Verses from Surah Maryam (12-33)

[12] (We said), ‘O Yahya,18 hold the Book firmly.’19 And We granted him judgment (although still) a boy.20


18. So the supplication was granted and a new Prophet was raised. However, the Israelites did not treat him as a gift from Allah. The Gospels tell us that he was put to death by the Israeli ruler Herod. The story as told in Matthew is as follows: “.. Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison, for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; because John said to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry; but because of his oath and his guests he commanded it to be given; he sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. (Matthew 14: 3-11)” – Mawdudi.

19. That is, learn it well (Ibn Kathir).

20. The textual “hukm” could also be understood to mean knowledge. (Or wisdom: Alusi). It is said that once some children invited Yahya to join them in their play. He spurned the idea, saying, “I have not been created for games” (Ibn Jarir), or, “We have not been created for games” (Zamakhshari, Razi). Abu Nu`aym, Ibn Marduwayh and Daylami have a report which says that he was given knowledge and understanding, and became a devout at the age of seven (Alusi).

Yusuf Ali lays emphasis on accuracy of meaning. He writes, “Hukm, translated Wisdom, implies something more than Wisdom; it is the Wisdom or Judgment that is entitled to judge and command, as in the matter of denouncing sin.”

[13] And a tenderness from Us21 and purity, and he was godfearing. 


21. Another meaning that the textual “hanan” affords is, love. That is, he was made lovable (`Ikrimah: Alusi).

[14] Dutiful to his parents, and not at all a sinful tyrant.22


22. A future Prophet is not expected to be a sinful tyrant. Why then did Allah say these words? Shah `Abdul Qadir has a pointed remark: Most sons granted after great entreaties are spoilt ones (Shabbir).

Thanwi writes: The words, “We granted him judgment (although still) a boy, a tenderness from Us, purity, and he was godfearing,” speak of the inner behavior, while the words, “Dutiful to his parents, and he was not at all a sinful tyrant,” speak of external behavior.

[15] Peace unto him the day he was born, the day he dies, and the day he is raised up alive.23


23. Ibn `Atiyyah has said that there are three moments in a man’s life when he cannot escape suffering: birth, death, resurrection. Allah saved Yahya from the suffering of all three occasions (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

[16] And narrate in the Book (the story of) Maryam.24 When she withdrew from her folks to a place toward the east.25


24. Allah follows up the story of Yahya’s miraculous birth with that of Jesus Christ to impress on the Christians that a miraculous birth was nothing new in the family of `Imran (Au.).

25. Bayhaqi, Ibn `Asakir and Hakim, who declared it Sahih, report that according to Ibn Mas`ud and Ibn `Abbas, it was the need to cleanse herself after menstruation that had driven Maryam to a spot toward the east (Shawkani).

[17] She took against them a curtain. Then We sent to her Our Spirit.26 He appeared before her as a man in all respects.


26. That is, Jibril (Ibn Jarir from the Companions and Followers). A possible explanation as to why he was called “Our Spirit” is that he happens to be very close to Allah (Zamakhshari).

 [18] She said, ‘I seek refuge in the Merciful from you – if you be godfearing.’

[19] He said, ‘I am but a Messenger from your Lord to give you a boy most pure.’

[20] She exclaimed, ‘How can I have a son seeing no man has ever touched me, nor am I an harlot?’27


27. Why did she have to say that she was not an adulteress? Imam Razi (and Qurtubi) answer that one possibility is that when she said, “No man has touched me,” she meant “I am not married.” Accordingly, she had to add that neither is she an adulteress.

 [21] He said, ‘Even so, your Lord has said, “Easy it is unto Me; that We may appoint him a sign unto mankind and a mercy from Us: it was an affair (long) decreed.”’

[22] So she conceived him,28 and retired with him to a remote place.29


28. Both the believing, as well as non-believing classes have wondered how a woman could conceive without a male. The non-believing class has an excuse. But what excuse the religious class – Jews – could have? Do they not believe that Adam was created without a male and female? Hawwa from a male? And wasn’t Yahya, an Israeli Prophet whose mother was barren and father decrepit, the result of a miraculous conception? As for the non-believing class, at least by our times they have no excuse for their skepticism. There are several species of reptiles that conceive without a male. Recently scientists were amazed to discover that a female shark became pregnant in a pool that had only females. The said shark had been brought in at a time she was a baby and had all her life lived among females alone. Allah has power over all things is a refrain little believed in (Au.).

29. Wahab b. Munabbih has said that when Maryam had conceived `Isa and the signs of pregnancy began to show, she retired to Bayt al-Lahm (Bethlehem) in order to be away from the eyes of the people. And Majid points out that it could as well have been another obscure little village of the same name, now some 7 km from Nazareth.

Pregnancy itself might not have been visible until late months. Some women are reported to have carried without they themselves knowing for as many as eight months (Au.).

[23] And the birth pangs drove her30 to the trunk of a (date) palm-tree. She cried (in anguish), ‘O that I had died before this and become forgotten, lost in oblivion.’31


30. Another possible connotation that the textual “aja’aha” suggest is that the birth pangs took her by surprise at the palm-tree (Qurtubi, Shawkani).

31. Zamakhshari writes that linguistically “nasyu” is something too insignificant to be remembered.

[24] He called her from below her,32 ‘Grieve not. Your Lord has set below you a rivulet. 


32. Probably she was at a somewhat raised spot (Au.). Ibn `Abbas, `Amr b. Maymun, `Alqamah, Dahhak and others have said that it was Jibril who called out to her from below her. Nevertheless, Mujahid, Hasan, Wahab b. Munabbih, Sa`id b. Jubayr and others have thought that it was the new born child `Isa who called her (Ibn Jarir). The textual term “sariyy” in any case refers also to a great, noble man. Hasan has said, “`Isa ibn Maryam was a sariyy” among men (Qurtubi).

[25] And shake toward yourself the trunk of the palm-tree.33 It will drop down on you dates fresh and ripe.


33. The stem of a palm-tree is not something that can be shaken easily, especially by a woman, weakened by childbirth. Scholars have pointed out the importance of adopting means towards material ends. Although, dates could drop down by themselves, Maryam was required to shake the heavy trunk, to the best of her strength and not sit fingers crossed, waiting for Allah’s help to descend (based on Qurtubi).

[26] So, eat and drink and cool (your) eyes, and if you should see any mortal, say, “I have vowed a fast unto the Merciful.34 So, today I shall not speak to any man.”

[27] At length she brought him to her folk carrying him. They said, ‘O Maryam! You have truly brought a thing unprecedented.

[28] O sister of Harun!35 Your father was not a wicked man, nor was your mother an harlot.’ 


35. Several of the Salaf have made it clear that the said Harun was not Musa’s brother. A few have said that all those devoted to Allah referred to themselves as Harun. In fact, Mughira ibn Sho`ba reports the following: “The Prophet sent me to Najran (a Christian area). They asked me, ‘Don’t you read (in the Qur’an), “O sister of Harun?’” I said yes. They said, ‘But you know that many generations have been there between `Isa and Musa!’ I said nothing and asked the Prophet when I returned. He said, ‘Why did you not tell them that they used to adopt the names of their prophets and righteous men?” (Ibn Jarir). The hadith is in Muslim and Tirmidhi (Qurtubi). Qatadah has said that at any time there used to be thousands among them called Harun (Alusi).

Asad comments: “In ancient Semitic usage, a person’s name was often linked with that of a renowned ancestor or founder of the tribal line. Thus, for instance, a man of the tribe of Banu Tamim was sometimes addressed as ‘son of Tamim’ or ‘brother of Tamim.’ Since Mary belonged to the priestly caste, and hence descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses, she was called a ‘sister of Aaron’ (in the same way as her cousin Elisabeth, the wife of Zachariah, is spoken of in Luke i, 5, as one ‘of the daughters of Aaron.’”

A fuller account of Asad’s quote from Luke is as follows: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”

In fact, Shabbir reminds us, the Qur’an itself has a similar usage. It referred to Hud (asws) as (46: 21) “`Ad’s brother” although `Ad was the great grand progenitor of Hud.

[29] She pointed to him.36 They said, ‘How shall we talk to someone in the cradle, a babe?’ 


36. The words, “She pointed to him,” also give us to believe that all the while Maryam was speaking them in signs and tokens (Qurtubi).

[30] He spoke out, ‘I am indeed a servant of Allah. He has given me the Book and made me a Prophet.37


37. That is, it has been predestined that I should be a prophet and receive a Book. This is how `Ikrimah has explained this verse (Ibn Jarir).

[31] He has made me blessed wherever I be,38 and enjoined on me prayer and charity, so long as I live.


38. Mujahid and Sufyan have explained “mubarak” as “mu`allim”. That is, someone who will preach the good word wherever he happened to be. Another connotation is: beneficent (Ibn Jarir and others).

[32] And dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.39

[33] Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die and the day I am raised up alive.’


39. This verse, as well as several others of this kind, tells us that Prayers, charity and kindness toward the parents have been elements of all revealed religions (Qurtubi).

Readers of the New Testament can be very surprised by Jesus’ behavior towards his mother. Majid throws light on this important aspect of the meaning held in the verse: “This refutes and contradicts the position implied in various passages of the NT that the attitude of Jesus towards his mother was cold and indifferent. See Mt. 12: 46-50; Mk. 3: 31-35; Lk. 8: 19-21.

(To be continued)

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