Women from the Qur’an: their lives and lessons

In this 5 part mini-series, we explore some of the key women mentioned (directly or indirectly) in the Qur’an, highlighting their life and the wisdom to be found in their stories for future generations.The notes for these articles are based on a number of talks delivered by Sheam Khan, a graduate in shariah and islamic sciences

When we ponder on the kinds of people we would like to emulate and take as role models, our minds are naturally inclined to think of the women around the messenger of Allah (SAW). The seerah is replete with strong, female characters; women who were from the best of generations and who left inspiring legacies of great iman, courage and moral guidance. What is more unusual is the consideration of women mentioned in the Qur’an, though it is important to study their narratives to understand the qualities and characteristics that made them so honoured (or degraded!) by Allah (SWT).  

A paragon of perfection: Maryam bint Imran

The Prophet (SAW) said, “Many amongst men attained perfection but amongst women none attained the perfection except Mary, the daughter of Imran and Asiya, the wife of Pharaoh…” (Bukhari)

Of the most striking aspects to the story of Maryam (AS) is its unique appeal to all women, whether they are wives, single, mothers or not. Sisters often believe they will reach higher levels of iman once they are married, but Maryam (AS) proved marital status was no indication of piety and her status with Allah was recognised before she became a mother to Isa (AS).

Her family

There are many narrations that attest to the perfection of Maryam (AS) and the fact that there is an entire surah named after her, highlights her worth and stature as a believing woman. However, the Qur’an introduces Maryam (AS) in an earlier chapter, charting her story while she is still in the womb.

“My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.” {Al-Imran: 35}

{Al-Imran: 35}

Both her parents, Hannah and Imran, were known to be pious individuals. They had no children and, despite reaching old age, never lost hope in Allah granting them a child and patiently continued with their dua. In his tafsir, Ibn Kathir mentions that, one day, Hannah saw a bird feeding its chick, and this intensified the desire for her own child. Thus, she made a sincere dua, outlining her pure intentions for wanting righteous children, so when she became pregnant, she vowed to dedicate her offspring to the worship of Allah (SWT).

“And the male is not like the female, and I have named her Maryam (Mary), and I seek refuge with you (Allah) for her and for her offspring from Shaitan (Satan), the outcast”.

(Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 36)

Although she was blessed with a baby girl, Hannah fulfilled her promise and sent her daughter from a very young age to be raised in the masjid. Due to the noble position of Imran as a leader of the Israelites, many wanted to be the guardian of Maryam (AS). The prophet Zakariya (AS) was married to the maternal aunt of Maryam (AS) and naturally wanted to take on the role, but the people insisted they draw lots for the final decision. After his name was repeatedly picked, Maryam (AS) was eventually placed under the care of Zakariya (AS).

Growing up

The Qur’an testifies that Allah Himself provided for Maryam (AS):

“So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, “O Maryam, from where is this [coming] to you?” She said, “It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account.”

{Al-Imran: 37}

She was divinely nurtured and provided for not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. She was raised as an obedient, modest and devout individual who was committed to and constant in her worship of Allah (SWT) such that the Prophet (SAW) said she reached a level of perfection in her ibadah.

The birth of Isa (AS)

The Qur’an describes how the angel Jibril appeared to Maryam (as) in the form of a man. Though she was afraid, he conveyed that she would give birth to a child named Isa (AS) who would be honoured and loved in this life and the next. Confused, worried and anxious about what the people would say, she fled.

This period was a major test for her, as she would sleep thinking of her situation and wake to the same thoughts. However, through this trial and despite her concern and restlessness, Allah (SWT) was bringing Maryam (AS) closer to Him as she solely depended on Him and accepted her trial with great strength and patience.

“And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be contented…”

Maryam:25-26)

In her most vulnerable moment, Allah (SWT) comforted Maryam (AS) and gave her the energy to shake the trunk of a date palm, encouraging action to follow her trust that Allah would send His aid.

Pearls of perfection

What can we learn from the life of Maryam (AS) as detailed in the Qur’an?

Dua for our children

Receiving the blessing of a pious child was a lifetime of dua’s and the mother of Maryam (AS) sought the protection of Allah for her offspring and their offspring! Make dua for your children early on, even before their birth, for Allah to protect them and their generations to come, from shaytan. Remember that the duas of a mother are accepted; it could be the prayer of a grandmother or great-grandmother that saves us. There are exceptions to the rule, but generally, righteous parents produce righteous offspring so examine your own characteristics and understand that your children will be greatly influenced by their tarbiyyah and environment.

Never lose hope in your dua

Even if the whole world thinks it is impossible for you to achieve something, believe in the power of Allah (SWT) to grant you what you wish. Allah answered the prayers of Maryam (AS)’s parents many years later, so have faith, and recognise that all blessings come from Him.

The virtue of chastity

Maryam (AS) is a prime example of a chaste woman. No person had seen or touched her and her only contact was with her guardian. Even when Jibril approached her, she reminded him to fear Allah. This does not mean to say that chastity involves never encountering a non-mahram, but being careful in how we conduct ourselves and limiting unnecessary interaction to please Allah (SWT). Indeed, the perfection of Maryam (AS) included her pure nature.

Importance of tawakkul (reliance on Allah) and patience

Everyone experiences different challenges in life, but always remember the example of Maryam (AS) and how she bore her test with patience and trust. Allah explicitly tells us in the Qur’an that, “whoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will be (enough)” (65:3) Even as we seek solutions to our problems, this tawakkul can be life changing if we truly internalise the fact that the One who created us is handling our affairs and He will provide in ways we could not imagine. This promise removes our anxieties and is a source of peace.

Acknowledge your difficulties as opportunities to be cleansed from sins and take action! Even whilst in the pangs of labour, Maryam (AS) was asked to shake the date palm. Allah did not want her to simply give up, but required her to do something to get something back – and Allah always gives back more than we can ever give.

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