What Iranian director Shahriar Bahrani depicts of Mary in his 2000 movie production 'Saint Mary' does not share much similarity with Kevin Connor-directed 1999 television drama 'Mary, Mother of Jesus'. In the Iranian movie, Mary (Maryam in Arabic) is incredibly chaste, pious and modest who spends most of her young life in the temple worshiping God. She is not deterred from entering the house of God even though usually only men are allowed to worship there. This element is by no means observed in the non-Iranian version of Mary.
Jesus, Mary, and the angel Gabriel are all prominent characters in the holy Quran, and it is depicted so in the Iranian movie. In 'Saint Mary', Jesus (Isa in Arabic) is a holy prophet of God — who was born to a virgin (Mary) — not the son of God as shown by Connor. Mary in the non-Iranian movie has a fiancé called Joseph. The two are supposed to marry soon, but with the pregnancy of Mary everything takes a different turn. In Connor’s movie, Joseph comes to the realization that Mary did not cheat on him, so the two live together while he stands firmly by her side till death and stops the Israelites from slandering her by letting everyone in the city know that Jesus is his son. As a grownup man, Jesus even calls Joseph his father.
Nevertheless, the two movies relate at some point. Mary was given a blessed son who was created by God without a father. She was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth. And she herself was a model of human behavior. Both movies hold these characteristics of Mary to be true. Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel is also strikingly similar in both movies.
But the Quran-driven account of Mary in ‘Saint Mary’ goes further than that of the 'Mary, Mother of Jesus'. In the Iranian movie, we see Mary’s experience in labor with Jesus. Mary gives birth to Jesus in a miraculous way. The pains of childbirth drives Mary to clutch at the foot of a palm tree in the desert where she cries out in anguish and says to her God, “Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight.” (Quran 19:23)
Once the child is born, Mary is exhausted and frightened. To ease her, God provides Mary with everything she needs and comforts her distressed heart after such an intense experience. Having given birth, Mary has to face her people. As commanded by God, she goes on a fast of silence to fend off their accusations of prostitution. Meanwhile, God allows Jesus (PBUH) to speak in his cradle and explain who he is to his people. These important events are absent in the Western version of the movie. What we see of Mary in 'Mary, Mother of Jesus' is simply her going into labor while moving with Joseph to her mother’s homeland. She then has to give birth in a stable among some strangers.
According to Muslims' belief, Jesus performed miracles; and the Quran also mentions several of Jesus’s miracles, including giving sight to the blind and raising the dead. The story of Jesus’s birth as told in the Quran and well shown by Bahrani is the story of his first miracle, when he spoke as an infant in the cradle and declared himself to be a prophet of God. This divine event is not found in the Western version of Mary.
Another key element neglected in the non-Iranian movie is the role of Zakariya as Mary’s uncle. He was favored by God to the point that his infertile wife was blessed with a child at an old age. Zakariya is shown in ‘Saint Mary’ to be playing a key role in educating and taking care of Mary in the sanctuary. Every time Zakariya would visit her in the prayer chamber, he would miraculously find Mary with the fruits of summer during winter and the fruits of winter during summer. This miracle adds to the sanctity of the mother of Jesus as found in the Quran.
All and all, the Iranian series tells more about the life and mission of Mary. ‘Saint Mary’ presents her high and noble standing in Islam. Her elevated status is explicitly shown in Bahrani’s movie as it is mentioned in the Quran. In fact, an entire Chapter is named after her in the Quran. However, the Quran states that there is only one God and that no one deserves to be worshipped except Him, and Mary is considered only a model of faith in God for humanity. Mary was specially chosen and made pure by God.