yahya alayhis-salam, with similar stories of Mary’s own nativity as well as that of her unique son, Jesus, ‘Isa alayhis-salam.

The story of Mary’s conception and birth precedes John’s unique birth but is interlinked with it. Her mother, unnamed in the Qur’an but described as the wife of Amran (imra’atu ‘Imran), prayed to Allah: ‘O Lord! I commit to you what is in my womb, devoted (to your service), so accept it from me’ (Surah 3:35). But when she was delivered of her child, she exclaimed ‘O Lord! I have brought it forth a female!’ She added: ‘I have named her Mary and commend her and her offspring to your protection from Satan the stoned’ (Surah 3:36).

According to the Qur’an, as we have seen, she was delivered to the care of Zakariya, who was to become the father of Yahya, John the Baptist. The only other incident in her youth that the Qur’an mentions is that, when he entered her ‘sanctuary’ (mihrab, a chamber), he found her supplied miraculously with food. When he questioned her as to its source, Mary replied ‘It is from the realms of Allah, indeed Allah provides of his bounty to whom he pleases without reckoning’ (Surah 3:37). Mary’s nativity is not mentioned in Surah 19 even though the chapter is named after her.

The historical source of this narrative, which has no parallel in the canonical gospels, is once again the apocryphal Proto-Gospel of James which embellished Luke’s nativity chapters with later legendary material. This text names Mary’s father Joachim and her mother Annah (which would have been Hannah in Hebrew). The nativity narrative says that she was barren just as Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was. She bewailed her infertility, exclaiming that even the ground which delivers its produce in its season was more productive than her.

An angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and said to Anna: ‘the Lord has heard your prayer. You will conceive a child and give birth, and your offspring will be spoken of throughout the entire world.’ Anna replied that, whether the child was to be male or female, she would dedicate it to God and it would minister to him throughout its life (AG, p.41). When she was delivered of the child, her mid-wife said ‘it is a girl’ to which Anna replied: ‘My soul is exalted today’ (AG, p.47).

From there on her mother kept her in a sanctuary in her bedroom and nursed her there continuously until they took her to the Temple in Jerusalem where Anna fulfilled her promise and committed her daughter to the Lord. This is the source of the Qur’an’s statement that she was kept in a mihrab, a sanctuary. The Proto-Gospel continues: ‘Mary was in the Temple of the Lord, cared for like a dove, receiving her food from the hand of an angel’ (AG, p.49). This is likewise the source of the Qur’an’s statement, also unparalleled in the canonical gospels, to the effect that Mary’s food came from above. The Qur’an repeats this in its own words, saying it came ‘indi Allah, ‘from near to Allah.’

Another apocryphal gospel, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, compiled in the third century after the time of Jesus, also repeats this legendary story. It condenses the story in the Proto-Gospel of James and probably also derived it from this source. It says: ‘After these things, when her nine months were complete, Anna brought forth a daughter and named her Mary. When Anna finished nursing her in her third year, Joachim and Anna his wife went up together to the Temple of the Lord’ (AG, p.85). It also contains the story of Mary’s sustenance, which also appears in the Qur’an and the Proto-Gospel of James: ‘From three o’clock onward, again, she did not stop until an angel of God appeared to her and she received some food from his hand’ (AG, p.87).

It is quite obvious that the Qur’an derives its material for the life of Jesus not only from the canonical gospels, the historical records of Jesus’ life and ministry contemporary with the lifetime of most of his immediate disciples, but also from legendary and popular contrived stories appearing in folklore compiled more than two centuries later, such as the Proto-Gospel of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.

The nativity story of Jesus follows much the same pattern. When the angels said to Mary that ‘verily Allah announces to you a Word from Him whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary (al-Masihu ‘Isa ibn-Maryam),’ they added that ‘he will speak to the people in his cradle (fi’l-mahd) and in his old age’ (Surah 3:46). Once again there is no biblical parallel for the announcement that Jesus would speak in infancy from his cradle, yet the Qur’an repeats this in its second nativity passage. When her neighbours presumed she had conceived Jesus out of wedlock, they reproached her, saying that her parents were neither wicked nor unchaste (Surah 19:28), to which Mary responded by pointing to her baby. They exclaimed ‘How can we speak to one who is a little child (as-sabiy) in the cradle?’ (Surah 19:29). He then exclaimed from the cradle: ‘I am indeed a servant of Allah (inni ‘abdullah),’ going on to define himself in various terms (Surah 19:30-32).

Here the immediate source is another apocryphal work, this time the book known as the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy (because the manuscript of this infancy pseudo-gospel is significantly only known from an Arabic text). This pseudo-gospel is known to have been written around the 4th century after Christ. Here the narrative begins by saying that Jesus spoke from the cradle (fi’l-mahd), saying ‘I am Jesus, the Son of God (anna huwa Yasu’ ibnullah)’ (EI, p.4). It is obviously the direct source of the Qur’an’s statement that Jesus spoke from the cradle, with the Qur’an having adapted its text to redefine Jesus purely as a servant of God, but both of them have another source behind it.

The Buddhist texts Buddha Carita and Lalita Vistara, both written long before the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy and the Qur’an, say that immediately after his birth Buddha walked seven steps towards each quarter of the horizon and, at each point, a lotus flower suddenly appeared at his feet. As he looked at each of them the infant Buddha exclaimed ‘In all the world I am chief.’ Another Buddhist source, in Chinese Sanskrit, also confirms that Buddha could speak fluently at his birth. Buddhism spread to what is today Afghanistan as well as to other regions in the Middle East by the 4th century and these narratives would have been well-known, hence their repetition in the infancy gospel and the Qur’an. Jesus conveniently became the enlightened one who spoke from the cradle.

The Qur’an adds that Jesus would declare that he heals the blind, and the leprous, and would bring the dead to life. The one specific miracle the Qur’an declares he would perform is this one: ‘I create for you out of the dust the form of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by the permission of Allah’ (Surah 3:49). Once again this has no parallels in the earliest historical records of Jesus’ life, but it also appears in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy (EI, p.112) and in another apocryphal work, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the well-known Gnostic pseudo-gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, found at Nag Hammadi).

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is entirely apocryphal. None of the signs Jesus performs have canonical parallels, and some attribute to him a ruthlessness and malice unknown from the original gospels. On one occasion a son of Annas scattered the water Jesus had gathered from a pool. Jesus shouted at him: ‘You unrighteous, irreverent idiot! What did the pools of water do to harm you? See, now you will also be withered like a tree, and you will never bear leaves, or root or fruit.’ Immediately the child withered and died. Annas subsequently accused Joseph, his father, saying: ‘What kind of child do you have who does such things?’ (AG, p.11). On another occasion, when a young child bumped into Jesus, he said to him: ‘You will go no further on your way’ at which the child fell down and died (AG, p.13).

The story of the birds made from the dust reads as follows: ‘He then made some soft mud and fashioned twelve sparrows from it. It was the Sabbath when he did this. There were also a number of children playing with him.’ When Joseph came to see what was happening he cried out to Jesus: ‘Why are you doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath?’ Jesus, however, clapped his hands and said to the clay birds: ‘Be gone!’ at which they took off, chirping as they went (AG, p.11).

There is abundant evidence that, apart from the Gospel of Luke (the Qur’an’s prime biblical source for accurate records of the early years of Jesus’ life), the Qur’an has also relied heavily on mythical, legendary and other forms of folklore for its teaching about Jesus. Its dependence on Luke’s Gospel alone is confirmed by another apocryphal work which is based primarily on the Gospel of Matthew and which has no parallels in the Qur’an. The book is the History of Joseph the Carpenter.

This book is also partly dependent on the Proto-Gospel of James, but here Joseph becomes the key figure in the nativity and infancy narratives, as he does in Matthew’s gospel. Joseph awakes from a dream and does as the angel commands him after being told not to fear to take Mary as his wife because she has conceived from the Holy Spirit (AG p.167, Matthew 1:20-24). Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt until Herod died (AG, p.169, Matthew 2:14,19). When they returned to Galilee they dwelt in Nazareth (AG, p.169, Matthew 2:23). None of these facts is mentioned in the Qur’an.

There is abundant circumstantial evidence from the Qur’an that its author was probably entirely unaware that Mary was married to Joseph. He is not mentioned in the book or even alluded to at any point. In the story of Mary being committed to another’s care as she grew up, the Qur’an substitutes Zechariah for Joseph (whom the Proto-Gospel of James not only names as her protector but quotes at some length). Jesus is always deliberately defined as the son of Mary alone, obviously because of his virgin-birth, but the Qur’an nowhere calls him ‘the carpenter’s son’ as Matthew does (Matthew 13:55). The Qur’an knows none of Mary’s other children, unlike Matthew’s gospel which names four of his brothers and adds an undefined number of sisters as well (Matthew 13:55-56).

The Qur’an says: ‘And We made the son of Mary and his mother a sign, and We gave them a refuge on elevated ground with meadows and springs’ (Surah 23:5). Were the two of them always alone together with no other family members with them? James the brother of Jesus became one the most prominent leaders of the early church in Jerusalem. Even the Gnostics named a book after him, the Secret Book of James, and called him ‘James the Just’ in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (NHS, p.141). Significantly the Qur’an’s prime canonical source, the Gospel of Luke, focuses on Mary in its nativity story and does not mention any of Jesus’ brothers by name as Matthew does.

There is yet another story in the Qur’an regarding Jesus’ infancy that has no parallel in any of the historical records of Jesus’ life (the canonical gospels) but is based on a legendary, apocryphal source. The Qur’an says that Mary withdrew to a remote place with her infant son Jesus (Surah 19:22), said in the apocryphal Latin Infancy Gospel to have been a cave which began to shine as if it was noon the moment Mary entered it (AG, p.123). The relevant narrative follows: ‘And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She said: “Oh, I wish I had died before this and become something forgotten!” But (a voice) cried from beneath her: “Grieve not! Indeed your Lord has provided a stream beneath you. And shake towards yourself the palm-tree, it will let fall fresh dates upon you”’ (Surah 19:23-25).

The apocryphal source is the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, a 3rd century composition partly based on the Proto-Gospel of James. It says: ‘Mary was weary from too much sun in the wilderness, and seeing a palm-tree she wanted to rest awhile in its shade’ (AG, p.107). Joseph led her to it and, when she saw it was in fruit, she said ‘If only I could get some of that fruit from the palm!’ Joseph, however, pointed out that the palm-tree was too high and that they had also run out of water. The infant Jesus, however, cried out: ‘Bend down, O tree, and refresh my mother from your fruit.’ Immediately it bowed down and they all gathered its fruit. Jesus them commanded it to stand erect again and to open the springs of water hidden in its roots. The waters immediately came forth, ‘clear, cold, and very sweet’ (AG, p.109).

Once again we have a narrative in the Qur’an based on an apocryphal text. The Qur’an draws the provision of both dates and water from the palm-tree from the legend in the Pseudo-Gospel, but (as it so often does), it varies the story and makes Mary reach its fruit simply by shaking the tree. It is quite clear, however, that the Qur’an is a secondary and modified source of the story and treats the original legendary event as one true to history, authenticated by a divinely-revealed text!

Miriam the Sister of Aaron

The nativity story of Jesus in the Qur’an begs further scrutiny, especially when we read that Mary’s kinsfolk reacted very negatively when she returned home, carrying the infant Jesus with her. They said to her: ‘O Mary, you have brought a strange thing! O sister of Aaron, your father was not an evil man, nor was your mother an impure woman!’ (Surah 19:27-28). The interesting expression here is the way they defined her, calling her ukhta Harun, the ‘sister of Aaron.’ Harun in the Qur’an is undoubtedly Aaron, the brother of Moses. The Qur’an says that when Moses prayed to Allah before going down to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, he appealed to him: ‘Give me a helper from my people, Aaron my brother’ (Surah 20:29-30). The Arabic words are Harun akhi. Once again the Qur’an varies the original story, for in the historical record of this interaction Moses simply said to God: ‘Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person’ (Exodus 4:13). God answered him: ‘Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well; and behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart’ (Exodus 4:14).

Why would the Qur’an call Mary, the mother of Jesus, the sister of Aaron also? Aaron lived centuries before her. Was this just a colloquial way of describing her in the same way that Jesus had been called both the son of David and the son of Abraham in the Christian scriptures (Matthew 1:1)? One has to first consider the fact that there was a real sister of Aaron called Miriam, the same name as Mary’s in the original Hebrew. Added to this is the interesting fact that she was actually also called the ‘sister of Aaron’ in this verse: ‘Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing’ (Exodus 15:20).

The likelihood that Miriam, the mother of Jesus, has been confused with Miriam, the sister of Aaron, is increased when we discover who her father was. Speaking of the Levitical families Moses wrote: ‘And Kohath was the father of Amran. The name of Amran’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amran Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister’ (Numbers 26:58-59). In the Qur’an, as we have seen, Mary’s mother is called the ‘wife of Amran’ (imra’atu ‘Imran – Surah 3:35). This makes Mary the daughter of Amran, and so the Miriam in the Qur’an is not only the sister of Aaron but also the daughter of Amran, which is precisely what Miriam, the real sister of Aaron, was! The Qur’an actually calls Mary, the mother of Jesus, Maryam abnata ‘Imran (Surah 66:12), ‘Mary the daughter of Amran’, confirming the conflation of the two Miriams.

It is significant to find that, during his lifetime, the Christians of Najran, a settlement south of Mecca, challenged Muhammad on this obvious anachronism. The hadith record follows: ‘Mughira b. Shu’ba reported: When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me: you read “O sister of Harun” (i.e. Hadrat Maryam in the Qur’an), whereas Moses was born much before Jesus. When I came back to Allah’s messenger (may peace be upon him) I asked him about that, whereupon he said: The people (of the old age) used to give names to their persons after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them’ (Sahih Muslim, Vol.3, p.1169).

Muhammad’s response is not convincing. No one else in the Qur’an is described as the sister of an ancestor. It was common for Jewish people to be defined as sons or daughters of ancestors (Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, is called one of the ‘daughters of Aaron’ – Luke 1:5), but they were always actually descended from the patriarch named and were never called their brothers or sisters. It must not be forgotten that there really was a Miriam, sister of Aaron, and this suggests very strongly that the Qur’an was confusing the two Miriams. Interestingly, whenever the Qur’an uses the word ukhtun elsewhere, it is always in the direct context of a literal sister (Surah 4:12,23,176).

What confirms the anachronism here conclusively is the fact that the two Miriams were actually descended from different ancestors. The Levites, including the whole family of Amran (Jochebed, Moses, Aaron and Miriam), were descended from Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Only the Levites could serve as priests in Israel. Mary, however, was descended from Judah, one of Jacob’s other sons. This is strongly confirmed in the Book of Hebrews which contrasts the genealogical line of Jesus with that of Aaron and the other Levitical priests: ‘For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests’ (Hebrews 7:14). Both the genealogies of Jesus confirm that he was descended from Judah through David’s line (Matthew 1:2, Luke 3:33). Mary can therefore in no way whatsoever have legitimately been called the sister of Aaron, not even colloquially. Only Miriam, the real sister of Aaron, could have correctly been so described.

This is not the only anachronism in the Quranic account of Mary’s nativity and the subsequent nativity of Jesus. The Qur’an says that the wife of Amran prayed to God and devoted the child in her womb to him, namely Mary (Surah 3:35). There is no canonical parallel for this statement, but a closer examination of the Proto-Gospel of James, the source of this story, shows how it is based on another confusion of personalities who both had the same name. Here the mother of Mary is called Anna and she answered the angel who promised a child to her: ‘As the Lord lives, whether my child is a boy or girl, I will offer it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it will minister to him its entire life’ (AG, p.41).

Many centuries earlier Hannah, one of the two wives of Elkanah, a faithful worshipper of the Lord, had been unable to bear children. She prayed to God: ‘O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your maidservant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazarite until the day of his death’ (1 Samuel 1:11). When her son Samuel was duly born Hannah presented him to the Lord, saying: ‘I have lent him to the Lord, for as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord’ (1 Samuel 1:28).

One has to ask how this anachronism arose, as the mother of Mary is not named in the canonical gospels and was only later named Anna (Hannah in Hebrew) in the legendary apocryphal gospels. Both women, the mother of Samuel and the mother of Mary, each named Hannah, devoted their child to the Lord. Mary herself is said in the Proto-Gospel to have spent the first twelve years of her life in her mihrab (sanctuary) before Joseph took her into his care and looked after her (AG, p.49-51).

A passage from the Gospel of Luke shows where the anachronism came from: ‘And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day’ (Luke 2:36-37). It was this Hannah who was worshipping and fasting daily in the temple, not Mary the mother of Jesus. She was, in Christian folklore some centuries after Jesus, confused with the Hannah who had prayed for the child Samuel and from this misidentification the story arose that Hannah had prayed for the birth of her child Mary, and she became the one devoted to the Temple.

The anachronism is compounded further by the disclosure in the Proto-Gospel that an angel had fed Mary daily in her chamber – here the incident is confused with the time when Elijah the prophet was fed daily by ravens in the desert (1 Kings 17:6). The problem is that all these conflations (Hannah, Miriam the sister of Aaron, etc.) and anachronisms found their way into the Qur’an as part of what Muslims believe to be the inspired Word of God! And here, too, the anachronisms and confusions simply became further compounded.