Maryam (Mary) was born to a devout Israelite family about 2,000 years ago. Her mother dedicated her at a very young age for the service of Allah in the temple where Zakariya (Zechariah), who was her relative and a prophet, was made responsible for her. She was an exemplary young person, growing in knowledge and piety over the years, until one day the angel Jibril (Gabriel) suddenly appeared before her in the form of a man, and informed her that Allah had chosen her. He blew into her, and gave her tidings of a son, even though she was a virgin. Maryam concealed her pregnancy, withdrew to a remote place, and then took her baby back to her city, where the people accused her of fornication. However, her baby, Isa (Jesus), miraculously spoke in infancy, acquitting his mother of blame, and revealing his status as a prophet of God.
Isa was the last Israelite prophet, and was granted great miracles by Allah, including the ability to cure the blind and the leper, and even giving life to the dead. However, most Israelites rejected him and opposed the teachings revealed to him in the form of the Gospel. In accordance with a charge forwarded by the Israelites, their Roman rulers were about to hang Isa, but as yet another miracle, Allah raised Isa to Himself, and saved him from his enemies.
Let’s examine some of the lessons we can learn from the lives of Maryam and Isa, as well as Zakariya and his son, Yahya (John).
- Sons and daughters are equal in the sight of Allah
The mother of Maryam, who had pledged her forthcoming baby to the service of Allah in the temple, was faced with a dilemma when she gave birth to a girl – as only sons were customarily dedicated for such service. However, she decided to fulfill her pledge to Allah, praying to Him to always guide and protect her daughter. Allah graciously accepted young Maryam for His service, as He states in the Quran, “So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner.” (3:37) In the sight of Allah, gender is immaterial with regard to deeds; the dearest to Him is the one best in conduct – whether male or female. We should similarly provide equal opportunities to our sons and daughters, and apply the same standards while bringing them up.
- Act wisely in the prime of your life
Those who are conscious of Allah from a young age are highly beloved to Him. These individuals do not waste their youth by being spiritually dead or taking this life for granted, but try to act righteously, make their choices wisely, and are sensitive to the feelings of others. Their trust in Allah provides them exemplary courage to take on the world. Maryam has been praised by Allah for being “devoutly obedient” (66:12) to Him; it was indeed her beautiful conduct in her youth that induced Zakariya to pray to Allah to grant him a righteous child too. Similarly, Yahya has been praised for being wise and conscientious in his youth: “And We gave him wisdom [while yet] a boy.” (19:12)
- Nothing is remotely difficult for Allah
Always have faith in what Allah can do for you because nothing is even slightly difficult for Him. He does what He sees fit, in the manner He deems best. When Jibril conveyed the news of a son to Maryam, she was taken aback, and prayed, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” (3:47) The angel said, “Such is Allah. He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” (3:47) Zakariya had earlier prayed to Allah for a child, and was also conveyed the news of a righteous son, Yahya, through angels – but in his old age. He asked, astonished, “My Lord, how will I have a boy when I have reached old age and my wife is barren?” (3:40) Again, the reply was, “Such is Allah. He does what He wills.” (3:40)
- Allah provides the means to bear every hardship
During her pregnancy, Maryam was under a great deal of stress – having to cope with her situation alone and conceal her pregnancy – until at last, “the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, ‘Oh, I wish I had died before this, and was in oblivion, forgotten!’” (19:23) Allah never burdens His servants with more than they can bear, so He was there to help out Maryam. A voice – possibly that of the angel – called out to her, “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be comforted. And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, ‘Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful a fast [of silence], so I will not speak today to anyone.’” (19:24-26)
- Contemplate the everyday miracles of life
The great miracles granted to Isa, such as giving life to the dead, did not convince most Israelites that he was the promised one – just as previous prophets’ miracles were denied, as Allah says, “And nothing has prevented Us from sending [similar] signs [to Muhammad] except that the former peoples denied them.” (17:59) Instead, Allah commands us to reflect on the everyday miracles we encounter: the systematic rotation of the night and day, how the rain-bearing clouds burst forth to revive the seemingly dead earth, the smooth sailing of the ships across the oceans, and so on. There are miracles of Allah as far out in the universe as we can reach, and also within our own bodies: “We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this [Quran] is the truth.” (41:53)
- The greater the blessings, the tougher the accountability
When the disciples of Isa requested a table spread with food from heaven, Allah responded, “Indeed, I will send it down to you, but whoever disbelieves afterwards from among you – then indeed will I punish him with a punishment by which I have not punished anyone among the worlds.” (5:115) As the miracle was extraordinary, disbelieving in it would result in the toughest accountability. The same divine law applies to Allah’s other favors; those blessed with the most perfect guidance, in the form of the Quran, will be most answerable for their deeds. Similarly, those enjoying the greatest wealth, but reluctant to share it with the needy, will be most punishable with regard to their possessions.
- Prophets were no more than human beings
The prophets have often been venerated by succeeding generations as divine beings or possessing the treasures of Allah. In reality, even the greatest of prophets were no more than human beings to whom Allah communicated His messages through an angel, and granted some special favors to alleviate their laborious tasks. Allah says regarding Isa, “The Messiah, son of Maryam, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food.” (5:75) Allah similarly clarified the status of Prophet Muhammad, “Muhammad is not but a messenger. [Other] messengers have passed on before him. So if he was to die or be killed, would you turn back on your heels [to unbelief]?” (3:144)