Upon a Christian feminist expressing to me her discomfort with the idea of the Virgin Mary delivering a child without having consented to conceive or carry him, I decided to reread the corresponding verses in the Qur’an that describe the conception of Prophet Jesus, son of Mary, since there has already been an instance—the sacrifice of Ishmael—during which consent is present in the Qur’an when it is not present in the Bible. I have tentatively found, to my satisfaction, that this appears to be the case again.
Here are the verses:
Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned human.
She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of God.”
He said, “I am only the messenger of your God to give you [news of] a pure boy.”
She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?”
He said, “Thus [it will be]; your God says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’”
So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.
The key is line 18, in which Gabriel discloses, “I am only the messenger of God to give you the news of a pure boy.” Translators seem to disagree on the exact concept of whether Gabriel was delivering the news, or as other translations contend, “sent to bestow a son.” In other words (with either reading) Mary isn’t pregnant yet. The future tense that follows (“Thus it will be”) affirms this interpretation, particularly the last line cited: “So she conceived him,” implying that she had not already.
The impression among Muslims that Gabriel was sent to inform Mary that she is pregnant, and not to inform her that there are plans for her pregnancy, is derived, I hypothesize, from line 21 in which Gabriel proclaims that “it is a matter [already] degreed”—but the pronoun is referring to the plans, not the pregnancy; as these terms are employed in the Qur’an frequently to describe Destiny, there is no reason to believe otherwise.
Of course that does not resolve the lack of explicit consent, which is present when Ibrahim (P) asks his son whether he consents to the sacrifice—the consent here appears instead to be implied—but it is much more comforting than other suggestive excuses (i.e. that God didn’t have to ask because God knew she would consent) that are entirely uncharacteristic with the rest of the Qur’an.