The New Yorker offers this enlightening piece about the limits of ecumenism, even among those who see Jesus as a prophet and Mary as his virginal mother. As Easter approached, the writer, who is married to a Muslima, asked an imam about what Muslims believed concerning Jesus:
In Islam, he emphasized, “believing in Jesus is an absolute requirement. If you don’t believe in him, you’re automatically not a Muslim.” According to the hadith—sayings of the Prophet, second only to the Koran in Islamic authority—Jesus was assumed into heaven, and will return at the end of time in the east of Damascus, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels. When it sees him, the Antichrist will dissolve like salt in water, and Jesus will rule the earth for forty years. What Muslims don’t believe, though, is that Jesus died on the cross. It’s spelled out quite clearly, Sayar said, in the Koran’s fourth Sura, verse 157: “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him.”
The Bible is considered a holy book in Islam. How then, I asked, can this verse in the Koran be reconciled with the accounts of Jesus’ death in the Gospels? Sayar said the key is in the phrase that follows “nor did they crucify him”: “though it was made to look like that to them.” Muslim scholars, he explained, interpret this passage in a range of ways. Some believe that someone was, in fact, crucified, but it was not Jesus; maybe it was Judas. Whoever it was, they say, God changed his face to resemble Jesus, and Jesus himself was spared. A slight variation posits that God changed the vision of all those who witnessed the crucifixion to make them think they were seeing Jesus. Others argue that it was Jesus who was nailed to the cross, but that he survived it; what happened on Easter Sunday was not a resurrection but a resuscitation. Some say that no one was crucified at all.
It is important to remember that, according to Islam, Mary was the sister of Moses and Aaron, and the esteem in which she is held among Muslims is limited to giving birth at the "command" of God (no consent was required -- no fiat). Furthermore, Mary stood beneath that cross, on which a "body double" hung, not knowing her son from an imposter. More importantly, since there was no original sin, there was no point to her immaculate conception, and since Our Lord didn't entrust John to her before he died, she was not made mother of anyone else--least of all, us.
There are so many subtle elements that contribute to our understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ that simply saying that we both honour Jesus and Mary can only take us so far. For as the early Church Fathers noted, when you get Our Lady right, the rest of the faith follows. Islam, unfortunately, offers Mary in a very different form--and hence the problem between us.