BANI ISRAEL DEVIATES AGAIN
Centuries passed after the death of Sulaiman AS, and the Muslim kingdom rose and fell. The temple of Sulaiman AS disappeared over the generations, and in its vicinity, the modern day Bait-al Maqdis was erected.
The final group of Prophets and Messengers descended from Ishaq AS: Zakariya AS, Yahya AS and Isa AS are interlinked, both by blood relationship and by the proximity in time and location. To fully understand the connection between these Prophets, it is best to read all of their stories together.
During this time, Bani Israel had reverted to their characteristics of stirring mischief amongst each other, and more seriously, they also started initiating blasphemy against Allah SWT. They claimed that Allah was stingy, astaghfirullah al adzeem, and that Allah withheld from them. These claims are the direct opposite of Allah’s attributes of generosity. After all that Allah had given to them throughout the generations, this was how they displayed their thanks and gratitude towards Allah. These constant accusations provoked the anger of Allah upon them.
Their claims of stinginess are even contained in current Jewish and Christian scriptures. The original scriptures revealed to Musa AS and Daud AS had been manipulated to such an extent that they now assert that when Allah had completed the creation of the earth, He was too tired to rule the earth. This is why the Old Testament (which was originally based on the Taurat and Zabur, but has been manipulated and falsified by Bani Israel) claim that after the final day of creation, God took a rest – again, being total blasphemy as it depicted Allah as being incompetent instead of omnipotent.
Additionally, the Jews claimed that Allah had granted authority to the Jewish scholars to rule the earth, and to issue rulings which would supersede and override the teachings of Musa AS. Bani Israel had elevated itself to be the chosen people of Allah above other races, in direct contradiction of the teachings of racial equality in Islam.
Such was their immense arrogance that they claimed to know more than Allah, but there is nothing new in this pattern of behaviour. This is why, generation after generation, Prophets and Messengers were sent to Bani Israel to lead them of the right path, but within time, they would deviate until yet another Prophet was sent down to their community to guide them afresh. Yet, repeatedly, Bani Israel disobeyed from the smallest things to the largest issues, continuously rejecting the messages, signs and commands of Allah.
In the last era of the Prophets descended from Ishaq AS, their behaviour worsened and they even resorted to murdering the Messengers and Prophets.
THE GUARDIANSHIP OF MARYAM AS
During this time, there lived amongst Bani Israel a man by the name of ‘Imran. He was so renowned for his piety that his was considered to be one of the best of the families of all time. He was not a Prophet or Messenger, but his household was so noble and elevated in Allah’s kingdom that there is even an entire chapter in the Qur’an named after it.
‘Imran had a pious wife, and her sister was married to Zakariya AS, a prophet.
The Qur’an does not provide accounts of Zakariya’s AS childhood or youth. Hence, the story of Zakariya AS begins in his late adulthood, when he was elderly. He was a Prophet and Messenger of Bani Israel. He is a direct descendant of Daud AS and Sulaiman AS and his activities were centred in Bait-al Maqdis, where the temple of Sulaiman AS once stood.
It is confirmed by authentic Hadith that Zakariya AS was a carpenter. He led a simple life, and like majority of his brothers in prophethood, was of limited financial means.
Although he lived an austere life, Zakariya AS was constantly in a state of gratitude to Allah, and was intensely humble in his demeanour. Similar to his distant ancestor, Ibrahim AS, he and his wife had already reached an extreme old age without having any children.
Meanwhile, the wife of ‘Imran, his sister in law, or his wife’s sister, gave birth to Maryam AS, and she pledged to dedicate Maryam AS towards pure servitude to Allah. Shortly after the birth of Maryam AS (or in some accounts, before she was born), her father, ‘Imran, passed away. This sparked off a dispute within Bani Israel on her guardianship.
Zakariya AS should have been the obvious choice. He was her uncle by marriage, and moreover, was a Prophet whose moral character and piety were beyond question. No one else had his merit of character. But true to their argumentative nature, Bani Israel disputed this choice, for they wanted the prestige of raising ‘Imran’s daughter.
Zakariya AS kept silent and maintained his good manner. The people eventually agreed that they should cast lots to decide the matter. All the candidates wrote down their names on pens (or wooden writing instruments), and put them in a container. A child was sent to pick one of the pens at random. The pen that was selected bore Zakariya’s AS name.
Dissatisfied at the outcome, some of them asked for the cast to be repeated. This time, the claimants put all their pens in the river. The pen that would swim against the current would win the guardianship. Again, it was the pen of Zakariya AS that won.
Still stubborn and quarrelsome, they demanded a third round. This time, they decided that whichever pen swam with the current would win the cast. Yet again, it was only Zakariya’s AS pen that differed from the rest, swimming with the current while the other pens drifted upstream. Observe the power of Allah: people may plot and plan, but what is written will take place.
And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Maryam. Nor were you with them when they disputed. (Al Qur’an 3:44)
Thus Bani Israel had no choice but to acknowledge that Zakariya AS was the undisputed champion and was entitled to assume the guardianship of Maryam AS.
A SINCERE SUPPLICATION
Maryam AS grew up as a righteous woman. From her childhood, she was in a state of prayer, positioned in seclusion away from the people in an enclosure within Bait-al Maqdis specially built for her. Every time Zakariya AS, as her guardian, checked on her, he always found her surrounded by an abundance of food. This was not the food that he brought for her, so how did it find its way into her private sanctuary? More strangely, the fruits did not belong to the climate and were out of season but still fresh. He asked her where it was from, and she replied that it was from Allah:
Every time Zakariya entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, “O Maryam, from where is this [coming] to you?” She said, “It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.” (Al Qur’an 3:37)
Witnessing these miracles repeatedly only reaffirmed Zakariya’s AS faith in Allah, in particular faith that everything was in the hands of Allah, no matter how impossible the conditions. Like his ancestor Ibrahim AS, he had always yearned for a child to continue the legacy of prophethood, but his wife was unable to bear children. He did not want children to inherit his wealth (of which he had none), but rather, progeny who would continue spreading the message and knowledge of Islam.
Encouraged by the miracles he witnessed, and also being in the proximity of such a blessed place and the pure soul of Maryam AS, he prayed with utmost conviction to Allah:
“My Lord, grant me from Yourself a good offspring. Indeed, You are the Hearer of supplication.” (Al Qur’an 3:38)
He also supplicated:
“O My Lord! Leave me not single (childless), though You are the Best of the inheritors.” (Al Qur’an 21:89)
“My Lord! Indeed my bones have grown feeble, and grey hair has spread on my head, And I have never been unblest in my invocation to You, O my Lord! And Verily! I fear my relatives after me, since my wife is barren. So give me from Yourself an heir, who shall inherit me, and inherit (also) the posterity of Yaqub). And make him, my Lord, one with whom You are Well-pleased!” (Al Qur’an 19:4 – 19:6)
Before long, Allah responded to his prayer, confirming that his wife’s barrenness had been cured and that they were to have a son who would also become a Prophet. Moreover, this son had the honour of being named by Allah himself, with a name that had never existed in mankind’s history:
So We answered his call, and We bestowed upon him Yahya (John), and cured his wife (to bear a child) for him. Verily, they used to hasten on to do good deeds, and they used to call on Us with hope and fear, and used to humble themselves before Us. (Al Qur’an 21:90)
So the angels called him while he was standing in prayer in the chamber, “Indeed, Allah gives you good tidings of Yahya (John), confirming a word from Allah [meaning, the word of Isa AS later on] and [who will be] honorable, abstaining [from women], and a prophet from among the righteous.” (Al Qur’an 3:39)
Nevertheless, Zakariya AS was astounded by the news. He burst out:
“My Lord, how will I have a boy when I have reached old age and my wife is barren?” The angel said, “Such is Allah; He does what He wills.” (Al Qur’an 3:40). This reaction is reminiscent of the earlier reaction given by his distant ancestor, Ibrahim AS when it was announced to him that he was to have a son. It was not a statement of disbelief, but rather an exclamation of surprise.
Zakariya AS continued:
“My Lord, make for me a sign.” He said, “Your sign is that you will not [be able to] speak to the people for three days except by gesture. And remember your Lord much and exalt [Him with praise] in the evening and the morning.” (Al Qur’an 3:41)
True to Allah’s promise, his wife soon delivered a son, and he was named Yahya AS (John the Baptist). We will set out his story in another chapter, insha Allah.
THE DEATH OF ZAKARIYA AS
As mentioned earlier, the stories of Zakariya AS, Yahya AS and Isa AS are interconnected. Hence, the death of Yahya AS and Zakariya AS happened in close sequence to each other.
Yahya AS was brutally murdered, and the mode of his murder was a beheading, with his decapitated head presented to the king. We shall provide more detail in when we talk about his life, insha Allah.
Imagine the heartbreak that Zakariya AS must have felt. Yahya AS was born at such a late age in his father’s life, against all the odds. He led a life that was exemplary and fulfilled all of Zakariya’s AS supplications. He was the ideal son, for not only was he an exceptionally devoted servant to Allah, but he was also kind and generous to his parents.
Whether one is a Prophet or not, it is a terrible thing for a parent to endure the death of his or her child. To find that one’s child, who is innocent of all sin and wrongdoing, has been senselessly and violently slain, must have made the grief almost unbearable.
However, the crisis deepened. According to reports, emboldened by the murder of Yahya AS, Bani Israel decided to turn against his father too. A mob, bent on hatred and destruction, set out to kill Zakariya AS. Such was their arrogance and disbelief that they were willing to murder their own Prophets.
According to the Jewish traditions (and since there is nothing in Muslim reports which contradict this, which means we are neither to accept nor deny) Zakariya AS managed to flee. With Allah’s will, a tree opened up its trunk and allowed Zakariya AS to hide inside it, and then wrapped him up in its depths. However, Shaitan pulled a fragment of Zakariya’s AS clothes through the cracks, thus exposing him.
According to some reports, the pursuers initially wanted to set the tree on fire, but then decided instead to saw the tree in half, along with Zakariya AS in it. This was how his life abruptly ended: in the most brutal and bloodthirsty way, and by the evil hands of the very people he was trying to guide.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNT
Allah is the Only Planner
We saw how, when Bani Israel were casting lots to claim guardianship over Maryam AS, that any human manipulation cannot withstand Allah’s plan. It was fated that Zakariya AS was to be appointed as the guardian of Maryam AS, despite the number of times Bani Israel re-casted the pens and changed the rules of the competition in order to deny Zakariya AS guardianship. Not only were Bani Israel stubborn in acknowledging the moral superiority of a Prophet over them, but they went further and denied each time the results of the draw were in Zakariya’s AS favour.
From here, we should realize that if something is meant to be, no amount of human effort can change the results. Allah is always the best planner, and while we as human beings, plot and plan, it is ultimately the plot and plan of Allah that overrides all else.
The Ultimate Legacy
Zakariya AS, like his distant ancestor, realized that the ultimate gift that one can hope for in a child is someone who can continue to spread the legacy of Islam. Zakariya AS did not want a son to inherit his wealth, land or financial empire, for he had none. However, he wanted his progeny to inherit the knowledge of Islam so that the legacy of da’wah can continue.
Today, we want children for the wrong reasons: to inherit our possessions, to keep the wealth within the family, and even to show off. Our children have become our playthings and trophies, brought into this world to draw attention and gasps of praise from others. When the intention of propagation is founded on the corrupted reasons, the consequence is that our children will just be trials for us: nothing more than trivial decorations which will lead to our destruction in this life and the next.
How many mothers have children for the sake of servitude to Allah? We have reached a point that even when Muslim women are with child, they can’t even be bothered to maintain their basic Muslim obligations such as prayer. When the children are born, the children are suffocated with dunia from all sides. The emphasis of upbringing is concentrated on secular education and worldly achievements, with little or no awareness of Allah. We should go back to the basics and remember how the great people of Islam, such as Ibrahim AS, Zakariya AS and the mother of Maryam AS yearned for children with the honest and sincere intention to please Allah.
The Power of Belief
Zakariya AS had waited so long for a child, but given that his wife was unable to conceive, it was not something that he made a supplication for. When he was inspired by Allah’s bounty during his guardianship of Maryam AS, he made sincere supplication to his Lord, hoping for something that defied all logic and biology. His wife conceived, and bore him a son: a Prophet who also enjoyed the privilege of being untouched by sin.
Allah can provide for whom He wants, at His own will. We learn the value of a person in Allah’s esteem when he gets closer to Allah and what Allah can do for him. The root and the conditions do not belong to this earth, but rather are in the hands of Allah. Allah can will anything to happen, and Allah can also erase any obstacles.
Yet, why are we so reluctant to turn to Him in the time of need, believing in the hopelessness of the circumstances instead of the unlimited power of Allah? It is because our faith is so weak that our first recourse is to rely on ourselves, or others, who are just as limited as we. We rarely rely on Allah because deep down, many of us disbelieve in Allah’s ability to deliver.
If we follow the stories of the Prophets, we shall see miracle after miracle, one impossible situation succeeding the next. All these demonstrate the supreme power of Allah, yet, like many of the Bani Israel, our faith is shaky even with all the signs and portents of Allah that surround us. Take inspiration from these stories to strengthen your faith, rely on Allah and you will see wonder.
May Allah guide us and our families to be His humble slaves, and protect us against the arrogance of self reliance and disbelief, ameen.
NEXT: PROPHET YAHYA AS