Prophet Zakariyya [Zacharias] & Yahya [John] (Peace be upon them)
And (remember) Zakariyya, when he cried to his Lord: "O my Lord! Leave me not without offspring, though Thou art the best of inheritors.
So We listened to him: and We granted him Yahya:
And (remember) her (Maryam) who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We made her and her son a Sign for all peoples. (al-Anbiya, 89, 90, 91)
Hz. ZAKARIYYA (ZECHARIAS)
Hz. Zakariyya comes from the progeny of Hz. Sulayman (Solomon). He was the religious leader in Masjid al-Aqsa in Quds (Jerusalem). Afterwards, Allah Almighty chose him as a prophet for Children of Israel.
Hz. Zakariyya did not bring a new shari'ah. He practiced the shari'ah of Hz. Musa (Moses). We understand from a narration of Muslim that Hz. Zakariyya was good at carpentry.1
Hz. Zakariyya was married to a woman called Isha. Isha did not have any children. Hz. Zakariyya and Isha got very old. They did not have any hope that they would have a child.
THE PRAYER OF THE MOTHER
Hz. Isa’s mother is Hz. Maryam (Mary). She is the daughter of Imran from Children of Masan. Her mother's name is Hanna, who was the sister of Isha, who was Hz. Zakariyya's wife. In that case, Isha is Maryam's aunt.
Children of Masan, the tribe of Hz. Maryam’s father, were one of the notable and influential families of Children of Israel in terms of nobility and religious affairs.
Imran’s wife Hanna did not have any children just like her sister Isha. She was also getting old. Her greatest wish was to have a child.
Once she was sitting under a tree and watching a bird's nest among the branches of the tree. She was moved by the efforts of the mother bird to feed her fledglings. Her feelings of motherhood were in action. She started to beg her Lord with her clean heart and sincere intentions to give her a child.2
Allah Almighty accepted this sincere request and prayer.
When Hanna found out that she was pregnant, she became very happy. She thought of dedicating this child to the service of Masjid al-Aqsa in Quds in return for the grace of Allah. She opened her hands and prayed as follows:
"O Lord! I do dedicate into Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service so accept this of me! for Thou hearest and knowest all things."3
It was not certain whether the child to be born was going to be a boy or a girl. At that time, only boys were dedicated to religious services. These boys, who were dedicated to religious services, remained there and learned religious subjects until they became old enough to work; if they wished, they continued to stay there after that too.4
What was going to happen if she had a girl? How was she going to fulfill her vow? However, she trusted in the sincerity of her intention and never doubted that she would have a boy.
Her husband, Imran, did not have the same idea as hers. When he heard her vow, he got angry. He said,
"How did you dedicate the child to religious service before knowing its gender? How are you going to fulfill your vow if you give birth to a girl?"5
However, Imran’s life was not long enough to see the child. He died a short while before the birth of the child.
Finally, Hanna gave birth to the child. Unfortunately, what she had expected did not take place. She gave birth to a girl. She thought her prayer was not accepted and got very sad. She spoke to herself:
"O my Lord! I had a sincere intention and a definite vow. I was expecting a male child but I am delivered of a female child! A female child is not like a male child. What am I going to do now?"6
Hanna had a strong belief. She got rid of her sorrow soon. There may have been some good aspects of having a female child.7 She decided to do her best to make her daughter lead a chaste life and prepare her for religious service. With this thought in mind, she started to pray Allah Almighty as follows:
"O Lord! I have named her Maryam (Mary) and I commend her and her offspring to Your protection from the Evil One, the Rejected.8 Though it is a female child, I will keep my promise and give it to the service of Masjid al-Aqsa."
Maryam meant "worshipper, the one who offers service" in the language of Children of Israel. By giving her this name, Hanna hoped that she would lead a life in accordance with her name.
It is decreed from this incident that it is a nice act to give a child a nice name hoping that he/she would lead a nice life as the name suggests.9
THOSE WHO WERE BORN FREE OF THE EVIL OF SATAN
It is stated in verse 36 of the chapter of Aal-i Imran that Hanna prayed Allah Almighty to protect her daughter, Maryam, and her offspring from the evil of Satan. Allah Almighty accepted her prayer and protected Maryam and her child from all of the delusions and evils of Satan throughout their lives. Their protection from the evil and contact of Satan started from the beginning of their birth.
The Messenger of Allah stated the following in a hadith:
"There is none born among the off-spring of Adam, but Satan touches it. A child therefore, cries loudly at the time of birth because of the touch of Satan, except Maryam and her child.”10
After narrating this hadith, Abu Hurayra said,
"If you wish, you can read verse 36 of the chapter of Aal-i Imran.” Thus, he stated that this hadith interpreted the relevant verse.11
That Satan touches every child that is born may pave the way for him to cause delusions in the child and to deceive the child. Naturally, it is always possible for man to use his partial free will for good things and to resist those delusions and evils. The hadith states Hz. Maryam and Hz. Isa are exempted from this state. Qadi Iyad holds the view that this state is not peculiar to Hz. Maryam and Hz. Isa and that all of the prophets are protected from the touch of Satan at birth.12
IN THE SERVICE OF THE HOLY MOSQUE
Hanna took his daughter and headed toward Bayt al-Maqdis. She told the religious person there about her vow. She begged the religious authorities there to accept Maryam for religious service. Those religious authorities came from the progeny of the Prophet Harun (Aaron). They were occupied with learning and worshipping there.13 Their leader was the Prophet Zakariyya. The religious authorities accepted Maryam to serve the mosque since the Prophet Zakariyya was the husband of Maryam’s aunt and the family of Imran was a noble family. Now it was time to decide who would teach and educate her. The Prophet Zakariyya wanted to undertake her education since he was a relative of hers. However, the other religious scholars also wanted to educate her. Therefore, they rejected Hz. Zakariyya's offer. Everybody wanted to undertake her education. Finally, one of them made the following offer:
"Nobody deserves to take the child more than the others. We are all servants of this mosque. We had better pray Allah and throw our pens with which we write the Torah into the river. The person whose pen floats will take the child."
They accepted the offer. They put some signs on their pens to recognize them and threw them into the water. All of the pens except one sank. The one that did not sink belonged to the Prophet Zakariyya. They gave the girl to him without any objections.14
THE SUSTENANCE NEXT TO MARYAM
Hz. Maryam started to grow up under the protection of Hz. Zakariyya. She became a young girl with chastity and high ethics.
Hz. Zakariyya made a small room for her in one corner of Masjid al-Aqsa. Hz. Maryam worshipped in that small room day and night. Only Hz. Zakariyya entered this room and gave her food. However, when the Prophet Zakariyya entered her room on some days, he saw various fruits and food there. He asked Hz. Maryam.
"O Maryam! You never leave your room and nobody except me enters this room. Where do these fruits and food come from?"
Hz. Maryam smiled and answered,
"They are Allah’s treats to me.15
That Hz. Maryam was sent sustenance by Allah in a miraculous way showed her karamah. When an extraordinary state like that is observed in a prophet, it is called a miracle. When it is observed in a righteous person or a saint, it is called a karamah.16
THE PRAYER OF THE PROPHET ZAKARIYYA
The extraordinary things the Prophet Zakariyya saw about Maryam showed that she was a beloved person in the eye of Allah. Hz. Zakariyya did not have any children. It would be very nice if he had a good child like Maryam and continued the religious service after his death. In fact, Hz. Zakariyya was very old. However, Allah Almighty could give him a child as He sent sustenance to Maryam from the unseen world through His grace.17
With this hope, he started to beg his Lord.18 First, he mentioned his old age with the hope of intercession:
"O Lord! My bones became weak. They cannot carry mu body. My hair got gray. O Lord! My previous prayers were all accepted. You always accepted my prayers."19
Then, the Prophet Zakariyya expressed his wish as follows:
"O Lord! Leave me not without offspring. Protect my name from being forgotten. Give me a good heir that will continue my name and religious duties.
O Lord! Now I fear what my relatives and colleagues will do after me: but my wife is barren. Give me an heir from Your grace and generosity. Give me such an heir that) will truly represent me, and represent the posterity of Jacob (Yaqub)...”20
— Lessons to be taken from the prayer of Hz. Zakariyya
a) He made his prayer secretly:
According to the statement of Abu’s-Suud, Hz. Zakariyya followed the criteria of good manners in his prayer. For, in terms of Allah Almighty, secret or open prayers are of no difference but he preferred the secret one because it was sincere, unpretentious and away from the mocking of people.21
b) He clutched onto a good means by presenting his old age as a means of intercession:
As it is seen, Hz. Zakariyya mentioned the following three issues before presenting his main purpose to Allah Almighty:
1) He stated that his bones were weak: He meant that he was very old and his death approached. Thus, he expressed his old age in an effective way.
2) He stated that the hair on his head turned gray, which is a sign of old age, and that there was no black hair left on his head.
3) He stated that his previous prayers had not been rejected.
All of his prayers had been accepted by Allah Almighty up to that time. Now, he was in desperate need and he was very weak. Such a prayer was worth accepting more than his previous prayers.22
Hz. Zakariyya clutched onto a very strong means for his prayer to be accepted. For, belief in old age is something that is liked by Allah very much. The period that attracts Allah's mercy the most is old age with belief. Hz. Zakariyya discovered this secret; so, he used his weakness and old age as a means of intercession for his prayer and acceptance.
The Messenger of Allah stated the following in a hadith: “Were it not for the helpless old people, misfortunes would pour onto you." It indicates to what extent old age attracts divine mercy.23
HZ. ZAKARIYYA IS GIVEN THE GOOD NEWS OF HZ. YAHYA (JOHN)
Allah Almighty accepted Hz. Zakariyya’s sincere prayer, which he used his old age as a means of intercession. He sent Jibril to him to give him the good news.
At that time, Hz. Zakariyya was engaged in worshipping. Jibril told him that Allah Almighty would grant him a boy called Yahya and that this name had not been given to anyone before.24 The name Yahya to be given to the child that was going to be born was given by Allah Almighty, which is Allah's grace peculiar to Yahya.
Hz. Zakariyya was surprised by this good news because it was impossible in terms of the apparent situation. He was very old and his wife was too old to give birth to a child. How was this glad tiding given by Allah Almighty going to take place? Therefore, he said to Jibril, “How can I have a child? My wife can no longer give birth to a child. I am very old and rawboned.”25
The reason why Hz. Zakariyya was surprised was not because of doubting divine power. If it had been so, he would not have asked such a thing from Allah Almighty. He definitely knew that Allah Almighty could do anything. Therefore, he asked Him to grant him a child. Prophets never asked anything that they believed would not take place or that was impossible to happen. It would be a mistake for them.
The reason why Hz. Zakariyya spoke like that though he was sure about divine power was to understand how this good news was going to take place. For, the apparent situation was against him. How was that child going to be born? Was Allah Almighty going to make them young again? Or was he going to show another way? Some scholars say Hz. Zakariyya asked this question in order to hear this divine promise and good news again. It is natural that when a person hears some good news or something he loves, he wants to hear it again and again.
Hz. Jibril told Hz. Zakariyya that Allah Almighty could do anything He wished, that He was free to do anything He preferred and that it was easy for Him to give him a child26; he advised Hz. Zakariyya to wait patiently.
* * *
Upon this answer of Jibril's, Hz. Zakariyya felt convinced. He had to thank and glorify Allah Almighty due to this great grace. It was impossible for him to know when his wife would become pregnant. Therefore, he asked Allah Almighty to show him a sign that would make him understand when she was pregnant.
Allah Almighty told him that he would not be able to speak to any man for three days but with signals.27
Indeed, when Yahya was conceived, Hz. Zakariyya could not speak. He was able to communicate with people only through signs.
In the morning of the day when Hz. Zakariyya was unable to speak, he left his room and went to the area where his nation had gathered and conveyed the following message to his nation through signs: “Glorify your Lord and free Him from all kinds of deficiencies this morning, this afternoon and on the days to come. Continue worshipping as usual.”
Hz Zakariyya left his worshipping room every morning, opened the doors of Bayt al-Maqdis for the congregation that came to the mosque to pray and worship, performed prayers together with the congregation and preached. When he could not preach due to the pregnancy of his wife as a sign of her pregnancy, he addressed people through signs.
Hz. Zakariyya glorified Allah Almighty, prayed and worshipped Him during those three days; thus, he praised and thanked Him.
The wisdom behind his being unable to speak was to make him pray and worship peacefully and sincerely. For, being together with people would prevent him from worshipping fully. The only way to thank Allah Almighty for the child He granted was to worship like that.
THE BIRTH OF THE PROPHET YAHYA
When the Prophet Yahya was born, Zakariyya's family became very happy. Hz. Yahya was born 6 months, or according to another narration, 3 years before the birth of Hz. Isa.28
Hz. Yahya was a very righteous and virtuous child. Allah Almighty gave him knowledge and wisdom when he was very young and ordered him to be loyal to the Torah.29
Hz. Yahya obeyed this order and read the Torah all the time; while his peers were playing games on the street, he went to the desert and worshipped Allah alone.
When he became a young man, Allah Almighty gave him the duty of prophethood. He decreed based on the shari'ah of Hz. Musa; he preached to Children of Israel and gave them advice all the time.30
When Hz. Isa was also given the duty of prophethood, Hz. Yahya became subject to him and started to decree based on the Gospel.
The following virtues of Hz. Yahya are mentioned in the Quran:
a) He was given mercy and compassion by Allah and he was helped to keep away from sins and to be pure.31
b) He was always kind and generous to his parents; he never disobeyed them; nor was he rebellious.32
c) He was given peace the day he was born, the day that he died, and the day that he will be raised up to life again.33 The times when man fears the most are when he is born, when he dies and when he is resurrected. Allah Almighty told Hz. Yahya that he would be safe on those days and that he would not fear.34
d) Hz. Yahya was described as “Sayyid” by the Quran because he was one of the greatest people of his time in terms of asceticism, piety, worshipping, knowledge, lenience and religious affairs.35
e) He is stated to be chaste (hasur) since he did not approach women and did not tend to the sexual desires of his soul though he had power and strength.
Hasur is a word used for those who prevent their souls from committing sins. Therefore, the verse states that Hz. Yahya was extremely chaste.36 According to the statement of Baydawi, when his peers asked him to play with them, he answered them as follows: “Was I created to play games?” It is narrated that he did not spend his time by playing games and doing useless things.37
Yes, children play games and it is their right to play games. However, Allah Almighty protects some of His slaves due to their purity in their nature from doing useless things as His grace. Therefore, it is not strange for Hz. Yahya to speak like that when he was a child.
f) It is stated that he would accept and confirm Hz. Isa.38
THE FAMILY OF HZ. ZAKARIYYA
The family of Zakariyya was a happy and honorable family that received praise from the Quran. This family is described by the following nice characteristics:
1) Hz. Zakariyya’s prayer was accepted and he was granted a righteous child called Yahya.39
2) Hz. Zakariyya’s wife was improved.40 This improvement was in the form of giving the ability of conception to the old woman who had lost the possibility of giving birth to a child, making her obedient to her husband regarding religious issues and making her ethics good.
In fact, it is very joyful for a man to have a wife and children that will help him in religious issues and that do not have contrary ideas, giving him troubles.
If a religious man who conveys the message of Allah to people does not have peace in his house, his success will be affected badly. If his family helps him regarding his cause, his enthusiasm and determination will increase. As a matter of fact, in the first years of the prophethood, the greatest help for the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was his wife Khadijah. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) never forgot about her sacrifice and always mentioned her with goodness. Therefore, Allah Almighty mentioned the improvement of Hz. Zakariyya’s wife among the bounties given to him.
3) The family of Hz. Zakariyya did good deeds and charity very fast; they always hoped to get rewards from Allah and prayed Him by fearing His wrath.41
• Speed in good deeds and charity: Man is a guest in this world. He has to attain endless bliss and eternal life in his short life. He can do it by spending his time doing good deeds, worshipping and doing the things that will please Allah. Therefore, every believer needs to do good deeds a lot and to act fast in order to prepare for the hereafter.
Allah Almighty mentioned this property of the family of Zakariyya's and encouraged believers to compete with one another in order to do good deeds. Allah also states that this characteristic is a means of acceptance for prayers.
• The balance between hope and fear: Believers need to be between hope and fear while praying and worshipping all the time in order to get rid of hopelessness and heedlessness. Thus, they will follow the right path with the hope of attaining the vast mercy of Allah and they will proceed with enthusiasm and determination in the way of goodness and charity. They will get rid of the delusions of the soul like boasting and conceitedness and of transgressing bounds thanks to fear.
If a person lives in hope all the time, hope will lead him to feel safe that he will not be punished by Allah, to like what he does and to feel that what he does is enough and to heedlessness. If a person lives in fear all the time, fear will make him lose hope of mercy and discourage him from doing good deeds and charity. It causes man to deviate from the right path by making him say, “No matter what will happen from now on."
In fact, this was the case about Satan. When he was deprived of divine mercy, he lost hope of Allah and started to make people deviate from the right path instead of repenting, thinking that he would not be forgiven.
Allah Almighty states in some verses that only unbelievers despair of divine mercy.42
Then, a believer needs to be between fear and hope in his prayers and worshipping.
Due to this wisdom, the Quran encouraged people first and warned them after that; it praised the good deeds first and condemned bad deeds after that.43
4) They surrendered to Allah and were always in awe.44
VIRTUES OF HZ. MARYAM
Hz. Maryam, the mother of the Prophet Isa, is one of the best women in the world. The Prophet (pbuh) stated the following in a hadith: “The best woman of her time is Maryam. The best woman of my ummah is Khadijah.”45
Maryam is mentioned 11 times by name in the Quran. She is described as "the woman who protected her chastity" twice without her name being mentioned.46
Hz. Maryam could not become a prophet since she was a woman but she had the honor of talking to Jibril. This shows her great value in the eye of Allah. Jibril addressed Hz. Maryam as follows: and declared her rank to the world as follows:
"O Maryam! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee;―chosen thee above the women of all nations. O Maryam! Worship thy Lord devoutly; prostrate thyself, and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down.”47
We can list the aspects of Hz. Maryam that enabled her to be chosen among people and that are mentioned in the verses above as follows:
a) She was accepted to serve Bayt al-Maqdis: No women had been accepted there for service before her.
b) She was given sustenance by Allah in an extraordinary way.
c) She became the mother of Hz. Isa, a righteous prophet, through divine power, without having a husband.
d) She met and spoke to Hz. Jibril.
e) She received special treats and grants from Allah.
f) She was proved to be away from the slander of Jews when Hz. Isa spoke in his cradle.
g) She and her son were set as examples for humanity.48
In return for those grants and bounties, Hz. Maryam was ordered to do three things:
a) To go on worshipping and praying sincerely.
b) To prostrate. What is meant by to prostrate is to perform prayers. The following is stated in a hadith: "A person is closest to Allah when he is in prostration."49
c) To bow down together with those who bow down. What is meant by this expression is to perform prayers in congregation. The order to prostrate commands her to worship individually.50
1 Muslim trnsl., VII, 264; at-Taj, III, 301
2 M. Vehbi, ibid, II, 587: Ö.N. Bilmen, ibid, I, 356
3 Aal-i Imran, 35.
4 H. Jisri, Risala al-Hamidiyya, 625
5 M. Vehbi, ibid, II, 585
6 Aal-i Imran, 36.
7 As it is seen, Hanna asked from Allah Almighty a son that she could dedicate to service in the way of Allah but Allah Almighty gave her a daughter. It cannot be said that Hanna’s prayer was not accepted; on the contrary, Allah Almighty accepted her prayer by giving her better than what she wanted. Hanna wanted a son but Allah Almighty gave her a daughter that became the mother of a prophet and that was one of the best women in the world. Allah Almighty hears all of the prayers but He sometimes accepts a prayer by giving something better. He sometimes accepts a prayer for the hereafter and does not give it in the world.
8 Aal-i Imran, 36; M. Vehbi, ibid, II. 586.
9 M. Vehbi, ibid, II, 587
10 Buhari, Q. Tafsir, B. Surah Aal-i Imran; Baydawvi, II, 16
11 Muslim trnsl., VII, 245-246
12 Muslim trnsl., VII, 246. Some scholars interpret the touching of Satan as follows: “Satan wants to make a child deviate so much that he affects the child. However, Isa, son of Maryam, is excluded due to that prayer.” They interpret the touching of Satan as his wish of making a child deviate. (H. Jisri, R. Hamidiyya, 626)
13 H. Jisri, ibid, 627
14 See Aal-i Imran, 44; H. Jisri, ibid, 627
15 Aal-i Imran, 37.
16 Verse 37 of the chapter of Aal-i Imran stating that Maryam was given sustenance by Allah is clear evidence that karamah occurs from saints. For, Hz. Maryam was not a prophet but she received something extraordinary from Allah. Miracles can be shown only by prophets; the extraordinary things that occur related to other people by the permission of Allah are called karamah. According to Ahl as-Sunnah creed, karamah by a saint is possible and true.
However, the sect of Mu’tazila, one of the deviant sects, denies karamah from saints. Therefore, they deny this karamah of Hz. Maryam’s. They say it may be a miracle of Hz. Zakariyya or an irhas (an extraordinary act or state of a prophet before he becomes a prophet).
According to the statement of Razi, if it had been a miracle of Hz. Zakariyya, he would have been aware of his miracle shown by him. Hz. Isa’s irhas does not prevent it from becoming a karamah of Hz. Maryam. (H. Jisri, ibid, 628)
17 Aal-i Imran, 38; M. Vehbi, ibid, II, 638.
18 Maryam, 3.
19 Maryam, 4.
20 Maryam, 5-6; al-Anbiya, 89
21 For the other reasons why Hz. Zakariyya made his prayer secretly, see M. Vehbi, ibid, VIII, 3187
22 M.Vehbi, ibid, VIII, 3188.
23 Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Lem’alar (Flashes), 222.
24 Maryam, 7; Aal-i Imran, 39.
25 Aal-i Imran, 40; Maryam, 8.
26 Maryam, 3; Aal-i Imran, 40
27 Maryam, 10; Aal-i Imran, 41
28 H. Jisri, ibid, 628
29 Maryam, 12
30 Maryam, 12
31 Maryam, 13
32 Maryam, 14
33 Maryam, 15
34 For detailed information, see M. Vehbi, ibid, VIII, 3198-3199
35 Aal-i Imran, 38; M.Vehbi, ibid, II, 592
36 Aal-i Imran 39;
37 Baydawi, II, 17
38 Aal-i Imran, 39
39 al-Anbiya, 90
40 al-Anbiya 90
41 al-Anbiya, 90
42 El-Ankebut, 23; Yusuf, 87
43 Bk: İşaratül-İcaz, 65
44 al-Anbiya, 90
45 Tajrid trnsl., IX, 167
46 at-Tahrim, 12; al-Anbiya 91
47 Aal-i Imran, 42-43
48 M. Vehbi, ibid, II, 596-597
49 See Ajluni, Kashf’ul-Khafa
50 Maryam, 16-17; M.Vehbi, ibid, VIII, 3200