This surah begins much like the gospel of Luke--by telling about the birth of John the Baptist. John's father Zachariah was a priest of Israel who wanted a son and heir. The problem was that he and his wife were too old for having children. Nevertheless, God gave them a special son--John (the Baptist).
Then the surah tells of another miraculous birth--the birth of Jesus. This story differs from the gospel accounts in two interesting ways. First, Mary went alone into the wilderness to give birth to Jesus, where God provided a stream and date palms to nourish her. Second, after Mary (who was a virgin) miraculously gave birth to the baby Jesus, the people of her hometown judged and criticized her, calling her unchaste. They did not believe the whole "miraculous conception" thing, and who could blame them? It was a pretty incredible story. But then something amazing happened. The newborn baby Jesus actually spoke to the unbelievers, silencing them! Newborn baby Jesus said:
"I am a servant 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."
Baby Jesus was one articulate baby! Anyway, the surah goes on to tell about other prophets--some from the Bible, some from Arabic tradition: Abraham, Moses, Ismael, Idris, and others. The main theme of these stories is that each of these prophets believed in the one God, and shunned idolatry. Belief in God and following his commandments (delivered through the prophets) are crucial for human salvation, according to the Qur'an. Those who believe go to paradise. Those who do not go to hell. It's a pretty dualistic worldview, like Christianity.
|Persian miniature paintings depicting Mary, an important figure in Islam.|