Item Number: 626
Manuscript Leaflet: Surat Mariam (Mary)
Origin: North Africa; Possibly Tunisia
Size: 235 X 190
Frame: Dark brown wood
Handwritten Maghrebi Qur’an manuscript leaf, possibly from Tunisia, dated 1825, of Surat Marian (Mary). It is a fragment of Quran containing religious commentary. It consists of fifteen lines written in a simple Maghribi script in red and black inks on a laid paper. Throughout the text there are numerous gilded points and rosettes and other marginal ornamentals.
Maryam is a Makkan sūrah believed to have been revealed after Sūrah 35, Fāṭir, although some report that vv. 58 and 71 were revealed in Madinah. The sūrah is named for Mary (Maryam ) the mother of Jesus, whose story it recounts in detail. This is the only sūrah named for a female figure, and indeed Mary has the distinction of being the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran; other female figures are identified only by their relation to others, such as the wife of Adam and the mother of Moses, or by their title, such as the Queen of Sheba.
Since nearly all named figures in the Quran are considered prophets, and since Mary receives the message about her miraculous conception of Jesus, identified as God’s “Word,” from the Archangel Gabriel, the angel of revelation, a small minority of Islamic authorities, such as the Andalusian theologian Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064) and the Persian Sufi Rūzbihān al-Baqlī (d. 606/1209), consider her to be a female prophet. However, since Mary is not explicitly identified as a prophet in the Quran and Islamic tradition generally holds that all prophets are male (based on the description of prophets as “men” in 12:109), most Muslim authorities do not consider Mary a prophet, but rather an exceptionally pious woman with the highest spiritual rank among women. In a ḥadīth, the Prophet names Mary as one of the four spiritually perfected women of the world.
Mary represents a unique point of connection between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. She was born into a priestly Jewish family and dedicated to service in the Temple, but she was also the mother of Jesus and thus plays a central and miraculous role in the establishment of Christianity. In the Quran, Mary’s importance is indicated by the fairly substantial detail with which her story is recounted, both here and in 3:35– 48. She also plays a role of significance in certain forms of Islamic piety.
This sūrah is reported to have played an important role in the history of the early Islamic community. After the Battle of Badr, in which many prominent Makkans were killed, the Makkan leaders sent a delegation to the Negus, the Christian king of Abyssinia, who had given refuge to a small group of the Prophet’s followers. The Makkan delegation demanded that the king hand over some of these Muslims, so that they could exact retribution upon them for the loss of those Makkans who died at Badr. The Negus summoned a delegation of the Muslims and asked them to recite something from the revelations that had been sent to the Prophet Muhammad. Jaʿ far ibn Abī Ṭ ālib (d. 7/629), the Prophet’s cousin and older brother of ʿ Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, came forth and recited from this sūrah . Upon hearing the Quran’s words regarding Mary and Jesus, the Negus and the religious leaders of his court began to weep profusely and refused to hand over the Muslims, indicating that the religious teachings of the Quran were deeply related to those of the Christian faith.
Maryam has several unique characteristics that give it a distinct linguistic and thematic unity. It is one of the longest sūrah s to have a clearly defined rhyming pattern; sixty-seven of its ninety-eight verses end with the same final sound, and other, shorter passages contain separate, but related, rhyming patterns. Also in this sūrah, God is repeatedly and most commonly referred to by the Divine Name al-Raḥ mān (“the Compassionate”); nearly a third of all instances of this Divine Name in the Quran (i.e., other than in the opening basmalah formula) are located in this sūrah alone.
The sūrah begins with substantial accounts of the related figures of Zachariah and John (vv. 2– 15) and of Mary and Jesus (vv. 16– 36), followed by more succinct accounts of Abraham (vv. 41– 50) and Moses (vv. 51– 53). These four accounts bear some common thematic elements, including God’s bestowal of prophetic children or relatives upon other prophets or sacred figures: God grants John to Zachariah, Jesus to Mary, Isaac and Jacob to Abraham, and Aaron to his brother Moses. In all four accounts these Divine “gifts” are granted only after Zachariah, Mary, Abraham, and Moses withdraw from their people and enter a state of separation from the world. The juxtaposition of speaking and silence also ties the accounts together: Zachariah and Mary’s temporary silence (vv. 10– 11, 26) is complemented by the infant Jesus’ miraculous ability to speak (vv. 29– 33).
These four accounts are followed by a brief mention of other prophetic figures, including Ishmael (vv. 54– 55) and Idrīs (vv. 56– 57), and then by a warning that many who came after these prophets went astray and that only those who repent, believe, and work righteousness will enter the Garden (vv. 58– 63). After a reminder in v. 64 that revelation only comes to the Prophet by God’s Command, the sūrah proceeds to address the criticisms leveled against the Prophet and the Quranic message (vv. 65– 82). Vv. 88– 95 issue a strong rejection of the claims of those who say that God has begotten a child. The sūrah concludes in v. 98 with a sobering observation about the utter silence of earlier generations destroyed by God for their wrongdoing, from whom one no longer hears even the slightest sound.
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