Mary, the sister of Aaron, in the Qur'an

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The author of the Qur'an seems to understand Mary the mother of Jesus to be the same as Miriam the sister of Aaron (and of Moses), which is not possible, because Miriam lived about a thousand years before Mary. It seems that Muhammad mixed together Mary and Miriam when he was making up the Qur'an. They are both called by the same name مريم (Miryam) in Arabic.

Sources[edit]

Qur'an[edit]

Mary, the mother of Jesus is called sister of Aaron in sura 19:

Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing.

(19:28) O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot.

Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, a young boy?

He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet,

And hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and hath enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive,

And (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest.

Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!

Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt.


The Qur'an says that the wife of Imran gave birth to the virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus.

(Remember) when the wife of 'Imran said: My Lord! I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower!

And when she was delivered she said: My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female - Allah knew best of what she was delivered - the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast.

And her Lord accepted her with full acceptance and vouchsafed to her a goodly growth; and made Zachariah her guardian. Whenever Zachariah went into the sanctuary where she was, he found that she had food. He said: O Mary! Whence cometh unto thee this (food)? She answered: It is from Allah. Allah giveth without stint to whom He will.

Then Zachariah prayed unto his Lord and said: My Lord! Bestow upon me of Thy bounty goodly offspring. Lo! Thou art the Hearer of Prayer.

And the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) John, (who cometh) to confirm a word from Allah lordly, chaste, a prophet of the righteous.

He said: My Lord! How can I have a son when age hath overtaken me already and my wife is barren? (The angel) answered: So (it will be). Allah doeth what He will.

He said: My Lord! Appoint a token for me. (The angel) said: The token unto thee (shall be) that thou shalt not speak unto mankind three days except by signs. Remember thy Lord much, and praise (Him) in the early hours of night and morning.

And when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah hath chosen thee and made thee pure, and hath preferred thee above (all) the women of creation.

O Mary! Be obedient to thy Lord, prostrate thyself and bow with those who bow (in worship).

This is of the tidings of things hidden. We reveal it unto thee (Muhammad). Thou wast not present with them when they threw their pens (to know) which of them should be the guardian of Mary, nor wast thou present with them when they quarrelled (thereupon).

(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah).

He will speak unto mankind in his cradle and in his manhood, and he is of the righteous.

She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me? He said: So (it will be). Allah createth what He will. If He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.


Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also called "daughter of Imran" in sura 66:

And Mary, daughter of 'Imran, whose body was chaste, therefor We breathed therein something of Our Spirit. And she put faith in the words of her Lord and His scriptures, and was of the obedient.

Imran is an Arabic form of the name Amram. Amram was the father of Moses, Aaron and Miriam [1]. So the Qur'an mentions Mary in the same family relationship as Miriam.

Hadith[edit]

The Christians of Najran found this mistake in the time of Muhammad. They asked Muhammad's companion about it and he didn't have a clue. He asked Muhammad and he gave him this answer:

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 (ﷺ) 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.

Harun is an Arabic form of Aaron. His answer was that she was only called "sister of Aaron" and the reason is that Aaron was a pious man who lived a thousand years before her.

His answer seems to be an excuse, because the Christians, Muhammad's companions and even Aisha, all understood the Qur'an to mean she is literally the sister of Aaron. Tafsir Ibn Kathir in its non-abridged Arabic version says this:

وَقَالَ اِبْن جَرِير حَدَّثَنِي يَعْقُوب حَدَّثَنَا اِبْن عُلَيَّة عَنْ سَعِيد بْن أَبِي صَدَقَة عَنْ مُحَمَّد بْن سِيرِينَ قَالَ أُنْبِئْت أَنَّ كَعْبًا قَالَ إِنَّ قَوْله : " يَا أُخْت هَارُون " لَيْسَ بِهَارُون أَخِي مُوسَى قَالَ فَقَالَتْ لَهُ عَائِشَة كَذَبْت قَالَ يَا أُمّ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِنْ كَانَ النَّبِيّ صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَهُ فَهُوَ أَعْلَم وَأَخْبَر وَإِلَّا فَإِنِّي أَجِد بَيْنهمَا سِتّمِائَةِ سَنَة قَالَ فَسَكَتَتْ وَفِي هَذَا التَّارِيخ نَظَر


It was narrated from Ibn Jarir, narrated from Yaqub, narrated from Ibn U’laya, narrated from Sa’id Ibn Abi Sadaqa, narrated from Muhammad Ibn Sireen who stated that he was told that Ka’b said the verse that reads, "O sister of Harun (Aaron)!" (of Sura 19:28) does not refer to Aaron the brother of Moses. Aisha replied to Ka’b, "You have lied." Ka’b responded, "O Mother of the believers! If the prophet, may Allah’s prayers be upon him, has said it, and he is more knowledgeable, then this is what he related. Besides, I find the difference in time between them (Jesus and Moses) to be 600 years." He said that she remained silent.
Tafsir Ibn Kathir (non-abridged) on 19:28 [2]

So even Aisha understood the Qur'an to mean that Mary, the mother of Jesus was a sister of Aaron and Moses.

If really people used to name people after pious people who lived before them and Mary was called "sister of Aaron", why didn't Aisha nor Muhammad's companion nor the Christians knew about it?

Christian sources[edit]

Miriam, Aaron and Moses were the children of Amram (Imran in Arabic):

The children of Amram: Aaron, Moses and Miriam.
1 Chronicles 6:3 [3]

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the daughter of Joachim and she was from the family of David (not Aaron):

THE blessed and ever glorious Virgin Mary, sprung from the royal race and family of David, was born in the city of Nazareth, and educated at Jerusalem, in the temple of the Lord. Her father's name was Joachim, and her mother's Anna. The family of her father was of Galilee and the city of Nazareth. The family of her mother was of Bethlehem.
The gospel of the birth of Mary, 1:1-2 [4]

Apologetic arguments[edit]

Ibn Kathir gave the following explanation in his tafsir:

(O sister of Harun!) referring to the brother of Musa, because she was of his descendants. This is similar to the saying, `O brother of Tamim,' to one who is from the Tamimi tribe, and `O brother of Mudar,' to one who is from the Mudari tribe. It has also been said that she was related to a righteous man among them whose name was Harun and she was comparable to him in her abstinence and worship.

Since he put two possible solutions for this problem, he was probably not sure about any of them. Otherwise he would put just one (either she is a descendant "sister" of Aaron or she had an actual brother coincidentally called Aaron).

"Sister of Aaron means a descendant of Aaron"[edit]

The Qur'an literally says "sister (أُخْتَ) of Aaron" and people understood the verse to literally mean "sister of Aaron". Only when Muhammad came to know that it was wrong, the meaning changed into "a descendant of Aaron". In the Christian sources she is said to be from the family of David, so why is the Qur'an saying she is from the family of Aaron? Some apologists point out that in Luke 1:5, Elizabeth is said to be a descendant of Aaron and in Luke 1:36 Mary is said to be a cousin or relative of Mary [5]. But just because Mary is a cousin or somehow related to Elizabeth, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are both descendants of Aaron.

If Mary was known to be a descendant of Aaron, then why the Arab Christians (and Aisha and Mughira b. Shu'ba) from Muhammad's time didn't know about it?

This also doesn't explain why in the 3rd sura she is described as an actual daughter of Amram.

"Mary coincidentally had a father called Imran and a brother called Aaron"[edit]

Christian sources say her father was named Joachim and they don't mention she had a brother called Aaron. And if she had a brother called Aaron, then the question still is, why is she called "sister of Aaron"? If her brother is so important that he had to be mentioned with her name, why don't we hear more about him? It is more probable that the author of the Qur'an thought that she really is the sister of Aaron and Moses and so in the Qur'an people called her "sister of Aaron" to emphasize her social status.

O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot.

In other words, the people asked "How can you have a baby without a husband, when you are from such a moral family".

Conclusion[edit]

Miriam was the daughter of Amram and a sister of Aaron. The Qur'an describes Mary, the mother of Jesus, as being a daughter of Amram and a sister of Aaron - in the same family relationship as Miriam. Many people, including Aisha, understood Mary and Miriam to be the same person, based on their understanding of the Qur'anic text.

When Christians criticized the verse which calls Mary "sister of Aaron" in the Qur'an, Muhammad's response was that "people were named after pious persons who lived before them". Islamic scholars concluded that Mary was either called "sister of Aaron" because she was his descendant or she had a brother coincidentally called Aaron. Both these solutions seem to be inventions, because Mary was not known to be a descendant of Aaron and she was not known to have a brother called "Aaron". On the other hand Miriam was well-known to be a sister of Aaron.

Since Mary and Miriam are both pronounced Miryam in Arabic, it seems probable, that Muhammad, based on the Christian stories he heard,[6] mixed these two women into one person, when he was making up the Qur'an.

See Also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. 1 Chronicles 6:3, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Chronicles+6:3&version=NIV
  2. http://quran.al-islam.com/Page.aspx?pageid=221&BookID=11&Page=1
  3. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Chronicles+6:3&version=NIV
  4. http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/lbob/lbob05.htm
  5. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+1
  6. For example from Waraqa ibn Nawfal.