A Lebanese judge's decision in a case against three Muslim men who insulted a statue of Virgin Mary was hailed by thousands on social media earlier this week.
Instead of sentencing the defendants to jail or fine, the judge, Jocelyn Matta, ordered them to memorize verses from the holy Quran’s Surat Al-Omran, a chapter which glorifies both Virgin Mary and Jesus.
One of the verses featured in the surah hails Virgin Mary as one of the most esteemed women in the world.
"And [mention] when the angels said, 'O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds'," Al-Omran [3:42]
In her closing statement on the case, which was tried in a Tripoli courthouse last week, Matta said her sentence aimed to educate the men on Islam's reverence for Virgin Mary.
Given that Lebanon has strict religious contempt laws under which anyone accused of offending a religion or belief can face up to three years in jail, many were shocked by the judge's decision, labeling it "historic".
The unique sentence went viral on social media
Many hailed the judge's decision
Including Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri
"A salute to judge of investigations in North of Lebanon chief Jocelyn Matta. Her ruling against the three young men in Virgin Mary's case, and sentencing them to memorize the Holy Quran's Surat Al-Omran, is the epitome of justice and promotes co-existence between Christians and Muslims."
A message of co-existence
"We congratulate the Lebanese on having judges who use the law as a mean to guide and rehabilitate rather than punish. Judge Jocelyn Matta is a role model when it comes to this. Her ruling in this case stresses the need for co-existence and calls on everyone to respect freedom of belief and thought."
Virgin Mary is highly esteemed in Islam
Even though it might be unknown to some, both Virgin Mary and Jesus are highly regarded in Islam.
The Virgin Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur'an and she is among only eight people to have a Quranic chapter named after them.
And though Islam does not consider Jesus a deity nor the son of God, which are arguably the central tenets of Christianity, it does hold Christ in very high esteem.
He is regarded as Prophet Muhammad's precursor and one of God's most prominent messengers. The religion considers him a Messiah (The Savior) and Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad came to complete Jesus' message, rather than to refute it.