For over a hundred and thirty years the house of Mary in Ephesus (modern day Selcuk in Turkey) has been a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims. It is believed to have been the last resting place for her and John the beloved disciple of Jesus and was declared a place of pilgrimage by Pope Leo XIII in 1896. Thousands of Muslims visit the house of Mary every year, especially when they have great worries, leaving many prayers and intercessions on a long wall adjacent to the house. In 2006, after Pope Benedict XVI caused much dismay to Muslims in his Regensburg lecture, part of his attempt to mend fences involved visiting the shrine later that year. He acknowledged that it is a place of prayer for Christians and Muslims alike, and in so doing underlined the significance of Mary as a person who offers rich opportunities for reflection on gender, patriarchy and faithfulness across both traditions.
Indeed, this tiny house on top of a hill in Western Turkey is one of many places where Mary is a focus of faith for Islam and Christianity. In Egypt, Muslim witnesses are repeatedly cited by the Coptic church when they are seeking to prove the veracity of appearances of Mary. Similarly in Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan, Marian sites are joint places of pilgrimage, and although growing Wahhabi influence has undermined these acts of collective witness, they remain important.
Muna Tatari and Klaus von Stosch, Mary in the Qur’an, Gingko, London, 2021
Mary is mentioned more in the Qur’an than she is in the Bible. A surah (chapter) is named after her (Maryam), and the miraculous birth of Jesus is narrated twice, in Surah Al ‘Imrān and Surah Maryam, as well as her own birth and childhood in Surah Al ‘Imrān. She is the only woman named in the Qur’an, and her significance as a parallel and forerunner for Muhammad in Qur’anic typology as the bearer of the divinely revealed Word can hardly be underestimated.
But there have been few comparative studies of Mary’s significance for Christians and Muslims. This is surprising, given the increasing amount of good interfaith scholarship, some of which I have reviewed in recent issues of Critical Muslim, most recently ‘Bonding in Abrahamic Faiths’ in CM41: Bodies.