The Real ‘Miss Universe’: Maryam Bint `Imran

بسم اللّٰہ الرحمٰن الرحیم

And another one; another friend of mine recently named her baby girl “Maryam”. I reflect upon how many friends named “Maryam” I have. And why not, indeed? It is a name oft-mentioned in the Quran in a tremendously positive light, with a chapter/surah having it as its title. For women, for all time to come, Allah has mentioned Maryam Bint `Imran, a pious woman from the Bani Israel, as a an example serving to be a beacon of light highlighting positive feminine characteristics and modest character.

The word “Maryam” has Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic origins, and literally means, “pious, chaste”, or, according to other sources, “bitter sea”, or “wished-for child”. Its Hebrew counterpart is “Miriam“. In Egyptian, it may have been derived from Mry, meaning “beloved”.

The Quran mentions several traits about Maryam Bint `Imran that highlight her high status. Below I have tried to highlight these traits so that we can endeavor to adopt them for ourselves, and also to appreciate those simple yet valuable women in our lives who possess these traits yet we sometimes undermine them.

She and her future progeny were given into Allah’s protection from Satan by her mother

فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتْهَا قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَضَعْتُهَا أُنثَى وَاللّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتْ وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالأُنثَى وَإِنِّي سَمَّيْتُهَا مَرْيَمَ وِإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّيَّتَهَا مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ

But when she had given birth to the child, she said: “O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while Allah had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female – “and I have named her Maryam. And, verily, I seek Your protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.” [3:36]

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As I mentioned in my last post, when a woman is expecting her baby, she should start its moral “tarbiyah” or religious training. The foremost way of doing this is by connecting closely to Allah in worship and prayer, and dedicating the foetus for Allah’s cause even before its birth. Maryam’s mother gave the baby in her womb, as well its succeeding generations/offspring, into Allah’s protection from Satan. How wise she was; what foresight she possessed! Truly, she realized the worth of pious offspring  and the pivotal role of the mother in shaping the religious inclination/affiliation of a baby.

Allah made her grow up beautifully, and she was cared for by a Prophet, Zakariyya [عليه السلام]. Allah provided her with eatables for nourishment Himself

فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِندَهَا رِزْقاً قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّى لَكِ هَـذَا قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللّهِ إنَّ اللّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاء بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

And thereupon her Sustainer accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth, and placed her in the care of Zakariyya. Whenever Zakariyya visited her in the sanctuary, he found her provided with food. He would ask: “O Maryam, whence came this unto you?” She would answer: “It is from Allah; behold, Allah grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond measure.” [3:37]

Because of the pure intention of her mother, Allah accepted her nadhar (of her child). After Maryam was born, she was raised in a beautiful way by Allah, and was given into the caretaking of Prophet Zakariyya. In another place in the Quran, Allah mentions how lots were drawn by those who wanted to take care of the little girl [3:44] – which was won by Prophet Zakarriya [عليه السلام].

Isn’t it a sign of how fortunate she was, that people were drawing lots/vying to take her into their care after her birth? This blessing, too, was from Allah, who “took care” of her from the moment she came into this world.

Contrast this to the rampant attitude many, if not most, Muslims have towards the birth of a girl, especially if she is their first child. Girls are considered financial burdens; “liabilities” to be provided for and protected; investments supposedly ‘wasted’ as they do not grow up to work and bring in income for their families (not so much any more, though). Contrast that to how Maryam was received in this world. And then ponder on how a pregnant mother’s pious intentions and prayers for her unborn child go a long, long way in favor of that child’s good fortune in Deen, not just in this world (as continuation of pious progeny) but also regarding their ultimate success in the Hereafter.

Another special blessing for her was her being constantly provided with food/drink in the synagogue where she eventually worshipped. So much so that Prophet Zakarriya [عليه السلام] asked her in awe, “From where does this come for you?”. Maryam’s trust in Allah and strong faith is apparent in her response, “It is from Allah” – but she didnot stop there; she went on to state a poignant fact that most women tend to forget or overlook along the trying and traversing paths of their lives, “Inded Allah provides for whom He wants, without measure”. The words بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ that she uttered show us how we, mere mortals with limited logic, thinking and reasoning, tend to undermine Allah’s immense, omnipotent and limitless capacity to do whatever He wishes.

For example, when we “plan” to have a baby, we tend to calculate how we will “provide” for it over the course of decades, predicting our future career progressions, savings and expenses over the years. Whilst planning is important, we should not forget that Allah is the One who provides, not our jobs or careers. If we lose our job or if someone in our family dies, or other unforeseen events decreed for us take place e.g. migration, war, natural calamities or illness, we should remember that it is Allah who provides by creating new opportunities for us, bringing us into contact with new people/helpers, and by creating sources for our income from places or realms we never previously imagined! That is why, when a baby comes into this world, it is important to remember that, plan all we may, its Creator will provide for it from means that we perhaps have not even imagined yet – and more importantly, that Allah can provide “without measure”, while our jobs or incomes are always within measurable limits.

She was chosen and purified by Allah – chosen over women of all  the worlds

وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلاَئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَى نِسَاء الْعَالَمِينَ

And lo! The angels said: “O Mary!am Behold, Allah has elected you and made you pure, and raised you above all the women of the world. [3:42]

What greater honor could there be for any woman than (i) to be chosen by Allah and to be “purified” by Him, and (ii) to be given preference over the women of all the worlds? Really, is there any greater “crown” or glory? This woman was not touched by any man! And today, the deceptive, so-called glamorous world of media and fashion “crowns” women on the basis of their physical attributes and shallow, “made up”, outward appearances, which they display for the world to see and ‘judge’. How far from the truth are the world’s beauty pageants and how sad is the way they deceive the young girls of every generation to compete for the wrong crown; the wrong glory!

She was told to be obedient towards Allah; to prostrate and bow (in worship) along with the (other) worshippers

يَا مَرْيَمُ اقْنُتِي لِرَبِّكِ وَاسْجُدِي وَارْكَعِي مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ

O Maryam! Remain you truly devout unto your Sustainer, and prostrate yourself in worship, and bow down with those who bow down [before Him].” [3:43]

The high honor came with responsibility. Maryam’s pure and lofty state entailed absolute submission to Allah; obedience to His commands, and worship along with the other worshippers. Maryam was chosen for devout worship during an era when only men did this – dedicated their lives to Allah’s worship – in the synagogue.

She was given glad tidings of offspring who would be honorable in the world and among Allah’s near ones in the Hereafter

إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ

Lo! The angels said: “O Maryam! Behold, Allah sends you the glad tiding, through a word from Him, [of a son] who shall become known as `Iesa Ibn Maryam, of great honour in this world and in the life to come, and [shall be] of those who are drawn near unto Allah. [3:45]

As a further responsiblity for Maryam in her role of being chosen and purified by Allah was for her to bear a son who would go on to become a very special Prophet. Further, this was to happen miraculously – in that she would not be touched by any man i.e. she would not marry, but would give birth as a virgin. This was a “glad” tiding for her from Allah, as the above verse states. However, it is obvious that even these glad tidings would entail tremendous pain and sacrifice on her part, as we can only imagine by putting ourselves in her shoes for a moment.

Imagine a girl devout in worship who spent all her time away from the company of men, and guarded herself against any relationships with them: “How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?” [19:20]. When she was chosen by Allah, this special “crown” entailed getting pregnant, having to hide from the people as her pregnancy began to show, and answer their questions about the father of her child in the future, not to mention retire to a secluded place to give birth all alone!

A poignant lesson for us from this story is that sometimes, our pain, hardship and sacrifice, especially that related to getting pregnant and giving birth, indicates the pleasure of our Creator with us. For surely, when Allah is pleased with a slave of His, He tests him; sometimes, His tests push us to limits of patience and strong will we never knew we could reach!

Allah has confirmed her truthfulness in the Quran – a testimony in her favor till the end of time

مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلاَّ رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ كَانَا يَأْكُلاَنِ الطَّعَامَ انظُرْ كَيْفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الآيَاتِ ثُمَّ انظُرْ أَنَّى يُؤْفَكُونَ

`Iesa son of Maryam, was but a messenger; all [other] messengers had passed away before him; and his mother was one who never deviated from the truth; and they both ate food [like other mortals]. Behold how clear We make these messages unto them: and then behold how they are turned away! [5:75]

In Surah Al- Maidah, Allah calls Maryam Bint `Imran a “Siddeeqa“. Why? Firstly, because she was slandered by the Bani `Israel when she gave birth to a Prophet – a baby who spoke up in the cradle testifying to his Prophethood, defending her against their vicious attacking questions. She was accused of having committed illegal sexual intercourse; of shaming her family/lineage: “O sister of Haroon! Your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother a woman unchaste!” [19:28] Allah calls her a truthful woman in the above verse, who never deviated from the truth either in word or deed, defending her against what the Bani `Israel accused her of.

Secondly, we should ponder on why Allah didnot call her “صَادِقة” – but rather “صِدِّيقَة“. The former means “a woman true in word“; the latter means “a truthful woman who also confirms the truth of something; testifies that something is true“. By believing in Allah’s words and His Divine Books, she confirmed the truth of His scriptures, and proved that she confirmed them by dedicating her time to worship of her Creator, as the last verse cited in this article (coming below) will prove.

Allah has ordained her mention in His Glorious Book

وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتَابِ مَرْيَمَ إِذِ انتَبَذَتْ مِنْ أَهْلِهَا مَكَانًا شَرْقِيًّا

And make mention of Maryam in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East. [19:16]

Allah commands Prophet Muhammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم] to make mention of Maryam Bint `Imran in His Glorious Book, the Qur’an, and the mention is in particular about the hardship she went through for His sake, when she isolated herself in a far away place as the birth of her fatherless child became imminent. Thousands of years ago, this chaste young woman hid away from her people, probably very scared about what was to come ahead for her. At that point in her life, despite being alone, so to speak, she probably would never have guessed that the One who was testing her would record, and eventually make millions of His believing servants (followers of Islam) remember as well as recite this trial of hers, and her resultant actions of pain and fortitude, in His Book/Divine revelation, for all time to come.

Another medal for her, therefore, was Allah commanding the best of His Prophets to mention her difficult and miraculous childbirth experience in His Book.

Allah has twice called her “the woman who guarded her private parts” viz. who protected herself from illegal sexual intercourse

وَالَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهَا مِن رُّوحِنَا وَجَعَلْنَاهَا وَابْنَهَا آيَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ

And she who was chaste, therefor We breathed into her (something) of Our spirit and made her and her son a sign for (all) peoples. [21:91]

Hands down the best way Allah has praised Maryam Bint `Imran in the Quran, is by mentioning twice in it that she was “the woman who protected her private parts“. If a woman protects this part of her anatomy adequately, she remains chaste, unless some man forces himself upon her. In a non-literal sense, the phrase highlighted above testifies that Maryam was a virgin when she became pregnant. Allah Himself is confirming her truthfulness, when she claimed that no man had ever touched her viz. she had never had sexual intercourse.

Further, she and her son were made a clear proof or sign for all the worlds. Her son spoke in his cradle and performed other miracles with Allah’s permission.

Allah made her and her son “clear signs”/”proofs” for the worlds, and provided them safe shelter

وَجَعَلْنَا ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَأُمَّهُ آيَةً وَآوَيْنَاهُمَا إِلَى رَبْوَةٍ ذَاتِ قَرَارٍ وَمَعِينٍ

And We made the son of Maryam and his mother a sign, and We gave them refuge on a height, a place of flocks and water springs. [23:50]

In addition to being made an “ayah” for the worlds, Maryam Bint `Imran and her son `Iesa Ibn Maryam were provided shelter by Allah in a lofty place that had abundant provision for them both i.e. sweet water springs, peace and security. Once again, notice how Allah provided for her – dwelling and food – just as He had done so after her birth and beyond, as she grew up. For all those parents who “worry” about their daughters incessantly, especially the latter’s future (after they, their parents, are gone from this world) the Quran thus provides lessons in faith and complete trust in Allah.

He is the Provider of all of His slaves – male or female – and even if a woman ends up all alone in the world with no mahrum, Allah will be sufficient for her, since He created her.

Allah testifies that she confirmed His pure words and His Books, and was among the devout servants

وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ

And Maryam Bint ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants). [66:12]

This verse above again mentions how Maryam protected her private parts i.e was chaste.

Further, Allah mentions two more of her glorious qualities/actions: (i) She confirmed her Lord’s words and His Divine Books, and (ii) She was one of the very devout ones towards Allah. The word قانت means the one who is obedient, especially one who is constantly obedient and submissive. Bring to mind another verse in the Quran that describes the foremost quality of فالصَّالحَات (“So the righteous women”) as them being قانتَات – devoutly obedient women [4:34]. The way Allah has highlighted these two of her qualities indirectly gives women today the incentive to rush towards confirming the truth of Allah’s words and to obey Him submissively, even if we cannot at first comprehend the wisdom behind His commands. This is because He loves women who are devoutly obedient.

When one ponders on the Quran, one finds out the reality behind the facade put forward by the  glitter and glamor of the life of this world. In this case, specifically, Allah’s words in the Quran regarding Maryam Bint `Imran show us what traits and actions He really appreciates and values in a woman – viz. what is true beauty; the true worth of a woman, and a young woman at that.

Women are at the apex of outer beauty for a mere short time in their lives – from their teens to thirties; hardly two decades, beyond which they start to show the effects of time on their bodies (the way men do too). However, nowadays, a woman’s worth revolves significantly around how well she maintains her physical beauty throughout life. This obssession with the physical outer appearance has made the world in general undermine the actual factors that make a woman truly worthy and, more importantly, beloved to Allah.

It is only by continuously reciting and pondering on the Quran that we can keep ourselves reminded of what the truth is, and perhaps not fret that much if we are doing the needful to please our Creator, by trying to embody the traits He has outlined for us in the Quran – traits that He loves – even if our hair starts to turn gray, or if we do not look like we just walked off the set of a glossy magazine photoshoot!

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21 responses to “The Real ‘Miss Universe’: Maryam Bint `Imran”

  1. ai says:

    Good article. I just want to point out it wasn’t neccessary to show pictures of those beauty queeen.Even thous their faces were not shown it leaves the mind to wander and imagine.

  2. Umm Bilqis says:

    Jazak’Allah khairan Sister, what a touching portrait of Maryam bint Imraan.
    Jazak’Allah khairan for highlighting what our priorities should be.
    May Allaah make us, and our children of the devout and pious. (My sister in law prayed for her last son whilst pregnant and He is serious in regards to worship, therefore I have seen this first hand. May Allaah bless them both.)
    May Allaah make us and our children of the those who bear witness to and confirm the truth of the Message. In addition to being those who are devoutly obedient.
    May Allaah make us of those who have yaqeen that it is He who gives provision for those that seek His bounty.

  3. Sh says:

    Awesome Article as always mashallah! Jazakallahu khayir!

  4. Mariam E. says:

    Asalamu Alikum

    wonderful article mashaAllah, jazaki Allah khayr.

  5. SISTER says:

    “Maryam was chosen for devout worship during an era when only men did this – dedicated their lives to Allah’s worship – in the synagogue.”

    Why is it that MEN always are able, and given far more chances, to outdo women in their worship and thus raise their rank with Allah (at least in the past)? As it says here, only men dedicated their lives to Allah’s worship………why couldn’t women have the chance to do this too (and doing so entails a successful life)?

    SOMEONE PLEASE ANSWER!!!!!!!!!!

    • Sayf says:

      It’s wrong to assume the man outranks the woman given the different circumstance, rather the woman could possibly get the same level of reward without such a task. Similar to how a woman gets the reward of the man going to the masjid by staying home.

      It’s the same as saying a millionaire gets more reward for donating 100$ than a poor person does for 10$.

    • Hassan says:

      “Maryam was chosen for devout worship during an era when only men did this – dedicated their lives to Allah’s worship – in the synagogue.”

      As it says here, only men dedicated their lives to Allah’s worship

      In the synagogue

    • Bushra says:

      I wouldn’t look too negatively at this. Women have been given the highest status in Islam anyway, that being the mother. According to the following hadith, women don’t even have to do too much to enter Jannah:

      “When a woman observes her five obligatory prayers, fasts during Ramadan, preserves her chastity and obeys her husband, she may enter by any gate of Paradise she wishes.”

      We don’t even have to go to the congregational prayer at the masjid, and it’s a recommendation for us to pray at home, thereby making life easy for us, because, let’s face it…it’s a bit of a mission to put on the entire hijab and jilbab (and niqab for those who wear it), get in the car and go to the masjid to stand in prayer when we can do that at home. And there have been several women in the past who dedicated their life to Allah(swt), some of them being the Prophet(saw)’s wives.

      I’m not sure what the exact situation was in the time of Maryam, but from what I understand, people were living amongst the Jews, who were of the opinion that people shouldn’t sit and eat with a menstruating woman, because she was considered impure. So if a menstruating Jewish woman isn’t allowed to sit and eat with her family, then how can she perform any acts of worship? She can’t. And that’s why you’ll find in general Biblical history that there were few women who spent their lives in the worship of God.

      Coming back to Islam…alhumdulillah, Islam has struck the middle ground. Again, I still don’t know what the exact situation was for Muslim women around the time of Maryam…it would require a deep study of the history of the shariah and fiqh and the rulings at those time. However, I can speak from what we’ve learnt from the Prophet(saw) about women engaging in worship, and alhumdulillah, there is nothing stopping us from doing that. In fact, we can even worship Allah(swt) even if we’re in the state of menstruation (we can’t do the usual acts of worship, such as praying, Umrah, fasting, etc, but we can dedicate ourselves to other forms of ibaadah). And to add to that, everything we do for our families is also some form of worship…as long as we don’t neglect our duties to our Lord.

      We can still do this now. There is nothing stopping us. Islam has made women unstoppable in the service of Allah(swt).

  6. uz says:

    mashallah amazing read…very informative n beneficial. i love the practical advices that were derived from the character and personality of beloved maryam alaihis salaam. jazakallah khair

  7. […] The Real Miss Universe: Maryam bint ‘Imran […]

  8. xainab says:

    This analogy is in very poor taste and such examples should be scrupulously avoided. The term “Miss Universe” implies nudity, vulgarity and exploitation of women. How can a Muslim ever think of comparing Hazrat Maryam Bint Imran (Peace be upon Her), mother of Hazrat Essa (Peace be upon Him), who has been described as having been awarded a degree of superiority over all women by Allah (SWT) Himself, to a miss universe.

    • The analogy being constructed is not between her and the women of this world – viz. beauty pageant contestants/winners – but rather between the set of values or qualities that Allah, as opposed to testosterone-charged worldly judges, awarded a woman for. The sheer contrast between the traits that won approval or award with Allah, on the basis of which He chose the chaste Maryam Bint `Imran over all other women, and those on which human beings give yearly, glamorized, overhyped awards to a woman after choosing her over others solely on the basis of outer beauty, is being highlighted.
      Regardless, I respect your opinion.

  9. yorlin zelaya says:

    Hello,
    To start of I{m not muslim. My cusin is and he was the one that sent me this article. What a read! It is amaizing and refreshing to find someone still interested in what God (Allah) has done to show his children(even the misguided) the he is great and powerful! It wasant until I became pregnant with my girl that I started to be more … well involved in Allah{s words. Keep on providing us ignorants with your knolwdge! Again great article and may Allah keep you in his merci!
    sincerely,
    Yorlin (catholic)

  10. </stro
    Asalam u alaykum warahmatulah i wabarakatuh
    that was really interesting and beutiful jazakallah u khairan

  11. Brian says:

    I’m surprised there wasn’t more about the child. Seems to me that the child without a father might be a key factor in understanding Maryam’s character. Surely something about his life, about his role as prophet, about his connection to her as his mother would be helpful.

    • Sadaf says:

      That in itself is such an important topic Brian. Sadaf’s focus in this article was specifically on one of the greatest women of mankind.

  12. kishwar says:

    just love every article u right sadaf…
    mashaAllah and jazakAllah
    May Allah bless u always!!

  13. Sadaf says:

    Fantastic article Sadaf. My daughter is also named Maryam. I’d like to share this with her too. We’re currently studying the verses about Hazrat Maryam in Ale-Imran so I enjoyed your write up even more. JazakAllah khairun.

  14. miriam says:

    Peace to you all I am a devout christian But I have really enjoyed this article.I guess Miriam(Maryam bint Imran) is a great source of inspiration for both muslim and christian women and girls.I also see her figure as a bridge into the muslim-christian dialogue.

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