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)