Does the Quran really support the Virgin Birth of Jesus?
By Siraj Islam
The Virgin Birth is the doctrine that Jesus was miraculously begotten by God through the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary without the agency of a human father.
Traditional Muslims, while sharing this common belief with traditional Christians, derive it from Quranic texts misinterpreted by Islamic secondary sources that were impregnated with Christian influences during the earlier Islamic centuries.
But does the Quran really support the virgin birth of Jesus?
Let us go through a few observations
The Quran makes an analogy between the nature of Jesus and the nature of Adam (Adam is a mythical name for all humans), both being ‘created out of dust’ (3:59).
However, contrary to popular belief, this is not exclusive to Jesus since the Quran also speaks of every human (Adam) as created in the same way, ‘out of dust’ (18:37, 22:5, 30:20, 35:11, 40:67). Thus this stress on the Adamness (humanness) of Jesus – with no reference to any special birth – simply reminds us of the common humble origin of all humans, including Jesus.
The Quran maintains that Jesus resembled Adam, both being created through the process of “kun fayakoon” (“‘Be’, and it becomes”, 3:59).
But this too is not specific to Jesus since the Quran also speaks of all humans (Adam) as created through the same process of “kun fayakoon” (40:67-68). Please note that, while the divine command “Be” is beyond the physical dimension of time, its effect “and it becomes”, when actualized in the domain of temporal succession, cannot be instantaneous or mutually exclusive from the concept of evolution.
The Quran uses the term ‘word’ (‘kalimah’) for Jesus (3:45, 4:171).
But this again is not unique to Jesus. The same term is used also for John (3:39) as well as for everything in the world (18:109, 31:27). In fact, ‘word’ (‘kalimah’) is often used in the Quran to denote an announcement from God, or a statement of His will, or His promise (e.g., 4:171, 6:34, 6:115, 10:64, 18:27).
The Quran describes Mary as one ‘who guarded her chastity’ (21:91, 66:12).
But once again, as opposed to the traditional misunderstanding, this doesn’t indicate ‘virgin birth’. While confirming Mary’s purity and abstinence from immorality (e.g. by marriage, which is another meaning of ‘ahsanat’, guarded, protected, married, 21:91, 66:12; cf. 4:24, 4:25, 5:5 etc), this is no more than a rejection of the calumny that the birth of Jesus was the product of an illicit union (4:156, 19:27- 28).
The Quran uses the expression ‘We breathed into her of Our spirit’ as a reference to Mary’s conception of Jesus (21:91).
However, widely misinterpreted, this too is not relating only to the birth of Jesus. The Quran uses the same expression ‘breathed into … of Our spirit’ in three other places with reference to the creation of man in general (15:29, 32:9, 38:72), thus making it clear that God ‘breathes of His spirit’ into every human. This also clarifies that the divine spirit (‘OUR SPIRIT’) that was ‘sent’ to Mary through a male human form, in fact refers to a real, mortal man (19:17; cf. 4:171).
The Quran states that Mary expressed surprise at the announcement of Jesus’ birth to her (“How can I have a son when no man has touched me, nor am I a desirer?” 19:20; cf. 3:47).
But this too, once again, is not exclusive to Jesus. This surprise expressed by Mary is exactly parallel to the surprise expressed by Zachariah at the announcement of John’s birth to him, only in a few verses earlier (“How can I have a son when my wife is infertile, and I became so old?” 19:8). Also the description around Mary’s surprise (19:16-34) is similar and parallel to the description around Zachariah’s (19:2-15).
Both these instances are meant to emphasize God’s unlimited creative power, specifically His power to create the circumstances whereby divine will can manifest itself, however unexpected or seemingly improbable at the time of the announcement. Clearly, God creates these circumstances through a causally determined sequence of events, i.e. through His ‘laws of nature’, which are made perfectly accurate and absolutely immutable to avoid any chaos in the natural order (17:77, 33:38, 33:62, 35:43, 40:85, 48:23; 6:34, 6:115, 10:64, 18:27; cf. 4:26, 3:137).
For example, in the case of Zachariah’s wife, her infertility was treated that made her fit for childbearing (21:90). And in the case of Mary, the hurdles were removed for her to go out of the convent (3:44): thus she abandoned monasticism in response to the divine direction (3:42-47, 66:12) and entered a conjugal relationship (19:16-22), like others, bowing together to the natural design that is ordained for average humans (3:43).
The Quran confirms this actual spousal relationship of Mary with a real, mortal man, in many ways, e.g.: ♦ The Quran insistently maintains that creation is invariably through the UNION OF OPPOSITES (6:101, 7:189, 36:36, 42:11, 51:49, 53:45-46, 76:2). Note: This same natural process, where no one can have a child without having a sexual counterpart, also involves the birth of Jesus: “Originator of the Heavens and the Earth, how can He have a son when He never took a mate?” 6:101. ♦ The Quran narrates events when Mary left behind her monastic life (3:42-47) and went to live in an eastern location unattended by her people (19:16-17). Note: the prelude of the pregnancy required a PRECONDITION like this. ♦ The Quran then graphically portrays, with remarkable sophistication, how Mary’s pregnancy was initiated by her meeting there with ‘a full-grown man’ (19:17), who ‘gave her a pure son’ (19:19; 19:16-28). Note: the initiation of the pregnancy required a FULL-GROWN MALE, not a child or a female. ♦ The Quran obliquely mentions JESUS’ FATHER: “And Zachariah and John, and Jesus, and Elias … and from their fathers …” 6:85-87. Note: The Quran would specifically exclude Jesus from this list if it rejected his father.
We cannot get in the Quran any support for the Virgin Birth of Jesus unless our minds are preconditioned by the influence of secondary sources that were impregnated with conventional Christian ideas during the earlier Islamic centuries.
Further reading: The spirit-bearing man who gave Mary a pure son was a real, mortal man