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Kathryn Jean Lopez / May 28, 2017

The Example of Mary

“In the whole Qur’an, which has more than six thousand verses, there is only one woman mentioned by name. … And yet that woman is not Aminah, the mother of the Prophet Muhammad; or Khadijah, his first wife; or Fatima, his daughter, as one could have expected to see. She is rather, Mary, the mother of Jesus.” Mustafa Akyol, a Muslim journalist from Turkey, writes this in his recent book, “The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims.”

“In the whole Qur'an, which has more than six thousand verses, there is only one woman mentioned by name. … And yet that woman is not Aminah, the mother of the Prophet Muhammad; or Khadijah, his first wife; or Fatima, his daughter, as one could have expected to see. She is rather, Mary, the mother of Jesus.”

Mustafa Akyol, a Muslim journalist from Turkey, writes this in his recent book, “The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims.”

Akyol, who I got to know at numerous religious-liberty conferences over the last decade, writes of how “Mary became highly respected in all Muslim cultures,” with her Arabic name, Maryam, “given to countless baby girls.” The shrines to Mary in the Middle East are visited “by not just Christians but also Muslims. Among the Sufis, the mystics of Islam, Mary has enjoyed an even deeper adoration, as a perfect example of devotion to God.”

Reading that, I remembered my own visit to the House of the Virgin Mary near the ruins of Ephesus, in Turkey, some years ago. I was struck by state security in a majority Muslim country reverently guarding the holy place where Mary is believed to have moved with St. John, the apostle Jesus asked to care for his mother after his crucifixion.

This is all quite relevant to Donald Trump’s first foreign trip as president of the United States. Particularly on the day when he met with Pope Francis.

The two talked for a half-hour. The president ended their time together assuring the pope that he would not forget the pontiff’s words. But it was neither Trump nor Pope Francis who ultimately stole the show.

After meeting the pope and viewing Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” on a wall of the Sistine Chapel, Melania Trump visited a children’s hospital owned by the Vatican. It’s just up the hill from the pope, next door, as it happens, to the Pontifical North American College, where American seminarians in Rome, among others, live. And outside the hospital, the first lady stood before a statue of Mary. I’m not sure the last time there was such a humble picture of someone so representative of worldly power. Dressed in black, she stood before the ivory representation of that woman so full of grace.

It was only on this trip that it was asked and confirmed that Mrs. Trump is Catholic and that she will soon be the first Catholic living in the White House since the Kennedys.

This is not to paint either the first lady or her husband as saintly ideals. But I do see an opportunity for hope here.

It was only the week before that the security detail around Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan roughed up American protesters in an assault not only on individuals but on free speech and free assembly — hallmarks of life in the United States. The next day, I listened to an NPR program that analyzed all the different ways presidents have referred to terrorism in the wake of 9/11 — such a numbing array of violence that the recent Manchester concert bombing seemed to be treated as just another entry in an unholy litany of death.

How can we escape this cultural environment of violence, terror and thuggery? Maybe from the example of a woman who points us to the beauty of obedience to a loving God and the joy of living a humble life full of faith. Mary was those things and more.

Whatever you think of the Trumps, the first lady gave us an image that could have an exemplary impact on our lives by showing us a way out of our current miseries and uncertainties, showing us how to look to a guardian of peace, grace, life and love. In his book, Akoyl begins the chapter “Mary and Her Baby” by quoting from the Muslim holy book: “Remember the one who guarded her chastity. We breathed into her from Our Spirit and made her and her son a sign for all people.” May she be just that.

COPYRIGHT 2017 United Feature Syndicate

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