Maryam AS, the mother of Isa AS
The final prophet descended from Bani Israel (from the lineage of Ishaq AS, the son of Ibrahim AS) ended with one of the most prominent figures in human history, Isa (Jesus) AS. He was the last of the prophets of Bani Israel and no prophet existed between him and the final Prophet and Messenger, Muhammad (SAW), who was descended from Ibrahim's AS first son, Ismail AS.
We had touched upon the story of Maryam's AS birth and upbringing in her early years, in the story of Zakariya AS Maryam AS was from an extremely noble lineage, descended from Daud AS and born of a pious man and woman. Her mother, the wife of 'Imran, had been barren all her life and had reached old age. However, she made an earnest and sincere supplication to Allah, pledging that if she were granted a child, that she would dedicate that child to the pure service of Allah.
She conceived, but gave birth to a girl instead of a boy. This was unanticipated, for she had been hoping for a son who would also carry the honour of being a Prophet of Allah – this being the ultimate servitude to Allah accorded to mankind. A woman would be unable to fulfil the role of a Prophet or Messenger. However, realising that Allah was the one who destined for her to have a daughter, she still fulfilled her vow, and dedicated the baby, Maryam AS, to Allah. She also made a supplication for Allah to protect Maryam AS and her offspring from Shaitan, the accursed.
Authentic Hadith states that "No baby is born but it is touched by Satan at the time of its birth, and it comes out screaming, except Maryam and her son Isa." In another hadith, it is stated that "Every human when it is given birth, Satan kicks him on both sides, except Maryam and her son Isa. Didn't you see how the baby cries when he comes out?" The Companions said: "Yes, O Messenger of Allah." He said: "That happens when Satan kicks him on both his sides."
In the story of Zakariya AS, we saw how Maryam AS was entrusted to the care of her uncle Zakariya AS after her father passed away. Maryam AS grew up in purity and beauty, displaying the ultimate good behaviour by her conduct, chastity and piety. She spent her early years cloistered in the privacy of a separate room built especially for her within the walls of the sacred Baitul Maqdis, and this enclosure was forbidden to anyone else. Her days and nights were spent in the solitary worship of Allah.
Because of the earnestness of her devotion, Allah bestowed her with His special favours and provisions. For example, whenever Zakariya AS entered her prayer area, he used to find fresh fruits which were out of season. Being her guardian, he was the only man to have access to her place of seclusion, and he was surprised by the appearance of all this unusual food. He asked her where they came from, and Maryam AS replied that the provision was from Allah, who bestows upon who He wills without measure.
Allah also purified Maryam AS, and chose her above all the other women in the world. She was so highly honoured that she has an entire chapter in the Qur'an titled named after her (Surah Maryam). Further, she also had her family name as the title of another chapter in the Qur'an (Surah Aali Imran).
Allah SWT says: "And [mention] when the angels said, "O Maryam, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Maryam, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer]."" (Al Qur'an 3:42 – 3:43)
Maryam's AS piety, good behaviour and chastity are beyond reproach. Rasulullah SAW said that:
"The best of the women of the world are four: Maryam bint 'Imran, Aasiyah, the wife of Pharaoh, Khadijah bin Khuwailid, and Fatimah bint Muhammad the Messenger of Allah." (Al Tirmidhi)
In another hadith, it is stated that:
"Many of men reached to the position of perfection. But it is only three women who acquired this perfection: Maryam the daughter of 'Imran, Aasiyah the wife of Pharaoh, and Khadijah the daughter of Khuwailid, and the excellence of Aaishah over the other women is like the excellence of Tharid over other food."
What of the original vow made by Maryam's AS mother prior to conceiving her? Allah in His wisdom, was to give Maryam's AS mother what she had prayed for, which was a Prophet to continue the delivery of the message of Islam. However, He had ordained for this Prophet to be of such noble lineage, from a mother who was exceptionally pure, the highest woman of Allah's creation, and the one who had been purified by Allah and selected by Him and who was taught the matters of faith by a prophet of God. Thus the full supplication of Maryam's AS mother only crystalised two generations later.
The Conception and Birth of Isa AS
One day, Maryam AS withdrew from the companionship of her family and sat in seclusion towards the east. As was customary for her, she drew a veil, or screen, in order to guard her privacy. At this time, she received a strange visitor. It was an angel who materialised before her in the shape of a handsome man. Allah made him appear in this form, as human faculties are not able to withstand the sight of an angel in its original form.
And mention, [O Muhammad], in the Book [the story of] Maryam, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east. And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man. (Al Qur'an 19:16 – 19:17)
The reality is that most girls, when seeing a dazzlingly handsome man at such close proximity and in such privacy, might develop a huge crush on the person, flirt with him or even transgress. Maryam AS, was not a typical teenage girl and was not easily won over. She was chaste all her life, and thought that he intended her harm. She immediately invoked the protection of Allah, saying:
"Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah." (Al Qur'an 19:18)