Paradigms of Distinguished Women in the Holy Qur'an
“Verily! Men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in righteousness) and women who persevere, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard (their chastity), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember -- Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward.”
(Sura al-Ahzab: verse 35)
The interest in discovering role models for oneself is an innate need of mankind. But not anything or anyone could act as the right paradigm. Only those who have genuine capabilities, innate competence, and spiritual values within their personality can be taken as examples for others. Personalities of no noble origin or with materialistic views in mind cannot be qualified role models. That is why the well-known spiritual characters shall remain as eternal paradigms throughout the history.
The Holy Qur'an, too, as the perfect guide of mankind, has introduced some of these outstanding paradigms, and has asked all individuals to take lessons from their life histories and follow them in the course of their lives.
Taking into consideration the effective role of women in building the foundations of Islamic societies, knowing and following the examples introduced by the Holy Qur'an will be an authentic guideline for our women to discover their true nature and to have a better way of life.
In this collection, we will present the life histories of a number of outstanding women who are considered bright figures with regard to their Qur'anic merits:
1) Asiya, Pharaoh’s wife, an example of ‘believing women’ (al-Mo’minat)
2) Yokheved, mother of Prophet Moses, an example of women who ‘surrender unto Allah’ (al-Muslimat)
3) Zipporah, Moses’ wife, an example of ‘modesty’ and ‘choosing the right husband’
4) Anna, Mary’s mother, an example of truthful women (al-Saadiqat)
5) Mary, holy mother of Jesus Christ, the example of chastity and obedience (al-Qaanitat & al-Saadiqat)
6) Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, an example of righteous, humble women (al-Saalihat & al-Khashi’at)
7) Eve, Adam’s wife, the example of repenting women (al-Taa’ibat)
8) Hagar, Abraham’s wife, the example of women who travel towards their Lord (al-Saa’ihat)
9) Rahima, Job’s wife, an example of patience (al-Saabirat)
10) Bilkis , the Queen of Sheba, an example of submission to the divine will (al-Muslimat)
11) Khadija (s.a.), distinguished wife of the Holy Prophet of Islam (s.a.), the example of sincere faith and almsgiving for the sake of Allah (al-Mo’minat & al-Mutasaddiqat)
12) Hazrat Fatima al-Zahra (s.a.), the Perfect Paradigm, and the holder of all excellent qualities
Asiya, Pharaoh’s Wife, An Example of ‘Believing Women’ (al-Mo’minat)
The Holy Qur'an has introduced Asiya as a perfect paradigm with regard to her firm faith. Her monotheistic belief was so profound that has made her an everlasting character to be alive forever along with the eternal holy Book throughout the centuries and eras. She is an ideal epitome for believers, both men & women: “And Allah sets forth, as an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh…” (Sura al-Tahreem: verse 11)
Let’s have a closer look at her situation in the court of Pharaoh for a better understanding of the value of her faith:
Asiya, the queen of Egypt, was of a noble line in Egypt and belonged to Israelites. She lived in the palace of Pharaoh at the highest rank and most glorious position. All kinds of facilities, luxuries, wealth, and comfort were prepared for her. Whatever she willed was immediately brought to her. Potentially she could sink into the epicurean sea of her environment and neglect her Lord and human values.
Her husband was Pharaoh, a tyrant who had spread about his hegemony and injustice not only in the entire territory of Egypt and its colonies but also within his own palace. This was a fact, of which Asiya was well aware.
Asiya lived in such a stifling atmosphere for about 30 years, but neither the tempting palace nor the frightening power of her husband was able to deviate her from the straight divine path. Just the opposite, she secretly worshiped her Lord in her seclusion. This was while all other people, either willingly or compulsorily, fell prostrate at the feet of Pharaoh. But Asiya, the virtuous lady who had heartily surrendered to Allah’s command, took her full interest in the true One, even under the dictatorial rule of Pharaoh.
Had she her faith in God before the appearance of Moses in Pharaoh’s palace? Did she know the right path of worshipping Almighty God through the guidance of Prophet Jacob’s descendants? Or did her quality of godliness emerge after visiting the holy Moses? Whatsoever had been the case, the outcome was the same: she was a monotheist, who well knew God and was familiar with human values.
Asiya had no child. Maybe Almighty Allah had reserved the pure lap of that faithful lady to bring up a saint child like Moses! Or maybe she was divinely inspired to bear the affection for little Moses in her heart, giving her the firm will to resist Pharaoh in his order for killing that innocent baby. The Holy Qur'an states: “And the wife of Pharaoh said: (He will be) a consolation for me and for you. Slay him not. It may be that he will be useful to us, or we may adopt him as a son…” (Sura al-Qasas: verse 9)
It is supposed that Pharaoh, seeing the face of little Moses as well as other signs such as leaving him in a basket and launching it in the Nile River, had somehow realized that the baby belonged to Israelites. It was only then that the nightmare of uprising of a man from Israelites awakened within him, and asked his men to execute him lest he would turn into the promised man to overthrow him from his throne.
Courtiers, who fawned on Pharaoh, encouraged him in his decision to slay the little baby. They said, “Why this baby should be excluded from the general rule of slaughtering babies?” But Asiya, who had no son and her tender heart was totally different from that of other courtiers, was filled with the love for that little baby. Relying on her Creator, she stood against all vicious plots of courtiers. Asiya’s victory over the courtiers was not just because of her influence on Pharaoh, as Pharaoh was an inflexible tyrant. Having in mind the prediction of his stargazers about the birth of a child from Israelites who would overthrow him from his throne, it was not probable that he would be influenced by the words of his wife. No doubt, it was the power of Asiya’s faith that supported her. Being inspired by Almighty Allah, she well applied her prudence and reasoning power, and the baby was accepted in Pharaoh’s palace by the permission of Pharaoh himself. Thus, Moses grew up under direct care of Asiya and under her motherly surveillance.
When Moses was appointed by the Almighty as his prophet, Asiya acknowledged her faith in the new creed and converted to Moses’ religion. At first she concealed her faith. For years she worshipped the one God and kept her faith under the guidance of Prophet Moses (a.s.). But finally her secret was disclosed and Pharaoh blazed with anger. At the first stage he tried to prevent Asiya from believing in unique God. For this purpose he resorted to any means he thought; once he threatened her, and once he tempted her with fascinating assurances and sweet promises. But neither threats nor promises worked. Asiya’s soul was linked to someone else; she cared for no one except her Creator and whatever Moses said. She was neither afraid of her cruel husband nor was she content with her position as the Queen of Egypt. She looked deep into her environment and the human beings around her to understand the feelings of those underprivileged, poor people who lived close to her. She had cut off her bonds with the magnificent palace of Pharaoh and its inhabitants, and linked herself to the oppressed and deprived people of her time. She thought of one thing only: how to guide her husband to the straight path, make him believe in the true God, and push him to give up his unjust behavior towards the poor and vulnerable people. But Pharaoh was a cruel character who claimed to be the god of people and openly announced that there was no superior to him in the whole universe; it was unthinkable that he would accept to surrender to Moses’ commands and abdicate from his false position of divinity.
At last, Pharaoh offered two choices to his wife: either to accept Moses’ religion and be ready for any kind of torture or to regard her husband as the overlord of all creatures and continue in her position as the Queen of Egypt.
Asiya chose the former choice and rejected Phraoh’s suggestion to abstain from her belief in Moses’ creed. Witnessing the miracles of Moses, she had put her strong faith in the One God. She had realized that Pharaoh was a tyrant who would perish some day, and that the truth resided in the invitation of divine messengers. She knew that living in the magnificent palace should end soon, while the blessings of Almighty God would last forever.
When Pharaoh could not make her wife surrender to his will, ordered his men to nail her to the ground and put a heavy piece of stone on her chest under the hot sunshine. At the very last seconds of her life, when she was about to be martyred, Asiya was talking to her God. The Holy Qur'an cites her invocation as follows:
“When she said: My Lord! Build for me a home with thee in the paradise, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work, and deliver me from evil-doing folk…” (Sura al-Tahreem: verse 11)
The great exegete of the Holy Qur'an, the late Ayatollah Tabatabaei, describes Asiya’s spirit of obedience as follows: “When someone’s faith is perfected, his/her inward nature and outward appearance shall be in harmony with each other; his/her heart shall be in concordance with his/her tongue. Such people shall not say anything but whatsoever they themselves perform, and do not perform but whatsoever they say (to others). They do not wish and do not request but what they search for it in practice. Almighty Allah (S.W.T.) cites the invocation of this outstanding lady; in fact it is a comprehensive symbol of her intrinsic nature of obedience. Her invocation is the prayer of a lady who has recognized the right path under the banner of a sound belief in One God; a divine woman who has put aside whatsoever which is against Allah & His path. She has joined all that is colored by Allah’s signs. She sees herself bound to resist and stand against the tyrant of her time who is considered one of the most powerful corrupt forces against the divine path. That is why she asks her God to build for her a home with Him in the paradise, and deliver her from Pharaoh and the evil-doing folk.”
And in this way, the wife of Pharaoh waived the worldly pleasures and wished to reside at the nearness of Almighty, and the Almighty introduced her as the example of ‘faith’. The Holy Prophet of Islam (s.a.), too, states about her: “There are three persons who never – even not for a single moment – disbelieved in the divine revelation: 1-Mo’min Aal-e Yasin (the Believer whom is mentioned in the sura al-Yasin) 2-Ali son of Abitalib (a.s.) 3- Asiya, Pharaoh’s wife.” (Sheikh Sadooq’s Khisaal, vol. 1, p. 173).
… And she can be the best paradigm for all believers who seek the truth.
Yokheved, Moses’ Mother, an Example of Muslimaat
Yokheved, mother of Moses, is the example of Muslimaat (women who surrender unto Allah’s orders). She was so faithful to God that consented to His order and put her beloved baby in a wooden box and cast it in the river of Nile.
Yokheved was an offspring of Prophet Jacob (Israel). Her ancestors had been inhabitants of Egypt from the time of Prophet Joseph and comprised a considerable population in that country.
Yokheved had three children: a girl named Mary and two sons named Moses and Aaron. The votaries of Pharaoh had notified him that an Israelite man would rise to overthrow him. They had additionally warned him that the Israelite man shall put an end to his life and that Pharaoh’s annihilation by him would be inevitable.
To escape that terrible destiny, Pharaoh had ordered his officers to slay all male newborns of Israelite origin and not to leave even one male baby alive.
From that day on Pharaoh’s men strictly watched Israelite families, who were considered the monotheists of their time. As soon as a boy was born, he was immediately slain.
Under the very horrible circumstance, Yokheved became pregnant with Moses; however, since Almighty Allah had willed to appoint her baby to the standing of prophethood later on so that he would guide the Israelites, nobody became informed of her pregnancy to the last minute. When the time for her parturition approached, she was involved in a serious worry; but her faith in God calmed her down and caused her to beseech the Almighty to save the life of her beloved baby.
When she gave birth to her son, she wondered what would happen to him if the Pharaoh’s envoys were informed of the case. At that critical moment, Almighty God sent down His revelation:
So We sent this inspiration to the mother of Moses: "Suckle (your child), but when you have fears about him, cast him into the river, but fear not nor grieve: for We shall restore him to you, and We shall make him one of Our messengers." [Sura al-Qasas]
This divine commandment cast a beam of light into the heart of Moses’ mother and made her hopeful to the grace of Allah that He will safeguard her baby. Therefore, she laid her little son in a wooden box and launched it in the Nile River lest the envoys of Pharaoh appear and slay him. She had pinned her hope on Allah’s grace. The detailed story is as follows:
When Moses was born, his eyes glittered in a way that the midwife was shocked and her heart was filled with the love for that little baby. She told Yokheved: I intended to report the birth of your baby to the Pharaoh’s men, but now I feel a sharp love for this baby deep in my heart and I wish him to be away from any slight hurt. Take care of him and do not let Pharaoh’s people be warned of the matter. I suppose this is the same promised child who shall demolish Pharaoh and his ruling system.
When the midwife left the house, some of the spies saw her going out and decided to enter the house where Moses was born. Moses’ sister notified her mother immediately, which made her badly disturbed. Her anxiety was to the extent that prevented her from making a rational decision at that critical moment; therefore, in her hurry, she wrapped her baby in a piece of cloth and threw him in the burning oven in their house. The spies rushed into the house and started their search, but found nothing but the burning fire inside the oven. They asked Yokheved, “What was this midwife doing here?” “She is my friend and comes here from time to time to see me”, replied Yokheved. The spies became frustrated and left the house. At the moment they left the house, Moses started to cry, pushing his mother to run toward the burning fire. Much surprised was she to see her baby being rescued miraculously. Through a miracle, Almighty Allah had saved Moses from burning. Fire had turned into a safe and sound environment to little Moses! But the situation was dangerous and it was probable that the cry of the baby would attract the attention of spies.
At that point, a divine inspiration enlightened the heart of Yokheved; an inspiration that ordered her to do a seemingly dangerous job. Nevertheless, Yokheved experienced a sense of tranquility at the same time. It was a divine mission to be accomplished, and she decided to put the divine commandment in practice and submit her little son to the River of Nile. For that purpose, Yokheved went to a carpenter and asked him to build a little wooden box for her. Having guessed the story, the carpenter made his mind to notify Pharaoh’s executioners. But as soon as he arrived at the place, a bizarre sense of fear surrounded his spirit which tied up his tongue. He tried to convey his message by giving hints, but the Pharaoh’s men thought that he was ridiculing them. Any time he went to them, the mysterious event recurred; until the carpenter concluded that there was a divine secret in that strange story. Thus he relinquished reporting it, made the wooden box, and delivered it to Yokheved.
Early in the morning, Yokheved took Moses and the box to the shore of Nile, let her little baby drink enough milk, put him inside the box, and launched it in the river. The box started moving on the water, and was driven away by the waves. Watching the scene, Yokheved suddenly felt that her heart had been separated and moved away from her. If divine mercy had not calmed down her stormy spirit, perhaps she would have shouted out and disclosed her secret feeling.
But there came to be a void (a sense of tranquil) in the heart of the mother of Moses: She was going almost to disclose his (case), had We not strengthened her heart (with faith), so that she might remain a (firm) believer. [Sura al-Qasas]
The Merciful God, who had put such a difficult task on her shoulder, made her heart firm as well, so that she would not lose her faith in Him, and know that the destiny of her little baby was within the hands of the Almighty. God would return her child to her – as promised – and appoint him as His great prophet on the earth.
As soon as Moses was driven away in the river, the mother ordered her clever daughter to pursue the box:
And she said to the sister of (Moses), "Follow him" so she (the sister) watched him in the character of a stranger. And they knew not. [Sura al-Qasas]
As related by the Holy Qur'an, Moses’ sister, Mary, went after the box and saw that it was eventually caught by Pharaoh’s men.
Much furious was Pharaoh to see that little baby; however, his wife (Asiya) felt a deep love for that baby within her heart. She told her husband, “This baby is above one year old. You ordered to slaughter babies of the current year only. So let this baby remain alive; maybe we can adopt him as a beloved son or maybe he will benefit us.”
The wife of Pharaoh said: "(Here is) joy of the eye, for me and for you: slay him not. It may be that he will be of use to us, or we may adopt him as a son." And they perceived not (what they were doing)! [Sura al-Qasas]
On the other hand, Moses’ sister could enter the palace with her good sense and braveness just when the Pharaoh’s envoys were searching for a nursemaid to suckle the baby. Politely she suggested, “ Do you let me introduce to you a household to foster the baby?”
… until (His sister came up and) said: "Shall I point out to you the people of a house that will nourish and bring him up for you and be sincerely attached to him?"... [Sura al-Qasas]
Moses refused breasts of all women; and it was due to the divine ban which prohibited him from accepting them.
And We ordained that he refused to suck any foster-mother before… [Sura al-Qasas]
Finally, by the grace of Almighty Allah, the child was returned to his mother by the guidance of Mary. Smelling the fragrance of his mother, Moses grasped her breast and reposed in her arms.
It is narrated that Pharaoh summoned Yokheved and asked her, “Why the baby consented to suck your breast?” She replied, “Because my body is fragrant and my milk is tasty. That’s why any baby would accept my breast.” Pharaoh was convinced by the reply and did not follow the matter anymore. And in this way, the divine promise was fulfilled:
So We restored him to his mother that she might be comforted and not grieve, and that she might know that the promise of Allah is true: but most of them do not understand. [Sura al-Qasas]
Now imagine what kind of woman was Yokheved when she obeyed the order of Almighty and laid her son in a box and launched it in the river. She was a lady who was decent enough to receive the divine revelation, and was so outstanding that raised a child on her lap, who later on turned to be Kalimullah (Interlocutor of Allah).
All these merits and virtues are the products of her perfect faith in Allah and her full obedience to divine commands. So she deserved to receive divine graces and to be a brilliant example of submission to Allah’s instructions.
ZIPPORAH, the Wife of Prophet Moses (as),
An Example of Pudency and Good Selection of Spouse
Zipporah was the daughter of Shu’aib (in Bible: Reuel or Jethro), the Prophet of people of Midian, a city in the area between southern Syria and northern Arabian Peninsula.
According to the Holy Qur'an, the outstanding characteristics of this lady have been her pudency and modesty, which are prerequisites of one’s faith and obedience to God. The other significant quality of this lady has been her good sense in selection of a decent spouse based on spiritual values, a factor that strengthens the fundamentals of family and prevents it from disjointing.
After the story of Moses’ fight with the Egyptian man, Moses – who was wanted by Pharaoh’s people – decided to flee to Midian, a city which was far away from the Pharaoh’s ruling territory. So he went on a journey that had no precedence in his life. The only capital Moses had taken with him in that journey was his faith and trust in God. He constantly asked his Creator to save him from the evildoers and lead him to a safe place.
Finally, Moses - exhausted and worn out - arrived in Midian. Somewhere near the city, he sat to rest under the shade of a tree. Near him was a well where shepherds had gathered at that hour to water their flocks. Since there was a large crowd around the well, anyone who was stronger could water his flocks sooner. The daughters of Prophet Shu’aib (Jethro) who lived in that land, too, had brought their flocks but stood aside so that the watering place would become less crowded.
And when he arrived at the watering (place) in Midian, he found there a group of men watering (their flocks), and besides them he found two women who were keeping back (their flocks). He said: "What is the matter with you?" They said: "We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take back (their flocks): And our father is a very old man."
[The Holy Qur'an: Sura al-Qasas]
They told Moses that their father was an old man who could not water the flocks himself, and since he had not any son to help him, so they had to help their father. Moses asked them if they would let him to take their flocks to water them; they accepted; and Moses – although being much tired – immediately took their flocks to the well and watered them. Then he returned to the shade of the tree, and thought of his loneliness, solitude, tiredness, and hunger. He thought: “No one here knows me, neither does exist anyone to help me. So he prayed to Almighty Allah:
So he watered (their flocks) for them; then he turned back to the shade, and said: "O my Lord! Truly am I in (desperate) need of any good that You do send down for me!"
[The Holy Qur'an: Sura al-Qasas]
When the daughters of Shu’aib – sooner than everyday before – arrived at home, narrated the story of the young, noble man that had helped them that day. Hearing the story, Prophet Shu’aib delegated her elder daughter, Zipporah, to go and invite that young man to their home. Walking bashfully, Zipporah went to Moses and said: “My father invites you to reward you for the service you rendered us today.” Thus, Moses entered the house of Prophet Shu’aib with the guidance of Zipporah.
Then there came unto him one of the two women, walking shyly. She said: Lo! : "My father invites you that he may reward you for having watered (our flocks) for us..." [The Holy Qur'an: al-Qasas: verse 25]
When Moses and Zipporah were walking toward the house of Prophet Shu’aib, Moses told her: “You walk behind me, as I do not want my thoughts to be deviated from Allah and His remembrance.” Zipporah asked: “Then how could I show you the way?” Moses replied: “Notify me whenever I choose the wrong path.” When they arrived at Shu’aib’s home, after a first introduction, Moses related his story and highlighted that he was wanted by Pharaoh. Shu’aib, who was a messenger of Allah, consoled him by his celestial tone and said: “Be sure that you have been rescued from the oppressive wrongdoers and that you are safe here.”
“… So when he (Moses) came to him and narrated the story, he (the father) said: "Fear not: you have escaped from the unjust people."
[The Holy Qur'an: Sura al-Qasas: verse 25]
Zipporah suggested: “O’ father! Keep him for yourself! He is both strong and trustworthy.”
Since the very first acquaintance, Zipporah had recognized these two qualities in Moses:
One of the two women said: O my father! Hire him! Truly the best of men for you to employ is the (man) who is strong and trusty"....
[The Holy Qur'an: Sura al-Qasas]
Zipporah, when asked by his father how she had perceived the power and honesty of Moses, replied: “He was very dexterous in watering the flocks; furthermore, I noticed that he had a decent countenance with an innocent look.” Zipporah was a daughter, who had been spiritually bred by a divine man like Shu’aib. So, when deciding on a husband, she selects a man with the outstanding characteristics of potency and honesty.
Soon, the suggested idea by Zipporah met the approval of her father, and he decided to ask Moses to be his son-in-law:
He said (to Moses): "I intend to wed one of these two daughters of mine to you, on condition that you serve me for eight years; but if you complete ten years, it will be (grace) from you (or of your own free will). But I intend not to place you under a difficulty: you will find me, indeed, if Allah wills, one of the righteous." He (Moses) said: This shall be (an agreement) between me and you; whichever of the two terms I fulfill, there shall be no wrongdoing to me; and Allah is a witness of what we say.
[The Holy Qur'an: Sura al-Qasas]
Moses served Prophet Shu’aib for a term of 10 years and learned valuable lessons at his spiritual school. After completion of the promised term, he asked for the permission of Shu’aib to return to Egypt along with his wife in order to meet her mother, sister, and brother. Moses was much eager to visit them, and wished her mother to see him as the son-in-law of Prophet Shu’aib.
Shu’aib (as) agreed with the proposal of Moses, and Moses and Zipporah left for Egypt. It was only in that journey when Moses - at a dark and cold night - was appointed in Mount Tur as the Messenger of Allah.
Then, when Moses had fulfilled the term, and was traveling with his family, he perceived a fire in the direction of Mount Tur. He said to his family: "You stay (wait) here; I perceive a fire; I hope to bring you from there some information, or a burning firebrand, that you may warm yourselves….” [The Holy Qur'an: Sura al-Qasas]
Thus, Zipporah was graced by her marriage into a great divine prophet, as she considered spiritual values and human virtues as the first priorities and ignored worldly interests in her criteria for a successful marriage; and by this very good selection, she actually paved the ground for her eternal salvation.
Anna, Mary’s Mother, an Example of Truthful Women (Al-Saadiqat)
Hanna (Anna), the mother of Maryam (Mary) and wife of Imran (Joachim in the Bible), was a distinguished woman among Israelites. In some of Islamic narrations it is implied that Imran himself was a divine prophet and received revelations from Almighty Allah.
Although an aged woman, Hanna had no child. She sincerely prayed to Almighty Allah to grant her a child, and promised to dedicate the child to God's service at the holy temple of Jerusalem.
This promise indicates how Hanna’s heart was filled with sincere faith that she had prepared herself to devote her dearest child to her Creator.
Finally, Almighty Allah (s.w.t.) granted her prayer and bestowed upon her a daughter, who – later on – turned out to be the mother of an arch-prophet.
Now the story in detail:
For years Hanna had longed to have a baby. Deprivation from this blessing had saddened her spirit; and it was quite natural because she – like all other women – had a strong wish to become a mother someday.
Whenever she saw a mother hugging her baby, a frantic sense of a motherly love raised within her soul; she sighed deeply, lifted her head toward the sky, and asked her Lord to bestow upon her a child to be a source of tranquility for her.
One day, while sitting under a tree, she saw a bird feeding its chicks. Witnessing this scene, her heart was blazed with the fire of deep love for having a child. It was only then that she prayed to Allah with full sincerity and earnestness.
Before long, Allah responded to her prayer, and she became pregnant with a baby. From then on, she was full of enthusiasm. To express her gratitude to her Lord, she said:
ÅöÐú ÞóÇáóÊö ÇãúÑóÃóÉõ ÚöãúÑóÇäó ÑóÈøö Åöäøöí äóÐóÑúÊõ áóßó ãóÇ Ýöí ÈóØúäöí ãõÍóÑøóÑðÇ ÝóÊóÞóÈøóáú ãöäøöí Åöäøóßó ÃóäÊó ÇáÓøóãöíÚõ ÇáúÚóáöíãõ
"O my Lord! I vow unto You what is in my womb to be devoted (to Your special service): So accept it from me: for You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing."
[The Holy Qur'an: Chapter Ale-Imran: Verse 35]
The word Muharrar ãÍÑøÑ (i.e. dedicated or devoted) is derived from Tahreer in Arabic, meaning “setting free”. At that time, this word was referred to the children who were selected for serving the holy temples. Such children were engaged in cleaning and rendering different services to temples and worshipping places. During their leisure times, the children involved themselves in ritual practices. That was why they were called Muharrar because they were set free from doing any service to their parents, and this was a badge of honor for them to be the servants of holy places.
Some scholars believe that the children who were appointed for offering services to the temples, did this job since they were grown-up enough to be able to work in the temples until their adolescence period; after they reached the age of puberty, they were free to choose their way: they either remained in temples to continue their services or, otherwise, left there.
Some narrations point out that Almighty Allah had sent revelation unto Hanna’s husband, Imran, that he will be given a blessed son who – later on – shall be sent to the Israelites as the messenger of Allah, and shall have a divine power to cure the incurable patients or revive the dead with the permission and authority from Almighty Allah. Imran notified his wife, Hanna, of this revelation. So, when the child was conceived, Hanna imagined that the baby in her womb was the same promised son. But this was not the case, because what Hanna had in her womb, was actually the “mother” of that promised son (Jesus Christ). However, Hanna – expecting a son – vowed unto God to dedicate him to His service in Jerusalem.
To her surprise, after the childbirth, she noticed that her baby was female. This made her worried and confused. She did not know what to do on the unexpected occasion. The servants of Jerusalem temple were selected from among the male children and there was no former experience in selecting girls as the servants of the temple. The Holy Qur'an relates the story that how she was impressed by that event. Hanna - anxiously - prayed to Allah:
“O my Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female child!...”- and Allah knew best what she brought forth - “and the male is not like the female … and I have named it Maryam, and I commend her and her offspring into Your protection from the accursed Satan”.
[The Holy Qur'an: Chapter Ale-Imran: Verse 36]
Going over the above verse and some other Islamic narrations, we can deduce that the phrase and the male is not like the female is quoted from Hanna’s tongue, and it is not to be considered a divine saying.
Maryam (Arabic equivalent for Mary) means “worshipping woman”. Hanna chose this name for her daughter at the time of childbirth. This shows her boundless interest in dedicating her child for full obedience and service to God. After naming her baby, she said:
… and I commend her and her offspring into Your protection from the accursed Satan…
Thus, Hanna wished to safeguard her daughter and the next generations of her offspring from all satanic temptations and to place them in the safe haven of divine grace.
Although the baby was daughter, Hanna was not disappointed. She decided to take her to the temple and put her under the care of rabbis. Likewise, she was not disappointed with the divine promise that Imran had announced her. She thought: “If that divine prophet is not born from me, he will be born from this my daughter later on”; so she prayed: “I commend her and her offspring into Your protection from the accursed Satan”
Almighty Allah granted Hanna’s prayer, accepted her daughter as a gift, and put Maryam under His own patronage, shelter, and special training. The Holy Qur'an states:
“Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: To the care of Zachariah was she assigned…”
[The Holy Qur'an: Chapter Ale-Imran: Verse 37]
Why sponsorship of Maryam was given to Zachariah?
Imran had died before Maryam was born. So Hanna took her daughter to the Jewish scribes and said: “This is a gift to the temple of Jerusalem. I ask one of you to accept her sponsorship”.
There came up a controversial discussion among the rabbis, and everyone wished to have the honor to sponsor Maryam. At last, it was agreed upon casting lots. For this purpose, they went beside a river, prepared a number of rods, carved the names of all volunteers on the rods, and dropped them into the water. The rod, on which the name of Zachariah was written, sank into the river and then came up to the surface. So it was taken for granted that Zachariah was the qualified man to sponsor Maryam. And really it was so, because he was not only a divine prophet but also the husband of Maryam’s aunt.
Thus, Maryam was let in the Jerusalem’s temple under the care of Prophet Zachariah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them).
Mary, Mother of Jesus, an Example of Chastity and Pureness (Qanitat & Sadiqat)
Mary, the daughter of Imran and mother of Jesus Christ, was a great woman, introduced as the symbol of chastity in the Holy Qur'an.
Equality of women and men in worshipping God is a concept, on which there is much emphasis in Islam. Women are competent enough to achieve the same spiritual perfections of men; and this is a fact confirmed in the story of Saint Mary in the Holy Qur'an.
The name of Mary has been repeated 34 times in the Holy Qur'an, and many virtues have been attributed to this great lady in this holy Book. According to the verses of Holy Qur'an, angels used to talk to Mary, and she was selected as the purest woman and the Lady of all women at her time. She was also given the good tiding of bearing a son who would be the Kalimatullah, or the Word of Allah. According to the Holy Qur'an, Archangel Gabriel was sent down to Saint Mary in form a human being and introduced himself to Mary to give her a pure son.
In a verse in the Sura Al-Maidah, Saint Mary has been named as Seddiqa (i.e. the very truthful woman). In Sura Al-Mo’menoon, she has been called as Ayat (i.e a sign of God). In Sura Al-Anbiya, she has not only been described as a chaste woman, but also her name has been mentioned along with the names of divine messengers. In this Sura, Almighty Allah highlights the names of 16 holy prophets including Moses, Aaron, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob... and then underlines:
“… And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples...” [Sura Al-Anbiya: Verse 91]
This very verse well proves the high status and outstanding merits of Saint Mary. The late Shiite scholar, Sheikh Yaqoob Kulayni, quotes Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq (a.s.) as saying: “Maryam (peace be upon her) enjoys such an elevated standing in her chastity – that Almighty Allah shall place her as the standard and the example for all women in the Day of Judgment, and shall bring her as an outstanding paradigm of safeguarding one’s chastity.”
The story of Saint Mary in the Holy Qur'an is one of the most wonderful stories. In the story of Hanna – Mary’s mother – we explained how Saint Mary was born and how she was taken to the sacred temple of Jerusalem under the sponsorship of Prophet Zechariah. Now the rest of the story:
Mary became an inhabitant and a guest of God’s House. The place, which is known today as Baytul-Muqaddas among Muslims, was called “Haykal” at that time. Prophet David had started the construction of Haykal. Later on, his son, Prophet Solomon, had completed it. During the Islamic era, Bayt-ul-Muqaddas, or Masjidul-Aqsa, was built beside this temple.
Zechariah (a.s.) tried his best for sponsoring the blessed Mary, and provided any facility for her comfort. He personally did anything to serve and support the saint child. He had made a worshipping chamber at a high ground in the temple, and protected Mary with indescribable interest.
Saint Mary was growing up, and Zachariah was very proud to sponsor such a girl. Mary was so absorbed in worshipping her Creator that – according to Ibne Abbas, a great exegete of the Holy Qur'an at the early days of Islamic era – when she reached the age of nine, engaged herself in fasting during days and praying during nights. She progressed in this way so much that went ahead of all other pious rabbis of her time.
One day Zachariah entered the place where Maryam worshipped God. He witnessed a bizarre scene: a dish full of special foods! Since nobody except Zachariah could enter the place, he wondered how the food was taken over there. So he decided to investigate the matter:
“Every time that Zachariah entered the sanctuary (to see her), he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: "O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?" She said: "From Allah: for Allah provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure." (Surah Aal-Imran: 37)
Maryam was so elevated in her worships that deserved to receive celestial foods! However, it is not mentioned in this verse that what kind of foods had been brought to her. In a series of Islamic narrations (in both Shiite and Sunnite sources) we can read that it had been a heavenly fruit that was brought to Maryam out of season.
Seeing the celestial food, Zechariah discovered that Maryam was under special divine grace and that she was a selected lady with a high standing; therefore, he added to his care for Maryam.
Maryam was the best lady both in appearance and in nature. One day, when she was worshipping God as usual, angels came to her:
“And when the angels said: O Mary! Surely Allah has chosen you and purified you, and has preferred you above (all) the women of the world.”
(Surah Aal-Imran: 42)
We can learn from this verse that it is possible that angels talk to some other people rather than divine prophets. This verse also proves the elevated status of Maryam, who was qualified enough to receive the angels.
Maryam was the superior woman of her age. On the other hand, we know that Hazrat Fatima al-Zahra (s.a.), too, is known to be the superior lady among all ladies in the entire world. Is this a contradiction? No! Our Holy Prophet (s.a.) as well as our 6th Imam (Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq – peace be upon him) have clarified the matter:
“In the case of Maryam, she was the superior lady at her time (only); while Fatima (s.a.) is the superior lady at all times, from the very beginning up to the end.” (Biharul-Anwar, Vol. 90, P.24)
Angels continued to speak with Maryam:
“O Mary! Worship your Lord devoutly: Prostrate yourself, and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down.” (Surah Aal-Imran: 43)
Here we see that Maryam (s.a.) received 3 orders from angels: 1) to worship God and be obedient to Him: this means that she was ordered to be obedient and humbly worship her Lord; 2) & 3) and to prostrate and bow down before God. These actions, too, are signs of humbleness towards Almighty Allah (S.W.T.), the Creator of all worlds.
In the continuation of these verses, we read:
When the angels said: "O Mary! Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Maryam, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah (Surah Aal-Imran: 45)
He will speak unto mankind in his cradle and in his manhood, and he is of the righteous. (Surah Aal-Imran: 46)
Jesus (a.s.) spoke with the people in his cradle and announced his obedience to Allah - as a servant of Him – to all, and notified them that he was the Prophet of God, whom was given the Book, and that he was blessed wherever he be. This verse also shows that the angles anticipated that Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) would righteously talk to people at all times – from his very childhood up to the end of his life – as if he would never cease to propagate the straight way of his Lord.
After this good tiding, one day, when Maryam was engaged in worshipping God, an angel descended unto her in form of a handsome young man. That angel was no one but the Archangel Gabriel, who had come to blow unto her the spirit of Jesus by the permission of Allah (S.W.T.).
Maryam (s.a.), who had spent her entire life with chastity, became much horrified and anxious by witnessing a young man beside her; so she sought refuge with her Lord, and asked the young man to leave her alone immediately:
“Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. So she took a veil (to screen herself) from them; then We sent unto her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: "I seek refuge from you to (Allah) the Most Gracious: (come not near) if you do fear Allah." (Surah Al-Maryam: 16-18)
He (the Archangel) said: "Nay, I am only a messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a holy son.” (Surah Al-Maryam: 19)
Hearing these words, Maryam was calmed down. However, she wondered how she would have a son without having a husband:
She said: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?" (Surah Al-Maryam: 20)
He (the Angel) replied: "So (it will be): your Lord says, 'that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us': It is a matter (so) decreed." (Surah Al-Maryam: 21)
We can read the same story in Surah Aal-Imran as follows:
She said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?" He replied: "Even so: Allah creates what He wills: When He has decreed a plan, He but says to it, 'Be', and it 'is' ! (Surah Aal-Imran: 47)
This world is the “world of causes”. Almighty Allah has created this world in such a way that every creature comes to existence in the wake of a series of causes. But we should not forget that the whole world system is not but something that is created by God and is fully under His power and influence. Therefore, whenever He wills, He can change the system and create whatever He wishes through extraordinary causes and elements. Thus, Maryam became pregnant with Jesus in a mysterious way, opposite to all natural ways, just by the will of Almighty Allah. This was something that happened for the first time in the whole world and was really a miracle. God’s will is always above natural standards, scientific rules, or man’s calculations.
After this event, Maryam became highly worried. She was afraid of the judgment of people after being informed of the matter. For this reason, and to escape from the accusations or bad words of ignorant people, she decided to live far away from her relatives and other people of the city. She knew that her secret would eventually be revealed. On the other hand, she felt a sense of tranquility within herself whenever she focused her attention on her Creator and worshipped Him. She also consoled herself by remembering the words of angels that had given her the glad tiding that her baby would speak to the people in the cradle.
There are much different ideas on the pregnancy period of Maryam. Some interpreters of the Holy Qur'an believe that it has been 1 hour; some others believe that it has been 3 hours. But there is a narration, which quotes Imam Al-Sadiq (a.s.) as saying: “The period between the start of pregnancy and birth of Jesus has been 6 months…. No other child has been born within this period except Prophet Jesus and Imam Hussein (son of Imam Ali)”. As we see, the process of birth, too, was something extraordinary.
At the time of childbirth, Maryam sheltered under a fruitless palm-tree:
So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place.
And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): "Ah! Would that I had died before this! Would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!" (Surah Al-Maryam: 22-23)
It was very difficult and bitter for a chaste woman like Maryam to be accused of such a wrong deed. But she heard a voice:
But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): "Grieve not! For your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you;
"And shake towards yourself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you.
So eat and drink and be consoled. And if you meet any man, say: Lo! I have vowed a fast to (Allah) the Most Gracious, and may not speak this day to any human being. (Surah Al-Maryam: 24-26)
It is said that Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) was born in Nazareth in the land of Palestine. Even today, this city is known as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. That’s why the followers of this holy prophet were known as ‘Nazarene’.
Eventually she brought the (baby) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! Truly an amazing thing have you brought!
"O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a man of evil, nor your mother a woman unchaste!"
"But she pointed to the babe. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?" (Surah Al-Maryam: 27-29)
To their surprise, they noticed that the baby in the cradle started to talk:
He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He has given me revelation and made me a prophet; and He has made me blessed wherever I be, and has enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; and (has made me) dutiful toward her who bore me (my mother), and has not made me arrogant or unblessed. 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)"!
In this way, Jesus (a.s.) endorsed the sanctity and purity of his mother and highlighted that he was only a servant of God and a divine prophet. Witnessing a talking baby in the cradle astonished all the people around him. It was actually a divine sign to tie up the tongues of people from uttering bad words about Saint Mary. This story was spread all over other lands as well; and Maryam and Jesus attained an outstanding status among the people. The suspicions of people about Maryam turned into a firm belief in her purity and chastity, and Maryam started to bring up her dear son with full peace and comfort, as she well knew that her son would be the Messenger of God to take the responsibility of guiding people to the rig