In a moment’s respite, she squatted and leaned her forehead against a boulder. Firm and cool, the rock allowed her to rest as she stretched her back and released some of the pressure in her pelvis. When she lifted her head, she was surprised at the drops of sweat darkening the boulder’s dusty face. Maryam looked around. The valley was eclectic, with patches of firm, tan-coloured sand pans outlined by sharp gravel and bordered by the rocky hills. A solitary palm tree stood dead before her — it’s weeping leaves collapsed downward, forbidding shade to the rock-bed below. Dried thistle peppered the hill outcroppings, adding a splash of vibrant purple colour to a landscape that should only hold browns and grays. The sun was low overhead, casting long, cool shadows across the valley floor. For that she was thankful.
A few days prior, Maryam had set out to the East, away from her community. She had felt her swollen belly becoming tight more frequently and the baby’s movements slowed. Something within her told her it was time to move. Hiding the pregnancy had been easier than she expected — especially within the confines of the covenant. Flowing robes took care of her small, swollen belly and she took strips of pleated wool to bind her breasts as they grew larger. Zacharias never questioned her. He wouldn’t have. He just made sure she was well taken care of — that she completed her studies and had enough to eat and drink.
Remembering his absentmindedness over the past few months Maryam had to laugh. As an old man, he was an unexpected new father, and often forgot his place as he gushed over the wonders of his infant and finding joy in every sleepless hour, cry and gurgle. Everyone spoke of the miraculousness of how his barren wife had given birth to a healthy son. Maryam smiled, recalling baby Yahya’s shock of curly, black hair and wondered if her baby would have the same.
The pressure started to build and she winced, fearing she would be unable to stop the urge to push again. Breathing rapidly, she tried to ignore the workings of her body — but her mind was overruled and her muscles contracted, forcing the baby down. This time the pressure lasted longer and she felt fire cutting between her legs. Fear overwhelmed her, and Maryam stood up suddenly to run away from it all.
Lightheaded and disoriented with pain she stumbled into the palm tree. Her body shook uncontrollably and she thought she heard a voice screaming in the distance. But as suddenly as it came, the pain subsided. She shivered and covered her mouth, realizing the scream came from her. Maryam longed for water, for a cool, caring touch to wipe her forehead. She needed to hold her mother’s strong hand, not the rough calluses of a dead tree. She started to cry.
Slumping down, she sat beneath the tree and lifted her skirt. A splash of bright blood painted her legs and she quickly turned her head, helpless in fear. Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks and she gazed at the sun — sorry for what was happening to her, scared of the future, and worried about the baby’s survival. A quiet groan escaped her lips as the wave of pressure returned.
She screamed through the pain, I wish I were dead! Then, rage replaced fear, why? Why is this happening to me? Why couldn’t I have been someone insignificant, someone forgotten? Her voice rolled through the valley and she pushed.
Later, as she sang to her tiny lotus baby, his eyes looked into hers with intensity and wisdom. When she pulled him from her body, he didn’t make a noise. Not one cry. He simply looked at her and nestled instinctively into her arms. She was no longer frightened because he was from her — but she felt the import of his existence, and couldn’t help but wonder at the miraculousness of his life.
The Islamic account of Mary’s birth story is one of the most beautiful passages in the Qur’an. After she cries out, a Divine presence reassures and provides her with a rivulet of flowing water to cool herself, and rejuvenates the palm tree, so that fresh, ripe dates fall at her feet. Mary is strengthened and her birth story is taken as a sign of God’s ineffable power.
She takes a vow of silence and when she returns to her community, they wonder at the strangeness of her predicament. Without attacking her directly, they question her purity by stating that her parents were good and chaste people — how could she issue an out-of-wedlock child? Mary simply points to the baby who says,
Indeed, I am a servant of God. God has bestowed revelation upon me and has made me a prophet, and has made me blessed wherever I may be; and has enjoined upon me prayer and charity as long as I live; and has made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or bereft of grace. So, peace was upon me on the day when I was born, and will be upon me on the day of my death, and on the day when I shall be raised to life again. (Qur’an 19:30-33)
Mary is highly regarded in Islam. She is a prophetess, who carried “the Word” of God. She has a Qur’anic chapter dedicated to her. Pregnant women are encouraged to recite it frequently throughout their pregnancy, and it is believed that the supplications of a labouring woman are answered. Jesus’ name also is incomplete without hers. His proper title given at every mention of his name in the Qur’an is, “Jesus, the son of Mary.” His name cannot appear without hers. She was a single mother and she was amazing.
The above story is for illustration purposes only and are based upon Maryam’s story in the Islamic tradition, which can be found in chapter 19 of the Qur’an and in the Prophetic Traditions.