According to historical sources, Allah honoured Mary (Maryam in Arabic). She lived approximately two millennia ago. She was one of the chosen women on Earth as well as in the Hereafter. Born in Roman-occupied Palestine, she was a Jewess and lived in the Jewish community.
Maryam was born at a chaotic time, when the Jews' only hope was their expected Messiah (saviour). Unknown to her, Allah had already determined to choose and raise her for this holy duty. She was central to the Israelites' expectations, for she would give birth to Prophet 'Isa (as), whom He compliments in the following terms: "His name is the Messiah, 'Isa, son of Maryam, of high esteem in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near. He will speak to people in the cradle and when fully grown, and will be one of the believers" (Surah Al 'Imran: 45-46).
Allah chose Maryam to represent morality and true religion among her people, who had left the true religion and embraced superstitions and idle speculation. Allah reveals many aspects of her life, among them her birth and family, the birth of Prophet 'Isa (as), her superior character, and how she resisted her society's slander and accusations.
Allah Exalts 'Imran's Family
Allah reveals that "Allah chose Adam and Nuh, and the family of Ibrahim and the family of 'Imran, over all other beings-descendants one of the other..." (Surah Al 'Imran: 33-34). In other words, 'Imran's family descended from the Prophets Adam (as), Nuh (as), and Ibrahim (as), and they were exalted people. One of these chosen people was Maryam, whose family sincerely believed in Allah, respected the limits that He has established for humanity, and always sought and trusted Him.
When `Imran's wife, a sincere believer, found out that she was pregnant with Maryam, she immediately prayed to Allah. She praised Him and promised that she would dedicate her child to Him. When she gave birth to a girl, she named her Maryam, which means to abide, in other words someone who incessantly worships Allah. Allah reveals her prayer in the following verse:
Remember when the wife of 'Imran said: "My Lord, I have vowed to You whatever is in my womb, to be devoted [to Your service]. Please accept it from me. You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing." When she gave birth, she said: "My Lord! I have given birth to a girl"-and Allah knew very well what she had given birth to, male and female are not the same-"and I have named her Maryam and placed her and her children in Your safekeeping from Satan, the accursed." (Surah Al 'Imran: 35-36)
Right after Maryam's birth, her mother turned toward Allah, sought His good pleasure, and asked Him to protect Maryam, as well as her children, from Satan's evil. Allah accepted this wholehearted prayer "and made her [Maryam] grow in health and beauty" (Surah Al 'Imran: 37). In other words, Maryam received the best upbringing and the most superior character.
The Qur'an reveals that Allah made Prophet Zakariyya (as) responsible for educating Maryam. He fulfilled this trust, witnessed the many miracles in her life, and noticed that she was favored over all other people. He saw how Allah's grace supported her and met all of her needs. For example:
And Zakariyya became her guardian. Every time Zakariyya visited her in the sanctuary, he found food with her. He asked: "Maryam, how did you come by this?" She said: "It is from Allah. Allah provides for whoever He wills without any reckoning." (Surah Al 'Imran: 37)
Maryam was a most devout Servant who genuinely dedicated herself to our Lord, praised His name, and turned toward Him in prayer constantly throughout her life. Just as Allah chose 'Imran's family above all others, He chose Maryam and ensured that she would be educated in the best manner, purified from all wickedness, and preferred above all other women. Allah relates her superiority:
And when the angels said: "Maryam, Allah has chosen you and purified you. He has chosen you over all other women. Maryam, obey your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow." (Surah Al 'Imran: 42-43)
Maryam, like the rest of her family, was known among her people for her devotion to Allah as well as her religiosity, chastity, and sincerity. Allah speaks of her as someone obedient to Him.
And Maryam, the daughter of 'Imran, who guarded her chastity-We breathed Our Spirit into her. She confirmed the Words of her Lord and His Book, and was one of the obedient. (Surat at-Tahrim: 12)
… and she who guarded her chastity. We breathed into her some of Our Spirit and made her and her son a Sign for all the worlds. (Surat al-Anbiya': 91)
Maryam experienced many miracles throughout her life. One of these was her meeting with Angel Jibril. Once, when she left her family and society and went toward the east, she met Jibril, who appeared to her in the form of a well-built man:
Mention Maryam in the Book, how she withdrew from her people to an eastern place and concealed herself from them. Then We sent Our Spirit to her, and it took on for her the form of a handsome, well-built man. (Surah Maryam: 16-17)
Not knowing who this man was, she sought refuge with Allah and told him that she held Allah in the utmost fear and respect: "She said: 'I seek refuge from you with the All-Merciful, [leave me] if you have fear [and respect] of Allah'" (Surah Maryam: 18). Her words clearly demonstrate her complete trust in Allah, as well as the importance she placed upon chastity and devotion to Allah. Her words not only expressed all of this, but also called upon this unknown man to have fear and respect of Allah.
Jibril introduced himself with the following words: "I am only your Lord's messenger [an angel] so that He can give you a pure boy" (Surah Maryam: 19). As the Qur'an recounts:
When the angels said: "Maryam, your Lord gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, 'Isa, son of Maryam, of high esteem in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near." (Surah Al 'Imran: 45)
Maryam replied: "How can I have a boy when no man has touched me and I am not an unchaste woman?" (Surah Maryam: 20), thereby indicating her chastity. Jibril told her that:
He [Jibril] said: "It will be so." Allah creates whatever He wills. When He decides on something, He just says to it, "Be!" and it is. (Surah Al 'Imran: 47)
He said: "It will be so." Your Lord says: "That is easy for Me. It is so that We can make him a Sign for humanity and a mercy from Us. It is a matter already decreed." So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a distant place. (Surah Maryam: 21-22)
By Allah's will, Maryam became pregnant with Prophet Jesus known as Isa in Arabic. Her pregnancy was independent of this world's usual cause-and-effect relationship. The circumstances of his conception were among the features of Prophet 'Isa's (as) miracles.
Allah reveals "So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a distant place" (Surah Maryam: 22). In this distant place to which she retreated, Allah supported her with His grace and protection and met all of her material and psychological needs during her pregnancy.
Prophet `Isa's (as) Birth and Allah's Support of Maryam
Allah fully supported Maryam throughout her pregnancy. It is very difficult for a woman to give birth, a potentially life-threatening experience, all alone, without medical equipment or a midwife's assistance. Nevertheless, Maryam overcame all of these difficulties by placing her complete trust in Allah. Allah helped her with revelations while she was struggling toward a date tree in the full throes of labor pains. Allah told her not to grieve, that He had placed a stream at her feet, and that she should shake the date tree in order to get freshly ripe dates to eat. He also told her to drink and to delight her eyes. As a result, she gave birth in the best possible circumstances. Allah reveals her situation:
The pains of labour drove her to the trunk of a date-palm. She exclaimed: "Oh, if only I had died before this time and was something discarded and forgotten!" A voice called out to her from under her: "Do not grieve. Your Lord has placed a small stream at your feet. Shake the trunk of the palm toward you, and fresh, ripe dates will drop down to you. Eat and drink, and delight your eyes. If you should see anyone at all, just say: 'I have made a vow of abstinence to the All-Merciful, and [so] today I will not speak to any human being.'" (Surah Maryam: 23-26)
Allah's grace and protection was clearly visible in this situation. In fact, His advice to her has been confirmed by modern science. We now analyse this advice in some detail.
Do Not Grieve
As stated earlier, Maryam withdrew from her society so that she could be in a psychologically peaceful environment and away from the hurtful behaviour of people who could not comprehend her miraculous situation.
Allah told her not to grieve and bestowed His grace and protection upon her. No doubt, there was much wisdom in this advice, just as there was in Maryam's withdrawal to a distant place.
This attitude, which is required of all believers, has been confirmed by modern medicine, for doctors tell women, both during their pregnancy and while they are giving birth, to maintain a positive attitude and avoid any sadness and stress.
Allah advised Maryam to eat freshly ripened dates. Today, such dates are considered to be food and medicine. Scientists now know that dates contain more than ten substances considered essential for the human body's well-being and continuing health.
Dates contain plenty of the easily digested and absorbed sugars that give the human body its energy for heat and movement. More importantly, these sugars are of the fructose type and not of the glucose type, which quickly raises the blood-sugar levels. Dates provide energy, help muscle tissues and nerve cells develop, and are especially beneficial for people weakened by illness or those suffering from exhaustion, because of their high caloric value. For example, 100 grams of dates contain 1.5 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbohydrates. In addition, their caloric value is 225 kcal. Fresh dates have a 60-65 percent sugar content and a 2 percent protein content.
This information reveals some of the wisdom inherent in Allah's advice to Maryam. Another matter worth reflecting upon is the little stream created by Allah and His advice for her to eat and drink. Now, scientists inform us that people can survive on dates and water for years, because they contain all of the necessary essentials for human life. In fact, one renowned expert on the subject, V. H. W. Dowson, suggests that one glass of milk and one date per day provides a person's daily nutritional requirements.
Dates contain various vitamins (e.g., A, beta-carotene, B1, B2, B3, and B6) and minerals, (e.g., sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, fibre, iron, sulphur, phosphorus, and chlorine) and are also rich in fibre, fats, and proteins. Some of the ensuing benefits are as follows:
A date's nutritional value is based on the balance between its minerals. During the prolonged period of morning sickness and the altering physiognomy, a shortage of potassium occurs and needs to be supplemented. This fruit's high potassium content is certainly welcome here, as its role in preserving the body's water levels.
Iron controls the red blood cells' synthesis of haemoglobin, which prevents anaemia during pregnancy and also regulates the blood's RBC balance, which is so crucial for the baby's development. Due to its high iron content, one-and-a-half dates can meet the body's total iron requirement and thus prevent all complaints caused by a lack of iron.
Allah's advice to Maryam to eat dates could be an indication to their beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Scientists point out that dates can reduce stress and tension levels. Research done at Berkeley University revealed that dates are rich in vitamin B1 (the "nerve vitamin") and magnesium (essential for muscle functions), both of which are essential for a strong nervous system. Magnesium is also very important for the kidneys, and two or three dates per day are enough to meet all of the human body's magnesium requirements. Most other fruits are protein-poor, but dates have good protein content.
Allah Creates a Stream
Allah told Maryam that He had placed a stream by her feet to eat, drink, and delight her eyes.
Water, like dates, eases labour pains and regulates muscle tension. In fact, some modern birth clinics have pools in which the delivery takes place.
Water, which is necessary for life and one's physical well-being, plays an important role in regulating the body's temperature, transporting nutritional elements and oxygen, and removing waste matter from the body's cells. It also ensures the healthy movement of joints, skin moisture and elasticity, the digestive system, and protects tissues and organs. Water is becoming more widely used in therapy by the day. Contact with water stimulates the immune system, increases anti-stress hormone production, reduces pain, and stimulates blood circulation and metabolism.9
Water is important during pregnancy for several reasons. At that time, water intake is especially necessary because the volume of blood increases and because of the developing baby's needs. Women who choose to breast-feed need plenty of water to produce the necessary amount of milk. Considering that 87 percent of this milk is water, we can see how important this production is.
Water also maintains the electrolyte balances in the blood of the mother and the child. Hormones released during pregnancy alter the way various body fluids are used. Toward the end of the woman's pregnancy, blood volume increases 150 percent, and the loss of water through breathing is much greater. The amnion fluid, in which the baby grows, is renewed every three hours. However, it can decrease, as in the case of dehydration caused by insufficient water intake.
Dehydration during pregnancy also can cause premature labour. Some hormones released in such situations imitate the hormones that trigger labour pains. Cases in which premature birth is a significant risk are treated by giving fluids through the veins, a procedure that highlights the importance of water intake. Such premature tensions are often cured by this fluid therapy.
Modern science shows once more the wisdom in Allah's creation of the stream for Maryam and His advice to eat dates and drink water. All of this is evidence of Allah's infinite knowledge.
Maryam Shakes the Date Tree
Allah tells Maryam to shake the date tree toward her when she was headed toward it in her labour pains. (Surah Maryam: 25)
Doctors say that pulling something toward oneself during labour can have a positive effect on the muscles. In order to ease labour pains and help bring about a safe delivery, women are advised to do certain exercises that reduce pressure in the body and, therefore, the risk of complications during delivery. They are also thought to quicken the process of giving birth.
Doctors suggest that in the second stage of labour, the woman's head should be slightly raised to take advantage of gravity. Thus, hospital delivery rooms have beds with suitably placed handles and footrests that enable pregnant women to give birth in the most comfortable position.
Maryam Returns to Her Community
When Maryam returned with Prophet 'Isa (as), her people could not comprehend Allah's miracle. Thus, they accused her of indecency and slandered her, even though they knew that she, being a member of 'Imran's family, was devout, held Allah in great fear and respect, had an immaculate character, and always protected her modesty. Allah reveals some of these slanders:
She brought him to her people, carrying him. They exclaimed: "Maryam! You have done an unthinkable thing! Sister of Harun, your father was not an evil man nor was your mother an unchaste woman!" (Surah Maryam: 27-28)
No doubt, this was a trial for Maryam, for she had to face such accusations despite being a chaste woman who held Allah in the greatest respect and awe. These people ignored her impeccable character and honourable conduct, despite her own reputation and that of her family, and so, as always, she turned toward Allah, and trusted in Him, knowing that He would defend her in the best possible way.
Maryam's Vows of Silence
Allah, Who always answered her prayers with generosity and compassion, gave her inner peace during this trial. Knowing that Allah would exonerate her completely, Allah inspired her to make a vow: "If you should see anyone at all, just say: 'I have made a vow of abstinence to the All-Merciful, and today I will not speak to any human being'" (Surah Maryam: 26). This is what she told her people.
After this, she only pointed to Prophet 'Isa (as), about whom Allah said through Jibril: "He will speak to people in the cradle and when fully grown, and will be one of the believers" (Surah Al 'Imran: 46), when people confronted and slandered her.
Allah showed her people a great miracle by enabling Prophet 'Isa (as) to speak while he was still a baby in the cradle. Through his words, Allah exonerated his mother Maryam and also introduced Prophet 'Isa (as) as one of His Prophets sent to the Israelites:
She pointed toward him. They asked: "How can a baby in the cradle speak?" He ['Isa] said: "I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Book and made me a Prophet. He has made me blessed wherever I am, directed me to perform prayer and give alms [zakat] as long as I live, and to show devotion to my mother. He has not made me insolent or arrogant. Peace be upon me the day I was born and the day I die, and the day I am raised up again alive." That is 'Isa, son of Maryam, the Word of Truth about which they are in doubt. (Surah Maryam: 29-34)
This miracle amazed Maryam's people. By saying: "… and she who guarded her chastity. We breathed into her some of Our Spirit and made her and her son a Sign for all the worlds" (Surat al-Anbiya': 91), Allah made both of them superior to all other people. Maryam's superior character, honour, and purity were revealed through this speech, and those who had slandered her were defeated.
By saying: "And We made the son of Maryam and his mother a Sign and gave them shelter on a mountainside where there was a meadow and a flowing spring" (Surat al-Mu'minun: 50), He reveals that Prophet 'Isa (as) and Maryam continued to live under His grace after these events.
Maryam is a role model for all Muslims because she maintained her impeccable character throughout her life. Allah raised her like a lovely plant, to use the Qur'an's expression, and gave her a very important responsibility. Allah chose her, just as He chose 'Imran's family, made her one person in this lineage of the most devout and faithful people, and had her raised by these virtuous people.
Maryam demonstrated her genuine devotion and loyalty to Allah through her impeccable virtue and behaviour. She also expressed her profound and genuine devotion to Him through her determination, devotion, and unconditional surrender to His will.
Maryam displayed this superior morality and became a role model and a living invitation to religion through her faith, behaviour, and character. Her genuine call is answered in the best possible way, Allah willing. The believers' faith continues to deepen as they follow Maryam's example and try to emulate her character.