Who was Maryam (AS)? What Muslims believe about Mary

Lessons from a remarkable person and a remarkable life

As Muslims we find meaning in the Quran. When we reflect on the meaning of life, our lives and our purpose, we look to the Quran for answers.

The Quran gives us answers but also presents to us figures from the past so that we can learn from them.

As we consider what footprints we want to leave other than our carbon footprints, we can look to the lives of the people who Allah choose to showcase.

What were the qualities they had?

What can we do to be more like them?

Maryam (AS) is a wonderful example. She is the only woman to be named in the Quran and to have a surah named after her. She is also considered one of the best women to have lived.

When did she live?

Maryam is thought to have been born 18BC, making her around 18 when she had Eesa (AS) in Palestine.

Before her birth, the last messenger to have come was Musa (AS) who had lived around 1300 BC, so it had been over a millennium since he had brought the Torah and spread the divine message to his nation, who were known as the Israelites, after Yaqoob (AS), who is also known as Bani Israel, from whom they were descended.

There were many prophets however who lived during this period but the message of Allah was not being practiced as it should have. As with all previous messages, society had become corrupt and oppressive and were ignoring many of Allah’s commands.

Their practices had become very tainted and corrupted by the influences of other cultures and religions, particularly the Greeks and Romans, who had conquered the lands around them. The culture of Hellenism was against the teachings of Allah, and promoted nudity, as well as being based on the worship of numerous gods, pagan and superstitions.

We can see from this the time was ripe for a new messenger.

Unlike the biblical version

The story of Maryam in the Qur’an is not like the Biblical version. Apart from the missing stable, donkey, and Joseph, the background to Maryam’s own birth.

The famous King James version is basically a translation of the Latin version. Therefore, it is an English translation of a Latin translation of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Society had become corrupt over time but the family of Imran was distinguished by piety. Her lineage goes back to Haroon, brother of Musa (AS).Maryam was visited by the angles and given gifts from the Unseen. He uncle inspired by this, prayed for son, and was given Yahya (AS) who was her cousin.

  • Maryam’s father Imran (Chief of Rabbis) died before her birth.
  • The name ‘Maryam’ means worshipper or servant of Allah. (Prophets are also called Abdullah)
  • Her mother’s sister was married to Zakkariya (AS).
  • Maryam’s guardian was chosen by drawing lots.
  • Zakkariya (AS) her uncle and a prophet became her guardian.
  • A special chamber was made in the temple was made for Maryam to live in.
  • Maryam was visited by the angles and given gifts from the Unseen. Inspired by this, her uncle prayed for son, and was given Yahya (AS) who was her cousin.
  • She was about 18 when she had Eesa (AS).
  • After Eesa was he was elevated to Heaven aged 33, it is said she lived till 53 years and was buried in Damascus (based on Israelite traditions).

Maryam appears in 5 surahs

Surat al Imran, Nisa, Maryam, Muminoon, Tahreem:

Surat Al Imran
The story of Hannah, Maryam’s mother dedicating her progeny to the worship of Allah and her surprise at her child being a girl. Maryam (AS) being protected by Allah (SWT) and spending her youth in worship. Zakkariyah’s (AS) surprise at seeing heavenly fruit in Maryam’s chamber. Greater detail on how Maryam (AS) was chosen over all other women, was conversing with the angels and was commanded to bow down and prostrate individually and collectively with those who bow down.
Surat al Nisa
Allah’s affirmation that Maryam (AS) was a chaste women.
Surat Maryam
The description of how Maryam (AS) was given the news of her conception, story of her pregnancy and childbirth, and her return to her people once she had given birth.
Surat Muminoon
More confirmation that Eesa (AS) and Maryam (AS) are signs from Allah.
Surat Tahreem
Allah points out Maryam (AS) and Aasiya (wife of Pharaoh) as role models, both looked after a Prophet. Repeat affirmation that Maryam (AS) was a chaste devout woman and she believed in the revelations and His books.

The Quranic verses on Maryam

Allah chose Adam, and Noah, and the family of Abraham, and the family of Imran over all humankind.

Offspring, one of the other. Allah is Hearer and Knower.

Imran’s wife said, ‘Lord, I have dedicated what is growing in my womb entirely to You; so accept this from me. You are the One who hears and knows all,’

But when she gave birth, she said, ‘My Lord! I have given birth to a girl’- God knew best what she had given birth to: the male is not like the female- ‘ I name her Mary and I commend her and her offspring to Your protection from the rejected Satan.’

Her Lord graciously accepted her and made her grow in goodness, and entrusted her to the charge of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah went in to see her in her sanctuary, he found her supplied with provisions. He said, ‘Mary, how is it you have these provisions?’ and she said, ‘They are from God: God provides limitlessly for whoever He will.’ (3:33-37)

The angels said to Mary: ‘Mary, God has chosen you and made you pure: He has truly chosen you above all women.

Mary, be devout to your Lord, prostrate yourself in worship, bow down with those who pray.’

This is an account of things beyond your knowledge that We reveal to you [Muhammad]: you were not present among them when they cast lots to see which of them should take charge of Mary, you were not present with them when they argued [about her].

The angels said, ‘Mary, God gives you news of a Word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be held in honour in this world and the next, who will be one of those brought near to God. (3:42-45)

And for their disbelief and for what they said against Maryam as a grim imputation (4:156) ~ Surah Nisa

Mention in the Quran the story of Mary. She withdrew from her family to a place to the east

and secluded herself away; We sent Our Spirit to appear before her in the form of a perfected man.

She said, ‘I seek the Lord of Mercy’s protection against you: if you have any fear of Him [do not approach]!’

but he said, ‘I am but a Messenger from your Lord, [come] to announce to you the gift of a pure son.’

She said, ‘How can I have a son when no man has touched me? I have not been unchaste,’

and he said, ‘This is what your Lord said: “It is easy for Me- We shall make him a sign to all people, a blessing from Us.”’

And so it was ordained: she conceived him. She withdrew to a distant place

and, when the pains of childbirth drove her to [cling to] the trunk of a palm tree, she exclaimed, ‘I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before all this!’

but a voice cried to her from below, ‘Do not worry: your Lord has provided a stream at your feet

and, if you shake the trunk of the palm tree towards you, it will deliver fresh ripe dates for you,

so eat, drink, be glad, and say to anyone you may see: “I have vowed to the Lord of Mercy to abstain from conversation, and I will not talk to anyone today.”’

She went back to her people carrying the child, and they said, ‘Mary! You have done something terrible!

Sister of Aaron! Your father was not an evil man; your mother was not unchaste!’

She pointed at him. They said, ‘How can we converse with an infant?’ (19:16-29) ~ Surah Maryam

[But] he said: ‘I am a servant of God. He has granted me the Scripture; made me a prophet;

made me blessed wherever I may be. He commanded me to pray, to give alms as long as I live,

to cherish my mother. He did not make me domineering or graceless.

Peace was on me the day I was born, and will be on me the day I die and the day I am raised to life again.’

Such was Jesus, son of Mary. [This is] a statement of the Truth about which they are in doubt:

it would not befit God to have a child. He is far above that: when He decrees something, He says only, ‘Be,’ and it is. (19:30-35) ~ Surah Maryam

And, We made the son of Maryam (Mary) and his mother a sign (23:50) ~ Surah Muminoon

Before her birth

Before we get to Mary’s life, the Quran directs us to the events which precede her birth and her mother Hannah who was married to the chief of rabbis, Imran. They were both known for their piety and goodness. They were people of God.

The Du’a that Allah Almighty Loved

Hannah was a childless woman and she wished against all the odds to have a child appealed to her Lord with such sincerity and utter trust that she has become a testimony to the power of dua for all time.

She never lost hope that Allah Almighty could grant her what was physically impossible. She asked for a child, whom she assumed would be a boy, whom she then promised to dedicate to worshipping Allah. She made a pledge that if Allah gave her a child, that she would give it a pious upbringing and that this child would serve Him.

While she wanted to fulfil her desire for motherhood, she also vowed to use that gift from Allah for His sake. Not just for her own gratification.

The Quran gives us glimpses of scenes that took place in the past. They are moments which no body witnessed but Allah and the angels. And Allah choose to mention these in the Quran.

We zoom into the moment this old lady made dua to Allah Almighty. A conversation that no one would have overheard, perhaps in the dead of night, which has been plucked from the numerous du’as she must have made throughout her life and preserved for all time by being quoted in the Quran itself.

The oath

Hannah went one step further and swore an oath, (a nadh), making a commitment to carry out something to please Allah Almighty if He granted her wish. If one swears a permissible oath, one is then committed to fulfilling it. She said:

‘O my Lord, I have vowed that what is in my womb will be devoted exclusively for You. So, accept (it) from me. You, certainly You, are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.’ (3:35)

Vision for the future

This shows a vision for future in which her offspring would continue to worship Allah Almighty and stay on the right path, in submission to Him and to pass on the message of Allah by serving Him.

And indeed this dua is fulfilled spectacularly. But not in the way she ever imagined. She will be blessed with Maryam and then Eesa (AS). Maryam will be one of the best women to have lived and Eesa will be a prophet who would have a miraculous birth and a miraculous non-death.

Allah chooses people, places and times for honour

Maryam (AS) was born in a family that had been specially chosen and elevated by Allah (SWT) Qur’an says:

“Verily, Allah has chosen ’Adam and Nuh (Noah) and the House of Ibrahim and the House of ‘Imran over all the worlds. (3:33)

Allah gives preference to certain people, certain times and certain places. For instance, the prophets, Layltul Qadr, or the last third of the night, or Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem.

Pious parents

Maryam (AS) got off to a headstart by being born to pious parents.

Does the piety of parents have an effect on children? Even though Imran had died before Maryam’s birth, therefore did his piety have an impact on her?

There are several effects on children from the piety of their parents:

  • Children resemble their parents. Just as they have similar physical features they also resemble them in other ways. Imaan is not inherited. It is something we all have to choose no matter who we are born to.  
  • Parents are their children’s first role models. Children subconsciously pick up their mannerisms and habits. They aspire to be like their parents. Parents – in their good and bad qualities- rub off on you without you realising it.
  • Dua – Pious parents make dua. The supplication of parents has a direct impact on their children. This can make or break their future.

Hannah made dua for her child and her grandchild to be protected and this was accepted. Both Maryam and Eesa (AS) are the only children born not to have been poked by shaitan at birth.

In Surat al Kahf, we also see how Khidr is sent to protect the inheritance of orphans whose parents were righteous.

However piety it is not a guarantee that children will be pious. Ultimately imaan is not inherited and each child makes their own choices. The Quran gives us the example of Nuh (AS):

And Noah called out to his Lord, and said, “O My Lord, my son is of my family, and Your promise is true, and You are the wisest of judges.” (11:45)

He said, “O Noah, he is not of your family—he was of unrighteous conduct. So do not ask Me about what you have no knowledge of. I advise you, lest you be of the ignorant.” (11:46)

The importance of environment and companionship

Maryam was surrounded by educated people. This makes a huge difference to your upbringing. Through the guardianship of her Uncle Zakariya, she was directed towards goodness.

If you have good raw material and potential and you nurture it well, the outcome can be very successful and fruitful.

Maryam is loved. She is born to her mother after years of yearning, she is the daughter of a well-respected and prominent person and the eminent people in the community are desperate to have the honour of being her guardian.

Life doesn’t always turn out as you expected

Maryam’s story is full of surprises. It’s highly unpredictable.

Hannah was childless. Then she had a child in her old age. She proceeded to give birth to a girl not a boy. Her daughter had a virgin birth. Maryam was living a quiet life of worship and then a challenge was sprung on her. This changed the course of her life forever.

Had she not experienced this, her life would not have been so extraordinary.

An unusual childhood

No girl had ever been dedicated to live in the temple before, but Hannah dedicated her child to the service of God. This was unprecedented and odd.

Nevertheless as she had made this vow, it had to be fulfilled. This was not normally a role for women. Maryam was therefore found herself in a highly unusual position.

Good parenting involves directing and guiding your children.

What are the limits? It’s important that parents don’t over-parent their children.

  • They do not live their lives through their children.
  • they observe the strengths and talents of their children. And nurture them and guide them.
  • They do not force them to do what they are not good at.
  • Don’t set unattainable goals on them or have unrealistic expectations.

Maryam’s obedience and compliance

The vow involved Maryam’s future, but Maryam had not asked for her consent to this.

Yet Maryam does not challenge this. She fulfils her mother’s vow. She could have run away. She could have rebelled. She shows obedience.

Having been dedicated to the worship of Allah, Maryam could have rebelled and could have run away, (she was not chained to it), but she did not. Instead she embraced her life wholeheartedly and served Allah as best she could.

Accept your destiny / Make the most of your situation

Each one of us is in a position. We have to make the most of this position.

This is a deep reflection. Whether you are a mother or a wife, or a teacher or appointed to a particular role, unless you accept your situation and use it positively, you will not be able to go up to the next level.

Take advantage of where you are placed. Ibn Atta’s Al Iskandari said in his Hikam:

You are placed where you are meant to be.

What did Maryam’s service involve?

Maryam looked after the temple and worshippers. She was engaged in ibadah and recitation and dhikr. The ayahs tell us that she performed ruku and sujud. The Quran says she used to bow down with them, so it was the norm for them, even though these are no longer the reflected in the worship of People of the Book.

Maryam is sincere in her worship. Maryam went beyond what was required of her.

Maryam worshipped from a young age

In the well known hadith of the 7 categories to receive the shade of Allah’s throne are youths brought up in the worship of Allah.

  • Spend special effort in helping your children and younger generation have the love for deen from even before they are born so that they willingly invest their youth in the worship of Allah
  • When you see the younger generation engaged in worship, acknowledge and encourage them.

The fruits of worship

Normally we have to wait before we see the fruits of our efforts, but even before the Akhirah, Maryam was rewarded for her worship. More than any other girl her age even before her uncle the prophet. This was an indication that her heart was filled with Allah.

We also see from this that ibadah is not linked to age or gender.

Allah gives you more than you can imagine – when you put something in, Allah rewards it manifold.  You put in some, you take out multiples.

Allah does not waste your efforts.

To the extent that Allah gives her fruits gives fruits to those who are elevated.

Fruits were a sign of what was to come

There were early signs and blessings – karamaat.

These were the signs of prophethood. Maryam was also being prepared for a big responsibility and for greater miracles.

You do not give someone a huge task in on go. Thus Allah prepared Maryam for the role to come by sending her signs in advance. She was hearing voices. As the Prophet (peace be on him) had dreams and visions before the first revelation. These were irhasat an nabuwa.

Seclusion

Maryam is visited by the angel while she is in seclusion. Seclusion is important for the ascension of the soul and for having intimate discourse with Allah and this is why we have etikaf.

Create an environment (context, time and place) where you will not be distracted from worshipping Allah. Create pockets of seclusion in your life, for example in salah where you aim to disconnect from all else except Allah.

Prepare not to be distracted

Narrated ‘Aishah (RA):

Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) ordered that the mosques to be built in our homes and that it be cleaned and perfumed. (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and at-Tirmidhi.)

The concept of mihrab is having a special place for ibadah. Create an environment where you will not be distracted. Prepare yourself to converse with Allah.

Masajid is a place of sujjud. The new believers in Madinah would invite the Prophet (peace be on him) to pray in that space and they would keep it as their place of salah. They would keep it pure. The environment was inviting. Not cluttered or messy or  distracting. This is how to deal with the means – sort out the clutter, then work on the inside.

Don’t be cut off from reality

Seclusion and piety does not mean that one is not aware of the context and reality of life around oneself. Remain in touch with the reality around you. A worshipper disconnected from reality is of limited benefit.

People have assumptions about worshippers being unworldly. However, Maryam was well-rounded, When she said ‘How can I have a child when I am not married?’ It showed she was aware of the birds and the bees. And also what goes on in society her sheltered life. This suggests that in addition to being in the temple, she would go about daily life as normal girls.

Each blessing is a test and each test is a blessing

Her gift from Allah was also a huge test. She would be shamed and reviled by society for having this baby. At a time when having a baby out of wedlock would be deal with by stoning to death. Through this gift from the Unseen, Maryam would experience great joy but also face danger and a loss of her reputation, not just as a girl but the daughter of someone well known and well respected.

Reflect on difficulties – what have you learned through them?

Reflect on difficulties you faced in your life. What was the lesson in them? Reflect on blessings in your life. How can you utilise them?

The first port of call is Allah

When the angel comes he comes in the form of a man, Maryam is frightened. She calls to Allah for help. We have many examples of angel coming in human form – Jibril used to appear as a man, it is likely he came as a man in the cave of Hira.

Weakness

Allah created mankind weak. Maryam’s human side is shown. This reveals that there is nothing wrong with feeling weak. It is part of the human condition. It is not a gap.

Maryam is human. Whether she is a prophet or not, chosen or not, she is human and we can therefore relate to her. She experiences emotions: fear, anxiousness, shame, at the same time she shows courage, resilience and trust in Allah.

Seeking Allah’s help

Maryam’s weakness did not prevent her from seeking Allah’s support.

Maryam had strong imaan so she was well connected with Allah and through this she displays courage. She faced her hostile community. She shows strength of character.

Allah put tranquility in Maryam’s heart

Maryam could have been killed for having a child without a husband, but if you are with Allah, Allah is with you. He protects you.

You have to seek your rizq while knowing Allah’s provides it

For every need rely upon Allah.

 Let failure never supersede effort

See you not that Allah said to Maryam

Shake the tree and the dates will descend Had He wished He’d incline it towards her

With no shaking—but all things have a cause.

We could have fruits fall in our lap, but Allah asks us to seek them because we learn from that process. Allah creates the means for you to earn and through which He provides for you.

When you obey Allah’s commands, He multiplies of what you get. This is not a material measure.

A woman who is an example for mankind

One of the best woman who walked on earth in our time, was a young girl who studied her religion, had connection with the revelation, and impressed even her teachers. Her elevated status reflects her collection of remarkable qualities:

  • Her piety and trust in Allah
  • Her strength of resolve
  • Obedience
  • Patience
  • Courage
  • Trust in Allah
  • Closeness
  • Dedication
  • Sincerity

These are just some of the lessons in the story of Maryam (AS). For more inspiration, get the full recordings of the course, Maryam (AS) An Inspiration by Shaykh Haytham Tamim

The course includes information on:

Was Maryam a prophet? What does it mean she was the ‘best of women’?

What is meant by the ayah ‘And Maryam, daughter of ‘Imran who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her Our spirit, and she accepted the truth of her Lords words and scriptures: she was truly devout.’ (Surat Tahreem:12)’

What Islam believes about Eesa (AS).

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001.His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College).He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.