Our Lady and Islam – Can Our Common Devotion to Mary Lead Muslims to Christ?

Mark Miravalle and Mike Sullivan
From the Sep/Oct 2007 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

On October 7, we will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This day, formerly known as the feast of Our Lady of Victory, hearkens back to one of the most decisive moments in Church history.

In 1571, Muslims of the Ottoman Empire were making their definitive assault on the Christian world in a seabattle at Lepanto. The outnumbered Catholic forces pooled their naval resources from several different countries, but didn’t have much of a chance to resist the Islamic conquest.

After a vision of Our Blessed Mother, and realizing that there was little hope for Christian Europe if the Muslim invaders succeeded, Pope St. Pius V rallied all Catholics to pray the Rosary for Our Lady’s intercession in the battle. Catholics all over Europe joined in prayer, and the Catholic defenders were victorious.

It is now evident that if the Muslim invaders had succeeded, Catholic Europe would have been conquered. Many Catholics believe that their forces should have been defeated and that Mary’s intercession was what turned the tide.

Our Lady of Victory

Our Lady has always been there to assist us in our hour of need. She saw to it at the Battle of Lepanto that Europe would remain Catholic. We Catholics would do well to remember the lesson of Lepanto: We need to ask for Our Lady’s intercession as we endeavor to bring Christ to the Muslim peoples.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen offers a wonderful reflection on the role of Mary in the conversion of Muslims in a chapter of his book The World’s First Love. He writes, “If Moslemism is a heresy, as Hilaire Belloc believes it to be, it is the only heresy that has never declined. . . . There was never a time in which it declined, either in numbers, or in the devotion of its followers.” He continues, “The missionary effort of the Church toward this group has been, at least on the surface, a failure, for the Moslems are so far almost unconvertible.”

One reason for this apparent failure is that Muslims believe Mohammed was the last of God’s real prophets and that he offered to the world God’s final and definitive revelation. Though Muslims recognize Jesus as a great prophet, they do not recognize His divinity. Another contributing factor in Islam’s success is that Islam is a religion of conquest, a point made clearly in the Koran itself (see chapter 9).

Archbishop Sheen had a clear understanding of the nature of the threat Islam would pose to the West. In 1952, he prophetically wrote, “Although the statesmen have not yet taken it into account, there is still grave danger that the temporal power of Islam may return and, with it, the menace that it may shake off a West which has ceased to be Christian, and affirm itself as a great anti-Christian world power.”[1]

How true Archbishop Sheen’s words ring in our day when we are engaging in battles throughout the world against militant Islamic nations and groups. With the rise of secularism and relativism in the West, it is no wonder that some Muslims would wish to stomp out Westerners. In the face of our own lukewarmness and hypocrisy, it is clear that our battle is now primarily a spiritual one. Just as at the Battle of Lepanto, our most powerful “weapon” today is Our Lady. Her intercession is vital to our success.

In addition to praying for Mary’s intercession, it is critical that we recognize the strong devotion many Muslims have to Mary. Our shared devotion to Mary could serve as a bridge to healing the wounds of many years of conflict. It may even be one of the most significant points of leverage for Catholics in winning over the souls of Muslims to Christ.

Mary in the Koran

The Koran refers to Mary numerous times. In many places, the Koran supports Catholic doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s perpetual virginity. In fact, in the Koran, no woman is given more attention than Mary. A chapter of the Koran is even named after her.

Here are just a few verses about Mary from the Koran:

  • And [remember] her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples.  (21:91)
  • “Behold!” the angels said: “O Mary! God hath chosen thee and purified thee, chosen thee above the women of all nations. O Mary! worship thy Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself, and bow down [in prayer] with those who bow down.” (3:42-43)
  • “Behold!” the Angel said, “God has chosen you, and purified you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary, God gives you good news of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honored in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near to God. He shall speak to the people from his cradle and in maturity, and shall be of the righteous.” She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?” He said: “Even so; God creates what He will. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is.”
    (3:42-7)

Mary is highly honored and revered among Muslims because they consider her son Jesus a great prophet. But there are also references to Mary’s parents and to her life before Jesus was born. She is considered the perfect example of purity and devotion to God.

Why Fatima?

The Marian devotion of most Muslims is rooted in a long tradition that begins with Mohammed himself. He had a daughter named Fatima, and after her death he wrote: “Thou shalt be the most blessed of all the women in Paradise, after Mary.”[2]

Archbishop Sheen explains the twentieth-century occurrence of Mary’s apparitions at Fatima as the result of a heavenly plan. He writes, “Since nothing ever happens out of heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too.”[3]

Historically, Muslims have embraced Mary’s apparitions at Fatima. In many places throughout the world, they welcome with open arms processions and statues in her honor.

According to Fr. Ladis J. Cizik, former director of the World Apostolate of Fatima, U.S.A., “It is a fact that Moslems from various nations, especially from the Middle East, make so many pilgrimages to Our Lady of Fatima’s Shrine in Portugal that Portuguese officials have expressed concern. The combination of an Islamic name and Islamic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a great attraction to Moslems.”[4]

The strong affinity Muslims have for Our Lady could be the most convincing argument for persuading them that her Divine Son truly is God Himself and that He calls each one of us to share in a personal relationship with Him. Our Lord has given us, as Catholics, the mandate to go out and teach all nations about His saving plan. As part of that plan, we would do well to follow the guidance of Our Blessed Mother and find unity with the Muslims under her mantle.

Of course, we can’t forget that another result of Islam being a traditionally militant religion is that converts from Islam face not only social rejection from their community and family members, but also may face threats to their very lives. This presents another obstacle to converting Muslims to Christianity. But perhaps in this, too, we can turn our gaze toward Mary.

One thing we can point out to a Muslim on the verge of accepting the truths of the faith is that the Blessed Mother made her fiat even though being found pregnant before Joseph had taken her into his home could have resulted in suspicions of adultery and therefore a possible sentence of stoning by her own people. But she trusted in God and gave her consent out of love for Him and desire to do His will. We can encourage our Muslim friends to ask her intercession as they consider the cost of embracing the truth of the Cross.

In today’s age, when tensions between Muslim countries and the West are increasing, it is more critical than ever that we call upon our Blessed Mother’s intercession and ask her to bring about the mass conversion of the Muslim peoples. Let us all pray that Muslims throughout the world will recognize that the Mary they honor is truly the Mother of God.

[1] Sheen, The World’s First Love, p. 205

[2] Ibid., p. 207

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fr. Ladis J. Cizik, “Our Lady and Islam: Heaven’s Peace Plan,” Soul Magazine, The Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, U.S.A., Inc. September/October 2001), p. 6.

Deacon Mark Miravalle is a professor specializing in spiritual theology and Mariology at Franciscan University of Steubenville and is the author of the Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate Theological Foundation Series.

Mike Sullivan is the president of Catholics United for the Faith.

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