The Number of Angels Speaking to Mary
The allegation is as follows:
How many angels were talking to Mary? When the Qur'an speaks about the announciation of the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary, Sura 3:42,45 speaks about (several) angels while it is only one in Sura 19:17-21.
There are many ways to explain these verses, and we shall examine some of them, insha'Allah.
The verses in question are the following:
From Surah Al Imran:
3:42. And (remember) when the angels said: "O Mary! Verily, Allâh has chosen you, purified you (from polytheism and disbelief), and chosen you above the women of all nations."
3:43. O Mary! "Submit yourself with obedience to your Lord (Allâh, by worshipping none but Him Alone) and prostrate yourself, and bow down along with those who bow down etc.)."
3:44. This is a part of the news of the Ghaib (unseen, i.e. the news of the past nations of which you have no knowledge) which We inspire you with (O Muhammad ). You were not with them, when they cast lots with their pens as to which of them should be charged with the care of Maryam (Mary); nor were you with them when they disputed.
3:45. (Remember) when the angels said: "O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allâh gives you the glad tidings of a Word ["Be!" - and he was! i.e.Jesus the son of Mary] from Him, his name will be the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to Allâh."
3:46. "He will speak to the people in the cradle and in manhood, and he will be one of the righteous."
3:47. She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me." He said: "So (it will be) for Allâh creates what He wills. When He has decreed something, He says to it only: "Be!" and it is.
And from Sura Maryam:
19:17. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our Ruh [angel Jibrael (Gabriel)], and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects.
19:18. She said: "Verily! I seek refuge with the Most Beneficent (Allâh) from you, if you do fear Allâh."
19:19. (The angel) said: "I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son."
19:20. She said: "How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?"
19:21. He said: "So (it will be), your Lord said: 'That is easy for Me (Allâh): And (We wish) to appoint him as a sign to mankind and a mercy from Us (Allâh), and it is a matter (already) decreed, (by Allâh).' "
1. There is NO indication that these verses refer to the same event.
If we examine the Qur'anic verses we can come up with an interpretation of the chronological order of events.
a. The angels announced to Mary pbuh the glad tidings of Jesus pbuh without giving any further details. (verse 3:45)
b. After the angels depart, Mary pbuh expresses her surprise in her prayer to God. (verse 3:47). The verse makes it clear that she is no longer talking to the angels because she says, "My Lord.."
c. An angel sent by God informs her that God is able to do all things (verse 3:47, "So (it will be) for Allâh creates what He wills.")
d. After a period of time, Angel Gabriel is sent by God, and appears personally before Mary to inform her of the birth of Jesus pbuh (verse 19:19).
e. Here she asks the Angel directly (verse 19:20) how it is possible for her to have a child. And the Angel Gabriel replies as seen in verse 19:21.
The basis of this explanation is the usage of the words yubashiroke in Sura Al-Imran which means to give glad tidings of a coming event. On the other hand, the verse in Sura Maryam uses the wordsle ahaba lake which means to "present you with", implying that the event is to happen there.
An objection raised to this explanation is that Mary must be forgetful if she asks the same question having already recieved the answer. This is not necessarily the case. An event so surprising and unusual as this would easily explain her persistence in trying to understand how this is possible. Often people may be so bewildered by some news that they may repeat their inquiry in their surpirse, and that is not unusual.
2. Another simple and logical explanation that can be offered is that the it is not uncommon for the action of a single member of an organization to be attributed to the whole organization. In a hockey match, we may say that so-and-so scored the final goal, or we could say that such-and-such a team scored the final goal. It would not be a contradiction. So when Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and he gave her the glad tidings of a son, the action may be attributed to the angels, whether they were present or not, visible or not. This interpretation is supported by verse 3:47, which says that Mary asked how it could be possible and he (Angel Gabriel) replied, and not they (angels).
3. Another way to understand the verses is to examine a similar verse of the Qur'an:
41:30. In the case of those who say, "Our Lord is Allah., and, further, stand straight and steadfast, the angels descend on them (from time to time): "Fear ye not!" (they suggest), "Nor grieve! but receive the Glad Tidings of the Garden (of Bliss), the which ye were promised!
Here we are told that those who stand firm in Islam will have angels surrounding them and telling them not to fear. Obviously, this does not mean that the righteous people expect to hear these voices speaking to them, but rather it is the general feeling of peace and good inspired into the righteous person by these angels. The presence and words of the angels invoke a feeling of security.
Likewise, when we read the first passage about Mary, the angels speaking to her may just have been a general inspiration or notion that she would bear a child, and she continually wondered to Allah, as to how this was possible. And the answer given in 3:47 is Allah's answer inspired to her through the angels in the same fashion. Naturally, when the event was to occur and the Angel Gabriel physically appeared to her in the form of a man, she would voice this same concern to verify the inspiration she had been recieving.
Each of these three explanations is sufficient to answer the allegation.
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