"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 19

Sura 19 - Maryam

I anticipated reading this sura since I thought it would be another chapter similar to Joseph. You know, a narration of people and events familiar to me already from my reading of the gospels. It was pretty interesting to read the Quranic version first of Zachariah and his longing for a son and later of Mary as she was told she would have a child though unmarried! The sura ended with mention of other Bible characters - Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael and others.

So Zachariah first.

Immediately in the sura we see him asking God for a son, a successor and heir to himself and the house of Jacob (vs. 6). We see God agreeing to this and promising Zachariah a son, however, as similar to the biblical account Zachariah questions how this can happen. I suppose he wanted his prayer to be answered, but forgot the example from his own Scriptures of how God gave the elderly parents, Abraham and Sarah, a child in their old age. Zachariah has the same lack of faith as often we do perhaps. God rightly declares He can accomplish whatever He chooses -- advanced age is no match for the Creator.

I liked the fact that the naming of John was pointed out in the Quran's version as this was also a point in the Bible. John was not a family name and it seemed to be custom to name your child - especially a firstborn son - after someone in the family. However Zachariah insisted the child would be named John as the Lord instructed.

John meaning "God is gracious" was one of only a few people God named in the Bible. Others include Ishmael ("God will hear"), Isaac ("laughter") and Jesus ("Yahweh is salvation"). Can you think of someone else named by God whom I missed?

In the Quran, Zachariah asked for a sign that this miracle birth would happen and the angel said for three days Zachariah would be unable to speak. This differs a bit from the Bible's version which reads in Luke 1:

18Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."

19The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."

The Quran has these nice words to say about John. I am curious, though about the Book John is supposed to hold onto. Did John get a Book revealed to him, too?

12. (We said:) "O John, hold fast to the Book;" and We gave him wisdom right from boyhood, 13. And compassion from Us, and goodness. So he was devout, 14. And kind to his parents, neither arrogant nor disobedient. 15. So peace on him the day he was born, the day he will die, and the day that he will be raised from the dead.

And here is what the angel Gabriel said to Zachariah about the son God would give them. Notice the powerful position of John.

13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1)

Even after John was in prison and sent his disciples to question Jesus whether or not Jesus were the promised one to come, Jesus sent words of assurance for John with John's disciples. (Oh wow, can you follow that?! :-O) As they were leaving Jesus said this as recorded in Matthew 11,

11I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

When John was born the Bible records a song of praise from his father. Notice especially verses 76 through 79.

67His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
69He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

So as you can gather, John's birth was celebrated and he was the forerunner of the Christ as foretold by the prophet Isaiah (40:3).

3 A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD ;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God."

The story of Mary was kind of interesting though the details were quite different from the Bible's version. The Quran reports her leaving town for a far place after having conceived. It seems she was alone. And then when she goes into labor, she finds herself birthing Jesus under a tree and almost wishing she could die rather than birth this special baby whom God foretold (Q 19:27) and conceived supernaturally!

Mary's curious words:

23. The birth pangs led her to the trunk of a date-palm tree. "Would that I had died before this," she said, "and become a thing forgotten, unremembered."

Well, I hear that women sometimes say crazy stuff while laboring so maybe that's all it was. :)

So she had Jesus and later returned to her people who were astonished that she had a child! They say something about Mary having a brother named Aaron, but biblically it was Miriam from the Old Testament who had a brother Aaron and both Miriam and Aaron were siblings of the famous Moses. But maybe Jesus' mom had a brother Aaron that we never heard of before. Mary is accused of fornication, but Jesus comes to her defense.

Except for the virgin birth, this story differs considerably from the Bible's version which anyone interested can read about here in Matthew and Luke.

The remainder of this sura dealt with remembrances of former prophets, thoughts of Paradise, words about casting people into hell and adamant statements about God not having a son.


Suroor said...

I'm looking for something. Wait for me :)

Susanne said...

Certainly! I'm eager to read whatever you have to say.:)

Suroor said...

Susanne, have you read any of the apocrypha? The details here match those in the Gospel of Pseudo-Mathew; the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary; and the Infancy Gospel of James.

All three were canonized in various churches around Arabia in the 7th century and were studied as part of scripture.

I think this is why you see all those differences between the canonized Bibles today and the Quran's report of the events.

I think many months ago I mentioned something on Mary and Miriam being confused on which Sara asked for some references and I copied a hadith. Do you remember?

According to that hadith some early Muslims thought that Virgin Mary was Moses' sister - there was the head of a convoy who was sent to a Christian priest to recite these same verses from Surah Mariam and the priest corrected him about Moses and Aaron been Miriam's brothers and not Mary's so he returned and told the Prophet that this is what he had learned that Mary and Aaron/Moses were not siblings. Years later when that same companion narrated this incident to Aisha she exclaimed "you lie!" and he then explained that it was indeed true that there was a time difference of 600 years between Moses and Virgin Mary and that when he had told the Prophet that, the latter had replied that "they named people after their forefathers."

Yes, so it is quite possible according to Islamic scripture that Mary did have a brother called Aaron, but according to all Christian texts (canonical and apocrypha) Mary's genealogy indicates clearly that she didn't have any siblings, neither brothers nor sisters. I wonder why people would not call her "oh, daughter of Imran" rather than "oh, sister of Haroon"?!

Thoughts? :)

Suroor said...

BTW Susanne, now that we are on the topic of Jesus and Mary, my son's friend came to spend the day with us yesterday. His dad is the local church's pastor. So the boys were playing with Celtic dolls on the kitchen table and they started talking about "God, save me!" and then the conversation drifted towards God and Jesus being God and it got all too funny at times. I was cooking while they were playing and the boy started talking about Jesus dying for our sins and so my son asked "what sins?" and to my utter shock and surprise this boy thought for a moment and while still kicking dolls with his doll very casually said, "maybe our sin that we worshiped a man." These are 7 year old children! And I was shocked that his dad might think *we* taught him that, whereas it is the other way around - the child teaches my son a lot about Christianity :)

Anyway, both boys nodded in agreement and later my son asked me what is worship? Why do people worship Jesus? Etc. Clearly these are concepts that the pastor's son knows well but my simple child didn't know. He still doesn't know anything about Hell! Go figure.

So I have been thinking about all this and I still don't know but it seemed so profound and deep. Did he know something as a child that we don't know? Could it be that Jesus was indeed killed because people had begun to worship him without him asking and THAT was the sin, the sin for which he died?

You know that I have never believed in Jesus dying for our sins, but this just gave me so much to think about. Thought I’d share with you what I will be thinking about for some time :)

Susanne said...

Suroor, great comments! I will respond more to them in a bit, but wanted to say something about the boys' conversation while it was on my mind. You live in a overwhelmingly Muslim area so I wonder if this pastor's son has been told or made to understand even by his own father that Muslims will consider worshiping Jesus to be a grave sin. So when your son asked him about sin, this is what came to mind. Just a thought I had.

One can see it over and over and over in the Quran so, no doubt, either a well-meaning Muslim has warned this little boy that his worship of Jesus is wrong OR the child's family has told him that his Muslim friends are likely to tell him this so he will be prepared if they accuse him of shirk.

Either way it's an interesting story and I will be thinking of what you said as well. I'm really glad you shared that. I love listening in on little kids' conversations sometimes. I'm sure you had a lot of smiles while cooking and listening. :)

Be back later to respond to your other comments. Thanks for those!

Susanne said...

Suroor, OK, I'm back to reply to your comments. No, I've not read any of the apocrypha, but thanks for pointing out the similarities in their stories and the Quran's version of Jesus' birth. Interesting.

Yeah, I do remember the Mary/Miriam discussion though I'd forgotten the hadith about Mary being Moses' sister. Yes, it's true that Aaron could have been Mary's brother since names are recycled all the time.

As for this --

"I wonder why people would not call her "oh, daughter of Imran" rather than "oh, sister of Haroon""

Because Aaron was famous from the stories of the exodus. So you'd likely draw the attention to a famous sibling rather than a father? That's my guess although this would be wrong as Moses and Aaron of the Exodus from Egypt and Mary from the story of Jesus lived hundreds of years apart.

I chalk it up to a mistake in the Quran myself.

On to the boys' conversation again. I agree that children are often profound and deep. I wasn't trying to dismiss that by what I said in my earlier comment. That was just what came to mind as I thought of myself as a parent raising a child in a country where his faith would likely be questioned by playmates and well-meaning people who wanted to save his soul from shirk. That's why it came to my mind immediately. I can totally picture myself having devotions with my children and telling him how the others around me believe and how they differ from what our family believes. (Or at least how I believe. :))

"Could it be that Jesus was indeed killed because people had begun to worship him without him asking and THAT was the sin, the sin for which he died?"

This isn't what I think based on the Bible, but maybe I am the fool for believing the Bible so much. I was pondering stuff during church today and it boiled down to this for me. Do I want to believe/put my trust in Jesus and his message or Muhammad and his. I can look at the two men clearly and see the one who is superior in the way that he lived and his teachings. So if life is a gamble and maybe that's all it is, I am siding with the Christ. He not only preached a good message, but he lived it. And I take Doers of the Word over mere "messengers" who have special privileges that the commoners don't get any day. The one who came to seek and save the lost over one who conveniently got "special revelations from God" for his more privileged lifestyle. I'll stick with Jesus. If I am wrong, so be it. I think I've chosen the better man and unless God changes my heart, I hope to live and die for Jesus.

Thanks for your thought-provoking comments! You've really made me think of why I am sticking with Jesus as you can tell from my pondering in church just a few hours ago. :)

Suroor said...

"I wonder why people would not call her "oh, daughter of Imran" rather than "oh, sister of Haroon"

“Because Aaron was famous from the stories of the exodus.”

Hey! Wait a minute… hold all horses! Wasn’t it Musa’s (Moses) father who was called Imran (Amram)? Oh!

Interestingly the 3rd Surah, Surah Imran, mentions only Mary, Jesus, and Mary’s parents (Anne, or was she Hannah? And Amram). It doesn’t mention Aaron. But then also this is Medinian Surah from 3 AH whereas Surah Maryam is a Meccan chapter from very early in the prophethood of Muhammad.

There is also the theory that the Family of Imran actually refers to the family of Abu Talib (as it refers to Mubahala – cursing match between Ali’s family and the Christians of Najran) since Abu Talib’s real name was Imran, but I never really heard that from most Muslims. In any case, I see that the Quran refers to two families (Moses’ and Mary’s) with the same name of the father (Imran), brother (Harun), and sister (Mariam). What are the chances? And do they match the thousands of Biblical references to their names? Confusing…

Suroor said...

About the conversation between the boys:

Yes, it was mostly smiles but I did choke on an olive when he made the startling speculation! I too suspect that someone must have mentioned it to him, most probably the father since he has almost no Muslim friends except for my son whom he meets rarely outside of school. Even in this country, non-Muslims receive a lot of freedom to practice their religions and the children of priests actually lead a very secluded life because they get accommodation inside compounds near their church. So I think the father must have warned him somehow.

But, I honestly don’t see this as Christianity Vs Islam or Jesus Vs Muhammad thing. It is true that they can never be compared and actually shouldn’t be compared. Muhammad never claimed to be better than Jesus or a choice to replace Jesus, even. Had he ever done that, every Christian army would have attacked him. He always said he was there to remind people of Moses’ and Jesus’ message. We can argue that this claim was sincere or self-serving, but that is a different argument.

Not everyone who thinks Jesus is not God, chooses Muhammad as their guide/prophet or is Muslim. Interestingly some 4-5 years ago I was introduced to a group of Muslims who claim to be Muslim and follow Islam but they don’t believe in Muhammad’s prophethood! Very strange bunch of people.

But like I recently made a friend who calls himself Christian and the other day he said: “The belief that Jesus is the most high is Satanic.” Now this man doesn’t believe in Muhammad or Islam, for all I know he thinks Islam is from Satan and actually a *job* (Amber’s terminology!) to balance power and evil Vs good on earth. But he doesn’t believe Jesus is God and during one conversation with me and another Christian friend he said to him, “Is Jesus your God, or is Jesus' God your God? Some of us have made a man our God, Jesus knew who his God was, do you?” Two Christians talking to each other – not even a mention of Muhammad.

I know I must seem like I'm trying to persuade you to leave Trinitarian belief, but that is not the case. I merely brought it up because I know you are open-minded and enjoy discussions about religion and because I feel like I have one more way to look at Jesus' death and sin since I really never understood the concept of him dying for our sins.

Susanne said...

Suroor, thanks for your additional comments! Lots of good stuff to consider. I'd forgotten the name of Moses' father though his mom's name is etched in my memory since childhood. Go figure! :)

Exodus 6

20 Amram married his father's sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years.

Thanks for sharing about the boys' conversation. I DO like hearing such things and all interesting spiritual discussions that even make you choke on olives! So please keep sharing them as they are good for thinking.

Can you be a Muslim without believing in Muhammad's prophethood? I see Muhammad tied with God so much in the Quran that I didn't think one could separate the two.

I don't think you are trying to talk me out of Trinitarian Christianity so much as just presenting other points of view for me to consider. In a sense this is your own "dawah" or evangelism so I would be foolish to say that I love when people care enough about me/others to share their faiths and then say your thoughts are not welcome because they challenge me in areas I don't wish to be challenged.

I appreciate your thoughts as always! Keep 'em coming!

Suroor said...

"In a sense this is your own "dawah" or evangelism..."


How could you??? :D

OK, maybe not a year ago but now I really believe God doesn't bother 'how' you worship Him. All paths lead to Him. It would be rather naive to expect billions of people to follow the same path. All paths are straight as long as you are good. I also don't believe God sits down on His Large Oak Desk with a quill to write books - in several editions! While I believe all paths lead to God, I also think all religions are made by people. A religion is not created by God and sent down as a parcel with a red bow.

So really to me worship can never be a sin, especially worship for a God who I don't think worries about who is worshiping Him. Record keeping and seeking revenge is a human trait - not God's. It is us, humans, who think "he hasn't been nice to me and when it's my turn, I'll show him, that ignorant fool!" I can't imagine God talking like that. Therefore, to me it doesn't matter how one worships. For all I know, we can all be right or we can all be wrong. Either way, it's a gamble and if it wasn't meant to be, God would have parted the clouds and said, Peek-a-Boo. He didn't, and it means it has to be a mystery always.

The reason I mentioned it that I always believed that "Jesus died for our sins" was Paul's creation, but now I think maybe there is more to it. Millions of Christians put their faith in one man's experience. It isn't their experience; it was his. Likewise millions of Muslims put all their trust in the experience of one man in a cave. It was his experience, not theirs. To believe without question is questionable. But God allows it, and there is a purpose which is the mystery.

Susanne said...


How could you??? :D"

Ha, ha! I think if you were eating, I would have made you choke on an olive, right? ;-)

I enjoyed the rest of what you wrote. I agree with some of it, in fact. The other is intriguing to consider. I agree that God doesn't write books nor does He give religions. You know I'm all about **relationship** with God being key. It's something I tend to harp on at times.

So timely that you mentioned Paul because someone else did in my Christian Q&A Session post so I wrote something about Paul JUST this morning upon waking! I haven't published it yet though. When I do, I want you to read it. I want you to at least know why I am OK with Paul especially since he's so misunderstood and disliked by Muslims.

Did you read my Sura 20 notes on Ta Ha? I'm waiting for someone to acknowledge it, but I know it's a holiday weekend in the US so it seems everyone is out partying except me! :-D

Suroor said...

Muslims don't like Paul? Really? I would be very surprised if many even knew who he was :-D Honestly, most think Bible is one book dictated/written by Jesus. Paul hardly exists in Muslim theology.

Susanne said...

Suroor, your mentioning of book made me wonder if you could explain the Book John was supposed to hold onto. Was he supposedly given a book as well? Or does "the Book" symbolize the Message of Allah?

Yeah, apparently some know enough of Paul. I was asked about him in my Christian Session post and I've seen enough about him on other Muslim blogs to know he is questionable. So I wrote up my defense of Paul this morning. :) I even compared him with Muhammad. Ha, ha!

Suroor said...

There seems to be a vague general belief that ALL prophets were given a book. What happened to those revelations? No one knows.

But that is a naive belief. Most Muslims don't believe that. The word used is "Al-Kitaab" meaning the Book, but kitaab can also mean law according to old Arabic. It could well mean God's Law, or God's Revelation, or may even refer to the Torah. I haven't heard anyone claim that John was given a book, to be honest.

Susanne said...

Thanks, Suroor! You are always sweet to help me out. I think it's like the message/law of God as you noted. Not a specific Book. Just checking though. :)