Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 marks the death anniversary of Prophet Muhammad al-Mustafa (pbuh), 1440 A.H.
The Legacy of Lady Maryam and Prophet Isa: A Quranic Perspective of Service to God
People of different religions and backgrounds around the word commemorate the birthday of Prophet Isa (p) in unique ways. There is something remarkable about his hallowed personality and the way he changed the world around him, not only while present on this earth, but also long after his departure up to the present day. The Holy Quran describes that the angel descended to Lady Maryam and said, “I am the Messenger of your Lord. I have come to give you a purified son.”1 Yet, in addition to knowing who he was, it behooves us to reflect on his background and the ancestral tree that preceded his divine mission, because therein lies a profound lesson on how each of us should live our lives as the servants of God. This begins by understanding the intimate relationship a devout person has with their Lord, which deepens when they engender the qualities that make them worthy in His eyes, and thereafter flourishes as they become a source of goodness to anything that encounters them.
The solemn vow of Lady Maryam’s mother
The Holy Quran poignantly describes the origin of Prophet Isa, beginning with a description of his family and their life of devotion to God. This was also the family of Prophets Zakariyya (p) and Yahya (p), the former of whom served God as the custodian of a house of worship. Lady Maryam’s mother was Prophet Zakariyya’s sister-in-law and the wife of Imran. She prayed to her Lord and declared, “I have made a vow to dedicate to Your service whatever is in my womb. Lord, accept it from me. You are All-hearing and All-knowing.”2 In doing so, Lady Maryam’s mother committed not only herself, but her unborn child as well, to the perpetual service of God regardless of subsequent personal circumstances or unforeseen challenges that might arise later. This is in stark contrast to how we initiate our acts in God’s way and demonstrate our underlying deficits as true believers. Unfortunately, we first assess the potential difficulties we may face in serving God and apply conditions to this service based on convenience, ease, and personal preference.
God’s acceptance of our worship
As worshippers, we constantly seek the acceptance of our acts of devotion by God, even making it a habit to wish this for fellow congregants following the congregational prayer. Yet, as sincere a sentiment as this is, it behooves us to understand what makes our actions worthy of God’s acceptance. Lady Maryam’s mother turned to God as her only refuge when she delivered her daughter, saying, “‘Lord, it is a female.’ God knew this. Male and female are not alike. ‘I have named her Maryam. I pray that You will keep her and her offspring safe from Satan, the condemned one.’”3 Thus, the first step in the acceptance of any worship is to actively seek refuge in God from Satan, who seeks to devalue our intentions and mix them with the pursuit of anything other than God. The second step is to embody the faith that we proclaim, in every word, action and gesture, just like Lady Maryam who, “made the words of her Lord and the predictions in His Books come true. She was an obedient woman.”4 The third step is to act with moderation, which means to fulfill basic needs without transgressing the limits of God and indulging in the excesses of desire. This quality is known as chastity, and through it a person achieves true happiness, contentment, and the shunning of gluttony and covetousness. Chastity also has a positive effect on the community, because it creates equity, compassion, and goodwill.
God says that “Into the woman [Lady Maryam] who maintained her chastity We breathed Our Spirit and made her and her son a miracle for all people,”5 and due to the sincerity of worship, “Her Lord graciously accepted the offer [made by Lady Maryam’s mother] and made Maryam grow up, pure, and beautiful. Zachariah took custody of her. Whenever he went to visit her in her place of worship, he would find with her some food. He would ask her, ‘Where did this food come from?’ She would reply, ‘God has sent it.’ God gives sustenance to whomever He wants without keeping an account.”6 Thus, the result of the sincere offering to God and its acceptance is a divine gift, which arrives from unseen quarters and is immeasurable in value.
Lady Maryam and Prophet Isa
Islam requires us to believe in the lofty and unique status of Lady Maryam. As such, in further recognizing her high position, God sent the angels to inform her, “God had chosen you, purified you, and given you distinction over all women”7 and remind her, “pray devotedly to your Lord, prostrate yourself before Him and bow down with those who bow down before Him.”8 Moreover, God informed Lady Maryam that her purified lineage would continue and once again sent the angels to reveal to her that “God has given you the glad news of the coming birth of a son whom He calls His Word, whose name will be Messiah, Isa, son of Maryam, who will be a man of honor in this life and the life to come, and who will be one of the ones nearest to God.”9 As soon as he was born, Prophet Isa declared to the people, “He (God) has commanded me to be good to my parents [my mother] and has not made me an arrogant rebellious person,”10 clearly professing an appreciation for the pious person who carried him, shared with him the blessed qualities that were within her, and thereafter brought him into this world. As Muslims and Christians believe, this Messiah will also return to the world after his long absence and restore justice, equity, and salvation.
The great qualities of Prophet Isa
In addition to expressing his gratitude towards his mother, Prophet Isa announced God’s disdain for arrogance and rebelliousness. Thus, of the many great characteristics of the Spirit of God or Ruh-Allah (i.e., Prophet Isa), it would be worthwhile for us to consider two. The first is his embodiment of servitude to God, not just as a declaration or mere verbal attestation, but as a deep and complete realization of his intrinsic nature. This level of personal consciousness fosters humility and devotion, as seen in the character of Lady Maryam. The Holy Quran states, “Jesus never disdained the worship of God nor did the nearest angels to God.”11 Furthermore, a fully realized servant of God has resolve, drive, and focus in achieving the aims of God and spreading goodness to others regardless of the challenges and difficulties faced. Thus, notice the remarkable statement of Prophet Isa, one he made miraculously as a newborn and in doing so showed that cognizance of God is rooted in our most basic nature. He said, “”I am the servant of God. He has given me the Book and has appointed me to be a Prophet. He has blessed me no matter where I dwell, commanded me to worship Him and pay the religious tax for as long as I live.”12 Hence, it is no different for us, except for the aspect of divine appointment and revelation, in that we are first the servants of God, and that, irrespective of our circumstances, we can be a source of blessings for ourselves and others especially when we begin with sincere worship and seek God’s acceptance.
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1. The Holy Quran 19:19. Quranic quotations in this article are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
2. The Holy Quran 3:35.
3.The Holy Quran 3:36.
4. The Holy Quran 66:12.
5. The Holy Quran 21:91.
6. The Holy Quran 3:37.
7. The Holy Quran 3:42.
8. The Holy Quran 3:43.
9. The Holy Quran 3:45.
10. The Holy Quran 19:32.
11. The Holy Quran 4:172.
12. The Holy Quran 19:30–31.
1. قال الله تعالى: ((قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَنَا رَسُولُ رَبِّكِ لِأَهَبَ لَكِ غُلَامًا زَكِيًّا))
2. قال الله تعالى: ((إِذْ قَالَتِ امْرَأَتُ عِمْرَانَ رَبِّ إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لَكَ مَا فِي بَطْنِي مُحَرَّرًا فَتَقَبَّلْ مِنِّي ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ))
3. قال الله تعالى: ((فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتْهَا قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَضَعْتُهَا أُنثَىٰ وَاللَّـهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتْ وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالْأُنثَىٰ ۖ وَإِنِّي سَمَّيْتُهَا مَرْيَمَ وَإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّيَّتَهَا مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ))
4. قال الله تعالى: ((وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ))
5. قال الله تعالى: ((وَالَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهَا مِن رُّوحِنَا وَجَعَلْنَاهَا وَابْنَهَا آيَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ))
6. قال الله تعالى: ((فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا ۖ كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِندَهَا رِزْقًا ۖ قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّىٰ لَكِ هَـٰذَا ۖ قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّـهِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ))
7. قال الله تعالى: ((وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ))
8. قال الله تعالى: ((يَا مَرْيَمُ اقْنُتِي لِرَبِّكِ وَاسْجُدِي وَارْكَعِي مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ))
9. قال الله تعالى: ((إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ))
10. قال الله تعالى: ((وَبَرًّا بِوَالِدَتِي وَلَمْ يَجْعَلْنِي جَبَّارًا شَقِيًّا))
11. قال الله تعالى: ((لَّن يَسْتَنكِفَ الْمَسِيحُ أَن يَكُونَ عَبْدًا لِّلَّـهِ وَلَا الْمَلَائِكَةُ الْمُقَرَّبُونَ ۚ وَمَن يَسْتَنكِفْ عَنْ عِبَادَتِهِ وَيَسْتَكْبِرْ فَسَيَحْشُرُهُمْ إِلَيْهِ جَمِيعًا))
12. قال الله تعالى: ((قَالَ إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّـهِ آتَانِيَ الْكِتَابَ وَجَعَلَنِي نَبِيًّا ﴿٣٠﴾ وَجَعَلَنِي مُبَارَكًا أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُ وَأَوْصَانِي بِالصَّلَاةِ وَالزَّكَاةِ مَا دُمْتُ حَيًّا))