Zacharias, John, Mary/ Zakariya, Yahya, Maryam

The Qur’an and the Bible also come together in the story of Zacharias/Zakariya. Both books describe the wonder of the elderly woman. In the Bible, she is called Elizabeth, (few women are named in the Qur’an), who becomes pregnant with John/ Yahya. In the Bible this John is called ‘the Baptist’ because he baptized Jesus, and to distinguish him from other Johns such as the writer of one of the Gospels. In the Qur’an there is no baptism for there is no original sin from which people must be cleansed. In the Qur’an the only John is the son of Zakariya. In both books his birth is announced by an angel, who tells Zacharias that he will be struck dumb as a sign. In the Bible, this dumbness is a punishment for not believing the angel. In the Qur’an, Zakariya himself asks for a sign.

The Bible and the Qur’an complement each other regarding the relationship of the Zacharias family to Mary, who comes to prominence as the mother of Jesus. Maryam is the daughter of the prophet Imran. When her mother is pregnant with her, her father Imran dies. His wife promises her child (whom she presumed would be a son) to God. When the child turns out to be a girl, she keeps her promise, even though women in those days were not allowed to be educated in the temple. Maryam’s uncle Zakariya agrees to take care of the child and build her a private house within the temple precincts. He is amazed when the little girl is mysteriously provided with food and drink.

This background gives the Biblical story of the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary more depth. The Qur’an identifies the elderly lady as Mary’s aunt, married to the priest who had raised and educated her. The unborn John recognizes Jesus as his Lord. The meeting is full of joy. Here the stories complement each other.

The Biblical story of the life and death of John the Baptist is not in the Qur’an. Nor is the epithet ‘Baptist’ given to Yahya, there is no baptism in the Qur’an because there is no original sin which has to be washed away. And there is no mention of a meeting between John and Jesus. The concept of baptism is connected to the concept of original sin in the Bible, though absent in the Qur’an. In the Bible, John, who baptizes Jesus, is famous for preparing the way of the Lord. During his baptism Jesus sees a dove and hears a voice proclaiming him to be the Son of God. This idea is explicitly countered in the Qur’an, in which no-one is seen as the son of God.

The Qur’an does, however, accord both Jesus and John great importance. They are included in the list of distinguished prophets. Both books describe John as a peace-loving and ascetic man.


Elizabeth’s pregnancy

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias… His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God…But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him…And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.

And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

And the angel answered and said to him,

“I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me…” Luke 1: 5-7, 11-13, 15-16, 18-22, 24-25

Elizabeth and Mary
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent to… to a virgin…whose name was… Mary…the angel said to her “… behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be…?”

…The angel answered, “Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age…For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Now Mary…went…with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord…for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; Luke 1: 26-27, 30-31, 34-37 39-42 46, 48

A baby for Elizabeth
Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son… and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said,

“No; he shall be called John.”

Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways…Luke 1: 57,59-60,67,76

John the Baptist – life and death

So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel. Luke 1:80

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

Matthew 3:1-2,4-6
And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I…I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

…Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And…He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:7-11

…she, (a successful royal dancer ed.), having been prompted by her mother, said,

“Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” (as a reward ed.)

So he (King Herod ed.) sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl…Matthew 14: 8-11


Zakariya and his son Yahya
(This is) a recital of the Mercy of your Lord to His servant Zakariya. Behold! he cried to his Lord in secret, praying: “O my Lord! Infirm indeed are my bones, and the hair of my head glistens with grey: but never am I unblest, O my Lord, in my prayer to You! Now I fear (what) my relatives… (will do) after me: but my wife is barren: so give me an heir as from Yourself – (One that) will (truly) represent me, and represent the posterity of Jacob; (Israel ed.) and make him, O my Lord! one with whom You are well-pleased!”

(His prayer was answered): “O Zakariya! We give you good news of a son: his name shall be Yahya: on none by that name We have conferred distinction before.”

19 Maryam, 2-7
While he was standing in prayer in the chamber, the angels called unto him: “Allah gives you the glad tidings of Yahya, witnessing the truth of a Word from Allah, and (be besides) noble, chaste, and a Prophet – of the (goodly) company of the righteous.” 3 Al-‘Imran,39
He (Zakariya ed.) said: “O my Lord! how shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?”

He (the angel ed.) said: “So (it will be) your Lord says, ‘That is easy for Me: I indeed created you before, when you had been nothing!’“

(Zakariya) said: “O my Lord! give me a Sign.”

“Your Sign,” was the answer, “shall be that you shall speak to no man for three nights, although you are not dumb.”

So Zakariya 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.

19 Maryam, 8-11
So We listened to him: and We granted him Yahya: We cured his wife’s (barrenness) for him. 21 The Prophets, 90

Zakariya and the child Maryam
Behold! A woman of ‘Imran said: “O my Lord! I do dedicate unto You what is in my womb for Your special service: So accept this of me: for You hear and know all things.”

When she was delivered, she said: “O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!”

Allah knew best what she brought forth – And nowise is the male like the female.

“I have named her Mary, and I commend her and her offspring to Your protection from the Evil One, the Rejected.”

Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: she was assigned to the care of Zakariya. Every time that he entered (her) chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance.

He said: “O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?” She said: “From Allah: for Allah provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.” 3 Al-‘Imran: 35-37

His name is John
…“ O Zakariya! We give you good news of a son: His name shall be Yahya: on none by that name We have conferred distinction before.” 19 Maryam, 7

John, a righteous prophet
We gave him Isaac and Jacob: all (three) We guided: and before him, We guided Noah, and among his progeny, David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron: thus We reward those who do good: And Zakariya and John, and Jesus and Elias all in the ranks of the Righteous:…and to all We gave favor above the nations: We chose them, and WE guided them to a straight Way. This is the guidance of Allah: These were the men to whom We gave the Book, and Authority, and Prophethood:

6 The Cattle, 84-89

(To his (Zakarkariya ed.) son came the command): “O Yahya! Take hold of the Book with might”: and We gave him Wisdom even as a youth, and pity (for all creatures) as from Us, and purity: he was devout, and kind to his parents, and he was not overbearing or rebellious.

19 Maryam, 12-14
Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word…4 The Women,171

It is not befitting to the (majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son.

19 Maryam,35

…Yahya, witnessing the truth of a Word from Allah, and… noble, chaste, and a Prophet – of the (goodly) company of the righteous.” 3 Al-‘Imran: 39
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)! 19 Maryam,15

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