O Sister of Aaron!


A man called Kornelius Kuku Palete Masiku picked up an old stale question concerning the meaning of the verse in Surat Maryam (verse 28) which says (in translation):

يَا أُخْتَ هَارُونَ مَا كَانَ أَبُوكِ امْرَأَ سَوْءٍ وَمَا كَانَتْ أُمُّكِ بَغِيًّا

“Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: ‘O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing. O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a wicked man nor was your mother a harlot.’”


He wants to test a theory that Muslims avoid answering difficult questions they do not want to face (when the truth is self-evident) by first asking questions of the litigant to distract from the question, then using another strategy (unnamed) and then taking up another topic to avoid talking about the difficult topic.

Let us disabuse the poor fellow and answer his question FIRST.

As always, we note that this question is very old; it is so old, in fact, that our Prophet Muhammed, may Allah praise him, answered the question himself.

He provided the answer for Mughira b. Shu’ba, who had been taxed by this question when he went to Najran to Christians whom he had met the there. He said:

“The people of old used to give names after the names of messengers and saints who had gone before them.”

This answer can be interpreted in three ways:

  1. Her brother’s name was literally Aaron (Harun) because the ancients named their children at birth with the names of those revered from their ancestors (birth names).
  2. This was a figurative personal label. The ancients referred to each other after the names of those revered from their ancestors (nick-names).
  3. This was a figurative cult label. The ancients labelled each other as belonging to a group characterised by the names of those revered from their ancestors (cult/group/type names).

A second answer can be given by anyone who understands how to read. The title “sister of Aaron” attributed to Mary in the Quran was given neither by the Quran’s author (God) nor by God’s Prophet, peace be upon him, nor by Muslims, but by her own folk, that is, the Jewish community or her own family.

Osama Abdallah on his site, ‘Answering Christianity’ explains,

“The false claim made against our Prophet about him meaning that Mary was a biological sister of Aaron is clearly refuted.

  1. The People of Israel used to call people by either their last names, or by adding words such as you “Son of…” or “Brother of….” or “Sister of….” When they called people “O Son of….” they didn’t mean for that person to be the actual biological son of the person whom they used his name. The other person could be a simply in the family tree or use the same last name.

When Jesus was called “Jesus the son of David” for instance, the Jews didn’t mean to call Jesus the actual biological son of David. Similarly, when they called Mary “O sister of Aaron”, they meant to call her sister of Aaron in faith! Not the actual biological sister of Aaron.”

Osama then goes on to explain that there is no confusion in the Quran temporarily concerning Mary and Jesus:

  1. “The Noble Quran talks about Aaron being Moses’s biological brother and messenger to Pharaoh. It also talks about Moses being the People of Israel’s first Messenger of GOD. It also talks about Jesus coming to the people of Israel so many years after Moses and the many other Messengers of GOD that were sent to the People of Israel. Finally, it also talks about Mary being the biological Mother of Jesus.”

So, if the Noble Quran recognise Aaron as the biological brother of Moses, and  clearly indicates Jesus come not only many years after Moses, but also after the many other Messengers of God whom He sent to the children of Israel between them, and at the same time speaks clearly of Mary being birthing Jesus, then, therefore, the  Quran:

  1. Portrays Mary as a woman who was born long past the time Aaron lived
  2. When the Jews called Mary ‘O sister of Aaron..’, they meant it to be Sister of Aaron in faith or piety or sect rather than biologically his sister.

A Muslim, going by the name Haleem, says:

  1. “It is clear that Mary was figuratively a “sister of Aaron” because both the Bible and Quran agree she was a Levite, i.e. a member of the tribe of hereditary “cohens” or “priests” in Judaism. (All, ultimately descendants of Aaron).”

How does he know this?

  1. “Mary’s cousin was Elisheba whom we are told, “belonged to a priestly family” (Luke 1:5, 36). See also Quran 3:35-36 (stating Mary was a descendant of the priestly line of Imran).”

His conclusion?

  1. “Therefore, a female descendant of the hereditary priesthood could quite properly be called a “sister of Aaron!”

In relation to the above, I found in Wikipedia, a note about Mary’s siblings according to Christian sources.

“The New Testament tells little of Mary’s early history. John 19:25 states that Mary had a sister;

  1. Semantically it is unclear if this sister is the same as Mary the wife of Clopas or if she is left unnamed.
  2. Jerome identifies Mary of Cleopas as the sister of Mary, mother of Jesus. According to the early second-century historian Hegesippus, Mary of Clopas was likely Mary’s sister-in-law, understanding Clopas (Cleophas) to have been Joseph’s brother.
  3. According to the writer of Luke, Mary was a relative of Elizabeth (Elisheba), wife of the priest Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah, who was herself part of the lineage of Aaron and so of the tribe of Levi. [Luke 1:5;1:36]
  4. Some of those who consider that the relationship with Elizabeth was on the maternal side, consider that Mary, like Joseph, to whom she was betrothed, was of the House of David and so of the Tribe of Judah,
  5. Some think the genealogy of Jesus presented in Luke 3 from Nathan, third son of David and Bathsheba, is, in fact, the genealogy of Mary, while the genealogy from Solomon given in Matthew 1 is that of Joseph. (Aaron’s wife Elisheba was of the tribe of Judah, so all their descendants are from both Levi and Judah.) [Num.1:7 & Ex.6:23]”

In point 5 above, Wikipedia attributes the genealogy in Matthew to Joseph and that of Luke to Mary, but the commentary of Asbury proposes the opposite. Setting aside the reliability of Wikipedia, we note that Elisheba, Mary’s cousin, the wife of Zachariah, has the same name as Elisheba, the wife of Aaron, and was of Aaron’s lineage. Is there some kind of Biblical confusion going on, or is this a case of calling people after the name of revered ancestors, as was said by our Prophet, may Allah praise him?

This takes us to Kornelius’s second point. He declares that, in the Bible, Mary does not have a brother.

He is, of course, right. Furthermore, the Quran does not mention her sister. However, her mother is mentioned, without being named.

Christian apocrypha, that is extra-biblical texts, mention that her mother is called Ana: Santa Ana, whose husband was Joachim or Joaquim. Let us not forget that the J in modern languages is actually a Y in ancient Aramaic and Hebrew and that ch (chet) is pronounced like the ch in Loch, or the q (qoph) like a q in mystique. Yoikhim or Yoikim might be a better way of writing Santa Ana’s husband’s name.

The Quran speaks of Mary’s forbearers as from the house or family of Imran, the same house or family as Moses, and his older sister Miriam and his older brother Aaron. The Bible, however, makes two genealogical lines of descent in two different gospels, neither of which mention Joaquim. The names Jacob and Heli precede the parentage of Jesus. Does this make the name Joaquim as the father of Mary false?

The truth is that we know virtually nothing definitive about the names of Mary’s relatives through Christian sources (except Zachariah) including her mother and father, nor whether she had blood brothers and sisters.

From the Prophet, we know that Jesus and John were first cousins through Mary, which mean’s John’s mother must be the connection as Zachariah was not Mary’s brother. Rather, he was her guardian. Islamic tradition gives the name Aisha to Zachariah’s wife, and Hannah to Mary’s mother, though neither of these names is recorded in authentic narrations. Therefore, we cannot say definitively through Islamic sources whether these names are correct, either.

The Prophet, may Allah praise him, also mention Maryam by the name Maryam binte Imran, meaning Mary, daughter of Imran. Therefore, the theory goes the family trees is:

Hannah?- Imran

Aaron +Mary + Aisha? – Zakariya

Jesus                     John

We cannot in all conscience say this is the blood relations between them.

Tradition in Christianity gives the family trees as follows

                Aaron?                                                                 Ana? – Joachim?/Heli?/Jacob?

                Elisheba – Zachariah                     (Mary?)+Joseph-Mary (+Mary?)

            John                                                          James+Jesus

Again, we cannot in all conscience say there is a blood relation between all of them.

Thus, the thrust of Kornelius’s question is vague and blunt. And the answer is interpretable.

Now let us get to a challenge:

  1. Please provide irrefutable proof of Mary, the mother of Messiah Jesus’s genealogy that generates no confusion.
  2. Prove that Mary had no brother.
  3. Prove that the brother Aaron that the Jews attributed to Mary in the Quran is a blood brother.
  4. Prove that the brother Aaron the Jews attributed to Mary is the same as Aaron, the brother of Moses.
  5. Prove that Mariam, sister of Moses, has a son whose name was Yeshua, Esau, Eissa or Joshua (names related to Jesus).

Here, then, is the refutation of Kornelius’s theory.

  1. No question is asked except 1, which is rhetorical.
  2. The issue is addressed head on.
  3. A challenge is left for Kornelius, or anyone else, to answer.

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