The Da’wah of Isa (AS)
When Isa AS was around twelve, certain incidents happened, initiated by the king at the time, which necessitated he and his mother Maryam AS to flee Jerusalem and seek refuge in Egypt (and according to some less popular accounts, Damascus).
Isa AS grew up in a life of frugality, having with him the minimum of possessions and worldly attachments. As with all Prophets and Messengers, he displayed the utmost of good manner and morals. He was compassionate, humble and generous. He remained chaste and unmarried, devoting his life calling people towards Allah.
At the age of 30, Isa AS returned to his home village. During this time, Allah started giving Isa AS the prophetic revelations. Usually, Prophets and Messengers are granted revelations (and the commencement of their prophethood) at the age of 40, but exceptionally in the case of Isa AS and Yahya AS, the revelations started at an earlier age.
The messages of the previous Messengers and Prophets of Bani Israel, had by this time, become extremely corrupted. Further, the rabbis in the community of Bani Israel used to encourage people to donate money to the religious establishments as a means of personal enrichment, rather than for legitimate charitable purposes. They did not fulfil their obligations to spread the message of the Almighty, and thus the general community remained ignorant about the message of Allah. The rabbis did not guide or correct the mistakes of their people, and did not educate them of the scriptures. Religion at this time was a means of obtaining financial gain, with the gap between the rich and the poor becoming greater.
The cycle of mankind’s previous mistakes repeated. As with the former communities, the original scriptures were not only abandoned, but entirely manipulated and distorted. Those wielding religious power used the scriptures for their own personal gains, living luxurious lives obtained from the donations of rich and poor devotees, which are in glaring contradiction to the teachings of simplicity and disassociating from the material life.
Against this corrupted backdrop, Isa AS invited his community to the message of Allah. While the rest of the people were drowning in materialism, Isa AS led an austere life, wore clothing of coarse wool and never even married. His diet was simple and he did not indulge in the excessive lifestyle enjoyed by the majority of society. He did not possess any wealth or property. Not surprisingly, like with most previous Prophets and Messengers, very few of the community were willing to follow his guidance.
Isa’s AS teachings were consistent with the message of the previous Prophets and Messengers. He invited people towards the Oneness of Allah, to shun the love of dunia and to remember Allah in abundance and with humility.
“Isa ibn Maryam used to say, ‘Do not speak much without the mention of Allah for you will harden your hearts. A hard heart is far from Allah, but you do not know. Do not look at the wrong actions of people as if you were lords. Look at your wrong actions as if you were slaves. Some people are afflicted by wrong action and some people are protected from it. Be merciful to the people of affliction and praise Allah for His protection.’” (Malik’s Muwatta)
He also mentioned to his disciples: “As the kings and rulers have left the wisdom for you, you leave the dunia for them.”
He further advised his disciples: “Eat of barley breads, and drink of pure water, and go out to the world in peace. The sweetness of this world is the bitterness of the Hereafter, and the bitterness of this world is the sweetness of the Hereafter. Allah’s true slaves do not live in luxuries. I am saying truly that the scholar who gives preference to his desires and lust over his knowledge, likes that everyone should become like him.”
The consistent message of taqwa or fear of God was also spread by him. He reminded his people: “O weak son of Adam! Fear Allah wherever you may be, live in this world like a guest, and take the mosque as your home, and teach your eyes to cry, and your body to endure, and your heart to reflect. And do not worry about tomorrow’s provision, for it is a sin.”
Isa AS was also given the Injeel from Allah. This is not to be confused with the modern version of the Bible found in the market today, which is a corrupted amalgamation of holy scriptures together with numerous insertions by men, but is the pure version of the holy scriptures which confirm the teachings of the Almighty (and in some cases, repeal the earlier injunctions and prohibitions placed upon Bani Israel on certain rulings).
And He (Allah) will teach him [Isa] the Book and Al-Hikmah (i.e. the Sunnah, the faultless speech of the Prophets, wisdom, etc.), (and) the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel). (Al Qur’an 3:48)
And We sent, following in their footsteps, Isa, the son of Maryam, confirming that which came before him in the Taurat (Torah); and We gave him the Injeel (Gospel), in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. (Al Qur’an 96:13)
Isa AS also prophesized the coming of the final prophet and messenger to mankind (as opposed to previously where the Prophets and Messengers were only sent to specific communities), being Muhammad SAW. To note is that in the Arabic language, the name Ahmad is a derivative of the name Muhammad. This prophecy is mentioned in the Qur’an, and also the denial of Muhammad SAW’s prophethood:
And [mention] when Isa, the son of Maryam, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.” (Al Qur’an 61:6)
Yet, despite all his efforts, only a handful of people followed his calling. Even then, their faith was weak even though they claimed otherwise, and their love of dunia remained firmly entrenched in their hearts.
Ibn Abu Dunya has narrated from Fudail bin Ayyash, stating: Prophet Isa was asked “O Isa! How do you walk on the water?” He replied: “With my faith in Allah.” They said: “But we also have faith as you have faith, and we also believe as you believe.” Isa said: “So come and walk.” So they walked with him on the waves, and then drowned. Isa said to them: “What happened to you?” They said: “We are frightened of the waves.” Isa replied: “Do you not fear the Lord of the waves?”
Then he took them out of the water. Then he stroked the earth with his hands, and took its dust, and when he opened them, there was gold in one hand and pebbles in another. He asked them: “Which do you like most?” They said: “Gold.” He said “But they are just the same to me.”
The Denial of the Trinity.
Most of the Christian doctrines claim that Isa AS was the son of God, and some Christian denominations are founded on the concept of the Holy Trinity, being that God is a sum of three elements, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
At no point of his life did Isa AS ever claim to be the son of God. On the contrary, he claimed to be nothing more than a servant of Allah, and commanded people to believe in Allah:
“Surely, they have disbelieved who say: “Allah is the Messiah [Isa], son of Maryam.” But the Messiah [Isa] said: “O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.” Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, then Allah has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode. And for the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers) there are no helpers”. (Al Qur’an 5:72)
“[Isa] said, ‘Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.'”(Al Qur’an 19:30)
“[Isa said], ‘And indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.'” (Al Qur’an 19:36)
Anyone claiming Isa’s AS divinity or divine parentage would have committed a grievous and unforgivable sin of shirk or association with Allah. It is a heinous notion to ascribe Allah as having children, for Allah is above such basic human needs of procreation and succession.
The Qur’an mentions:
“That is Isa, the son of Maryam – the word of truth about which they are in dispute. It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When He decrees an affair, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.” (Al Qur’an 19:34 – 19:35)
“Then the sects differed [i.e. the Christians about Isa], so woe unto the disbelievers [those who gave false witness by saying that Isa is the son of Allah] from the meeting of a great Day (i.e. the Day of Resurrection, when they will be thrown in the blazing Fire).” (Al Qur’an 19:37)
“But the sects from among themselves differed. So woe to those who do wrong (by ascribing things to Isa that are not true) from the torment of a painful Day (i.e. the Day of Resurrection)!”(Al Qur’an 43:65)
Those who truly believe in Allah would believe that Isa AS is no more than a Messenger of Allah:
“Our Lord, we have believed in what You revealed and have followed the messenger Isa, so register us among the witnesses [to truth].” (Al Qur’an 3:53)
On this topic, Rasulullah SAW said:
“He who bears witness that there is no true god except Allah, alone having no partner with Him, that Muhammad is His slave and His Messenger, that Isa is His slave and Messenger and he (Isa) is His Word which He communicated to Maryam and His spirit which He sent to her, that Jannah is true and Hell is true; Allah will make him enter Jannah accepting whatever deeds he accomplished”. [Bukhari and Muslim].
The concept of the trinity is categorically and explicitly rejected as being blasphemous:
“Surely, disbelievers are those who said: “Allah is the third of the three (in a Trinity).” But there is no ilah (god) (none who has the right to be worshipped) but One Ilah (God -Allah). And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them.” (Al Qur’an 5:73)
“O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah Isa, son of Maryam, was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, (“Be!” – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam and a spirit (Ruh) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God), Glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs.” (Al Qur’an 4:171)
Miracles of Isa AS
Being a Prophet and a Messenger of Allah is the greatest Divine favour, and in the case of Isa AS and his mother Maryam AS, this favour was exceptional. Apart from his birth from the womb of a virgin and the ability to talk from the cradle, he was also granted the ability to perform many miracles.
It should be noted that miracles granted to the Prophets and Messengers are those close to what captured the interest of society at the time. During the time of Musa AS, it was the era of sorcery, and Allah bestowed upon Musa AS the ability to transform his staff into a snake that defeated the purported magic of the sorcerers at the time. During the time of Isa AS, it was the age of medicine and chemistry, hence Isa AS was granted the miraculous ability to heal others. Allah granted him the facility to cure blindness and leprosy, and also with the will of Allah, to bring people back from the dead. Isa AS was also able to create a clay figure of a bird, and then breathe life into it.
“[The Day] when Allah will say, “O Isa, Son of Maryam, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel); and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, “This is not but obvious magic.”” (Al Qur’an 5:110)
Yet, instead of convincing the people of Bani Israel, these miracles only heightened their resentment and hostility against Isa AS. In reality, his miracles strengthened his proof of prophethood, and threatened their seat of power in society. His presence and clear message would unravel the generations of their systematic corruption of the holy scriptures and endangered their ongoing dominance. Hence, in order to protect their position, they resorted to slander. Similar to how they treated their Prophets in the past, the corrupt and wicked of Bani Israel claimed that he was practicing magic and sorcery. All but a small handful of the society rebelled against Isa AS and rejected his messages. Over time, Bani Israel’s hatred of him increased, and when they became more daring in their rebellion, they plotted to kill him.
The Table (Al Ma’idah)
Reminiscent of the previous communities of Prophets and Messengers, one day, Isa’s AS disciples demanded for specific proof of his prophethood. According to some reports, this arose after Isa AS had commanded them to fast for three days. When they completed the fast, they asked for a banquet table laden with food, to descend from the heavens, as a sign and also to mark a day of festival for the rich and poor alike. Isa AS admonished his people and warned them against making such challenges against Allah. Other nations of the past had thrown similar challenges to their Prophets, and paid a high price for their demands. He also asked them to fear Allah.
[And remember] when the disciples said, “O Isa, Son of Maryam, can your Lord send down to us a table [spread with food] from the heaven? [Isa] said, “Fear Allah, if you should be believers.” (Al Qur’an 5:112)
Yet they insisted. Having seen Isa AS perform various miracles including healing the ill, walking on water and reviving people from the dead, they still demanded proof:
They said, “We wish to eat from it and let our hearts be reassured and know that you have been truthful to us and be among its witnesses.” (Al Qur’an 5:113)
When they still persisted despite Isa’s AS warnings, Isa AS supplicated to the Almighty to send a table of food to them:
Said Isa, the son of Maryam, “O Allah, our Lord, send down to us a table [spread with food] from the heaven to be for us a festival for the first of us and the last of us and a sign from You. And provide for us, and You are the best of providers.” (Al Qur’an 5:115)
When Allah gives us something, that gift can either be a blessing or a trial, depending on our own intentions and reactions. In cases where we force a situation and demand from Allah, the ensuing gift is most often a trial. Here the people of Bani Israel demanded something from Allah – while outwardly claiming that they already had faith – for some, it was actually to challenge his prophethood. To this action, Allah warned of the dire consequences of their demands:
“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.” (Al Qur’an 5:115)
A table then literally descended from the sky, laden with all sorts of marvelous dishes never seen or tasted by anyone before.
Even when the table appeared, the people refused to eat from it, and asked Isa AS to eat from it first, even though they were the ones who had demanded for the table in the first place. Isa AS asked the poor amongst them to eat from it, and they helped themselves to the heavenly feast, until all the food was consumed. Those who abstained from eating regretted their actions and complained, and it is said that the food kept replenishing itself day after day, and it is said that it fed up to seven thousand people to their fill.
Now the table became a big trial and tribulation to Bani Israel. They disobeyed the injunctions that accompanied the miraculous food, and the majority of them still refused to honour their earlier pledge to recognize Isa’s AS prophethood and the divine message, even after seeing the physical proof with their own eyes.
The situation deteriorated, and the evil of Bani Israel, who were already notorious for rebelling and even slaying their own Prophets and Messengers, decided to take matters in their own hands and to end Isa’s AS life.
Adab of asking from Allah
Why did Allah share with us the incident of Al Ma’idah when it relates to a specific time and incident? One of the lessons is the manner of asking from Allah and the risk that comes with demanding something from Allah. In the story of Isa AS, the people outwardly asked for the table in order to confirm the faith that was already in their hearts. For such, the request would have been a blessing had the sign of Allah brought them closer to Allah. However for the vast majority, their intention was to discredit Isa AS. They asked for what they could not handle, and were punished by Allah as a result. For them, Allah granted them what they demanded, and the table became a trial for them when they still persisted in their disbelief and stubbornness.
When translated into our daily lives, consider how often we demand from Allah – whether for a specific job, or spouse, or some other favour from Allah. Yet, when granted by Allah, it often turns out that what we had asked for is a cause of our misery, heartbreak or misfortune. This is why we should not demand from Allah, but rather, not to ask from Allah for anything unless we also supplicate for Allah to only grant it to us if it is good for us.
Proof and sincerity
In the time of Isa AS and other Prophets and Messengers, Bani Israel insisted for the Prophets and Messengers to show them a sign or a miracle to believe. When the Prophets or Messengers asked Allah, and Allah granted them their wish, they betrayed the promise despite seeing the miracle with they own eyes. We can see the Qur’an repeatedly mentioning the stories of Prophets and Messengers, and their own nations or people asking for miracles, which Allah granted, and they still disbelieved.
When we study the essence and the wisdom, these people, from the beginning were not honest or sincere in their arguments, and they never wanted the miracle as a source of guidance or belief, but rather they wanted it as a source of fitnah or argument with the Messenger and Prophet. This is why historically, the majority of early believers believed in their Prophets even without witnessing the Prophetic miracles. We can see this in the stories of Saleh AS, Hud AS and other Prophets and Messenger. They had the humbleness and humility to Allah and never demanded proof.
The Continuation of the Message
Now we should ask ourselves: why did Allah share the incident in the Qur’an, intended to be read by Muslims, who already believe in Allah, His messenger and the message? Our nation is very unique from all other previous nations. We are the nation or ummah of Rasulullah SAW. We are no longer witness to the prophetic revelations, since Rasulullah SAW was the seal of all prophets, so all our belief is unseen.
Allah shared the story of Isa AS and Bani Israel with us to make us vigilant and to learn from their mistakes. One of the most important lessons is to be pure and sincere in intention when asking for something from Allah, and not to ask for anything without istikharah. In this life, every gift or reduction from Allah is a trial, according to what we have deep inside our hearts. Allah can give us depending on what we are yearning for deep inside, whether for our betterment or destruction. If we want guidance, and His way, and akhirah, He will give it to us. Conversely if we are seeking the pleasures and corruption of dunia, He will also give it to us. This is why we need to always be vigilant of our sincerity and purity of intention.
Written by Muslim Footsteps