Why Pope Francis’s Claim that the Virgin Mary ‘Unites’ Christians and Muslims Is Wrong

Pope Francis goes to a prison to preach

Catholics may be surprised to learn that the Vatican is exaggerating the similarities between the Virgin Mary and the figure of Mary, Mother of Jesus, as she appears in the Koran and Muslim hadiths (traditions about Muhammad, the founder of Islam).

On May 18 this year, Pope Francis paid a visit to detainees at Verona’s Montorio Prison, and upon bestowing an icon of the Madonna and Child upon the apparently multi-faith jail, he stated to applause that “the figure of Mary is a figure common to both Christianity and Islam. She is a common figure; she unites us all.”

If this seems innocuous, it also falls in line with the Vatican’s many attempts to convince Catholics that Islam is somehow a “sister faith,” when, in fact, Islam appropriates the names and sacred auras of biblical figures, but then recasts them with completely different, anti-biblical attributes.

In early 2021, for example, the Marian academy in Rome launched a 10-week webinar series titled “Mary, a model for faith and life for Christianity and Islam” in collaboration with the Grand Mosque of Rome and the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy.

Based on his belief that Mary is “a Jewish, Christian and Muslim woman,” Catholic priest, Fr. Gian Matteo Roggio, organizer of the Muslim-Catholic initiative, said he hoped to use “Our Lady” as a model of “open borders” between religious and multicultural worlds.

Easier said than done — at least for those still interested in facts.

For starters, the claim that Mary was a “Jewish, Christian and Muslim woman” is only two-thirds true: yes, she was a Jew by race and background; and yes, she was a Christian in that she literally birthed Christ (ianity); but she was most certainly not a Muslim — a term and religion that came into being 600 years after Mary’s life on earth.

Worse, far from being the Eternal Virgin, as she is revered by the 1.5 billion Christians of the Catholic and Orthodox variety, Islam presents Mary, the Mother of Christ, as “married” to Muhammad in paradise — a claim that would seem to sever rather than build “bridges.”

In a hadith that was deemed reliable enough to be included in the corpus of the renowned Ibn Kathir (1300 – 1373), Muhammad declared that “Allah will wed me in paradise to Mary, Daughter of Imran,” whom Muslims identify with Jesus’s mother.

Nor is this just some random, obscure hadith. Dr. Salem Abdul Galil — previously deputy minister of Egypt’s religious endowments for preaching — affirmed its canonicity in 2017 during a live televised Arabic-language program. Among other biblical women (Moses’s sister and Pharaoh’s wife), “our prophet Muhammad — prayers and be upon him — will be married to Mary in paradise,” Galil said.

If few Christians today know about this Islamic claim, medieval Christians living in Muslim-occupied nations were certainly aware of it. There, spiteful Muslims regularly threw it in the face of Catholic and Orthodox Christians who venerated Mary as the “Eternal Virgin.” Thus, Eulogius of Cordoba, an indigenous Christian of Muslim-occupied Spain, once wrote, “I will not repeat the sacrilege which that impure dog [Muhammad] dared proffer about the Blessed Virgin, Queen of the World, holy mother of our venerable Lord and Savior. He claimed that in the next world he would deflower her.”

As usual, it was Eulogius’s offensive words about Muhammad — and not the latter’s obscene words about Mary — that had dire consequences: Eulogius, along with many other Spanish Christians vociferously critical of Muhammad, were found guilty of speaking against Islam and publicly tortured and executed in “Golden Age” Cordoba in 859 AD.

One expects that all of these inconvenient facts will be quietly passed over during the Vatican and Pontifical International Marian Academy’s “outreach” to Muslims. And if raised, no doubt Christians will somehow take the blame, as almost always happens in academic settings.

As one example, after quoting Eulogius’s aforementioned lament against Muhammad’s claim of being married to Mary, John V. Tolan, a professor and member of Academia Europaea, denounced it as an “outrageous claim” of Eulogius’s own “invention.”  He then railed against the martyr — not against his murderers or their prophet:

Eulogius fabricates lies designed to shock his Christian reader. This way, even those elements of Islam that resemble Christianity (such as reverence of Jesus and his virgin mother) are deformed and blackened, so as to prevent the Christian from admiring anything about the Muslim other. The goal is to inspire hatred for the “oppressors”…. Eulogius sets out to show that the Muslim is not a friend but a potential rapist of Christ’s virgins. (Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination, p.93)

As already seen, however, it is Muhammad himself (or, to be strictly accurate, the hadith) — not any “Christian polemicist” — who “fabricates lies designed to shock,” namely that Mary will be his eternal concubine.

This, incidentally, is the main problem the purveyors of “Abrahamism” fail to acknowledge: Islam does not treat biblical characters the way Christianity does.

Christians accept the text of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, as it is.  They do not add, take away, or distort the accounts of the patriarchs that Jews also rely on.

Conversely, while also relying on the figures of the Old and New Testaments — for the weight of antiquity and authority attached to their names — Islam completely recasts them with different attributes that reaffirm Muhammad’s religion as the one true and final “revelation,” as opposed to Judaism and Christianity, whose original biblical accounts on these figures are then seen as “distorted” because they are different from Islam’s later revisions.

Far from creating “commonalities,” it should be clear that such appropriation creates conflict.  By way of analogy, imagine that you have a grandfather whom you are particularly fond of, and out of the blue, a stranger who never even met your grandfather says: “Hey, that’s my grandfather!”  Then — lest you think this stranger is somehow trying to ingratiate himself to you — he adds, “And everything you think grandpa said and did is wrong!  Only I have his true life story.”

Would that create—or rather burn—“bridges” between you and this insolent stranger?

Raymond Ibrahim


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About the Author

Raymond Ibrahim
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/raymond.ibrahim.5 Twitter: @RaymondIbrahim5