Both the quran and the Bible teach that he was conceived of a woman only, his mother Mary, before she had known any man. The virgin-birth of Jesus, taught so plainly in the Bible, is no less clearly taught in the quran. In his Gospel Matthew (1.18-25) states that he was conceived in Mary of the Holy Spirit in fulfilment of a prophecy in Isaiah 7.14 (“a virgin shall conceive and bear a son”), while Luke also records the unusual conception, stating unambiguously that Mary was a virgin whom no man had touched when Jesus was conceived in her by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.26-35). In the quran likewise we find much the same teaching. In one passage we read:
Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to God; He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous”. She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so: God createth what He willeth: when He hath decreed a Plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be’, and it is!” Surah 3.45-47.
Another passage also records the visitation of an angel to Mary and the response that she gave him when he announced to her the conception of Jesus:
Then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: “I seek refuge from thee to (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou cost fear God”. He said: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son”. She said: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?” He said: “So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, ‘That is easy for Me : and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’: it is a matter (so) decreed”. Surah 19.17-21.
Muslims argue that if the creation of Jesus without a father is a unique phenomenon, then the creation of Adam without a father or a mother must surely be regarded as even more unique. Sayyid Effendi, quoted earlier, says on this point:
Because of this strange fact the Christians have thought of Him to be the Son of God. Yet He cannot necessarily be so. He can only be like Adam. Adam also was created of dust by the word of God. Moreover Adam had no mother also, and therefore he is still more wonderful than Jesus. As Adam cannot be called the Son of God because of his having been created without a father or mother, likewise Jesus also, who was only without a father cannot be called the Son of God. (Effendi in “The Problem of the Birth of Jesus”, The Muslim World, Vol. 15, p. 228).
A Christian can readily agree that the virgin-birth, as an expression of God’s power, is indeed no more wonderful than the creation of Adam. It can even be said that it required a negligible exercise of this power in comparison with the creation of Adam, but this tends to suggest all the more that there was some other specific reason for it. Adam was created without father or mother as the first man on earth and so could not have had earthly parents. Someone had to be created first. On the contrary Jesus was born without a father when God’s natural process of procreation had long been in existence. What reason was there for this unique conception? The comparison with Adam does not answer this question at all.
No other prophet has been thus miraculously born into the world. Adam, it is true, was created without father or mother. Such an act of creation was necessary in the beginning of the world; but here we see (in the case of Jesus) God interrupting the course of nature, and overriding the very laws of procreation which He had Himself established, in order that Christ might thus have a virgin birth. Surely such an act could not have been meaningless: rather we know that it points to the great fact that Jesus Christ held a special relationship to the Deity which is shared by no other prophet. (Goldsack, Christ in Islam, p. 7).
His mother – the greatest among women
Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! God hath chosen thee and purified thee – chosen thee above the women of all nations”. Surah 3.42
The thing that strikes us is the whole pre-eminence of the woman – chosen above all the women of the nations. This preference is repeated in the words of Elizabeth to her cousin as recorded in the Bible, but here a further exclamation follows which gives the real meaning behind the greatness of Mary and her superiority over all other women:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Luke 1.42
Mary, in both the quranic and Biblical passages quoted, is declared to be the greatest among women, but now we discover why – because she mothered the greatest among men, because she was the virgin-mother of Jesus. A Christian writer says of the quranic verse quoted above: “Does this passage not clearly signify that her son Jesus was to be the greatest prophet?” (Goldsack, Christ in Islam, p. 5). It is to the son of Mary that we must surely look to find the meaning of her greatness.
The creation of Adam was in this respect similar to the creation of the world, plants, and the lower animals; whereas the quran itself says that Christ’s supernatural birth took place through God’s purpose to give men a sign, and this is not said of any other prophet’s birth. . . . The quran therefore represents Christ’s birth as without a parallel. (Tisdall, Muhammadan Objections to Christianity, p. 131).
His birth not touched by Satan
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The satan touches every son of Adam on the day when his mother gives birth to him with the exception of Mary and her son. (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, p. 1261).
It is surely logical to conclude that the birth of Jesus was the only birth that Satan could not interfere with because the object of that birth was no ordinary mortal but one who is far greater than the devil (1 John 4.4), one who was no less than the Son of God himself.
Implications of His unique birth
Some Muslims believe that because Jesus was born without a father, we Christians automatically conclude that God was his Father and that the doctrine of Jesus as the Son of God arose from this assumption. Christians must be quick to point out that it is really the other way around – because he always was the Son of God it was not possible that he could be born in any other way.
It is clear from the New Testament that the virginal conception played no part at all in the earliest Christian preaching. It is described in the infancy narratives in the First and Third Gospels, but is not referred to in the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles nor in the Epistles of Saint Paul nor elsewhere in the New Testament. It is a story which came to be meaningful for Christians after they had come to believe in the divinity of Jesus on other grounds. (Watt, Islam and Christianity Today, p. 102).
Jesus had a unique beginning to his life on earth solely because he himself is unique in that he is the only Son of God. This is, according to the Bible, precisely what the angel said to Mary when he originally came to her to explain the miraculous conception:
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High . . . therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God”. Luke 1.32,35.