Note 87 (Quran Ref: 21:91 )

This allegorical expression, used here with reference to Mary’s conception of Jesus, has been widely - and erroneously - interpreted as relating specifically to his birth. As a matter of fact, the Qur'an uses the same expression in three other places with reference to the creation of man in general - namely in 15:29 and 38:72, "when I have formed him… and breathed into him of My spirit" and in 32:9, "and thereupon He forms [lit., "formed"] him fully and breathes [lit., "breathed’’] into him of His spirit". In particular, the passage of which the last-quoted phrase is a part (i.e., 32:7-9) makes it abundantly and explicitly clear that God "breathes of His spirit" into every human being. Commenting on the verse under consideration, Zamakhshari states that "the breathing of the spirit [of God] into a body signifies the endowing it with life’’: an explanation with, which Razi concurs. (In this connection, see also note 181 on 4:171.) As for the description of Mary as allati ahsanat farjaha, idiomatically denoting ‘‘one who guarded her chastity" (lit,, "her private parts") it is to be borne in mind that the term ihsan - lit., ‘‘[one’s] being fortified [against any danger or evil]" - has the tropical meaning of "abstinence from what is unlawful or reprehen­sible’’ (Taj al-'Arus), and especially from illicit sexual intercourse, and is applied to a man as well as a woman: thus, for instance, the terms muhsan and muhsanah are used elsewhere in the Qur'an to describe, respectively, a man or a woman who is "fortified [by marriage] against unchastity". Hence, the expression allati ahsanat farjaha, occurring in the above verse as well as in 66:12 with reference to Mary, is but meant to stress her outstanding chastity and complete abstinence, in thought as well as in deed, from anything unlawful or morally reprehensible: in other words, a rejection of the calumny (referred to in 4:156 and obliquely alluded to in 19:27-28) that the birth of Jesus was the result of an "illicit union".(Quran Ref: 21:91 )