Commentary for Verses 1-40

هُوَ ٱلَّذِى يُصَوِّرُڪُمۡ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡحَامِ كَيۡفَ يَشَآءُ‌ۚ لَآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ٱلۡعَزِيزُ ٱلۡحَكِيمُ


Who can penetrate the mystery of life when a new life is just being born, except Allah? The reference to the mystery of birth prepares us for the mystery of the birth of Jesus mentioned in iii. 41 and the following verses.

رَبَّنَآ إِنَّكَ جَامِعُ ٱلنَّاسِ لِيَوۡمٍ۬ لَّا رَيۡبَ فِيهِ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُخۡلِفُ ٱلۡمِيعَادَ


This is the prayer of those who are firmly grounded in knowledge. The more they know the more they realize how little they know. But they have faith. The glimpses they get of truth they wish to hold fast in their hearts, and they pray to Allah to preserve them from deviating even from what light they have got. They are sure of their eventual return to Allah, when all doubts will be solved.

ڪَدَأۡبِ ءَالِ فِرۡعَوۡنَ وَٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبۡلِهِمۡ‌ۚ كَذَّبُواْ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا فَأَخَذَهُمُ ٱللَّهُ بِذُنُوبِہِمۡ‌ۗ وَٱللَّهُ شَدِيدُ ٱلۡعِقَابِ


From the beginning of the world, sin, oppression, arrogance, and want of Faith have gone together. The Pharaoh of the time of Moses relied upon his power, his territory, his armies, and his resources to mock at Moses the messenger of Allah and to oppress the people of Moses. Allah saved the Israelite and punished their oppressors through many plagues and calamities.

قَدۡ ڪَانَ لَكُمۡ ءَايَةٌ۬ فِى فِئَتَيۡنِ ٱلۡتَقَتَا‌ۖ فِئَةٌ۬ تُقَـٰتِلُ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَأُخۡرَىٰ ڪَافِرَةٌ۬ يَرَوۡنَهُم مِّثۡلَيۡهِمۡ رَأۡىَ ٱلۡعَيۡنِ‌ۚ وَٱللَّهُ يُؤَيِّدُ بِنَصۡرِهِۦ مَن يَشَآءُ‌ۗ إِنَّ فِى ذَٲلِكَ لَعِبۡرَةً۬ لِّأُوْلِى ٱلۡأَبۡصَـٰرِ


This refers to the battle of Badr in Ramadhan in the second year of Hijrah. The little exiled community of Makkan Muslims, with their fiends in Madinah had organized themselves into a God-fearing community, but were constantly in danger of being attacked by their Pagan enemies of Makkah in alliance with some of the disaffected elements (Jews and Hypocrites) in or near Madinah itself. The design of the Makkans was to gather all the resources they could, and with the overwhelming force, to crush and annihilate Muhammad and his party. To this end, Abu Sufyan was leading a richly-laden caravan from Syria to Makkah. He called for armed aid from Makkah. The battle was fought in the plain of Badr, about 150km south-west of Madinah. The Muslim force consisted of only about 313 men, mostly ill-armed, but they were laid by Muhammad, and they were fighting for their Faith. The Makkan army, well-armed and well-equipped, numbered over a thousand and had among its leaders some of the most experienced warriors of Arabia, including Abu Jahl, the inveterate foe and persecutor of Islam. Against all odds the Muslims won a brilliant victory, and many of the enemy leaders, including Abu Jahl, were killed.


It was impossible, without the miraculous aid of Allah, for such a small and ill-equipped force as was the Muslim band, to defeat the large and well-found force of the enemy. But their Faith firmness, zeal and discipline won them divine aid. Enemy prisoners stated that the enemy ranks saw the Muslim force to be many times larger than it was.


The pleasure of this world are first enumerated: women for love; sons for strength and pride; hoarded riches, which procure all luxuries; the best and finest pedigree horses; cattle, the measure of wealth in the ancient world, as well as the means and symbols of good farming in the modern world; and broad acres of well-tilled land. By analogy, we may include, for our mechanized age, machines of all kinds, -tractors, motorcars, aero planes, the best internal-combustion engines, etc., etc.


True servants of Allah are described in Ali Imran 16 and 17. They have faith, humility, and hope (Ali Imran 16); and they have certain virtues (Ali Imran 17):
1. Patience, steadfastness, self-restraint and all that goes under the full definition of Sabr; this shows a certain attitude of mind;
2. In all their dealings they are true and sincere as they are also in their promises and works; this marks them out in social conduct;
3. Further, their spiritual worship is earnest and deep, an inner counterpart of their outward conduct;
4. Their worship to Allah shows in their love of their fellow-men, for they are ready and liberal in charity; and
5. Their self-discipline is so great that the first thing they do every morning is humbly to approach their God.


Allah Himself speaks to us through His revelations (through angels) and through His Creation, for all Nature glorifies Allah. No thinking mind, if it only judges the matter fairly, can fail to find the same witness in his own heart and conscience. All these, point to the Unity of Allah, His exalted nature, and His wisdom.


The People of the book may be supposed to know something about the previous religious history of mankind. To them the appeal should be easy and intelligible, as all religion is one, and it is only being renewed in Islam. But the appeal is also made to the Pagan Arabs, who are unlearned, and who can well be expected to follow the example of one of their own, who received divine enlightenment, and was able to bring new knowledge to them. A great many of both these classes did so. But the few who resisted Allah’s grace, and actually threatened and persecuted those who believed, are told that Allah will look after His own.


True in many senses. In every twenty-four hours, night merges into day, and day into night, and there is no clear boundary between them. In every solar year, the night gains on the day after the summer solstice, and the day gains on the night after the winter solstice. But further, if light and darkness are viewed as symbols of (a) knowledge and ignorance, (b) happiness and misery, (c) spiritual insight and spiritual blindness, Allah’s Plan or Will works here too as in physical world, and His hand is all Good.


If Faith is a fundamental matter in our lives our associations and friendships will naturally be with those who share our Faith. “Evil communications corrupt good manners”; and evil company may corrupt Faith. In our ordinary every-day affairs of business, we are asked to seek the help of Believers rather than Unbelievers.


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 Zakaria. Yahya’s mother Elisabeth was a cousin of Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke i.36), and therefore John (Yahya as) and Jesus (Isa as) were cousins by blood, and there was a spiritual cousinhood in their birth and career. Elisabeth was of the daughter of Aaron (Luke i.5), of a priestly family which went back to Aaron the brother of Moses and son of Imran. Her husband Zakaria 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.


Muharrar = freed from all worldly affairs and specially dedicated to Allah’s service. She expected a son, who was to be a special devotee, a miraculous son of the old age of his parents, but Allah gave her instead a daughter. But the daughter was Mary the mother of Jesus, the chosen one among the women; (Ali Imran:42)


The mother of Mary expected a male child. Was she disappointed that it was a female child? No, she had Faith, and she knew that Allah’s Plan was better than any wishes of hers. Mary was no ordinary girl: only Allah knew what it was that her mother brought forth.


The female child could not be devoted to Temple service under the Mosaic law, as she intended. But she was marked out for a special destiny as a miracle-child, to be the mother of the miracle-child Jesus (Isa as). She was content to seek Allah’s protection for her against all evil. There is a certain sense of pride in the girl on the part of the mother.


Mary (Maryam) grew under Allah’s special protection. Her sustenance, under which we may include both her physical needs and her spiritual food, came from Allah, and her growth was indeed a “goodly growth” which can be express in text by the words “purity and beauty”. Some aprocryphal Christian writings say that she was brought up in the Temple to the age of twelve like a dove, and that she was fed by angels.


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 inter-connected. Zakaria 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”. To his surprise, he is given a son in the flesh, ushered in by a special Sign.


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