When we think about Maryam (may Allah send His peace and blessings on her), how often do we associate her role with the da`wah of Islam? Do we realize how much she cared about her people being receptive to guidance, coming to the truth? Do we realize how much of herself she gave so that Islam would spread? Do we recognize that we can extract lessons from her as a caller to Islam? Would it surprise you to know that there has been a historical debate amongst the scholars on whether or not Maryam was a prophet, as she was someone who received revelation directly through Jibreel? I actually tend to agree with the opinion that she was not a prophet, though she may share with the prophets a similar status in righteousness. Yet, I bring this question forth for a purpose: It’s easier to admit to ourselves that we really do not know Maryam and the role she played in the da`wah of Islam, as much as we would like to think we do. As da`wah is something many of us may be involved in, her story and example, especially in the 21st century, is one we cannot do without. While this article will not do justice to the subject, we will focus on just a few significant lessons that Maryam provides for the workers in the Islamic da`wah.
Awakening God-Consciousness in the Listener
When the Angel Jibreel first appears before her in the form of a man, while she is alone, she states:
Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing Allah. (Maryam 19:18)
Imam Az-Zamakhshari mentions that as she was turning to Almighty Allah, she was also hoping that her act would encourage this stranger to turn to Him too. At-Tantawi’s tafsir adds that the reason Maryam calls specifically on Almighty Allah as the Most Merciful is to effect hope in this stranger, whom she believed to be transgressing, such that he would go back and abstain from any evil he had initially set out to do. Let our community activists remember from Maryam the importance and even precedence of giving those who seem intent on sinning hope in the mercy of Allah. It is interesting to note that in the story of Maryam and `Isa (peace be upon them) in Surat Maryam, Almighty Allah is constantly being referred to by His blessed name the Most Merciful. Surat Maryam also tells of the plights of other prophets including Ibrahim, Musa, and Idris (peace be upon them all). A lesson in da`wah that we can take from this is while the path of teaching involves struggle, we should also remember that the Most Merciful is He who eases that path.
She tells Jibreel, “If you are God-fearing,” as only a God-fearing person would follow orders and prohibitions. This is expressed in a seemingly incomplete conditional sentence. While the condition of being God-fearing is mentioned, the response to the condition is missing. Some exegetes of the Qur’an postulated what the missing response would be, all of them similar in meaning to “If you are God-fearing, you would get away from me or leave me alone.” Yet At-Tantawi’s tafsir mentions something more comprehensive than that. The response is missing because it applies in a general way to all bad things that could come into someone’s mind. So basically, if you are God-fearing, you would seek to abstain from all that which is the wrong and do the right thing.
Imam Ar-Razi states that the stranger would not be able to benefit from her seeking refuge from him, unless he was God-fearing. So in this statement is a supplication for herself and a reminder to him of her reliance on Almighty Allah, as well as an implicit command for him to fear Allah and act accordingly. Later scholars would say that this statement clearly indicates that only a God-fearing person can benefit from commands and prohibitions. So for a person who calls others to Allah, he or she should call first to the fear of Allah, to developing a relationship with Allah, and then to the dos and don’ts of Islam.
Personal Example and Whole-Hearted Concern
When she reached a stage where she feared her pregnancy would show, she went away, to a place described in the verse as a place far away, distant, remote. We have to imagine that she spent time in this place all by herself—living for months with a secret that she could tell no one about. While some tafsir books say that Maryam’s sister, the wife of Zakariyyah, knew about her pregnancy as she was pregnant with Yahya at the time, other tafsir books reject this notion, as the evidence for this is not sound on a number of levels (Tafsir Ibn Kathir). Also, to keep in mind that she would not have been delivering her child all by herself if her family knew. So, put yourself as a sister in her shoes. How alone would you feel to have to run away to a remote place, not able to confide in anyone? In these times, she relied on Allah Himself, and she delivered her baby by herself. Mothers who have experienced delivery could never imagine experiencing this event completely alone. In this state, she exclaims:
Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten. (Maryam 19:23)
Yet, this is not because of the pain of delivery. Her statement “been a thing forgotten” is not referring to physical pain, but rather her reputation. Tafsir Al-Qurtobi mentions that the word “oblivion” means something low and trivial such that it would be easily left behind, forgotten, lost without anyone caring or remembering. It is from this description that we know Maryam was not wishing for death because of the pain of delivery. Sheikh At-Tantawi adds that whoever holds that opinion has a bad suspicion of Maryam (peace be upon her), as her faith was greater than that. Rather she wanted to be “forgotten” for a greater purpose. She comes from the House of ‘Imran. Her brother-in-law is the Prophet Zakariyyah, the father of Yahya. This means she represented the home of prophethood, of defining religion itself for her people. So she was worried, in this moment, that when she would appear before her people with a son, they would remember her position, and think badly about her faith (Tafsir Ash-Shawkani) and thus the religion of Almighty Allah.
Remarkably, Maryam would rather have died than make Islam look bad. I need not list the ways in which this concept can be wholesale neglected in our community. Instead, let us focus inwardly and ask, how much do we really care about our role in the da`wah of Islam? Do we care enough for it that we abandon the bad speech, manners, and characteristics we may have and which really turn people off from learning more? Are we dedicated enough to seek personal change? A brother from Tajikistan once told some other students (of a different background) who were misbehaving at Al-Azhar, the seat of Islamic learning in Egypt, “If we behaved like you do in Russia, no one would accept Islam.” No one is exempt from the reflection needed to purify manners and character, not even students of Al-Azhar. May Allah grant us hearts like that of Maryam in caring for the da`wah of His religion. May Allah protect us from being a trial for others in their path to guidance.
It might seem problematic at first to see a great figure in Islam wishing for death. Al-Alusi mentions that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) taught us:
“None of you should wish for death because of some harm that has befallen you. But if one must wish, let them say ‘Oh Allah allow me to live so long as life is good for me, and allow me to die when death is good for me.’” (Muslim)
Yet Maryam’s wish for death still does not fall into the disliked category, as she was not responding to some harm imposed on her. Rather, she was afraid of causing harm to the faith of others. This type of worry in fulfilling one’s responsibilities to Almighty Allah and not failing is, according to Imam Ar-Razi, the habit of the righteous people. He cites the examples of Abu Bakr who wished he was the fruit that birds ate, `Umar who wished he was nothing at all, and `Ali who wished, at the Battle of the Camel, if he had died twenty years earlier. Because it is a religious matter, according to Al-Alusi, there is nothing wrong with it. Rather, it is a good thing for a person who holds responsibility or is given leadership, especially during challenging times, to be deeply worried about answering to Almighty Allah and fulfilling the trust given to him.
Al-Alusi also mentioned that Maryam (peace be upon her) feared the entire community would fall into sin, as slander and gossip would spread, and she didn’t want to provoke her people into harming themselves. Through this understanding, we realize that Maryam also truly worried about her peoples’ condition, and not simply her own blame. Even Jibreel whom she thought was a stranger up to no good for her people, she cared enough to remind him of the Most Merciful. The lesson for a Muslim preacher is clear: You can never help a people you do not care about. Muslim or non-Muslim, whomever you are seeking to call, you must begin with your own heart, by developing genuine and sincere care for their condition.
Chastity and Personal Sacrifice
Speaking about Maryam, Almighty Allah says:
And [mention] the one who guarded her chastity, so We blew into her [garment] through Our angel [Gabriel], and We made her and her son a sign for the worlds. (Al-Anbiya’ 21:91)
And [the example of] Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We blew into [her garment] through Our angel, and she believed in the words of her Lord and His scriptures and was of the devoutly obedient. (At-Tahrim 66:12)
I mention these verses for us to reflect on a few points. Maryam was chosen to be a sign for everyone, all people, all times. When she was given her task, she fully accepted it, believed in the words of Almighty Allah and served her role obediently. Her test was not just that she would give birth to `Isa (peace be upon him) while she is unmarried. Her test also included not being married at a time she most probably really wanted to be. The verses emphasize her chastity, which Az-Zamakhshari describes as a “full complete chastity from the unlawful and even the lawful.” For those brothers and sisters who are tested with being single at a time when they would want to be married, remember Virgin Maryam who had patience and acceptance for what was written for her.
Obviously, this does not mean that unmarried people should not actively seek marriage. Indeed, marriage is an encouraged act of sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). However, what is meant is that so long as it is written for you that it is not yet the time for Mr. or Mrs. Right to come, do not blame your destiny. Do not blame your Lord. Rather, be like Maryam: believe in His words, His Book, and be ever more obedient. Know that Maryam may have also been lonely, especially as a single mother who is being accused by her people. But also realize her reward as the best woman in Paradise. Just as her chastity makes `Isa’s birth a sign for all, the chastity and modesty of our single brothers and sisters make Islam a sign for all. Let us remember here that Prophet Muhammad reportedly said:
“Every religion has a distinct characteristic, and the distinct characteristic of Islam is modesty.” (Al-Bayhaqi, Ibn Majah, and Malik)
Furthermore, Maryam sacrificed, giving her whole self to the service of Almighty Allah and being a sign for His religion. In a world that makes romance a false idol, with movie lines about “dying for you” and “living for you”, it becomes easy to lose perspective. Marriage in and of itself is not an end, but rather a means to an end.
We have countless examples of amazing figures in our history who never got the opportunity to experience marriage: Imam An-Nawawi, Jamal Ad-Din Al-Afghani, Sayed Qutb, to name a few. There are also those who put other priorities before marriage, like Zainab Al-Ghazali who stipulated the conditions of her da`wah in her marriage contract, and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal who delayed marriage until he was 40 years old because he feared it would distract him from his studies. In all of these cases, these figures were able to live very fulfilling lives because their ultimate goal was Almighty Allah Himself. Notice also that these people were very accomplished as they were busy in working, helping people, studying, and teaching. Married or unmarried, the life of Maryam (peace be upon her) shows us all that there is One worth living and sacrificing for, only One who truly owns our hearts.
To be continued
Taken with slight modifications from suhaibwebb.com.