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Lessons from Prophet Isa (AS) : the first speech of Jesus

As parts of the country, including this region, enter Tier 3, very high alert, because of coronavirus risk and we have heard about further strains of Covid-19 which have been discovered during this winter season, we are reminded about a special Prophet who was given the permission by Allah(SWT) to heal the leper when there was no known cure, restore sight to the blind and even give life to the dead.

The story of Prophet Isa – Jesus – (AS) is mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an. He and his mother, Maryam – Mary – (AS), are presented as great role models to be loved and honoured. As Muslims we believe that Jesus is a great Prophet who, like all the Prophets, called to the worship of Allah(SWT) alone. Today, I’d like to reflect on his opening words as recorded in the Qur’an.

Ali Ibn Abi Talib(RA) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: “The best of the world’s women is Mary (in her lifetime), and the best of the world’s women is Khadija (in her lifetime).” (Sahih Al-Bukhari).

Imam Suhaib Webb shares his personal experience of opening the Qur’an for the first time and being shocked to find that, rather than attacking Jesus and Mary, a whole chapter had been dedicated to Mary – the 19th chapter. When he read the first 40 aayaat of this surah to his mother in English, and his mother was a devout Christian – she began to cry and said “this is from God” and that sparked his interest and ultimately led to him becoming Muslim.

Imam Ibn Kathir(rh) details the miraculous birth of Isa(AS) in his Stories of the Prophets. While Mary was praying in her temple, an angel in the form of a man appeared before her. Filled with terror, she tried to flee, praying: “Verily! I seek refuge with the Most Beneficent (Allah) from you, if you do fear Allah.” The angel replied: “I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son (ghulaman zakiyyaa).” [Surah Maryam 19:18-21]

The angel’s visit caused Mary great anxiety, which increased as the months went by. How could she face giving birth to a child without having a husband? Later, she felt life kicking inside her. With a heavy heart, she left the temple and went to Nazareth, the city in which she had been born where she settled in a simple farm house to avoid the public.

But fear and anxiety did not leave her. She was from a noble and pious family. Her father had not been an evil man nor was her mother an impure woman. How could she prevent tongues from wagging about her honour? After some months, she could not bear the mental strain any longer. Burdened with a heavy womb, she left Nazareth, not knowing where to go to be away from this depressing atmosphere.

She had not gone far, when she was overtaken by the pains of child birth. She saw down against a dry palm tree, and here she gave birth to a son. Looking at her beautiful baby, she was hurt that she had brought him into the world without a father. She exclaimed: “I wish I had died before this happened and had vanished into nothingness!”

Suddenly, she heard a voice nearby: “Grieve not, your Lord has placed a stream below, and shake the trunk of this tree, from which ripe dates will fall. So eat and drink and regain the strength you have lost; and be of good cheer, for what you see is the power of Allah, Who made the dry palm tree regain life, in order to provide food for you.” For a while she was comforted by Allah’s miracle, for it was a sure sign of her innocence and purity.

She decided to return to the city. However, her fears also returned. What was she going to tell the people? As if sharing his mother’s worry, the baby began to speak: “If you meet any person say: ‘I have vowed to fast for The Beneficent and may not speak to any human today.'” With this miracle, Mary felt at ease.

The people were shocked when they came to know of Mary’s giving birth to a child asking: “Can a tree come to grow without a seed?” She said: “Yes, the one which Allah created for the first time.” They then asked: “Is it possible to bear a child without a male partner?” She said: “Yes, Allah, created Adam without male or female!”

As she had expected, her arrival in the city with a newborn baby in her arms aroused the curiosity of the people. They scolded her: “This is a terrible sin that you have committed.” She put her finger to her lips and pointed to the child. They asked: “How can we speak to a newborn baby?” To their total amazement, the child began to speak clearly: ““[Jesus] said, ‘I am a slave of God.  He has granted me the Scripture; made me a prophet; made me blessed wherever I may be.  He commanded me to pray, to give alms as long as I live, to cherish my mother.  He did not make me domineering or graceless.  Peace was on me the day I was born, and will be on me the day I die and the day I am raised to life again.’ Such was Jesus, son of Mary.” (Quran Surah Maryam 19 : Aayaat 30-34)

There are many lessons we can take from this including:

I am the servant of God These were the first words of Isa(AS), despite the fact he was truly sinless, articulate and wise in the cradle. Why? To maintain humility. Because a humble person will not oppress others. A humble person will not disrespect others. Its said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. If you want to rise, then begin by descending and laying the first foundation of humility as you put your face on the ground before Allah(SWT) – that is success.

It’s not about how many followers you have or how much your posts are shared, your photo taken or your voice acknowledged. In fact, Isa(AS) had only a small number of followers. But this was never the measure of success.  The hearts of people lie in the hands of God.  We are only asked to convey.  And that is why despite the few number of immediate companions, he has been one of the five great prophets in history.

Slavery is the greatest honor The word slavery has very negative connotations in human history, and rightly so.  However, every one of us is a slave – to fashion, social media fame, friends, work, money, sports. Islam came to take people from being slaves to other people to be enslaved to God.  And the greatest honour for any human being is to willingly enslave oneself to Allah(SWT).  The prophets were honoured because they were the best in their slavery to God.  And that is our most important identity—we are slaves of God.

Follow the script if you want a blessed life Isa(AS) mentions that he has been given the Scripture – AATAANIYAL KITAAB – and that he has been made a prophet and that he is blessed wherever he is.  This is an indication to us that the closer we are to the Scripture that God has sent (the Quran) and to the ways of our prophets, the more blessed we shall be wherever we are.  So when you’re asking yourself why you work so hard but nothing remains or you give so much to your children but they return it with disrespect, ask yourself what is causing the blessing to slip out of your life. Rather than being guided (mostly confused) by fake news spread on whatsapp, twitter and social media, spend some time reading, in a language you understand, the Qur’an and reflecting on this direct message to you from Allah(SWT)

Knowledge leads to action Isa(AS) was the best person of his time.  He knew the Scripture and he was a prophet.  And yet immediately after, he mentioned that he has been commanded to pray and to give charity.  Beneficial knowledge always leads to positive action – purifying ones self through prayer and helping those in need through charity.

Give better than you get Good manners are the hallmark of Islam. Despite his mother being insulted and scored, Isa(AS) does not respond like them. The Prophet (SAW) taught us that “Nothing is heavier on the balance of good deeds on the Day of Judgement than good manners.” Among the greatest of deeds that we can do is to have good manners.  It is also particularly important here because even though the people said very horrible things about his mother, he responded with grace and authority that was not demeaning anyone.  He did not respond fire with fire.  He responded to ill-speech with beautiful speech. Darkness cannot drive out darkness – only light can do that. Sadly, our lack of ability to effectively communicate leads to raw, emotional outbursts which only cause disruption and sometimes, even violence.

Your mother, your mother, your mother In the midst of all of this hard talk, Jesus found time to mention that he has been made dutiful to his mother.  There is no other person more important in our lives than our mother.  No human relationship more sacred.  No one is more deserving of our love and obedience.  They are our easiest road to Paradise.  They are the ones that will always have a place for us.

Be mindful of God and obey me.  Allah (God) is my Lord and your Lord, so serve Him—this is the straight path.” (Quran 3:51)

The straight path is simple We do not need to complicate matters.  The Straight Path is simple—God is our Lord and we obey Him.  We need to willingly accept that we are His slaves and that His guidance for us is what is truly best for us. We need to remind ourselves of that in our everyday dealings and at every step ask ourselves. Simply ask this question – “This thing I am about to do, watch or eat – will it please Allah(SWT)?”

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