Today we will spend time with the following four verses (38-41) of Surah aal-Imran.
Then and there Zachariah prayed to his Lord, saying, “My Lord! Grant me—by your grace—righteous offspring. You are certainly the Hearer of ˹all˺ prayers.”
So the angels called out to him while he stood praying in the sanctuary, “Allah gives you good news of ˹the birth of˺ John who will confirm the Word of Allah and will be a great leader, chaste, and a prophet among the righteous.”
Zachariah exclaimed, “My Lord! How can I have a son when I am very old and my wife is barren?” He replied, “So will it be. Allah does what He wills.”
Zachariah said, “My Lord! Grant me a sign.” He said, “Your sign is that you will not ˹be able to˺ speak to people for three days except through gestures. Remember your Lord often and glorify ˹Him˺ morning and evening.”
the art of dua
We saw in previous verses that Zachariah witnessed first-hand the power and generosity of Allah. He saw that Allah could bring Mary the fruits of winter in the middle of summer. A Lord who can make impossible possible, can grant him child in old age from a barren wife. So, Zachariah thought it would be the right time to ask this Lord to grant him a son. How could one expect a child from a wife well passed the menopause? It was impossible from our material sense, but nevertheless, Zachariah decided to give it a try.
Here we learn from Zachariah the art of dua; the art of asking impossible from Allah. Zachariah carefully started his appeal with the loving call “Ya Rabbi”, Oh my Lord!
Zachariah carefull chose the word “gift me” while supplicating to Allah. He knew well that his wish cannot be purchased through money. It can only be a gift from Allah alone. T
Zachariah is not like Qaroun who’s story is detailed in Surah al-Qasas. Qaroun was a filthy rich from the tribe of Moses. Allah gifted him with richness to test him. He failed miserably when he claimed richness via his own talents and forgot that it was a gift from Allah.
Zachariah is not asking for any child. He knows that while asking Allah, he must not forget to ask for a “good” child. Many parents have children who are “bad”. Some kids turn out to be so miserable that their parents wished they had never got such children. Zachariah is asking for a “good” child and what he got from his Lord is the “best” he could imagine: a child who became a prophet!
The greatest lesson is that one should not be shy when appealing to Allah. Allah can bring impossible, so head for the stars. What is important is an earnest dua with a heart full of love, hope, and sincerity.
Zachariah is supplicating to Allah using His beautiful names and qualities. This is another etiquette of Dua. His dua ended with calling Allah by a beautiful name. A name that is the most suitable for this context: “You are certainly the Hearer of ˹all˺ prayers.”
Sanctuary and Angels
As the subject of Zachariah’s Dua was unusual, the way the response came was also unusual. The good news came immediately, and how? through angels calling his name. Zachariah could hear their voice clearly telling him that he is gifted with a boy who would be “a great leader, chaste, and a prophet among the righteous.” When calling is effective, the answer comes immediately. When he made the dua he was still praying in his “mihrab” – his lonely sanctuary and his private praying place. He did not even get time to finish the prayer when the response came.
The night prayer is the most effective time for dua. It is the time one is away from noises, from sun light, from kids shouting, from phones calling, from cars honking. It is the best time to enter the sanctuary and be alone with Allah and supplicate. This is the best time to shed tears and open up one’s secrets with Allah. This is the confession room. Zachariah took the best advantage of this time. Let us do the same.
The name of the boy was “Yahya” which is the present tense of the root word “hayat” meaning life. Yahya was not supposed to “live” and come to this world. His parents were not biologically suitable to produce babies. Yet he got “life”. He is “Yahya”, the one who got life because Allah made him have life.
John and his qualities
Let us take the four qualities of this new child: 1) he confirms the word of Allah, 2) a leader, 3) a chaste, and 4) a righteous prophet.
Yahya confirmed the “Word of Allah”. The Word of Allah here refers to prophet Issa. Issa was not yet born. So, one infant is confirming another infant. John, while infant confirmed Jesus while Jesus was still in the womb of Mary. We know that mother of John and mother of Mary were sisters. In some references the two mothers were directly sisters. We are talking about a righteous family surrounding Imran and hence this Surah gets its name: Surah Aal-Imran or the “family of Imran”. Here are the names surrounding Imran. We saw the wife of Imran, the daughter of Imran (i.e., Mary), the grand child of Imran: Jesus, the sister of the wife of Imran who was wife of Zachariah, who was another prophet, and the son of Zachariah: John who was another prophet. Good branches sprouting from good trees.
John was a Sayyed or a Leader. He was an example for others. He showed others the path that leads them to safety and salvation. He cannot isolate himself from others and be a leader! Rather, he must mingle with people. Mingling with others means having patience to deal with other’s bad behavior. A good leader must not get angry quickly or fall victim of provocation. To show the path for others means the leader must know the path for himself first. He must be a scholar and knowledgeable. John was such a leader who had knowledge and at the same time had good behavior. Today’s leaders seldom combine the two.
The second character of John was that he was chaste. Allah protected him from falling in illegal sexual activities. Some scholars took from this that he never married and produced children. The Arabic word to describe Chaste was “Hasour” which conveys the meaning of abstinence. So, he abstained from sexual intercourse.
Inability to perform sex is not a manly character. This does not befit prophets who enjoy the best of health and manhood. John or other prophets were above such imperfections. They had sex drives, but Allah protected them from dragging behind their desires. John refrained from getting married. But he was not suffering inability to perform sex.
Let us take the case of Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him. He was the best of the mankind when it comes to manhood and physical characters, as he was the best when it comes to moral and spiritual characters. He has a very strong sex drive. He has the sexual power of 30 men combined. He used to pass in a single night by all his nine wives and had sex with them all. However, Prophet Muhammad was able to control his sex drive when needed and unleash it when needed. The voluntary control of the desire is better than having no desire. In the case of John, he had desire towards women, but he voluntarily avoided them, so he can fully be dedicated to Allah. In the case of prophet Muhammad, he had desire towards women, he married more and more, and that did not interfere with his relationship with Allah. In most of our cases, we fail miserably. Some of us derail and resort to illegal means to vent such desires. A good number of others resort to legal means and get married, but wife and children make them loose balance of their duty towards Allah.
Zacharia at first could not believe the good news he just received from angels. It is hard to believe that at such an old age he can impregnate a barren old woman. He asked for a sign from Allah. A sign that confirms that indeed he is getting a child and that his wife is indeed getting pregnant.
Allah gave him a sign. All in a sudden Zachiah would lose the power to talk. He had all tools to talk, yet he is unable to talk. He has his tongue intact, he has his mouth moving, his vocal cord working, yet he is unable to talk. That was the sign.
Allah has made this particular sign to make a point to Zacharia and to us all. Having tools and organs alone was not enough for a person to talk. Similarly, not having any tools is not a sure sign to be mute. In other words, there is the Will of Allah that governs everything. Allah executes His Will through tools and causes that we observe in nature. For example, to talk we need tongue, air, vocal cord, and other muscle moving to produce sound waves that translates our inner feeling and communicate with others. However, these tools alone without the will of Allah will not work. Similarly, if there are no tools but there is Will of Allah it will happen even if there were not tools and causes. Pondering upon this sign, Zachariah realized that having the Will of Allah is enough to make a 90 year old man impregnant a 70 year old woman.
Why did Zacharia wanted a proof? To increase his faith. Also, to be sure that this glad tiding which he just heard is not from Satan and indeed from Allah via angels.
Faith has degrees. There is a degree of faith when one believes something is 100% correct. There is even one degree stronger than this, when this firm believe is no more confined within mind and moves to a physical sense. When the matter of fact moves from mind to a fact that one can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste. Prophet Ibrahim knew very well that Allah can bring life from death, but he wanted a higher degree of faith. Allah showed him a demo which he could see with his own physical eyes. Read the story in Surah al-Baqarah.
Rememberance of Allah
Inability to talk does not make one be excused from remembrance of Allah. Remembrance of Allah is like the air that we breathe. If we stop breathing, we will die. Allah did not excuse us from prayer five times a day no matter what difficult circumstances arise. During the battlefield, we cannot skip prayer. During travel we may combine two prayers, but we cannot omit prayers. Heart of the prayer is the remembrance of Allah. In our story, during these three days Zacharia lost the power to talk, but he was not excused from his daily remembrance rituals. Remembrance does not need to be uttered; it could be silent within the heart. Allah told Zachariah, “Remember your Lord often and glorify ˹Him˺ morning and evening.”
Married couples often run left and right in search of children. It is never prohibited to search for medicine and treatment. However, the search for treatment must be coupled with supplication to Allah.