“Mary, the sister of Aaron”

Does the Qur’an commit an anachronism by saying that Mary is the sister of Aaron?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons)

The Qur’anic verse in question is from Surah Maryam(19), verse 28:

يٰأُخْتَ هَارُونَ مَا كَانَ أَبُوكِ ٱمْرَأَ سَوْءٍ وَمَا كَانَتْ أُمُّكِ بَغِيّاً

“O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man, nor was thy mother a loose woman!”

The first thing that should be noted by anyone who is interested in really understanding the verse is that it does not say, “O Mary, mother of Jesus who sister of Aaron and Moses and the daughter of Amram”. If it had said that then the detractors of the Qur’an would have a good case against Islam and its primary text. But as any child can gather the verse simply says, “O sister of Aaron”. Those who charge that the Qur’an is confused between Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary the sister of Aaron and Moses are often Christians. Can a single Christian prove from their Bible beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mary the mother of Jesus certainly did not have a brother named Aaron? There is not a single verse anywhere in the Bible which says Mary was the one and only child of her parents. The relentless Christian detractor refusing to lose will then resort to Surah al-Imran, verse 35 which talks about “the wife of Imran”(the father of Moses, Aaron and Mary).

In the detractor’s mind, when you put 19:28 and 3:35 together you will get the result that the Qur’an is really saying that Mary, the mother of Jesus is really the literal daughter of Moses and the direct daughter of Imran(Amram in the Bible). First of all, the verse does not have to be translated as “wife of Imran” as the word in question which is imra’ah literally means “woman” which is why Muhammad asad renders the verse as “when a woman of [the House of] ’Imrān prayed: “O my Sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow [the child] that is in my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!”" Secondly, even if I were to agree that the verse is talking about the wife of Imran can a Christian please prove to me that the husband of Mary’s mother was absolutely not called Imran? From a purely rational perspective the Christian detractor’s position is extremely dubious without any real evidence. If the Qur’an was really confused about Mary and Moses would it not have actually said somewhere that she is “the sister of Moses”? Notice that there is no such verse anywhere despite the fact that Moses is a far more significant figure in the Qur’an than both Aaron and Imran. In fact, Moses is mentioned in the Qur’an 136 times! Had the Qur’an truly in a muddle of confusion about Mary’s relationship to Aaron and Imran it would have had Moses ascribed to her as her brother as he is a far more prominent figure in the Qur’an. This is an important point that is noted by the Christian missionary George Sale whose translation of the Qur’an into English was the first of its kind. We will be looking at his comments later in the article. The fact, that Moses isn’t ascribed to Mary as her brother anywhere in the Qur’an is sufficient grounds to dismiss the whole allegation as a farce. Let us now take into consideration some relevant commentaries in order to provide further proof and clarity on the matter. Translations of the Arabic texts are my own.

The following  is the commentary on the verse in question by Imam al-Tabari in his Jami’ al-Bayan ‘an Ta’wil ay al-Qur’an followed by the translation:

{يٰأُخْتَ هَارُونَ مَا كَانَ أَبُوكِ ٱمْرَأَ سَوْءٍ وَمَا كَانَتْ أُمُّكِ بَغِيّاً}

اختلف أهل التأويل فى السبب الذي من أجله قيل لها : يا أخت هارون، ومن كان هارون هذا الذى ذكره الله، وأخبر أنهم نسبوا مريم إلى أنها أخته، فقال بعضهم: قيل لها ( يا أخت هارون ) نسبة منهم لها إلى الصلاح ، لأن أهل الصلاح فيهم كانوا يسمون هارون ، وليس بهارون أخي موسى .

ذكر من قال ذلك

حدثنا الحسن ، قال : أخبرنا عبد الرزاق ، قال : أخبرنا معمر ، عن قتادة ، في قوله ( يا أخت هارون ) قال : كان رجلا صالحا في بني إسرائيل يسمى هارون ، فشبهوها به ، فقالوا : يا شبيهة هارون في الصلاح .

حدثنا بشر ، قال : ثنا يزيد ، قال : ثنا سعيد ، عن قتادة ، قوله ( يا أخت هارون ما كان أبوك امرأ سوء وما كانت أمك بغيا ) قال : كانت من أهل بيت يعرفون بالصلاح ، ولا يعرفون بالفساد ومن الناس من يعرفون بالصلاح ويتوالدون به ، وآخرون يعرفون بالفساد ويتوالدون به ، وكان هارون مصلحا محببا في عشيرته ، وليس بهارون أخي موسى ، ولكنه هارون آخر . قال : وذكر لنا أنه شيع جنازته يوم مات أربعون ألفا ، كلهم يسمون هارون من بني إسرائيل .

حدثني يعقوب ، قال : ثنا ابن علية ، عن سعيد بن أبي صدقة ، عن محمد بن سيرين ، قال : نبئت أن كعبا قال : إن قوله ( يا أخت هارون ) ليس بهارون أخي موسى ، قال : فقالت له عائشة : كذبت ، قال : يا أم المؤمنين ،  إن كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قاله فهو أعلم وأخبر ، وإلا فإني أجد بينهما ست مائة سنة ، قال : فسكتت .

حدثني يونس ، قال : أخبرنا ابن وهب ، قال : قال ابن زيد ، في قوله ( يا أخت هارون ) قال : اسم واطأ اسما ، كم بين هارون وبينهما من الأمم أمم كثيرة .

حدثنا أبو كريب وابن المثنى وسفيان وابن وكيع وأبو السائب ، قالوا : ثنا عبد الله بن إدريس الأودي ، قال : سمعت أبي يذكر عن سماك بن حرب ، عن علقمة بن وائل ، عن المغيرة بن شعبة ، قال : بعثني رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إلى أهل نجران ، فقالوا لي : ألستم تقرءون ( يا أخت هارون ) ؟ قلت : بلى وقد علمتم ما كان بين عيسى وموسى ، فرجعت إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ، فأخبرته ، فقال : “ألا أخبرتهم أنهم كانوا يسمون بأنبيائهم والصالحين قبلهم ” .

حدثنا ابن حميد ، قال : ثنا الحكم بن بشير ، قال : ثنا عمرو ، عن سماك بن حرب ، عن علقمة بن وائل ، عن المغيرة بن شعبة ، قال : أرسلني النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم في بعض حوائجه إلى أهل نجران ، فقالوا : أليس نبيك يزعم أن هارون أخو مريم هو أخو موسى؟ فلم أدر ما أرد عليهم حتى رجعت إلى النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ، فذكرت له ذلك ، فقال : “إنهم كانوا يسمون بأسماء من كان قبلهم ” .

وقال بعضهم : عنى به هارون أخو موسى ، ونسبت مريم إلى أنها أخته لأنها من ولده ، يقال للتميمي : يا أخا تميم ، وللمضري : يا أخا مضر .

ذكر من قال ذلك :

حدثنا موسى ، قال : ثنا عمرو ، قال : ثنا أسباط ، عن السدي ( يا أخت هارون ) قال : كانت من بني هارون أخي موسى ، وهو كما تقول : يا أخا بني فلان .

وقال آخرون : بل كان ذلك رجلا منهم فاسقا معلن الفسق ، فنسبوها إليه .

قال أبو جعفر : والصواب من القول في ذلك ما جاء به الخبر عن  رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم الذي ذكرناه ، وأنها نسبت إلى رجل من قومها .

O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a wicked man and your mother was not a loose woman! (19:28)

The people of ta’wil/scholars of interpretation differ as to the reason behind the saying that is ascribed to her(Mary), and what is meant by Harun as mentioned in the verse who is described as her relative.

There are among the scholars who view that the saying is given to Mary due to its ascription to a righteous man. That righteous man was among them whose name was Aaron who was not the brother of Moses.

Those who hold this position posit the following narrations:

-Al Hasan bin Yahya informed us and he said Abdul Razzaq informed us and he said Mu’ammar informed us from Qatadah regarding the words of Allah “ya ukhta harun” (O sister of Aaron) who said,” There was a righteous man during the time of the people of Israel whose name was Aaron. Therefore they equated Mary with him by saying, ” O woman who was righteous like Aaron.”

-Bishr  informed us saying that Yazid informed us saying that Sa’id informed us from Qatadah regarding the words of Allah “ya ukhta harun” (O sister of Aaron) who said, “That sister of Aaron came from a family that was known for their righteousness and they were not corrupted. Among them were those who were known as righteous whose progeny were also righteous and there were those who were known as corrupted whose progeny were corrupted yet Aaron was from the righteous and were loved by his family, and this is not Arron the brother of Moses but rather another Aaron.” Qatadah said, “It has been told to us that when he died his body was released by forty thousand people and all their names were Aaron from the people of Israel.”

-Ya’qub informed me that Ibn Aliyah informed us from Sa’id bin Abu Sadaqah from Muhammad bin Sirin and he said: I was told that Ka’ab said regarding the words of Allah “ya ukhta harun” (O sister of Aaron) that this Aaron is not the brother of Moses.” Ka’ab said, “Aishah said to him, “You lie.’ He answered, “O mother of believers, if the Prophet s.a.w. said so then he is the one who knows best, and if he did not then I found that the distance between them is six hundred years. He said, “thus she became silent”.

-Yunus informed me and he said that Ibn Wahab informed us saying that Ibn Zaid said regarding the saying of Allah “ya ukhta harun” (O sister of Aaron) that, “That name(Aaron) is coincidental because the distance between Aaron(of Moses) and them(Aaron and Mary) is very big.”

-Abu Kurayb, Ibn al-Mutsanna, Suyan, Ibn Waki’ and Abu Sa’ib informed us saying that Abdullah bin Idris informed us who said that,” I heard from my father who said from Simak bin Harb, from Alqamah bin Wa’il, from Mughirah bin Shu’bah who said, “The Messenger of Allah dispatched me to the people of Najran and they said to me, “Do you not read “ya ukhta harun“? I said yes and you already know the distance between Moses and Jesus. Thereafter I went back to the Prophet s.a.w. and told him about it, hence he said “Did you not tell them that they give names(to their own) with the names of their prophets and righteous ones before them’.”

-Ibn Humayb informed us and said that Al Hakam bin Bashir informed us and said that ‘Amru informed us from Simak bin Harb from alqamah bin Wa’il from Mughirah bin Shu’bah who said, “The Prophet s.a.w. dispatched me to the people of Najran for a purpose and they said to me, “Does you Prophet not admit that Aaron the brother of Mary is the brother of Moses?” I was unable to answer them until I returned to the Prophet s.a.w. and I told him about the incident and he said, “Verily they christen/name(their progeny) with the names of those who were before them.”

Other scholars are of the view that it means that Aaron is the brother of Moses and Mary is attributed to him(ukhta) because he is of her lineage such as what is commonly said regarding the Tamimi(people of Tamim), “O brother of Tamim” or to the Mudhari, “O brother of Mudhar”

Those who hold this position cite the following narration:

-Musa bin Harun informed us and said that Amr bin Hammad informed us and he said that Asbath informed us from al-Suddi regarding the verse “ya ukhta harun” (O sister of Aaron) and he said, “Mary comes from the lineage of Aaron and this is the same as your saying, “O brother of so and so”.

Some are of the view that it is referring to one of them who were corrupted and so Mary was attributed to him(in jest).

Abu Ja’far said, “According to us the most preferable  is the position that correlates with the narration from the Prophet s.a.w. as was mentioned earlier whereby the attribution is made to one of their men named Harun.[1]

Though the details of the narrations may differ they all agree on one essential point and that is the Mary spoken of in the verse is not the literal and immediate sister of Prophet Moses. From the interpretations elucidated above we can summarise them as follows:

1) Harun was a righteous man from among the people of Israel,  but not the brother of Moses and Mary was ascribed to him due to his righteousness which is an attribute that was shared by her.

2) Harun was a wicked man from among the people of Israel,  but not the brother of Moses and Mary was ascribed to him due to his wickedness which is an attribute that was shared by her as perceived by the accusers around her.

3) Harun in the verse is the actual brother of Moses, yet Mary is ascribed to him not because she is literally his sister, but rather because she hails from that lineage.

We will not entertain option two in the ensuing discussion because it is similar to option one with only a slight variation in the attribute in question, that is, one posits a positive quality and the other a negative one yet the point of both is the shared trait between Aaron and Mary. Either commendation or reproach the basic point is that both share similar qualities hence the linkage by the use of the term ukht. Further more, there is little to no evidence that the Aaron meant in the verse in the Islamic tradition was in any way wicked. As a matter of fact the immediate sentence that follows talks about the positive character of Mary’s parents which seems to suggest that the whole point of the verse seems to compare the righteousness of Aaron together with her parents and Mary herself. It should be noted that both option one and option three have probative value despite the apparent dichotomy, yet they may not necessarily be mutually exclusive of each other as will be shown in due course.

Sheikh Ahmad Mustafa al-Maraghy who was rector and scholar of al-Azhar University writes in his commentary:

و هارون هو أخو موسى عليه السلام , وقيل هو رجل صالح من بني إسرائل , والأخت على هذا بمعنى المشابهة , وشبهوها به تهكما , أولما رأوا من قبل من صلاحها,

فقالوا :

(يا أخت هارون ما كان أبوك امرأسوء , وما كانت أمك بغيا) أى يامن أنت من نسل هارون أخى موسى , كما يقال المسمى بهذا الاسم الذى كنت تتأسين به فى العبادة والزهد – مل كلن أبوك بالفاجر وما كانت أمك باليغى , فمن أين لك هذا الولد ؟

أخرج أحمد ومسلم والترمزى والنسائى وعبد بن حميد واين أبى شيبة وغيرهم عن المغيرة بن شعبه قال (( يعثنى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إلى أهل نجران فقالوا : أرأيت ما تقرءون ( يا أخت هارون ) وموسى قبل عيسى بكذا وكذا , قال فرجعت فذكرت ذلك لرسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال : ألا أخبرتهم انهوما كانوا يسمون بالأنبياء والصالحيى قبلهم )) وهذا التفسير النبوى يغنى عن سائر ماروى عن السلف فى ذلك.

He is the brother of Moses a.s. There is a position which holds that he is one of the righteous persons from the people of Israel while the term “sister”(ukhta) is due to the shared similarity. They equated Mary with Harun by way of ridicule or because previously they recognised her righteousness.

And they said:

‘O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a wicked man and your mother was not a loose woman!’

Meaning, “O Mary, you are from the lineage of Aaron, the brother of Moses.” This is the same as the saying to al-Tamimi, “O brother of Tamimi” and to al-Masry, “O brother of Masr” or, “O Mary, you are like the person who is named with this name whom you followed in worship and spirituality- your father was not a bad person and your mother was not unchaste. Therefore from where did you acquire that child.”

Imam Ahmad, Muslim, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i, Abd ibn Humayd, Ibn Abu Shaybah and others narrated from Mughirah ibn Shu’bah who said, “The Prophet dispatched me to the people of Najran. They asked, “What do you say of what you read, “ya ukhta harun‘ when Moses lived before Jesus in such and such time. Thereafter I went back and told the Prophet s.a.w. about it to which he said, ” Do you not know that they are given names from the names of their prophets and their righteous ones before them?” With this Prophetic explanation there is no need to cling to the narration of those who have gone by regarding this matter. [2]

Sheikh Al-Maraghy’s commentary corresponds to al-Tabari’s in its essential points and from it we may discern that like al-Tabari’s commentary it is preferable to go by what the Prophet s.a.w. said. At this point it is important to note that the Prophet’s explanation does not contain any hints as to the actual relationship between Mary and Aaron. The Prophet’s explanation basically says that the descendants of the past prophets and righteous ones use their names for themselves and their children. However, it would seem that the reply given by the Prophet s.a.w. implicitly allows the possibility that the verse is indeed talking about Mary who had an actual brother called Aaron who was christened as such because it was a practice among Jews to recall the names of old prophets and give them to their children out of reverence. This possibility is mentioned by Mufti Shafi’ Uthmani in his commentary. [3] This however remains only a possibility because the Prophet s.a.w. could very well have meant option one which is mentioned earlier. Be that as it may, the essential and fundamental point that is immediately discernible from the Prophetic explanation is that the person named Mary in the verse is definitely not the actual and literal sister of the prophets of old, Aaron and Moses.

We would like to suggest that both interpretations or positions that Sheikh al-Maraghy enumerate as also enumerated by al-Tabari above are not mutually exclusive as mentioned earlier. The Qur’anic usage of ukhta in relation to Mary and Aaron is reflective of both interpretations: Mary is a direct descendant of Aaron and he was a righteous man. On the other hand there was another individual who was not Moses’s brother named Aaron around the time of Mary or before that and due to his righteousness and Mary’s own righteousness the two are connected also by the term in question i.e. ukhta. She is the sister of Aaron in the sense that she is his descendant and they both share the characteristic of righteousness and at the same time she is described as the sister of Aaron in the sense that there was another Aaron who was not the actual brother of Moses, yet was also righteous like Mary the mother of Jesus. Therefore ukhta means that she is a descendant of the house of Aaron and it also points to the righteousness shared by her with the two Aarons, the first being the brother of Moses and the other a man from among the people of Israel. We believe this is a reasonable way of understanding the two different interpretations found in al-Tabari, al-Maraghy and other works of tafsir as well.

Mawlana Abdul Majid Daryabadi in his commentary explains the issue as follows:

“129. i.e., like him in piety, or comparable to him in virtue, اخت is not necessarily a sister ;

and as the feminine of اخ it signifies a friend, a companion, an associate, or a fellow. اخوته means, ‘conformity, or similarity ; and combination, agreement, or unison in action’ ; and اخت بين الشيئين signifies ‘I united the things as fellow, or pairs.’ (LL) The phrase

النوم اخوالموت means ‘sleep is the like of death’, and رماه الله بلينه اخت لها signifies, ‘God afflicted him with a night having none like to it.’ (LL) In surah ‘Zakhruf’, verse 47, it is clearly used in the sense of ‘like’. Here the epithet is all the more apt, since Mary was a descendant of Aaron, and through him belonged to the tribe of Levi, noted for virtue and piety. يا شبيهة هارون فى الصلاح (IQ) يعنى اخته فى الصلاح لا فى النسبه  (Bdh).” [4]

Muhammad Asad in his comments on the verse writes:

“In ancient Semitic usage, a person’s name was often linked with that of a renowned ancestor or founder of the tribal line. Thus, for instance, a man of the tribe of Banu Tamim was sometimes addressed as “son of Tamim” or “brother of Tamim”. Since Mary belonged to the priestly caste, and hence descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses, she was called a “sister of Aaron” (in the same way as her cousin Elisabeth, the wife of Zechariah, is spoken of in Luke i, 5, as one “of the daughters of Aaron”).[5]

Understanding that the Qur’an is conveying the idea that Mary is from the family of Aaron T. J. Irving  in his first American English translation of the Qur’an renders the verse as , “Kinswoman of Aaron, you father was no evil man, nor was your mother a loose woman.”[6] (emphasis added)Rather than translating it as ‘sister’ he chose ‘kinswoman’ instead which means a relation of Aaron.

Christian author and scholar Geoffery Parrinder who was Reader in the Comparative Study of Religions at University of London writes:

“There has been discussion over the phrase, ‘sister of Aaron’ (ukht Harun). Some take it as ‘descendant’ of Aaron, since ukht is not limited to close blood relationship and Mary was of the Levitical race. Others take it as a sign of confusion with the Miriam who was sister of Aaron. Yet others regard it as a kunya, a surname or epithet from Mary’s famous ancestor Miriam.” [7] (emphasis added)

Though Parrinder does not explicitly favour any particular one of the given three options he does recognise the fact that the word ukhtis not limited to close blood relationship and Mary was of the Levitical race“. Discounting option two as non-viable due to the total absence of evidence it would seem that Parrinder implicitly prefers option one.

Reverend E. M. Wherry who is most definitely not an sympathiser of Islam in his A Comprehensive Commentary on the Qur’an: Comprising Sale’s Translation and Preliminary Discourse, with Additional Notes and Emendations cites the orientalist William Muir and orientalist and missionary George Sale on Surah al-Imran, verse 35 which is supposedly related to 19:28 in the Christian detractor’s mind:

Gerock combats this idea at some length (p. 24), showing that Imran is never named in the Coran as the father of Moses, nor Mary (Maryam) as his sister, and that Mahomet is seen elsewhere to be well aware of the interval between Jesus and Moses. The later fact cannot, of course, be doubted ; Mahomet could have never imagined that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the sister of Moses and Aaron. But it is still extremely probable that the confusion of this mis-nomenclature originated in the notions of Jewish informants, amongst whom the only notorious Mary (Maryam) was the daughter of Imran and sister of Moses ; and they could ordinarily give the name of Maryam those accompaniments ; that is, they would speak of ‘ Mary the daughter of Imran.’ Mahomet adopted the phraseology (for his informants were mainly, if not solely, Jews) probably through inadvertence and without perceiving the anachronism it involved.” – Muir, Life of Mahomet, vol. ii. pp. 281, 282, note.

The following is Sale’s note on this passage, in which he combats the charge of anachronism brought by Reland, Maracci, and Prideaux ; his Muslim authorities are, as usual, Baidhawi and Zamakhshari :–

“Amran is the name of two several persons, according to the Muhammadan tradition. One was the father of the Virgin Mary ; but he is called by some Christian writers Joachim. The commentators suppose the first, or rather both of them, to be meant in this place ; however, the person intended in the next passage, it is agreed, was the latter, who, besides Mary the mother of Jesus, had also a son named Aaron, and another sister named Isha (or Elizabeth), who married Zacharians, and was the mother of John the Baptist ; whence that prophet and Jesus are usually called by the Muhammadans, The two sons of the aunt, or the cousins-german.

“From the identity of names it has been generally imagined by Christian writers that the Quran here confounds Mary the mother of Jesus with Mary or Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron ; which intolerable anachronism, if it were certain, is sufficient of itself to destroy the pretended authority of this book. But though Muhammad may be supposed to have been ignorant enough in ancient history and chronology to have committed so gross a blunder, yet I do not see how it can be made out from the words of the Quran. For it does not follow, because two persons have the same name, and have each a father and brother who bear the same names, that they must therefore necessarily be the same person : besides, such a mistake is inconsistent with a number of other places in the Quran, whereby it manifestly appears that Muhammad well knew and asserted that Moses preceded Jesus several ages. And the commentators accordingly fail not to tell us that there had passed about one thousand eight hundred years between Amran the father of Moses and Amran the father of Virgin Mary : they also make them the sons of different persons ; the first, they say, was the son of Yeshar, or Izhar (though he was really his brother), the son of Kahath, the son of Levi ; and the other was the son of Mathan, whose genealogy they trace, but in a very corrupt and imperfect manner, up to David, and thence to Adam.

it must be observed that though the Virgin Mary is called in the Quran the sister of Aaron, yet she is nowhere called the sister of Moses ; however, some Muhammadan writers have imagined that the same individual Mary, the sister of Moses was miraculously preserved alive from his time till that of Jesus Christ, purposely to become the mother of the latter.”

To be dedicated. “ The Arabic word is free, but here signifies particularly one that is free or detached from all worldly desires and occupations, and wholly devoted to God’s service.” – Sale, Jalaluddin. [8] (emphasis added)

Notwithstanding the additional presumptions made by Muir as to the alleged “extreme probability” of confusion on the part of Muhammad s.a.w. it has already been unequivocally and explicitly stated by him that “Mahomet could have never imagined that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the sister of Moses and Aaron“. The latter remarks do not negate the admission that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. could not have commited an anachronism with regards to Mary, Jesus, Aaron and Moses.

The notable orientalist Prof. Montgomery Watt in his comments on the verse says:

“28/9 Sister of Aaron: European scholars usually explain this as due to confusion with Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. Both Mary and Miriam would be “Maryam” in arabic. This conclusion is not absolutely necessary, however, and Muslim scholars have given many possible explanations; e.g. that Mary really had a brother called Aaron, that she was sister of Aaron as being of Levitical stock, etc. Perhaps one might say this was a misconception current among Arabs which the Qur’an did not find it necessary to correct; cf. 3.36/I.” [9]

Commenting on the verse in question namely 19:28(though numbered as 29 in his translation) by condensing Sale, Zamakhshari and Baydawi, Wherry writes:

A sister of Aaron. “Several Christians writers think the Qur’an stands convicted of a manifest falsehood in this particular, but I am afraid the Muhammadans may avoid the charge; as they do by several answers. Some say the Virgin Mary had really a brother named Aaron, who had the same father, but a different mother; others suppose Aaron, who had the same father, is here meant, but say Mary is called his sister, either because she was of the Levitical race (as by her being related to Elizabeth it should seem she was), or by way of comparison; others say that it was a different person of that name who was contemporary with her, and conspicuous for his good and bad qualities, and that they likened her to him by way of commendation or reproach, &c.” [10]

In conclusion, the Christian missionary accusation that the Qur’an is confounded on the great distance of time between Moses’ Aaron and Mary the mother of Jesus is founded on a profound lack of understanding of social linguistics and the Arabic language in general. The earliest sources of Islam going back to the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. show a clear understanding and knowledge that Mary the mother Jesus was most definitely not the actual and literal sister of Aaron the brother of Moses. Both Muslim and Christian authorities presented in the article completely expose and refute the crude interpretation of the detractors of Islam on this particular issue.


Al-Sheikh al-Imam al-’Allamah al-Hafidh al-Mufassir Khadim al-Qur’an, Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi explains in his tafsir[11]:

ياأخت هارون} كان هارون عابداً من بني إسرائيل، شبهت به مريم في كثرة العبادة فقيل لها أخته بمعنى أنها شبهه، وقيل: كان أخاها من أبيها، وكان رجلاً صالحاً، ويل: هو هارون النبي أخو موسى وكانت من ذريته، فأخت على هذا كقولك: أخو بني فلان أي واحد منهم، ولا يتصور على هذا القول أن تكون أخته من النسب حقيقة، فإن بين زمانهما دهراً طويلاً

Allama Shabbir Ahmed Usmani writes in his commentary:

In ill-thought they said that the members of her family had been good in all times and her parents too. Wherefrom had she got that bad character? It was strange that good men would have had bad children!

Note: Maryam was called the ‘Sister of Haroon’ by her people because she belonged to the lineage of Hazrat Haroon who was the elder brother of Hazrat Moosa. It means the sister of Haroon was the sister of Haroon’s people as in the verse               واذ كر اخا عاد  Hazrat Hud is called the brother of Aa’d although Aa’d was the name of their ancestor. Or it is possible that ‘Sister of Haroon’ is used in its literal sense, as it is true from some true Traditions that the name of Maryam’s brother was Haroon. As it is also customary today, in those times too the people put their names with the names of Prophets and pious neb (saints). It is said that the brother of Maryam was a pious man. The substance is that when her father was pious, her mother was chaste, her brother was so good, and the upward lineage reached Hazrat Haroon, then how that heinous thing was committed by her? [12]


[1] Abi Ja’far Muhammad bin Ja’far al-Tabari (1984). Jami’ al-Bayan ‘an Ta’wil Ay al-Qur’an, Vol. 15. Beirut, Lebanon: Darul Fikr. pp. 77-78

[2] Ahmad Mustafa al-Maragy (1960). Tafsir al-Maraghy, Vol. 16. Darul Fikr. pp. 46-47

[3] Shafi’ Uthmani (n.d.). Ma’riful Qur’an, Vol. 6 (Muhammad Hasan Askari & Muhammad Shamim, Trans.). Karachi, Pakistan. Maktab Darul ‘Ulum. pp. 39-40

[4] Abdul Majid Daryabadi. Tafsir al-Qur’an: Translation and Commentary. Lucknow, India: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, Nadwatul Ulama. p. 81

[5] Muhammad Asad (1980). The Message of the Qur’an: Translated and Explained. Gibraltar: Darul Andalus. p. 460

[6] Irving, T. J. (1985). The Qur’an, the First American Version: Translation and Commentary. Brattleboro, Vermont: Amana Books. p. 161

[7] Parrinder, G. (1965). Jesus in the Qur’an. London: Faber and Faber. p. 78

[8] Wherry, E. M. (1885). A Comprehensive Commentary on the Quran: Comprising Sale’s Translation and Preliminary Discourse, with Additional Notes and Emendations, Vol. 2. London: Trubner & Co. pp. 14-15

[9] Watt, W. M. (2008). Companion to the Qur’an: Based on the Arberry Translation, Vol. 10. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 143

[10] Wherry, E. M. Op. Cit. Vol. 3. p. 106

[11] Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi (1983). Tafsir Ibn Juzayy. Beirut, Lebanon: Darul Kitab al-Arabi. p. 406

[12] Shabbir Ahmad Usmani (n.d.). The Noble Qur’an: Tafseer-e-Usmani. Lahore, pakistan: aalameen Publications. p. 1385

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4 Responses to ““Mary, the sister of Aaron””

  1. Rudy Brown says:

    This is an excellent piece! Totally refuted typical Christian nonsense.

  2. menj says:

    Excellent exposition, but some people will simply deny all of this. Their loss.

  3. Bret says:

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after
    I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all
    that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  4. E says:

    MA . Nice work brother or sister. Keep up the good work.

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