The Qur'an, the only true guidance for humanity, was revealed so that people would know how to deal with all of the situations that they may encounter while in this world. In addition, the Sunnah (example) of our Prophet (saas) shows how to implement its teachings into one's life. Allah even made it possible for people to understand how to live the Qur'an's morality by giving examples from the Prophets' and other Muslims' lives: "There is an excellent example in them for you to follow, that is for those whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day. But if anyone turns away, Allah is the Rich Beyond Need, the Praiseworthy" (Surat al-Mumtahana: 6) and "We have sent down Clear Signs to you, the example of those who passed away before you, and an admonition for those who guard against evil" (Surat an-Nur: 34). In these verses, He reminds sincere Muslims, who hope for the best in Hereafter, that the people presented in the Qur'an serve as good examples and guidance for them.
One of these sincere Muslims is Maryam, one of the two women noted for their exemplary characters: "Allah has made an example for those who believe: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said: 'My Lord, build a house in the Garden for me in Your presence, rescue me from Pharaoh and his deeds, and rescue me from this wrongdoing people.' 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: 11-12). Therefore, every believer is responsible for learning about Maryam's good character from the Qur'an, which gives the most accurate information, and trying to emulate her.
Allah introduces Maryam as having the ideal Muslim woman's character. This character is completely different than the common character of women in today's unbelieving societies, where they usually share a common socially acceptable character handed down from their ancestors. In these societies, men and women are expected to conform to very different sets of character traits, for men's ideals, worldview, lifestyle, and evaluation of events are believed to be different from those of women.
According to the Qur'an, however, men and women have the same responsibilities and characters, for Allah refers to an ideal Muslim character. He defines the Islamic character in the following verse:
Men and women who are Muslims, men and women who are believers, men and women who are obedient, men and women who are truthful, men and women who are steadfast, men and women who are humble, men and women who give charity, men and women who fast, men and women who guard their chastity, men and women who remember Allah much: Allah has prepared forgiveness for them and an immense reward. (Surat al-Ahzab: 35)
As this verse shows, each person's character is not determined by his or her society's values or continuing traditions, but by the ideal Muslim character. Any woman who adopts this character will have the strongest and the most solid personality possible. And by implementing it in her life, she will win Allah's good pleasure and love, instead of striving to attain status or superiority in her society.
According to historical sources, Allah honored Maryam, who lived approximately two millennia ago, with the birth of Prophet 'Isa (as). 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.
Idolatry was Rome's state religion. The Jews, once a nation preferred by Allah "over all other beings" (Surat al-Baqara: 47), had altered His religion, adopted false beliefs, rebelled against Allah's commands, and were no longer grateful for His gifts to them. Some of them even murdered the Prophets sent to them by the grace of Allah, because the Jews did not like the commands that these exalted men conveyed. The Qur'an reveals their transgressions:
We made a covenant with the tribe of Israel and sent Messengers to them. Each time a Messenger came to them with something their lower selves did not desire, they denied some and they murdered others. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 70)
Maryam was born at a chaotic time, when the Jews' only hope was their expected Messiah (savior). 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 slanders 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.
hen `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)
The Arabic word muharreren, translated here as devoted [to Your service], means "preoccupied only with the Hereafter and having no interest in the world, in the service of Allah's temple, worshipping in great devotion, one whose worship is not tainted by worldly aims."
True freedom can be attained only by serving Allah, surrendering to Him, and freeing oneself from all service to any other beings or values. This is what 'Imran's wife prayed for when dedicating Maryam to Allah, for she wished her daughter to be someone who served only Allah and who did not seek her people's or society's acceptance.
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.
Maryam's mother's wholehearted faith in Allah, acceptance of only Allah as her mentor, constant turning toward Him, and her genuine surrender to Him are very important examples upon which all believers should reflect.
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 Meets Jibril:
Maryam experienced many miracles throughout her life. One of these was her meeting with 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 'Isa (as) and yet remained a virgin. 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.