God has related to us in the Quran many stories about previous people and nations that have lived long before us. The story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of them.

The text that is in bold is a translation of the meaning of the original Arabic text of the Holy Quran, the rest is a commentary by Abdullah Yousef Ali.

1. Kaaf Ha Ya  Ain Sad

Such Letters are symbols, of which the true meaning is known to Allah alone. We should not be dogmatic about any conjectures that we make.

2. This is a recital of the Mercy of your Lord to His servant Zechariah

The Mercy of Allah to Zechariah was shown in many ways: In the acceptance of his prayer; in bestowing a son like Yahya; and in the love between father and son, in addition to the work which Yahya did as Allah’s Messenger for the world.

Zechariah prayed to his Lord, saying: “O my Lord! Grant me from Thee a progeny that is pure, for Thou art He that heareth prayer!” The birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus, of John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus, and of Jesus, the prophet of Israel, whom Israel rejected, occurred in that order chronologically, and are told in that order. They are all interconnected.

Zechariah prayed for no ordinary son. He and his wife were past the age of parenthood. Seeing the growth of Mary, he prayed for some child from Allah: “from Thee, a progeny that is pure”. Perhaps he had adoption in his mind. Did he want to adopt Mary? To his surprise, he is given a son in the flesh, ushered in by a special Sign. There the public ministry was the point stressed; here the beautiful relations between the son and the father.

While he was standing in prayer in the chamber, the angels called unto him: “Allah doth give thee glad tidings of Yahya, witnessing the truth of a Word from Allah, and be besides noble, chaste, and a prophet, of the company of the righteous.”

“a Word from Allah”, not “the Word of Allah”, the epithet that mystical Christianity uses for Jesus. As stated in 3:59 below, Jesus was created by a miracle, by Allah’s word “Be”, and he was.

He said: “O my Lord! How shall I have son, seeing I am very old, and my wife is barren?” “Thus,” was the answer, “Doth God accomplish what He willeth.” He said: “O my Lord! Give me a Sign!” “Thy Sign,” was the answer, “Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three days but with signals. Then celebrate the praises of thy Lord again and again, and glorify Him in the evening and in the morning.”

3. Behold! he cried to his Lord in secret

In secret: Because he feared that his own family and relatives were going wrong, and he wanted to keep the lamp of Allah burning bright. He could not very well mention the fear about his colleagues who were his relations in public.

4. Praying: “O my Lord! infirm indeed are my bones, and the hair of my head doth glisten with grey: But never am I unblest, O my Lord, in my prayer to Thee!

This preface shows the fervent faith of Zechariah He was a priest of the Most High Allah. His office was the Temple, and his relatives were his colleagues. But he found in them no true spirit of the service of Allah and man. He was filled with anxiety as to who would uphold the godly ideas he had in mind, which were strange to his worldly colleagues.

5. “Now I fear what my relatives and colleagues will do after me, but my wife is barren, so give me an heir as from Thyself

His was not merely a vulgar desire for a son. If it had been, he would have prayed much earlier in his life, when he was a young man. He was too full of true piety to put merely selfish things into his prayers. But here was a public need, in the service of the Lord. He was too old, but could he perhaps adopt a child-who would be an heir “as from Allah?”.

6. “One that will truly represent me, and represent the posterity of Jacob; and make him, O my Lord! one with whom Thou art well- pleased!”

It is true that, an heir inherits property, but his higher duty is to represent in everything the personality of him from whom he inherits. It is doubtful whether Zechariah had any worldly property. But he had character and virtue, as a man of God, and this he wanted to transmit to his heir as his most precious possession. It was almost the most precious possession of the posterity of Jacob. The people around him had fallen away from Allah’s Message. Could his heir, like him, try and renew it?

7. His prayer was answered: “O Zechariah! We give thee good news of a son. His name shall be Yahya, on none by that name have We conferred distinction before.”

This was John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. In accordance with his father’s prayer he, and Jesus for whom he prepared the way, renewed the Message of Allah, which had been corrupted and lost among the Israelites. The Arabic form Yahya suggests “Life”. The Hebrew form is Johanan, which means “Jehovah has been Gracious”.

Hamana in verse 13 below. It does not mean that the name was given for the first time, for we read of a Johanan the son of Careah in II Kings, 25:23, an otherwise obscure man. It means that Allah had, for the first time, called one of His elect by that name.

8. He said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?”

9. He said: “So it will be: Thy Lord saith,  that is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing! ́”

Who is the “He” in this clause? As I have construed it, following the majority of Commentators, it means the angel who brought the message from God.

As to those who deny the Signs of Allah and in defiance of right, slay the prophets, and slay those who teach just dealing with mankind, announce to them a grievous penalty.

‘Right’ has many shades of meaning:

  1. Right, in the sense of having a right to something;
  2. Right, in the sense of straight conduct, as opposed to wrong;
  3. Truth;
  4. Justice. All these shades are implied here.

Examples of the Prophets slain were: “the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar”: Matt. 23:35.

Again, John the Baptist (Yahya, noble, chaste, a prophet, of the goodly company of the righteous, 3:39 ), was bound, imprisoned, and beheaded, and his head presented to a dancing harlot: Matt. 14:1-11

But some Commentators construe it to refer to Zechariah In that case the meaning will be: Zechariah after a little reflection said (in his wonder) “So!”, i.e. “Can it really be so? Can I really have a son in my old age?” The speech following, “Thy Lord saith,” etc., will then be that of the angel-messenger. Every man was nothing just before he was created, i.e., his personality was called into being by Allah. Even if there are material processes in forming the body, in accordance with the laws of nature, the real creative force is in Allah.

But here there is a subtler meaning. John was the harbinger of Jesus, preparing the way for him and this sentence also prepares us for the more wonderful birth of Jesus himself. See verse 21 below. Everything is possible with God.

10. Zechariah said: “O my Lord! give me a Sign.” “Thy Sign,” was the answer, “Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three nights, although thou art not dumb.”

The “Sign”, I understand, was not in order to convince Zechariah that the Lord’s promise was true, for he had faith; but it was a symbol by which he was to show in his conduct that he was to conform to his new destiny as the father of Yahya who was to come. Yahya was to take up the work, and Zechariah was to be silent, although the latter was sound in body and there was nothing to prevent him from speaking.

Compare this verse with 3:41. The variations are interesting. Here it is “for three nights”: there it is “for three days”. The meaning is the same, for a day is a period of 24 hours. But the point of view is different in each case. There it was from the point of view of the Ummah or Congregation, among whom he worked by day; here the point of view is that of his individual soul, which spent the nights in prayer and praise. Notice again that at the end of the next verse, we have here, “In the morning and in the evening”, and at the end of 3:41, “In the evening and in the morning”- showing again that the point of view is reversed.

11. So Zechariah came out to his people from him chamber: He told them by signs to celebrate Allah’s praises in the morning and in the evening.

12. To his son came the command: “O Yahya! take hold of the Book with might”. And We gave him Wisdom even as a youth,

Time passes. The son is born. In this section of the chapter the centre of interest is Yahya, and the Instruction is now given to him. ‘Keep fast hold of Allah’s revelation with all your might’, for an unbelieving world had either corrupted or neglected it, and Yahya (John the Baptist) was to prepare the way for Jesus, who was coming to renew and re-interpret it.

Hukm, translated Wisdom, implies something more than Wisdom; it is the Wisdom or Judgement that is entitled to judge and command, as in the matter of denouncing sin.

13. And piety for all creatures as from Us, and purity. He was devout,

John the Baptist did not live long. He was imprisoned by Herod, the tetrarch (provincial ruler under the Roman Empire ), whom he had reproved for his sins, and eventually beheaded at the instigation of a woman with whom Herod was infatuated. But even in his young life, he was granted:

  1. Wisdom by Allah, for he boldly denounced sin.
  2. Gentle pity and love for all Allah’s creatures, for he moved among the humble and lowly, and despised “soft raiment”, and;
  3. Purity of life, for he renounced the world and lived in the wilderness. All his work he did in his youth.

These things showed themselves in his conduct, for he was devout, showing love to Allah and to Allah’s creatures, and more particularly to his parents (for we are considering that aspect of his life). This was also shown by the fact that he never used violence, from an attitude of arrogance, nor entertained a spirit of rebellion against divine Law.

14. And kind to his parents, and he was not overbearing or rebellious.

15. So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life again!

This is spoken as in the lifetime of Yahya. Peace and Allah’s Blessings were on him when he was born; they continue when he is about to die an unjust death at the hands of a tyrant; and they will be specially manifest at the Day of Judgement.

16. Relate in the Book the story of Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East.

Mary as related in 3:42-51 “Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee- chosen thee above the women of all nations.

“O Mary! worship Thy Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself, and bow down in prayer with those who bow down.”

This is part of the tidings of the things unseen, which We reveal unto thee (O Messenger!) by inspiration: Thou wast not with them when they cast lots with arrows, as to which of them should be charged with the care of Mary. Nor wast thou with them when they disputed (the point).

Behold! the angels said: “O Mary! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of (the company of) those nearest to Allah;
“He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be (of the company) of the righteous.”

She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so, Allah createth what He willeth. When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is!

“And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel,

“And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): “‘I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s leave. And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe;

“‘(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (Before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me.

“‘It is Allah Who is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is a Way that is straight.'”.

Here the whole theme is different: it is the personal side of the spiritual experiences of the worshippers of Allah in relation to their families or environment. To a private eastern chamber, perhaps in the Temple. She went into privacy, from her people and from people in general, for prayer and devotion. It was in this state of purity that the angel appeared to her in the shape of a man. She thought it was man. She was frightened, and adjured him not to invade her privacy.

17. She placed a screen to screen herself from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.

18. She said: “I seek refuge from thee to Allah Most Gracious. Come not near if thou dost fear Allah.”

19. He said: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, to announce to thee the gift of a holy son.

Allah had destined her to be the mother of the Prophet Jesus Christ, and now had come the time when this should be announced to her.

20. She said: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?”

21. He said: “So it will be. Thy Lord saith,  that is easy for Me and We wish to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’. It is a matter so decreed.”

The mission of Jesus is announced in two ways (1) he was to be a Sign to men; his wonderful birth and wonderful life were to turn an ungodly world back to Allah: and (2) his mission was to bring solace and salvation to the repentant. This, in some way or other, is the case with all prophets of Allah, and it was pre- eminently so in the case of the Prophet Muhammad. But the point here is that the Israelites, to whom Jesus was sent, were a hardened race, for whom the message of Jesus was truly a gospel of Mercy.

For anything that Allah wishes to create, He says “Be,” and it is (She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it,  be, ́ and it is!

She was addressed by angels, who gave her Allah’s message. In reply she speaks as to Allah. In reply, apparently an angel again gives Allah’s message.). There is no interval between His decree and its accomplishment, except such as He imposes by His decree. Time may be only a projection of our own minds on this world of relativity.

22. So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place

The annunciation and the conception, we may suppose, took place in Nazareth (of Galilee), say 65 miles north of Jerusalem. The delivery took place in Bethlehem about 6 miles south of Jerusalem. It was a remote place, not only with reference to the distance of 71 miles, but because in Bethlehem itself the birth was in an obscure corner under a palm tree, from which perhaps the babe was afterwards removed to a manger in a stable.

23. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She cried in her anguish, “Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!”

She was but human, and suffered the pangs of an expectant mother, with no one to attend to her. The circumstances being peculiar, she had gotten far away from her people.

24. But a voice cried to her from beneath the palm tree. “Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee

25. “And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm tree, It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee

Unseen Providence had seen that she should not suffer from thirst or from hunger. The rivulet provided her with water also for ablutions.

26. “So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou dost see any man, say,  I have vowed a fast to Allah Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being ́”

Cool thine eye. An idiom for “comfort thyself and be glad”. The literal meaning should not, however, be lost sight of. She was to cool her eyes (perhaps full of tears) with the fresh water of the rivulet and take comfort that a remarkable babe had been born to her. She was also to look around, and if any one came near, was to decline all conversation. It was quite true: she was under a vow, and could not talk to any one.

She was to decline all conversation with man or woman, on the plea of a vow to Allah. The “fast” here does not mean abstinence from eating or drinking. It means abstinence from speaking to any human-being.

27. At length she brought the babe to her people, carrying him in her arms. They said: “O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!

The amazement of the people knew no bounds. In any case they were ready to think the worst of her, as she disappeared from her kin for some time. But now she comes, shamelessly parading a babe in her arms! How she had disgraced the house of Aaron, the fountain of priesthood! We may suppose that the scene took place in the Temple in Jerusalem, or in Nazareth (4:156. That they rejected Faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge;

The false charge against Mar)’ was that she was unchaste, Such a charge is bad enough to make against any woman, but to make it against Mary, the mother of Jesus, was to bring into ridicule Allah’s power itself. Islam is specially strong in guarding the reputation of women. Slanderers of women are bound to bring four witnesses in support of their accusations, and if they fail to produce four witnesses, they are to be flogged with eighty stripes and debarred forever from being competent witness: 24:4.).

28. “O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!”

Aaron, the brother of Moses, was the first in the line of Israelite priesthood. Mary and her cousin Elisabeth (mother of Yahya) came of a priestly family, and were therefore “sisters of Aaron’ or daughters of Imran (who was Aaron’s father). Now we begin the story of Jesus. As a prelude we have the birth of Mary and the parallel story of John the Baptist, Yahya the son of Zechariah

Yahya’s mother Elizabeth was a cousin of Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:36 ), and therefore John and Jesus were cousins by blood, and there was a spiritual cousinhood in their birth and career. Elizabeth was of the daughters of Aaron (Luke 1:5), of a priestly family which went back to Aaron the brother of Moses and son of ‘Imran. Her husband Zechariah was actually a priest, and her cousin Mary was presumably also of a priestly family. By tradition Mary’s mother was called Hannah (in Latin, Anna, and in English, Anne), and her father was called ‘Imran. Hannah is therefore both a descendant of the priestly house of ‘Imran and the wife of ‘Imran,-“a woman of ‘Imran” in a double sense.

Mary is reminded of her high lineage and the exceptional morals of her father and mother. How, they said, she had fallen, and disgraced the name of her progenitors!

29. But she pointed to the babe. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?”

What could Mary do! How could she explain? Would they, in their censorious mood, accept her explanation? All she could do was to point to the child, who, she knew, was no ordinary child. And the child came to her rescue. By a miracle he spoke, defended his mother, and preached-to an unbelieving audience. “He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be of the company of the righteous.”

The ministry of Jesus lasted only about three years, from 30 to 33 years of his age, when in the eyes of his enemies he was crucified. But the Gospel of Luke ( 2:46) describes him as disputing with the doctors in the Temple at the age of 12, and even earlier, as a child, he was “strong in spirit, filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40 ). Some apocryphal Gospels describe him as preaching from infancy.

30. He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah. He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet

31. “And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live

There is a parallelism throughout the accounts of Jesus and Yahya, with some variations. Both the parallelisms and the variations are interesting. For instance Jesus declares at the very outset that he is a servant of Allah, thus negativing the false notion that he was Allah or the son of Allah, The greatness of Yahya is described above in verses 12-13 in terms that are not applied to Jesus, but the verses 14-15 as applied to Yahya are in almost identical terms with those applied to Jesus here (19:32-33). Devotion in Prayer and Charity is a good description of the Church of Christ at its best, and pity, purity, and devotion in Yahya are a good description of the ways leading to Prayer and Charity, just as John led to Jesus.

32. “He hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable

Overbearing violence is not only unjust and harmful to those on whom it is practised; it is perhaps even more harmful to the person who practises it, for his soul becomes turbid, unsettled, and ultimately unhappy and wretched-the state of those in Hell. Here the negative qualities are “not overbearing or miserable”. As applied to John they were “not overbearing or rebellious.” John bore his punishment from the State without any protest or drawing back.

33. “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life again”!

“So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!”

This is spoken as in the lifetime of Yahya. Peace and Allah’s Blessings were on him when he was born; they continue when he is about to die an unjust death at the hands of a tyrant; and they will be specially manifest at the Day of Judgement.. Christ was not crucified (4:157. “That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah.;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not”).

34. Such was Jesus the son of Mary. It is a statement of truth, about which they vainly dispute.

The disputations about the nature of Jesus Christ were vain, but also persistent and sanguinary. The modern Christian churches have thrown them into the background, but they would do well to abandon irrational dogmas altogether.

35. It is not befitting to the majesty of Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, “Be”, and it is.

Begetting a son is a physical act depending on the needs of men’s animal nature. Allah Most High is independent of all needs, and it is derogatory to Him to attribute such an act to Him. It is merely a relic of pagan and anthropomorphic materialist superstitions.

36. Verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord: Him therefore serve ye: this is a Way that is straight

As opposed to the crooked superstitions which take refuge in all sorts of metaphysical sophistries to prove three in one and one in three. In the Quran there is no crookedness (18:1 “Praise be to Allah, Who hath sent to His Servant the Book, and hath allowed therein no Crookedness”). Christ’s teaching was simple, like his life, but the Christians have made it crooked.

37. But the sects differ among themselves: and woe to the unbelievers because of the coming Judgment of a Momentous Day!

Judgement the word in the original is Mashhad, which implies many things: (1) the time or place where evidence is taken, as in a Court of Judgement; (2) the time or place where people are produced (to be judged); and (3) the occasion for such production for the taking of evidence. A very expressive phrase for the Day of Judgement.

38. How plainly will they see and hear, the Day that they will appear before Us! but the unjust today are in error manifest!”

The Resurrection is described:

“And the Trumpet shall be blown: that will be the Day whereof Warning (had been given). And there will come forth every soul: with each will be an (angel) to drive, and an (angel) to bear witness. (It will be said:) Thou wast heedless of this; now have We removed thy veil, and sharp is thy sight this Day!

And his Companion will say: Here is (his Record) ready with me! (The sentence will be:) Throw, throw into Hell every conturnacious Rejecter (of Allah)! Who forbade what was good, transgressed all bounds, cast doubts and suspicions; Who set up another god beside Allah: Throw him into a severe penalty. His Companion will say: Our Lord! I did not make him transgress, but he was (himself) far astray.

He will say: Dispute not with each other in My Presence: I had already in advance sent you Warning. The Word changes not before Me, and I do not the least injustice to My Servants. One Day We will ask Hell, Art thou filled to the full? It will say, Are there any more (to come)? And the Garden will be brought nigh to the Righteous,- no more a thing distant. (A voice will say:) This is what was promised for you,- for every one who turned (to Allah) in sincere repentance, who kept (His Law), Who feared (Allah) Most Gracious Unseen, and brought a heart turned in devotion (to Him):

Enter ye therein in Peace and Security; this is a Day of Eternal Life! There will be for them therein all that they wish,- and more besides in Our Presence”.

39. But warn them of the Day of Distress, when the matter will be determined: for behold, they are negligent and they do not believe!

Hasrah: Sighs, sighing, regrets, distress.

40. It is We Who will inherit the earth, and all beings thereon: to Us will they all be returned.

“And let not those who covetously withhold of the gifts which Allah Hath given them of His Grace, think that it is good for them: Nay, it will be the worse for them: soon shall the things which they covetously withheld be tied to their necks Like a twisted collar, on the Day of Judgment. To Allah belongs the heritage of the heavens and the earth; and Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.”

The gifts are of all kinds: material gifts, such as wealth, property, strength of limbs, etc., or intangible gifts, such as influence, birth in a given set, intellect, skill, insight, etc., or spiritual gifts of the highest kind. The spending of all these things (apart from what is necessary for ourselves) for those who need them, is charity, and purifies our own character. The withholding of them (apart from our needs) is similarly greed and selfishness, and is strongly condemned.

By an apt metaphor the miser is told that his wealth or the other gifts which he hoarded will cling round his neck and do him no good. He will wish he could get rid of them, but he will not be able to do so. According to the Biblical phrase in another connection they will hang like a millstone round his neck (Matt. 18:6). The metaphor here is fuller. He hugged his wealth or his gifts about him. They will become like a heavy collar, the badge of slavery, round his neck. They will be tied tight and twisted, and they will give him pain and anguish instead of pleasure.

“And verily, it is We Who give life, and Who give death: it is We Who remain inheritors (after all else passes away).” Literally, “We are the Heirs, or Inheritors,” “To Allah belongs the heritage of the heavens and the earth.”

Material property passes from one to another: when one dies another inherits it. Allah gives life and death, and all that survives after physical death goes back to Allah, the original source of all things (She said: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?”).

41. Also mention in the Book the story of Abraham: He was a man of Truth, a prophet

42. Behold, he said to his father: “O my father! why worship that which heareth not and seeth not, and can profit thee nothing?

The reference to Abraham here is in relation to his tender solicitude for his father, who had not received the light of Unity, and to whom Abraham wanted to be a guide and friend.

43. “O my father! to me hath come knowledge which hath not reached thee, so follow me, I will guide thee to a way that is even and straight.

Some are more receptive to Light than others. It is their duty and privilege to guide and point to the right Way. Sawiyan —right, smooth, even; complete, perfect; hence the derived meanings; in 19:10, ‘in full possession of all the physical senses’; in that context, ‘not dumb’: in 19:17, when the angel appears in the form of a man, ‘completely like’ a man, a man ‘in all respects.’

44. “O my father! serve not Satan: for Satan is a rebel against Allah Most Gracious.

The rebellion is all the more heinous and inexcusable, considering that Allah is Most Just, Most Merciful, Most Gracious.

45. “O my father! I fear lest a Penalty afflict thee from Allah Most Gracious, so that thou become to Satan a friend.”

To entertain a feeling of friendliness, instead of aversion, to Evil, is in itself a degradation of our nature, a Penalty which Allah imposes on our deliberate rejection of the Truth. And the friendliness to Evil also implies the sharing of the outlawry of Evil.

46. The father replied: “Dost thou hate my gods, O Abraham? If thou forbear not, I will indeed stone thee, now get away from me for a good long while!”

Note the gentle persuasive tone of Abraham in his speeches in 19:42-45 (for we may suppose those sentences to sum up a long course of arguments) and in 19:47-48, contrasted with the brusque and repellent tone of the father’s reply in this verse. The one was the outcome of the true Light which had come to Abraham from Allah, as the other was the outcome of Pagan arrogance and the worship of brute force.

The spiritual lesson from this episode of Abraham’s life may be stated in four propositions:

  1. the pious son is dutiful to his father and wishes him well in all things, material and spiritual;
  2. if the father refuses Allah’s Light, the son will do his utmost to bring such Light to the father;
  3. having received the Light, the son will never renounce that Light, even if he has to forfeit his father’s love and renounce his home;
  4. even if the father repels him and turns him out, his answer will be a soft answer, full of love and forgiveness on the one hand, but firmness on behalf of Truth on the other.

47. Abraham said: “Peace be on thee, I will pray to my Lord for thy forgiveness, for He is to me Most Gracious

“And Abraham prayed for his father ́s forgiveness only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became clear to him that he was an enemy to Allah, he dissociated himself from him: for Abraham was most tender-hearted, forbearing”., where this promise of Abraham to pray for his father is referred to, and its limitations pointed out.

48. “And I will turn away from you all and from those whom ye invoke besides Allah. I will call on my Lord: perhaps, by my prayer to my Lord, I shall be not unblest.”

Abraham left his father and the home of his fathers (Ur of the Chaldees) and never returned. He left because he was turned out, and because it was not possible for him to make any compromise with what was false in religion. In return for abuse, he spoke gentle words. And he expressed his fervent hope that at least he (Abraham) would have Allah’s blessing in reply to his prayers. Here was a prefigurement of another Hijrah many centuries later! In both cases the prayer was abundantly fulfilled.

49. When he had turned away from them and from those whom they worshipped besides Allah, We bestowed on him Isaac and Jacob, and each one of them We made a prophet

Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob are mentioned here as carrying on one line of Abraham’s traditions. The other line was carried on by Ismail, who is mentioned independently five verses lower down, as his line got special honour in the Holy Prophet of Islam. That is why his mention conies after that of Moses (21:72. “And We bestowed on him Isaac and, as an additional gift, (a grandson), Jacob, and We made righteous men of every one (of them).”).

50. And We bestowed of Our Mercy on them, and We granted them lofty honour on the tongue of truth

Abraham and his son and grandson Isaac and Jacob, and their line, maintained the banner of Allah’s spiritual truth for many generations, and they won deservedly high praise—the praise of truth—on the tongues of men. Abraham prayed that he should be praised by the tongue of truth among men to come in later ages (26:84. “Grant me honourable mention on the tongue of truth among the latest (generations);). Ordinary praise may mean nothing: it may be due to self-flattery on the part of others or artful management by the person praised. Praise on the tongue of sincere truth is praise indeed!

51. Also mention in the Book the story of Moses, for he was specially chosen, and he was a messenger and a prophet

Moses was (1) especially chosen, and therefore prepared and instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, in order that he might free his people from Egyptian bondage; there may also be a reference to Moses’s title of Katim Allah, the one to whom Allah spoke without the intervention of angels. 4:164 Of some messengers We have already told thee the story; of others We have not;- and to Moses Allah spoke direct; Allah spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. Hence the title of Moses in Muslim theology: Kalim Allah: the one to whom Allah spoke; (2) he was a prophet (nabi), in that he received inspiration; and (3) he was a messenger (Rasool) in that he had a Book of Revelation, and an Ummah or organised Community, for which he instituted laws.

52. And we called him from the right side of Mount Sinai, and made him draw near to Us, for mystic converse

The incident here I think refers to the incidents described more fully in 20:9-36; a reference may also be made to Exod. 3:1-18 and 4:1-17. The time is when Moses (with his family) was travelling and grazing the flocks of his father-in- law Jethro, just before he got his commission from Allah. The place is somewhere near Mount Sinai (Jabal Musa). Moses sees a Fire in the distance, but when he goes there, he hears a voice that tells him it is sacred ground. Allah asked him to put off his shoes and to draw near, and when he went near, great mysteries were revealed to him. He was given his commission, and his brother Aaron was given to him to go with him and aid him. It is after that that he and Aaron went and faced Pharaoh in Egypt, as narrated in 7:103-144, etc. The right side of the mountain may mean that Moses heard the voice from the right side of the mountain as he faced it: or it may have the figurative meaning of “right” in Arabic, i.e., the side which was blessed or sacred ground (see also 20:80).

53. And, out of Our Mercy, We gave him his brother Aaron, also a prophet

Moses was diffident, and reluctant to go to Pharaoh as he had an impediment in his tongue, and he asked that his brother Aaron should be associated with him in his mission. Allah in His Mercy granted his request:

(Moses) said: “O my Lord! expand my chest; ease my task and remove the impediment from my speech so they may understand what I say: And give me a minister from my family, Aaron, my brother; add to my strength through him, and make him share my task that we may celebrate your praise without stint, and remember you without stint: For Thou art He that (ever) regardeth us. (Allah) said: Granted is thy prayer, O Moses!”

54. Also mention in the Book the story of Ishmael. He was strictly true to what he promised, and he was a messenger and a prophet

Isma’il was Dhadih Allah, i.e., the chosen sacrifice of Allah in Muslim tradition. When Abraham told him of the sacrifice, he voluntarily offered himself for it, and never flinched from his promise, until the sacrifice was redeemed by the substitution of a ram under Allah’s commands. He was the fountainhead of the Arabian Ummah, and in his posterity came the Prophet of Allah. The Ummah and the Book of Islam reflect back the prophethood on Isma’il.

55. He used to enjoin on his people Prayer and Charity, and he was most acceptable in the sight of his Lord

An acceptable sacrifice: see last note.

56. Also mention in the Book the case of Idris. He was a man of truth and sincerity, and a prophet

Idris is mentioned twice in the Quran, viz.: here and in 21:85, where he is mentioned among those who patiently preserved. His identification with the Biblical Enoch, who “walked with God” (Gen. 5:21-24), may or may not be correct. Nor are we justified in interpreting verse 57 here as meaning the same thing as in Gen. 5:24 (“God took him”), that he was taken up without passing through the portals of death. All we are told is that he was a man of truth and sincerity, and a prophet, and that he had a high position among his people. It is this point which brings him in the series of men just mentioned: he kept himself in touch with his people, and was honoured among them. Spiritual progress need not cut us off from our people, for we have to help and guide them. He kept to truth and piety in the highest station.

57. And We raised him to a lofty station

58. Those were some of the prophets on whom Allah did bestow His Grace,- of the posterity of Adam, and of those who We carried in the Ark with Noah, and of the posterity of Abraham and Israel of those whom We guided and chose. Whenever the Signs of Allah Most Gracious were rehearsed to them, they would fall down in prostrate adoration and in tears

The earlier generations are grouped into three epochs from a spiritual point of view: (1) from Adam to Noah, (2) from Noah to Abraham, and (3) from Abraham to an indefinite time, say to the time when the Message of Allah was corrupted and the need arose for the final Messenger of Unity and Truth. Israel is another name for Jacob.

The original is in the Aorist tense, implying that the “Posterity” alluded to includes not only the messengers but their worthy followers who are true to Allah and uphold His standard.

59. But after them there followed a posterity who missed prayers and followed after lusts soon, then, will they face Destruction

This selfish godless posterity gains the upper hand at certain times but, even then there is always a minority who see the error of their ways, repent and believe, and live righteous lives. They are not penalised in the Hereafter because they were associated with the ungodly in time. They reap the full reward of their faith and righteousness.

60. Except those who repent and believe, and work righteousness: for these will enter the Garden and will not be wronged in the least

61. Gardens of Eternity, those which Allah Most Gracious has promised to His servants in the Unseen, for His promise must necessarily come to pass

62. They will not there hear any vain discourse, but only salutations of Peace, and they will have therein their sustenance, morning and evening

Salam, translated “Peace”, has a much wider signification. It includes (1) a sense of security and permanence, which is unknown in this life; (2) soundness, freedom from defects, perfection, as in the word salim: (3) preservation, salvation, deliverance, as in the word sallama; (4) salutation, accord with those around us; (5) resignation, in the sense that we are satisfied and not discontented; besides (6) the ordinary meaning of Peace, i.e., freedom from any jarring element. All these shades of meaning are implied in the word Islam.

Rizq: literally sustenance or means of subsistence, the term covers all the means of perfect satisfaction of the body and soul. Morning and evening i.e., early and late, all the time, always.

63. Such is the Garden which We give as an inheritance to those of Our servants who guard against Evil

64. The angels say: “We descend not but by command of thy Lord: to Him belongeth what is before us and what is behind us, and what is between and thy Lord never doth forget

We are apt to be impatient of the evils we see around us. We may give of our best service to Allah, and yet see no results. In our human short-sightedness we may complain within ourselves. But we must not be impatient. The angels of Grace come not haphazardly, but by command of Allah according to His Universal Will and purpose. Allah does not forget. If things are delayed, it is in accordance with a wise providence, which cares for all. Our plain duty is to be patient and constant in His service.

65. “Lord of the heavens and of the earth, and of all that is between them; so worship Him, and be constant and patient in His worship, knowest thou of any who is worthy of the same Name as He?”

The more we taste of the truth and mystery of life, the more do we realise that there is no one to be mentioned in the same breath as Allah. He is above all names. But when we think of His beautiful qualities, and picture them to ourselves by names which give us some ideas of Him, we can search the whole wide world of our imagination, and we shall not find another to be compared with Him in name or quality. He is the One: praise be to Him!

66. Man says: “What! When I am dead, shall I then be raised up alive?”

67. But does not man call to mind that We created him before out of nothing?

68. So, by thy Lord, without doubt, We shall gather them together, and also the Evil Ones with them; then shall We bring them forth on their knees round about Hell

The disbelief in a future state is not merely a philosophic doubt, but a warped will, a disingenuous obstinacy in face of our inner spiritual instincts and experiences. We were nothing before. Cannot the same Allah who created us out of nothing also continue our personality? But if we refuse to accept His light and guidance, our state will grow worse and worse. We shall be deprived of His grace. We shall be herded with the Evil Ones. In utter humiliation we shall be faced with all the consequences of our refusal of Truth.

Round about Hell: There are many ways leading to evil, and people get to it from all round. Hence the mention of the seven Gates of Hell. 15:44 To it are seven Gates for each of those gates is a (special) class (of sinners) assigned.

The ways of sin are numerous, and if they are classified into seven, each of them points to a Gate that leads into Hell.

69. Then shall We certainly drag out from every sect all those who were worst in obstinate rebellion against Allah Most Gracious

70. And certainly We know best those who are most worthy of being burned therein

71. Not one of you but will pass over it. This is, with thy Lord, a Decree which must be accomplished.

Three interpretations are possible:

  1. The general interpretation is that every soul must pass through or by or over the Fire. Those who have had Taqwa (Taqwa, and the verbs and nouns connected with the root, signify: (a) the fear of Allah, which, according to the writer of Proverbs 1:7 in the Old Testament, is the beginning of Wisdom; (b) restraint, or guarding one’s tongue, hand, and heart from evil; (c) hence righteousness, piety, good conduct). All these ideas are implied: in the translation, only one or other of these ideas can be indicated, according to the context will be saved by Allah’s Mercy, while unrepentant sinners will suffer the torments in ignominy.
  2. If we refer (he pronoun “you” to those “in obstinate rebellion” in verse 69 above, both leaders and followers in sin, this verse only applies to the wicked.
  3. Some refer this verse to the Bridge over Hell, the Bridge Sirat, over which all must pass to their final Destiny. This Bridge is not mentioned in the Quran.

72. But We shall save those who guarded against evil, and We shall leave the wrong-doers therein, humbled to their knees

73. When Our clear signs are rehearsed to them, the unbelievers say to those who believe, “Which of the two sides is best in point of position? Which makes the best show in council?”

The Unbelievers may, for a time, make a better show in worldly position, or in people’s assemblages where things are judged by the counting of heads. But Truth must prevail even in this world, and ultimately the positions must be reversed.

74. But how many countless generations before them have we destroyed, who were even better in equipment and in glitter to the eye?

75. Say: “If any men go astray, Allah Most Gracious extends the rope to them, until, when they see the warning of Allah being fulfilled – either in punishment or in the approach of the Hour,- they will at length realise who is worst in position, and who weakest in forces!

Allah’s wanting is that every evil deed must have its punishment, and that there will be a Hereafter, the day of Judgement, or the Hour, as it is frequently called. The punishment of evil often begins in this very life. For instance, over- indulgence and excesses of all kinds bring on their Nemesis quite soon in this very life. But some subtler forms of selfishness and sin will be punished—as every evil will be punished—in its own good time, as the Hour approaches. In either case, the arrogant boasting sinners will realise that their taunt— who is best in position and in forces? (19:73)—is turned against themselves.

76. “And Allah doth advance in guidance those who seek guidance: and the things that endure, Good Deeds, are best in the sight of thy Lord, as rewards, and best in respect of their eventual returns.”

These lines are the same as in 18:46, (Other things are fleeting: but Good Deeds have a lasting value in the sight of Allah. They are best as (or for) rewards in two ways: (1) they flow from us by the Grace of Allah, and are themselves rewards for our Faith; (2) they become the foundation of our hopes for the highest spiritual rewards in the Hereafter, except that the word maradda (eventual returns) is here substituted for amal (hope). The meaning is practically the same: but “hope” is more appropriate in the passage dealing with this world’s goods, and “eventual returns” in the passage dealing with sinner’s specific investments and commitments in worldly position and organised cliques.

77. Hast thou then seen the sort of man who rejects Our Signs, yet says: “I shall certainly be given wealth and children?”

Besides the man who boasts of wealth and power in actual possession, there is a type of man who boasts of getting them in the future and builds his worldly hopes thereon. Is he sure? He denies Allah, and His goodness and Mercy. But all good is in the hands of Allah. Can such a man then bind Allah to bless him when he rejects faith in Allah? Or does he pretend that he has penetrated the mysteries of the future? For no man can tell what the future holds for him.

78. Has he penetrated to the Unseen, or has he taken a contract with Allah Most Gracious?

79. Nay! We shall record what he says, and We shall add and add to his punishment

Such a man deserves double punishment-for rejecting Allah, and for his blasphemies with His Holy Name.

80. To Us shall return all that he talks of and he shall appear before Us bare and alone

Literally, “We shall inherit” Material property passes from one to another: When one dies another inherits it. Allah gives life and death, and all that survives after physical death goes back to Allah, the original source of all things (see also 19:20).). Even if the man had property and power, it must go back to the source of all things, and the man must appear before the Judgement Seat, alone and unaccompanied, stripped of all the things from which he expected so much!

81. And they have taken for worship gods other than Allah, to give them power and glory!

‘Izza = exalted rank, power, might, the ability to impose one’s will or to carry out one’s will.

82. Instead, they shall reject their worship, and become adversaries against them

(One day shall We gather them all together. Then shall We say to those who joined gods (with Us): “To your place! ye and those ye joined as ‘partners’ We shall separate them, and their “Partners” shall say: “It was not us that ye worshipped!

“Enough is Allah for a witness between us and you: we certainly knew nothing of your worship of us!”

There will every soul prove (the fruits of) the deeds it sent before: they will be brought back to Allah their rightful Lord, and their invented falsehoods will leave them in the lurch.), where the idols deny that they knew anything of their worship, and leave their worshippers in the lurch; and 5:116, where Jesus denies that he asked for worship, and leaves his false worshippers to the punishment or the mercy of Allah.

83. Seest thou not that We have set the Evil Ones on against the unbelievers, to incite them with fury?

Under the laws instituted by Allah, when evil reaches a certain stage of rebellion and defiance, it is left to gather momenturn and to rush with fury to its own destruction. It is given a certain amount of respite, as a last chance: but failing repentance, its days are numbered. The godly therefore should not worry themselves over the apparent worldly success of evil, but should get on with their own duties in a spirit of trust in Allah.

84. So make no haste against them, for We but count out to them a limited number of days

85. The day We shall gather the righteous to Allah Most Gracious, like a band presented before a king for honours

86. And We shall drive the sinners to Hell, like thirsty cattle driven down to water

Note the contrast between the saved and the doomed. The one march with dignity like honoured ones before a king, and the other rush in anguish to their punishment like a herd of cattle driven down by thirst to their watering place. Note the metaphor of the water. They rush madly for water but are plunged into the Fire!

87. None shall have the power of intercession, but such a one as has received permission or promise from Allah Most Gracious

88. They say: “Allah Most Gracious has begotten a son!”

89. Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous!

The belief in Allah begetting a son is not a question of words or of speculative thought. It is a stupendous blasphemy against Allah. It lowers Allah to the level of an animal. If combined with the doctrine of vicarious atonement, it amounts to a negation of Allah’s justice and man’s personal responsibility. It is destructive of all moral and spiritual order, and is condemned in the strongest possible terms.

90. At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin

91. That they should invoke a son for Allah Most Gracious

92. For it is not consonant with the majesty of Allah Most Gracious that He should beget a son

This basic principle was laid down early in the argument (19:35). It was illustrated by a reference to the personal history of many messengers, including Jesus himself, who behaved justly as men to their kith and kin and humbly served Allah. The evil results of such superstitions were pointed out in the case of many previous generations which went to their ruin by dis-honouring Allah. And the argument is now rounded off towards the close of the chapter.

93. Not one of the beings in the heavens and the earth but must come to Allah Most Gracious as a servant

94. He does take an account of them all, and hath numbered them all exactly

Allah has no sons or favourites or parasites, such as we associate with human beings. On the other hand every creature of His gets His love, and His cherishing care. Every one of them, however humble, is individually marked before His Throne of Justice and Mercy, and will stand before Him on his own deserts.

95. And everyone of them will come to Him singly on the Day of Judgment

96. On those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, will Allah Most Gracious bestow love

His own love, and the love for man’s fellow creatures, in the world and in the Hereafter. Goodness breeds love and peace, and sin breeds hatred and contention.

97. So have We made the Quran easy in thine own tongue, that with it thou mayest give Glad Tidings to the righteous, and warnings to people given to contention

98. But how many countless generations before them have We destroyed? Canst thou find a single one of them now or hear so much as a whisper of them?

From which this sentence is brought up as a reminiscence, showing the progress of sin, the Guidance which Allah gives to the good, the degradation of blasphemy, the respite granted, and the final End, when personal responsibility will be enforced.