Sûrat Maryam, Verses 2-15: Zechariah and His Son Yahya
THE NINETEENTH SÛRAH of the Quran starts with Prophet Zechariah supplicating to the Lord. Zechariah was anxious to have an heir, but the inheritance he wanted his son to receive had nothing to do with property or wealth. He was getting old and feared that those around him were not good enough to continue his work. He wanted an heir to inherit religious knowledge and Prophethood.
His was not merely a desire for a son. If it had been, he would have prayed much earlier in his life, when he was younger. He was too full of true piety to put merely selfish things into his prayers. But there was a public need to carry on the mission. Though his wife was barren and he had attained to the declining of old age, the Almighty granted him a very special boy, Yaḥiya (John the Baptist).
Verses 16- 40: Maryam (Mary) and Jesus
The next set of verses then mention Maryam (Mary) and Jesus—a single mother and her son. But let us first contemplate the thoughts of Maryam’s mother when she was pregnant with Maryam. She said:
My Lord, I have dedicated what is in my womb entirely to Your service. So accept this from me. You are the One who hears and knows all. [Sûrat ÂlʿImrân, 3:35]
Like Zechariah, Maryam’s intent in having her child was to serve the Lord. Though women at that time were almost totally excluded from any formal religious education, it was a girl whom Allah gave her.
When she gave birth, she said: “My Lord, I have given birth to a girl.” Allah knew very well what she had given birth to. “A male is not like a female. I have named her Maryam and I seek refuge with You for her and for her offspring to protect them from the accursed Satan. [Sûrat ÂlʿImrân, 3:36]
The blessings resulting from the supplication of Mary’s mother not only reached Mary, but were extended to her grandson, Jesus.
[Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and has appointed me a prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I may be and has enjoined me to pray and to give the alms, so long as I remain alive, and likewise to cherish my mother; He has not made me a wretched tyrant. Peace be upon me, the day I was born, the day I will die, and the day I will be raised up alive.” [Sûrat Maryam, 19:30-33]
Verses 41-50: Abraham and His Father
Then we read about Prophet Abraham—their ancestor—and Abraham’s father. As we read the following verses, we can visualize Abraham imploring his father to give up worship of idols and to worship the Creator alone:
O my father, why do you worship that which neither hears nor sees, nor benefits you in any way?
O my father, I have been given some knowledge that has not reached you. So follow me; I will guide you to a Way that is even and straight.
O my father, do not worship [i.e. obey] Satan. Indeed Satan is a rebel against [Allah] the Most Gracious.
O my father, indeed I fear that there will afflict you a punishment from the Most Gracious so you would be to Satan a companion [in Hell-fire]. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:42-45]
But his father rejected Abraham’s words and asked him to leave. When Abraham left, Allah, Most Merciful, compensated him:
So, when he had withdrawn from them and that which they were worshipping beside Allah, We gave him Isaac and Jacob. Each of them We made a prophet. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:49]
Verses 51-53: Moses and His Brother Aaron
Next, we read about two brothers, also from the descendants of Abraham, namely, Moses and Aaron. In another Qur’an chapter we see Prophet Moses supplicating to the Lord:
[Moses] said, “My Lord … and appoint for me a helper from among my family, Aaron, my brother. Strengthen me through him, and let him share my task [of conveying Allah’s message], that we may glorify You much and remember You much. You are surely watching over us.” [Allah] said, “You have been granted your request, Moses.” [Sûrat Ṭâ Hâ, 20:25-36]
Similar to the prayers of Zechariah and Mary’s mother, the prayers of Moses were about serving the Lord. Moses wanted to involve his brother with him in his divine mission. As a result, Allah, Most Generous, made Aaron a prophet, too:
And We gave him, out of Our mercy, his brother Aaron as a prophet. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:53]
Verses 54-55: Ishmael and Family
These following verses then mention Prophet Ishmael— Abraham’s first son and father of the Arabs:
Also mention in the Book, Ishmael. Indeed, he was true to his promise, and he was a messenger [and] a prophet. He used to enjoin on his people salah (prayers) and zakah (alms-giving) and his Lord was pleased with him. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:54-55]
Verses 56-62: Idris, Adam, Noah and Their Descendants
The subsequent verses then mention Prophet Idrîs and praise all the prophets mentioned in the chapter—descendants of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Israel (Jacob) — and their followers. These righteous people used to offer their prayers with all solemnity and full submissiveness to the Lord. They were characterized by having pure and sincere hearts:
When the [Holy] verses of [Allah] Most Gracious were recited to them, they fell in prostration and weeping. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:5]
However, the generations that followed were different:
But then they were succeeded by generations who neglected their prayers [i.e., by not offering them or by not praying properly like the prophets had taught] and were driven by their own desires. They will face a terrible punishment in Hell-fire, except for those who repent, believe and do righteousness: These will enter Paradise and will not be wronged in the least. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:59-60]
Have we neglected our prayers and followed our desires? The door of repentance is widely open for anyone who wants to enter.
Family and Inheritance
From the above verses of Surat Maryam, one can conclude that a main thrust of the chapter is related to family and the inheritance of a godly legacy. Though very prominent [male] prophets were mentioned in this sûrah, the title bears the name of a woman: Maryam, or Mary, the mother of Jesus. Maryam is included within the ancestral line of Abrahamic prophets, as is her son, Prophet Jesus. This reminds us of Maryam’s lofty position—and by extension that of all pious women—in Islam. It also stresses the importance of the role that a mother plays in the family.
But in order to fully understand a main theme of the chapter, we need to take a closer look. We will notice that the root word ‘inherit’ repeatedly occurs in this chapter:
- Prophet Zechariah wanted an heir:
…To inherit prophethood from me and to inherit it from the family of Jacob… [Sûrat Maryam, 19:6]
- Allah reminds us that He will inherit [receive back] the earth and its inhabitants:
Indeed, it is We who will inherit the earth and whomever is on it, and to Us they will be returned. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:40]
All that is on the earth is doomed to perish, and when life ends on the earth, all of us will be resurrected for Final Judgment.
- The most valuable inheritance that one should aspire to is Paradise:
That is Paradise which We shall give as an inheritance to those of Our servants who fear Allah. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:63]
- As to those who deny the Truth and instead entertain big hopes of having wealth and children—a source of strength and power for some—Allah warns them:
Note the words of the one who disbelieved in Our verses and said: “I shall certainly be given wealth and children.” Has he looked into the Unseen, or has he taken from [Allah] Most Gracious a promise? Nay! We shall record what he says, and We shall increase his torment [in Hellfire]. We shall inherit from him [at his death] all that he boasts of [i.e., wealth and children], and he will come to Us bare and alone. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:77-80]
This is how things work. No one takes anything with him or her after death. And on the Day of Judgment, no soul will avail another, nor will compensation be accepted from it [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:123].
Maryam’s son, Jesus, continued the Abrahamic line of prophets. But those who claimed to follow Jesus deviated from the truth which he and all of the Abrahamic prophets had taught. As to those who ascribe any ‘son’ to Allah, here is to be the response to their claim:
They say, “[Allah] the Most Gracious has begotten a son.” Assuredly, you have uttered a monstrous falsehood. The heavens almost rupture therefrom and the earth splits open and the mountains collapse in devastation, because they ascribe a son to the Most Gracious. It does not become the majesty of the Most Gracious to take to Himself a son. [Sûrat Maryam, 19:88-92]
The Creator does not need children. Glory be to Him! He is Free of need and He is the Ever-Living. This claim is utterly baseless:
They say, “Allah has begotten a son.” Exalted is He; He is the Self-Sufficient One. Everything in the heavens and on the earth belongs to Him. Do you have any proof for this [claim]? Do you [falsely] ascribe to Allah something which you do not know? [Sûrat Yûnus, 10:68]
After contemplating this great sûrah of the Quran, one can conclude that one of the main lessons of the chapter is: The best thing one can leave to one’s family as inheritance is faith and all the good deeds that lead to Paradise.
May Allah, Most Merciful, guide us and our loved ones to the Straight Path. Amen.