The period of the revelation of verses of The Quran, given below, is about 9 A.H., when a delegation from the Christian republic of Najran visited the Prophet (s.a.a.w.). Najran lies between the Hijaz and Yaman, and comprised, at that time, seventy-three towns and villages. Its population can be gauged from the fact that an estimated one hundred and twenty thousand men could bear arms. The entire population was Christian and was under the hegemony of three Christian chiefs. The first of these, 'aqib, was the head of the community. The second, sayyid, looked after the collective and political affairs of the people. The third, usquf (bishop), was their religious leader. (See Ibn Hisham, vol. 1, p. 573; Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad, tr. A. Guillaume, pp. 270 f. - Ed.)
When the Prophet annexed Makka, the whole of Arabia became convinced that the future of the area was bound up with him, and deputations from all parts of the peninsula began to visit him. In this connection the three chiefs of Najran came to Madina accompanied by sixty people. It was on this occasion that God revealed this discourse; it served as an invitation to the people of Najran to accept Islam.
The Holy Quran
(3:33) Truly Allah29 chose Adam and Noah and the descendants of Abraham and of 'Imran30 above all mankind. (3:34) (for His messengership) - a people alike and the seed of one another.31 Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (3:35). (He also heard) when the woman of 'Imran32 said: 'O Lord! Behold, unto You do I vow that the child in my womb is to be devoted to Your exclusive service. Accept it, then, from me. Surely You alone are All-Hearing, All-Knowing.'33 (3:36) But when she gave birth to a female child, she said: 'O Lord! I have given birth to a female' - and Allah knew full well what she had given birth to - 'and a female is not the same as a male.34 I have named her Mary and commit her and her offspring to You for protection from Satan, the accursed.' (3:37) Thereupon her Lord graciously accepted Mary and vouchsafed to her a goodly growth and placed her in the care of Zechariah. Whenever Zechariah35visited her in the sanctuary,36 he found her provided with food. He asked her: 'O Mary, how did this come to you?' She said: 'It is from Allah. Allah provides sustenance to whom He wills beyond all reckoning.' (3:38) Then Zechariah prayed to his Lord: 'O Lord! Grant me from Yourself out of Your grace the gift of a goodly offspring, for indeed You alone heed all Prayers.'37 (3:39) As he stood praying in the sanctuary, the angels called out to him: 'Allah gives you good tidings of John (Yahya),38 who shall confirm a command of Allah ,39 shall be outstanding among men, utterly chaste, and a Prophet from among the righteous.' (3:40) Zechariah exclaimed: 'My Lord! How shall I have a son when old age has overtaken me and my wife is barren?' He said: Thus shall it be;40 Allah does what He wills.' (3:41) Zechariah said: 'O my Lord! Appoint a sign for me.'41 The angel said: 'The sign for you shall be that you shall not speak to men for three days except by gesture. Remember your Lord and extol His glory by night and by day.'42
(3:42) Then came the time when the angels said: 'O Mary! Behold, Allah has chosen you, and made you pure, and exalted you above all the women in the world. (3:43) O Mary! Remain devout to your Lord, and prostrate yourself in worship, and bow with those who bow (before Him).' (3:44) (O Muhammad!) We reveal to you this account from a realm which lies beyond the reach of your perception for you were not with them when they drew lots with their pens about who should be Mary's guardian,43 and you were not with them when they disputed about it. (3:45) And when the angels said: 'O Mary! Allah gives you the glad tidings of a command from Him: his name shall be Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary. He shall be highly honoured in this world and in the Next, and shall be one of those near stationed to Allah. (3:46) And he shall speak to men in the cradle and also later when he grows to maturity and shall indeed be among the righteous.' (3:47) She said: 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has ever touched me?' The angel answered: Thus shall it be.44 Allah creates whatever He wills. When He decides something, He merely says: "Be" and it is. (3:48) And He will teach him the Book, the Wisdom, the Torah, the Gospel, (3:49) and he will be a Messenger to the Children of Israel.' (And when he came to them he said): 'I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I will make for you from clay the likeness of a bird and then I will breathe into it and by the leave of Allah it will become a bird. I will also heal the blind and the leper, and by the leave of Allah bring the dead to life. I will also inform you of what things you eat and what you treasure up in your houses. Surely this is a sign for you if you are true believ-ers.45 (3:50) And I have come to confirm the truth of whatever there still remains of the Torah,46 and to make lawful to you some of the things which had been forbidden to you.47 have come to you with a sign from your Lord; so have fear of Allah and obey me. (3:51) Surely, Allah is my Lord and your Lord; so serve Him alone. This is the straight way.'48 (3:52) And when Jesus perceived their leaning towards unbelief, he asked: 'Who will be my helpers in the way of Allah?' The disciples49 said: 'We are the helpers of Allah. We believe in Allah,50 and be our witness that we have submitted ourselves exclusively to Allah. (3:53) Our Lord! We believe in the commandment You have revealed and we obey the Messenger; make us, then, one of those who bear witness (to the Truth).' (3:54) Then they schemed (against the Messiah), and Allah countered their schemes by schemes of His own. Allah is the best of schemers.
(3:55) (And it was part of His scheme) when Allah said: 'O Jesus! I will recall you51 and raise you up to Me and will purify you (of the company) of those who disbelieve,52 and will set your followers above the unbelievers till the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me you shall return, and I will judge between you regarding what you differed. (3:56) As for those who disbelieved, I shall punish them with a terrible chastisement in this world and in the Next; and they shall find none to help them. (3:57) But those who believe and do righteous deeds, He will reward them in full. Allah does not love the unjust.' (3:58) What We recite to you consists of signs and wise admonition.(3:59) Surely, in the sight of Allah, the similitude of the creation of Jesus is as the creation of Adam whom He created out of dust, and then said: 'Be', and he was.53 (3:60) This is the truth from your Lord; be not, then, among those who doubt.54 (3:61) Tell whoever disputes with you on this matter after true knowledge has come to you: 'Come! Let us summon our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves, and then let us pray together and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie.'55 (3:62) This is the true story. There is no God but Allah, and assuredly Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise. (3:63) And if they turn their backs, truly Allah knows those who cause mischief.
Footnotes (Tafheemul Quran)
- This marks the beginning of the second discourse. The period of its revelation is about 9 A.H., when a delegation from the Christian republic of Najran visited the Prophet. Najran lies between the Hijaz and Yaman, and comprised, at that time, seventy-three towns and villages. Its population can be gauged from the fact that an estimated one hundred and twenty thousand men could bear arms. The entire population was Christian and was under the hegemony of three Christian chiefs. The first of these, 'aqib, was the head of the community. The second, sayyid, looked after the collective and political affairs of the people. The third, usquf (bishop), was their religious leader. (See Ibn Hisham, vol. 1, p. 573; Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad, tr. A. Guillaume, pp. 270 f. - Ed.)
When the Prophet annexed Makka, the whole of Arabia became convinced that the future of the area was bound up with him, and deputations from all parts of the peninsula began to visit him. In this connection the three chiefs of Najran came to Madina accompanied by sixty people. As they were not prepared to go to war, the alternatives before them were either to embrace Islam or to live as dhimmis (protected non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state). It was on this occasion that God revealed this discourse; it served as an invitation to the people of Najran to accept Islam.
- 'Imran was the father of Moses and Aaron, and has been mentioned in the Bible as Amram.
- The real error of the Christians lies in considering Jesus to be the son of God and a partner in His godhead, rather than His servant and Messenger. If this misunderstanding was removed it would become quite easy for them to advance towards Islam. Hence at the very outset of the discourse it is mentioned that Adam, Noah and the Prophets in the house of Abraham and 'Imran were all human beings. Even though many Prophets were born in the same family, one from the other, none of them was God. Their merit lay in the fact that God had chosen them to preach His religion and reform the world.
- If the 'woman of 'Imran' is interpreted as the wife of 'Imran, this 'Imran must be different from the 'Imran just mentioned (see the preceding verse). In the Christian tradition the name of the father of Mary is mentioned as Joachim. If this expression, however, is interpreted to mean 'a woman of the house of 'Imran', it would mean that the mother of Mary belonged to that tribe. There is, unfortunately, no definite source of information that would lead us to prefer one interpretation to the other, as there is no historical record either about who the parents of Mary were, or to which tribes they belonged. Were we to accept the tradition that the mother of John (Yahya) and the mother of Jesus were cousins, then it would be valid to interpret the expression as meaning 'a woman of the tribe of 'Imran' for, according to the Gospel of Luke, the mother of John was one of the daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5).
- That is, God heeds the prayers of His creatures and is well aware of their intentions.
- Since a boy is free from some of the physical shortcomings and social disabilities associated with a girl, the mother of Mary thought that had the child been a boy he would have been more able to achieve the purpose for which she had consecrated the child.
- This section refers to that period of Mary's life when she attained her majority and was admitted to the Temple of Jerusalem, and devoted all her time to remembering God. Zechariah, into whose care she was given, was perhaps the husband of her maternal aunt, and was one of the guardians of the Temple. This Zechariah is not to be confused with the Prophet Zechariah whose assassination is mentioned in the Old Testament.
- The word mihrab usually refers to that niche in mosques where the leader of the prayer stands. In this instance, however, the term signifies the apartments usually built in synagogues and sanctuaries on a raised platform adjacent to the place of congregational worship, which served as the residence of caretakers, servants and beggars. Mary lived in an apartment of this kind and devoted all her time to worship and prayer.
- Until then Zechariah had no issue. The sight of this pious young girl made him yearn for a child just as virtuous and devout. When he saw that God sent food to her, by dint of His limitless power, he felt hopeful that God might also bless him with issue, despite his old age.
- In the Bible his name is mentioned as John the Baptist. For information about him see Matthew 3, 9 and 14: Mark 1 and 6; Luke 1 and 3.
- The 'command from Allah' signifies Jesus (peace be on him). His birth took place as the result of an extraordinary command from God and in an unusual manner, hence he is designated as 'the command' or 'word' from Allah.
- God granted Zechariah a son despite his old age and despite the barrenness of his wife.
- Here the request is made for some specific sign to be given by means of which Zechariah would come to know in advance when the unusual incident of the birth of a child to a couple, where the male was old and the female both old and barren, would take place.
- The real purpose of this discourse is to disclose to the Christians the error of their belief in Jesus as God and as the son of God. The subject is introduced by mentioning the birth of John (peace be on him), another miraculous birth which had taken place only six months before the birth of the Messiah (peace be on him) and among his own relatives. God wants to make the Christians ask themselves why the miraculous birth of Jesus should make him God when the similarly miraculous birth of John did not make him so.
- They drew lots to decide who should be the guardian of Mary, whose mother had consecrated her to the service of God in the Temple. Since she was a girl, it was a delicate matter as to who from among the priests of the Temple would be the appropriate person to take care of her.
- Thus it was affirmed that a child would be born to Mary despite the fact that no man had touched her. The angel's answer mentioned here, 'Thus shall it be', was exactly the same as the response given to Zechariah. Both the following sentences and the preceding section support the view that the angel had conveyed to Mary the glad tidings that a son would be born to her without normal sexual contact, and it was thus that Jesus was born. For, if Mary's child was to be born to her in the usual manner in which children are born to women, and if the birth of Jesus did take place in the normal way, the entire narrative from (verse 35 )of this surah to (verse 63) would have to be declared absurd.
Indeed, one would be forced to treat as meaningless all those statements about the birth of Jesus which are found scattered elsewhere in the Qur'an. The Christians had begun to regard Jesus as God and the son of God because of this fatherless birth. The Jews, in turn, cast aspersions on Mary's chastity on the grounds that she had given birth to a child despite being unmarried. If the fatherless birth of Jesus was itself false, it would have been sufficient to tell the Christians that they were indulging in sheer mis-statement, that Mary had indeed been married, that she had a legitimate husband, and that it was as a result of that wedlock that Jesus was born. If this fact could have been stated plainly, there would have been no need for long preparatory statements and complicated propositions, and no need to call Jesus the son of Mary instead of naming his father. For far from resolving the issue such statements add to the confusion. Those who believe the Qur'an to be the word or command from God and yet try to prove that the birth of Jesus took place in the normal manner, as a result of union between his father and mother, end up by proving only that God is less capable of clear expression than they are!
- It is hinted here that these signs are sufficient proof that Jesus was designated by God, the Creator and Sovereign of the universe, provided people are prepared to accept the truth instead of obstinately clinging to their prejudiced views. This is further proof that Jesus had been entrusted with a mission by God. Had he not been designated by God but by an imposter he would surely have attempted to found an independent religion, exploiting his miracles to lead people away from their original faith. However, Jesus believed in, and confirmed, the validity of the teachings of the original religion which had been preached at God's behest by the earlier Prophets.
- The fact that Jesus preached the same religion as that expounded earlier by Moses and the other Prophets is also borne out by the statements of the existing Gospels: According to Matthew, in his Sermon on the Mount the Messiah categorically declared: 'Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them' (Matthew 5: 17). And when a Jewish lawyer enquired: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?', Jesus replied: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depends the law and the prophets' (ibid., 22: 37-40). He also instructed his disciples: The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice' (ibid., 23: 2-3).
- What Jesus wanted to impress upon them was that he would abolish the prohibitive innovations which had infiltrated the original Divine Law (Shari'ah}. These were the results of the superstitions of their ignorant commoners, the legal hair-splitting of their lawyers, the extremism of their world-renouncing pietists, and the ascendancy and predominance of non-Muslim peoples over them. In determining what is lawful and unlawful, Jesus would be guided by the injunctions of God and not by the inventions of human beings.
- This shows that as with the other Prophets, the fundamental points of Jesus' mission were the following:
(1) Man should acknowledge- the exclusive sovereignty of God which demands absolute service and obedience to Him, and Him alone. This principle serves as the basis for the entire structure of human morality and social behaviour.
(2) Man should obey the Prophets since they are the representatives of the true Sovereign.
(3) The Law which should regulate man's conduct by elaborating what is right and what is wrong should be none other than the Law of God. The laws devised by others should be abrogated. There is, thus, no difference between the missions of Jesus, Moses and Muhammad (peace be on them all). Those who think that the missions of the Prophets differ from one another and who believe that their objectives vary have fallen into serious error. Whoever is sent by the Lord of the Universe to His creatures can have no other purpose than to dissuade God's subjects from disobeying Him and assuming an attitude of vanity and disregard towards Him, and to admonish them against associating anyone with God in His divinity (that is, either holding anyone to be a partner with the Lord of the Universe in His Sovereignty or recognizing others beside God as having a rightful claim on part of man's loyalty, devotion and worship), and to invite them all to be loyal to, and to serve, obey and worship God alone.
It is unfortunate that the Gospels in their present form do not offer as clear a picture of the mission of Jesus as that presented by the Qur'an. Nevertheless, we find scattered throughout the Gospels all the three fundamentals mentioned above. The notion that man ought to submit himself totally to God is embodied in the following statement:
'You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve' (Matthew 4: 10).
In addition, Jesus believed that the object of his efforts was that God's commands relating to the moral realm should be obeyed in this world in the sphere of human conduct just as His commands about the operation of the physical universe are obeyed in the heavens: 'Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven' (ibid., 6: 10).
The fact that Jesus presented himself as a Prophet and a representative of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that in this capacity he asked people to follow him is borne out by several statements. When, for instance, he began his mission in Nazareth and when his own kith, kin and compatriots turned against him, he remarked: 'A prophet is not without honour except in his own country . . .' (Matthew 13: 57; see also Luke 4: 24 and Mark 6: 4). And when conspiracies were hatched in Jerusalem to put an end to his life, and people counselled him to go away, he replied: 'Nevertheless I must go on my way . . . for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem' (Luke 13: 33). When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time the disciples cried with a loud voice: 'Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord' (Luke 19: 38). This angered the Pharisees, who asked Jesus to rebuke his disciples. But he replied: 'I tell you, if these were silent the very stones would cry out' (ibid., 19: 40). On another occasion he said: 'Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light' (Matthew 11: 28-30).
The fact that he invited people to obey the Laws of God rather than the laws made by man is evident from his response (found in both Matthew and Mark) to the objection raised by the Pharisees to the conduct of their disciples who ate with defiled hands, that is, without washing.
'Well did Isiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honours me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'
And he said to them: 'You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, "Honour your father and your mother", and "He who speaks evil of his father or mother, let him surely die", but you say, "If a man tells his father or mother what you would have gained from me is Corban (that is, given to God), and then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on"' (Mark 7: 6-13; see also Matthew 15: 2-9).
- The word hawari means approximately the same as the word ansar in the Islamic tradition. In the Bible the usual terms are 'apostles' and 'disciples'. Jesus' chosen disciples were called apostles in the sense that they had been entrusted with a mission by him rather than in the sense of having been entrusted with a mission by God.
- At various places the Qur'an characterizes man's participation in the effort to establish the supremacy of Islam as 'helping God'. This needs a little explanation. God has endowed man with the freedom of will and choice, with the result that He does not resort to His omnipotent will to compel man either to do certain things or to refrain from others. He rather leaves man free to adopt the course that pleases him - be it that of either belief or unbelief, of either obedience or disobedience. God prefers to instruct man by means of persuasive argument and admonition, so as to bring home to him that even though he is free to disbelieve, disobey and defy the Will of God, his own interest and well-being lie in serving and obeying his Creator.
Hence, directing people to the right path by persuasion and admonition is of concern to God, He regards those who contribute to this cause as His allies and helpers. This is, in fact, the most exalted position attainable by man. When a man performs Prayers, keeps his fast and worships God in other ways, he is merely on the level of service and subjection to God. But when a man strives to spread God's true religion and to enthrone it in actual life, he is honoured with the status of God's ally and helper, which is the zenith of man's spiritual growth. 'Literally, 'and be our witness that we are Muslims' - Ed.
- The expression used is mutawaffika. The original meaning of tawaffa is to take and receive. To 'seize a person's soul' constitutes the figurative rather than the literal meaning of the word. Here the word is used in the sense of 'recall', for example, the recall of an official from his work. The Israelites had persisted in their disobedience, and despite repeated warnings and admonitions their collective behaviour had become increasingly corrupt. They had killed a succession of Prophets and were out to shed the blood of all those who invited them to righteousness and moral rectitude. In order to complete His argument against them, and to give them a last chance to reform themselves, God sent to them two great Prophets, Jesus and John the Baptist. These Prophets carried with them such overwhelming proof of their designation by God that no ground was left for anyone to disbelieve in them, except those who were obstinately hostile to the Truth and who had become exceedingly bold in their opposition to it.
Yet the Israelites let this last opportunity slip away. They not only spurned the message of the Prophets but also brazenly indulged in many other atrocious crimes. One of their chiefs had John beheaded at the behest of a dancing girl, and their priests and scribes conspired to have Jesus put to death by the Roman authorities. Further admonition would have been a sheer waste of time. God, therefore, decided to recall His Prophet and condemned the Israelites to perpetual disgrace.
It should be noted that this whole discourse (verses 3: 33 ff.) is devoted to repudiating the Christian belief in the godhead of Jesus, and to reforming their beliefs. The main reasons for the spread of these false beliefs were: (i) the miraculous birth of Jesus; (ii) the miracles which he performed; and (iii) his ascension into heaven (which is mentioned categorically in the Christian scriptures). The Qur'an confirms the miraculous birth of Jesus and asserts that this fatherless birth is a manifestation of God's omnipotence. God creates whomsoever He wills and in the manner He chooses. This extraordinary birth neither proves that Jesus was God nor that he had any share in God's godhead. The miracles of Jesus are also verified by the Qur'an; in fact it enumerates them one by one. The Qur'an, however, makes it clear that Jesus performed these miracles in accordance with God's will, and not of his own innate power.
Had the traditions cherished by the Christians regarding Jesus' ascension into heaven been without foundation, they would have been told that he whom they regarded as either God or the son of God had died long ago and become part of the earth, and that if they wanted to satisfy themselves on that score they could go and witness for themselves his grave at a certain place. But not only does the Qur'an not make any categorical statement that Jesus died, it employs an expression which, to say the least, contains the possibility of being interpreted as meaning that he had been raised into heaven alive. Further, the Qur'an tells the Christians that Jesus, contrary to their belief, was not crucified. This means that the man who cried out at the end of his life: 'Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani?', that is, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' (Matthew 27: 46), and the one whose image was seen on the cross was not Christ; God had already raised Christ into heaven.
As for those who try to interpret these Qur'anic verses as indicating the death of Jesus, they actually prove only that God is incapable of expressing His ideas in clear, lucid terms.
- The words 'those who disbelieve' here refer to the Jews whom Jesus had invited to believe, and who had refused that invitation. The expression: 'your followers', if it denotes the true followers of Jesus, can only mean Muslims. Should 'followers' signify all those who profess allegiance to Jesus, it would include both Christians and Muslims.
- This means that if Jesus' miraculous birth is sufficient proof that he should be regarded either as God or as the son of God then there are even stronger grounds to apply this to Adam. For, while Jesus was born without a father, Adam was born with neither father nor mother.
- The main points set before the Christians so far are the following: First, it was impressed upon them that none of the various arguments which gave rise to the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus provided valid grounds to support that doctrine. Jesus was merely a human being whom God had created in an extraordinary manner for reasons best known to Him. God had also invested Jesus with the power to perform certain miracles by means of which he could categorically establish his claim to prophethood. It seems perfectly reasonable that God should not have allowed such an extraordinary person to be crucified by unbelievers and should have raised him up to Himself. As the Sovereign, God has the power to treat any of His subjects as He wishes. How can this extraordinary treatment of Jesus justify the conclusion that the subject was himself either the Sovereign, the son of the Sovereign or an associate with Him in His Sovereignty?
Second, the message of Muhammad (peace be on him) is the same as that of Jesus. The missions of the two are identical.
Third, even after [the ascension of] Jesus the religion of his disciples remained the same, namely, Islam, which is now expounded by the Qur'an. What has happened is that, in the course of time, the Christians have abandoned the teachings of Christ, and have deviated from the religion followed by the early disciples of Jesus.
- The real aim in suggesting this procedure for deciding the dispute was to prove that the attitude of those amongst the delegation of Najran was one of deliberate stubbornness and intransigence. They had no sound arguments to contradict any of the points mentioned above, and they could not find any shred of evidence in their own scriptures upon which they could claim, with firm conviction, that their beliefs were true. Moreover, all that the members of the deputation had come to know of the character, teachings and achievements of the Prophet had made them more or less convinced of his prophethood, and at least caused their disbelief to waver. When they were told that if they had full confidence in the truth of their beliefs they should come forward and pray to God that His curse should fall on the deniers of the truth, none of them came forward. It thus became clear all over Arabia that the priests and leaders of Christianity in Najran, whose holiness was celebrated far and wide, followed beliefs, the truth of which, they themselves were not fully confident in.
Reference: Towards Understanding the Quran, http://www.islamicstudies.info/tafheem.php