(A Madonna and Child, by one of Akbar’s court painters, Basavan (c. 1590))
One day Hannah bint Faqudh, wife of Imran, saw a bird feeding her chick. The maternal urge once again surged in her and she too desired to have a child. She had remained childless after fifty years of marriage. She desperately prayed to her Lord that if He blessed her with a child she would devote the child, to the service of her Lord.
“O my Lord! I do dedicate unto Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service: So accept this of me: For Thou hearest and knowest all things.”
Imran, her husband was a priest in Bait ul Muqaddis (Temple of Solomon) and he joined in her in prayers. Many a times he was taunted that every righteous man had been blessed with a child save him. In despair he left his house to go to the mountains to pray in solitude.
Hannah was praying in the garden, Imran was praying in the mountains and Allah was listening in the Heavens.
He answers the prayers of earnest and true supplicants and her prayers were answered and she became pregnant.
“O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!”- and Allah knew best what she brought forth- “And no wise is the male Like the female. I have named her Mary, and I commend her and her offspring to Thy protection from the Evil One, the Rejected.”
But alas! Imran passed away before the birth of the child he so desired. Hannah wept tears of sorrow and joy: Sorrow that her husband would not see their daughter grow up and joy that God had blessed her with a child. True to her promise she dedicated the baby girl, Maryam to the service of God. She wrapped up the baby girl in her swaddling clothes and took her to the rabbis of the temple saying, “Take this child whom I vowed – to serve the temple, I have set her free, since she is my daughter, for no menstruating woman should enter the Masjid, and I shall not take her back home.”
Zakariah said, “Give her to me, for her maternal aunt is my wife.”
There was an argument amongst the priests as to who would take care of the baby girl.
They said, “Our hearts cannot bear that you take her, for she is the daughter of our Imam.”
They decided to conduct a lottery by going to the River Jordan and throwing the pens with which they wrote the Torat into it. Whoever’s pen remained afloat would become Maryam’s guardian? When they threw their pens only Zachariah’s pen remained floating while the rest of them sank to the bottom.
Zachariah was also the father of Yahya or John the Baptist who was to prepare the world for the coming of the messiah, Isa.
The beautiful little girl, with her noble visage and shining face grew up inside the temple.
Her piety did not go unnoticed by anyone who came in contact with her.
When she attained the age of puberty, Zachariah gave her a separate room in the temple and she continued her devotions to God. Whenever Zackariah would visit her in this room he would find her with baskets of fresh fruits and food, some of the fruits being out of season.
He asked her, “O Maryam! Whence (comes) this to you?”
She said: “From Allah: for Allah Provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.”
And so Maryam grew to maturity under the care of Zackariah. Ali Ibn Abi Talib narrated that the Prophet Muhammad said: ‘The best of the world’s women is Mary (in her lifetime), and the best of the world’s women is Khadijah (in her lifetime).
One day she found out the plans that God had in store for her as the Chosen One.
She was praying when an angel visited her in the form of a man. In confusion she put up a screen between them and cried,
“I seek refuge from thee to (Allah) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear Allah.”
The angel reassured her “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.
“Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee- chosen thee above the women of all nations.
“O Mary! worship Thy Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself, and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down.”
The angel then went on to describe the birth and Prophethood of Isa.
“O Maryam! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah; He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous.”
An astonished Maryam replied, “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?”
He said: “Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is!”
The angel further went on to describe the Prophethood of Jesus, “And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message).”
Maryam had led a secluded life, devoted solely to piety and prayers to her Lord. She could not comprehend much of what the angels told her but to her dismay she soon found that she was pregnant.
Even though she had had no physical relation with a man, Maryam was mortified and embarrassed, as she knew she would have a hard time explaining that to the world.
So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place.
She first went to Nazareth the town where she was born and then from fear of what the people would say to an unmarried girl giving birth, withdrew to the hills of Bethlehem, east of Jerusalem, away from the gaze of her family and well-wishers. Maryam lived in the hills for the period of her pregnancy during which her Lord provided her sustenance. She was told by God to stay in seclusion and not talk to anybody.
It was here that the baby grew in her womb and she was overcome with pangs of childbirth. Nothing had prepared for the pain and in anguish she sat down against a dry palm tree and cried, “Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!”
A voice came out from beneath the tree, “Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee.
So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye.”
This was surely God’s voice and she was comforted.
She was further reminded not to talk to anyone or reply to curious questions by replying that she had made a vow that she would not talk to anyone that day.
It was here under the palm tree, with her pain dulled by God’s words that Maryam gave birth to Isa.
The Inn at Bethlehem Mughal, Date: ca. 1600-05 V&A Museum
She decided to return to Jerusalem with the baby. The people of the city who knew her as a virtuous woman were shocked! She was accused of a grievous sin.
“O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!”
Maryam stoically bore all the scolding and finger pointing then putting a finger on her lips, pointed towards her newborn baby, who she knew had been given the gift of speaking in the cradle. It was her son who was the witness to the purity of her character.
The townspeople said, “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?”
To their astonishment the newborn baby started speaking : “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet;
And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live;
He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;
“So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”!
Such (was) Jesus the son of Maryam: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.
The major difference between the Quran and the Bible and indeed Islam and Christianity are the lines the above ones:
It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son.
In Islam Isa is Ruhullah or Spirit of God, but a Prophet.
F1907.267Adoration of the Christ Child
ca. 1630 (Golconda, Deccan, India) Freer and Sakley