Maria was from the village of Hafen in Lower Egypt. Her father was a Copt and her mother was a Christian Greek. She was removed when quite young to the palace of Cyrus, the ruler of Egypt. When the Messenger sent Cyrus a letter calling him to Islam, he took the letter, placed it in an ivory casket, and gave it to one of his slave girls to put away. Then he asked Hatib, the man who brought the letter, to speak to him of Mohamed. Cyrus thought for a long moment after it and then said,
"I was aware that a prophet was yet to appear. I thought he would appear in Al-Sham where other prophets have done, but I find he has appeared in Arabia but the Copts will not listen to me, and I grudge giving up my realm for it."
He sent Mohamed a cordial letter and many presents including two slaves, Maria and her sister Serene, and he mentioned in his letter that Maria and her sister were of high status among the Copts. Hatib returned with the letter, the presents, as well as the two sisters, both of whom were homesick and afraid. To quiet their fears, Hatib began to speak to them of Islam and the Arabian Prophet.
On arrival in Medina, they were presented to Mohamed who kept Maria and gave Serene to a man he wished to honor. At first Maria was only a slave and was not called "Mother of the Believers" as Mohamed's wives were. Just as Mohamed was mourning for the death of his beloved daughter, Zaynab, he received tidings of cheer-Maria was expecting a child. He was overjoyed to receive some months later a baby boy. All his sons had died in infancy and he did not expect to have a child when he was almost sixty years old. He called him Abraham after the grandfather of both Arabs and Jews, and sent his foster mother seven goats to help her nurse him. Then he distributed the weight of the child's hair in gold upon the poor. Maria was raised to the status of "Mother of Believers", for she was now the mother of Abraham.
The marriage of Mohamed to Safiyya, a Jewess, then Maria, a Copt, has tremendous importance in the history of Islam. It taught the Muslims to be tolerant. If the Messenger of Allah himself had married once a Jewess and once a Christian, then all Jews and all Christians were to be treated cordially as his in-laws. It wiped out bigotry and fanaticism from the Muslim community once and for all. The history of other religions is unfortunately full of the wrongs, persecutions, and massacres that some people have suffered because of their religion, but in the long history of Islam, no one has ever been persecuted because of his religion. The Koran decrees that there shall be no coercion in religion, and Mohamed taught it by these two unforgettable unions.