What Would Mariam Do?
When we think about Mariam (alayha sallatu wa sallam - 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 Daiyah (Islamic worker/caller)? Would it surprise you to know that there has been a historical debate amongst the scholars on whether or not Mariam (as) was a nabiyah (female Prophet), as she was someone who received revelation directly through Jibreel? I actually tend to agree with the opinion that she was not a nabiyah, 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 Mariam (as) and the role she played in the da`wah of Islam, as much as we’d 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 Mariam (as) provides for the Islamic worker.
1. Da`wah’s first step: Developing the God-consciousness of the listener
When the Angel Jibreel first appears before her in the form of a man, while she is alone, she states:
“I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah.” (Qur’an, 19:18)
Imam Az-Zamakhshari mentions that as she was turning to 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 Mariam calls specifically on Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exhalted is He) as Ar-Rahman is to effect hope in this stranger, whom she believed to be transgressing, such that they would go back and abstain from any evil they had initially set out to do. Let our community activists remember from Mariam (as), the importance and even precedence of giving those who seem intent on sinning hope in the Mercy of Allah (swt). It is interesting to note that in the story of Mariam and `Isa (as) in Surah Mariam, Allah (swt) is constantly being referred to by His blessed name, Ar-Rahman. Surah Mariam also tells of the plights of other prophets including Ibrahim, Musa, and Idrees (`alayhim as-salaam). A lesson in da`wah that we can take from this is while the path of teaching has struggle, we must also remember 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 (known as ‘jawab ash-shart’) is missing. Some mufassireen 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 du`a’for herself related to a reminder to him of her reliance on Allah, as well as an implicit command for him to fear Allah and act accordingly. Later scholars would say in this statement is an evidence that, only a person who has taqwa can benefit from commands and prohibitions. So for the one who calls to Allah, they should call first to taqwa, first to developing a relationship with Allah, and then to the dos and don’ts of Islam.
2. Da`wah through personal example and whole-hearted concern
When she reached a stage where she feared her pregnancy would show, she went away, to a place referred to as “makaanan qaseeyyaa”—that is a place far away, distant, remote. We have to imagine that she spent time in this place all by herself—living for months with this secret that she could tell no one about. While some tafasir say that Mariam’s sister, the wife of Zakariyyah, knew about her pregnancy as she was pregnant with Yahya at the time, other tafasir 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 (swt) 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:
“I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.” (Qur’an, 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 “nasyan” 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 Mariam (as) 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 Mariam (as) as her iman 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 Zakariyya, 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 deen (Tafsir ash-Shaukani) and thus the deen of Allah (swt). Subhan’Allah, she 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 to abandon the bad speech, manners, and characteristics we may have that really turns people off from learning more? Are we dedicated enough to seek personal change? Subhan’Allah, a brother from Tajikistan once told some other students (of a different background) who were badly misbehaving at al-Azhar, “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 (swt) allow us to have the heart of Mariam (as) in caring for the da`wah of His deen. May Allah (swt) allow us to never be a fitna (trial) in the guidance of others.
It might seem problematic at first to see a great figure in Islam wishing for death. Al-Aloosi mentions that the Prophet 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.’”
Yet Mariam’s wish for death still does not fall into the “makruh” (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 Allah (swt) and not failing, is according to Imam ar-Razi, the habit of the Saliheen (righteous people). He cites the examples of Abu Bakr (ra) who wished he was the fruit that birds ate, Umar (ra) who wished he was nothing at all, and Ali (ra) at the Battle of the Camel who wished he had died twenty years earlier. Because it is a religious matter, according to al-Aloosi, there is nothing makruh in 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 Allah (swt) and fulfilling the trust given to them.
Al-Aloosi also mentioned that Mariam (as) 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 Mariam (as) also truly worried about her peoples’ condition, and not simply her own blame. Subhan’Allah, even Jibreel whom she thought was a stranger up to no good from her people, she cared enough for to remind him of Ar-Rahman. The lesson for the Islamic worker 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.
3. Da`wah as expressed in chastity and personal sacrifice
Allah (swt) mentions about Mariam (as):
“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.”(Qur’an, 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.” (Qur’an, 66:12)
I mention these verses for us to reflect on a few points. Mariam (as) 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 Allah (swt) and served her role obediently. Her test was not just that she would give birth to `Isa (as) while she is unmarried. Her test also included, not being married at a time that she most probably really wanted to be. The verses emphasize her chastity, which Zamakhshari describes as a “full complete chastity from the haram and even the halal.” For those brothers and sisters who are tested with being single at a time when they would want to be married, remember Mariam (as) who had patience and acceptance for what was written for her. Obviously, this doesn’t mean don’t actively seek marriage, as marriage is from the encouraged Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad . It means, so long as it is still unwritten for you, and Mr. or Mrs. Right has yet to be found, do not blame your destiny. Do not blame Allah (swt). Rather, be like Mariam (as), believe in His words, His Book, and be ever more obedient. Realize that Mariam (as) may have also been lonely, especially as a single mother who is being accused by her people. But also realize her reward in being the best woman in Paradise. Just as her chastity makes `Isa (as)’s birth a sign for all, the chastity and modesty of our single brothers and sisters, makes Islam a sign for all. Though we will explore the character and modesty of Mariam (as) in depth in Part Four of this series, let us remember here that the Prophet Muhammad once said:
“Every religion has a distinct characteristic, and the distinct characteristic of Islam is modesty.” (al-Bayhaqi, Ibn Majah and in Malik’s Muwatta)
Furthermore Mariam (as) sacrificed, giving her whole self to the service of Allah (swt), and being a sign for His deen. 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 Nawawi, Jamaal al-Din al-Afghani, Syed Qutb, to name a few. There are also those who put other priorities before marriage, like Ustaadha Zainab al-Ghazzali 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 Allah (swt) Himself. Notice also that these people were very accomplished as they were busy in working, helping people, studying, and teaching. Married or un-married, the life of Mariam (as) shows us all that there is One worth living and sacrificing for, only One who truly owns our hearts.
5. Da`wah in one of its greatest forms: Motherhood/Parenting
We mentioned previous examples of un-married people who devoted themselves to the service of Allah through working, helping people, studying, and teaching. Mariam (as) was also a teacher as she was the mother of the Prophet `Isa (as). Indeed motherhood, and parenting in general, is one of the most amazing forms of Da`wah that can be experienced in this life. While new moms sometimes express feelings of inadequacy due to lessened community activism, or lessened studies, in reality they do a job that is so great, its true appreciation can only become manifest in al-Akhirah, as Allah (swt) knows intimately the patient perseverance of mothers:
“Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without measure!” (Qur’an, 39:10)
Even though people everywhere realize the significance of a mother’s role, its continuous hard work and non-stop schedule of self-sacrifice, socially, it still does not enjoy the esteem or support it deserves. This is not to exclude fathers in any way as many times in the Muslim community, the role of motherhood is heavily praised and emphasized, only to completely ignore the concept of “fatherhood” and perhaps even justify damaging imbalances in the home. While this is a topic that deserves an article on its own, I encourage our male readers to reflect on parenting and fatherhood, through the discussion of Mariam (as) as a mother. For those of you who are young or un-married, this discussion is for you too! Imam Siraj Wahhaj once said, “You actually start raising your children when you are 15 or 16, because the values you have when you are that age, is what you pass on to your future children.”
Mariam (as) was a great mother, and the daughter of a great mother. Tarbiya (the process of self-development) is something that gets passed down from one mentor to the next. Allah (swt) mentions in the Quran:
“When the wife of ‘Imran said, “My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing. But when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female.” And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, “And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah].” So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner…” (Qur’an, 3:35-37)
This passage has some amazing gems for those who are parents, and even those who are teachers. Mariam (as)’s mother dedicated her child to Allah (swt) while she was still in the womb. This reveals a deep recognition from the parent, that they do not own their child like a possession that they are obsessed with. Rather, the child is an independent human being, a trust from Allah (swt) that is to be cared for and nurtured so that they may live a life dedicated to Him. This single point if truly appreciated with all its implications by the parents of our communities, would eliminate a great amount of the family problems we hear about. Second, sometimes parents have an idea of what their child’s future would look like, what their career should be, what family they would marry from, etc. They usually have good intentions. But again, children are not possessions, and Allah (swt) may have a different plan for the child than the one intended by the parent.
In the story of Mariam (as), her mother thought she would have a boy who would serve his whole life in Bayt al-Maqdis. Instead she had a girl, whose role would be very different than what could have ever been imagined, one that only a woman could do: being a single mother of a great Prophet. When Mariam (as)’s mother realizes that Allah (swt) has given her a female, something she had not planned for, she makes du`a’ that Allah protects her and her progeny from the Shaytan. In the end, that is the primary concern for any good parent: that whatever their child ends up doing in life, they are on a path that Allah (swt) is pleased with, and far from the evils of the Shaytan. Sometimes, it can be easy to forget the primary concern for secondary concerns. Parents might pressure their children to marry people who do not lead very morally conscious lives, but they happen to come from the same ethnicity. They might encourage their children to take some career that makes a lot of money but offers no sense of purpose or gratification through meaningful efforts. They might emphasize physical appearance over spiritual development. From this wise du`a’ of Mariam’s mother, we learn something crucial in da`wah and teaching: You pass on the values you actually practice. Allah (swt) says in the verse that “He accepted her with a good acceptance, and caused her to grow in a good manner.” The wife of ‘Imran’s good intentions and du`a’s are answered, and Mariam (as) was raised well.
When Mariam (as) becomes a mother, she is alone, exhausted, and without aid. Allah (swt) says:
And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. (Qur’an, 19:25)
It is not enough for one who is facing challenges to simply have tawakkul (trust in Allah). This verse shows us that Allah (swt) also wants us to put forth our best effort. As the mufassireen mentioned, how can anyone imagine shaking the trunk of a tree, and a date-palm at that? Yet, as Allah (swt) has power over all things, any of our efforts are similarly symbolic evidences that we are actively trying our best to fulfill our trusts. And though our human efforts have shortcomings that we consciously recognize, like a human hand trying to shake the trunk of a palm tree, Allah (swt) is the One who brings success, and still blesses us with an abundance of fruits. For parents, teachers, and Islamic workers, this is a rule one must remember when becoming overwhelmed. Allah (swt) is simply asking us to try our best. The most successful people, even in this life, are those who did the most with what they had and what they knew. We also take the rule that in order for a parent to help their child, they must first help themselves. Personal maintenance on basic levels is a necessary pre-requisite in maintaining someone else. And finally, sometimes a person feels like they are “behind” or “left behind,” as Mariam (as) may have felt. But so long as you keep trying, you are still present and pushing forward, you have not failed.
When she is physically rejuvenated, she has to face her fears in silence! Allah (swt) mentions:
Say, ‘Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.’ Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.” So she pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?”(Qur’an, 19:26-29)
Something amazing in these verses, is that Mariam (as) actually brings `Isa to the people. She initiates the dreaded encounter. She had to because this was the way for the people to be acquainted with the sign of Allah (swt). We learn from her action to have courage over fear when we are standing for the truth, seeking our confidence from our relationship with Allah (swt).
Mariam (as)’s obedience to Allah supersedes her natural maternal instinct. As Allah (swt) orders her to stay silent when the people ask her about Isa (as), she resists the temptation to defend herself and her son. There are times when a mother’s protective instinct and the laws of Islam come head to head. The successful mother is she who loves Allah (swt) more than she loves herself and her family, such that she allows her devotion towards Allah to guide her motherhood, rather than allowing her motherhood to limit her devotion. Finally, if we contemplate the role of `Isa (as) in our past and future, we cannot help but also appreciate the role of Mariam (as) in nurturing his historic personality. Remember that Mariam (as) is the mother of the one who said:
“[Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive. And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant. And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.” (Qur’an, 19:30-33)
From Mariam (as), we learn what it really means to be a mother for the sake of Allah (swt).
The lessons we can take from the story of Mariam (as) in da`wah are so many, this article barely scratched the surface. A caller to having Taqwa and hope in the Rahma of Allah (swt), her genuine concern for the reputation of Islam, the condition of her people, and their guidance; her life of chastity and sacrifice, and her courageous motherhood provide us with gems to live by. May Allah (swt) help us to emulate the important lessons we take from our dear beloved Mariam (as).