فَأَتَتْ بِهِ قَوْمَهَا تَحْمِلُهُ قَالُوا يَا مَرْيَمُ لَقَدْ جِئْتِ شَيْئًا فَرِيًّا () يَا أُخْتَ هَارُونَ مَا كَانَ أَبُوكِ امْرَأَ سَوْءٍ وَمَا كَانَتْ أُمُّكِ بَغِيًّا () فَأَشَارَتْ إِلَيْهِ قَالُوا كَيْفَ نُكَلِّمُ مَنْ كَانَ فِي الْمَهْدِ صَبِيًّا () قَالَ إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ
…….Then she brought him (the babe i.e. Jesus) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: “O Mary! truly a perplexing thing hast thou brought! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste! But she pointed to the babe. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle? He (the child) said: I am indeed a servant of Allah……(سورة مريم, Chapter 19, verses 27-30)
Mary, the mother of Jesus (عليه السلام), is called as Maryam (مريم, May Allah be pleased with her) in Islam. She is one of the highest ranked women in the sight of the Lord, ever, to have been informed to us muslims by our Lord and His Final Messenger. In the verse cited above, our Commentators of the Holy Quran, seem to have been confused as to why is she referred to as being the sister of Aaron (called as Haroon هارون, in Islam). To me, the reasons these commentators have given for this expression, are unconvincing. I am not going into the details as to who wrote what and why it doesn’t make sense; but instead would go right away to the explanation I think is correct. I have not read the ensuing explanation in any Commentary so far; keeping in mind of course that I have only read about 3 or 4 of famous commentaries; thus the explanation provided below is my own.
Keep in mind that the expression in question (shown in red) is such that Allah is narrating what happened when Mary, carrying baby Jesus in her arms, first time after his birth in seclusion, comes to her people. Allah narrates that the people called her with the pseudonym ‘O Sister of Aaron‘. Hence, just to be clear, it is not something Allah called her by, but instead is only narrating how people addressed her. But nevertheless, the expression needs to be referentially correct to show that people ought to have called her by this epithet, otherwise the Quran is not the word of God. Hence, normally cynics of Islam use it to bash the veracity of Quran, since they claim that whoever drafted the Quran was unaware that Aaron had passed away epochs before Mary and that Mary had no relatives by this name and thus people had no reason to address her in these words.
Dear brethren! Miriam (مريم) was the name of the actual sister of Aaron (elder brother of Moses and held by Jews as the founder of Jewish Priestood) and Moses (عليهما السلام) according to Jewish traditions (Go here for Miriam in Judaism, and here for her in wikipedia). It isn’t some infamous and disputed allusion of history, but an absolute fact, corroborated by their religious scriptures. In fact, she is the most revered and famous woman in the Jewish tradition. She’s the same one who followed the basket of Moses to Pharaoh’s Castle’s opening to river Nile and ultimately convinces the women there to return Moses to his actual mother for nursing the child; narrated in both Bible and the Quran. There isn’t another woman in their history whom the Jews hold at a higher pedestal than her; as the Bible refers to her as a prophetess. What is also a fact of history is that the Jews named their babies after the names of their renowned religious figures from the past, like prophets etc. – much like we muslims name our children after the names of prophets and companions. Hence, when Mary’s mother named her, it wasn’t like she had to invent a name; she named her child only after the most famous of women in their history. And then, the unusual childhood of Mary as a priestess of the temple of Solomon, narrated in the Holy Quran, must have brought her into the limelight and veneration among the Jewish rabbis and scholars.
Hence, according to the Holy Quran, when Mary came to her people, after conception and birth in seclusion, for the first time, the expression ‘O sister of Aaron‘ perfectly fits in. It is like, at the astounding discovery of a child in virgin Mary’s bosom, they were forced to utter their absolute sadness, as opposed to the venerated demeanor they thought she was required to manifest. According to them, her name, lineage and immaculate past demanded the opposite of what she had exhibited, i.e. as they perceived she had exhibited. It is as if they were saying that we thought you were going to be Miriam the 2nd, as she was named after the ‘sister of Aaron’, the High Priest. Just like she was the most pious and legendary personality in our history, we thought you are going to follow her footsteps – but you’ve broken all of our hopes and shattered all of our dreams. To me, comparing someone to their famous ancestor, especially whom one has been named after, at a moment of great disappointment, is absolutely common, and pervasive in our time also. Hence, the expression or epithet, is not only eloquently reasonable, but also historically and referentially correct.
Although, the proof offered above is enough for this explanation, still the following tradition of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), from Sahih Muslim, corroborates it:
Mughira b. Shu’ba reported: (Click here to view the actual text of the tradition in a new window)
When I came to Najran, they (the Christians of Najran) asked me: You read” O sister of Harun” (i. e. Hadrat Maryam) in the Qur’an, whereas Moses was born much before Jesus. When I came back to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) I asked him about that, whereupon he said: They (i.e. Jews and Christians) used to give names (to their persons) after the names of Apostles and pious persons who had gone before them.