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The Real ‘Miss Universe’: Maryam Bint `Imran

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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]

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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Sadaf Farooqi is a postgraduate in Computer Science who has done the Taleem Al-Quran Course from Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education for Women, in Karachi, Pakistan.11 years on, she is now a homeschooling parent of three children, a blogger, published author and freelance writer. She has written articles regularly for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine and Saudi Gazette.Sadaf shares her life experiences and insights on her award-winning blog, Sadaf's Space, and intermittently teaches subjects such as Fiqh of Zakah, Aqeedah, Arabic Grammar, and Science of Hadith part-time at a local branch of Al-Huda. She has recently become a published author of a book titled 'Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage'.For most part, her Jihad bil Qalam involves juggling work around persistent power breakdowns and preventing six chubby little hands from her computer! Even though it may not seem so, most of her time is spent not in doing all this, but in what she loves most - reading.



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    August 4, 2010 at 4:21 AM

    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.

    • Avatar


      August 4, 2010 at 8:02 AM

      “it wasn’t neccessary to show pictures of those beauty queeen”……..felt the same too…

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    Umm Bilqis

    August 4, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    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.

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    August 4, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    Awesome Article as always mashallah! Jazakallahu khayir!

  4. Avatar

    Mariam E.

    August 4, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    Asalamu Alikum

    wonderful article mashaAllah, jazaki Allah khayr.

  5. Avatar


    August 5, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    “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)?


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      August 5, 2010 at 6:34 PM

      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$.

    • Avatar


      August 5, 2010 at 9:43 PM

      “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

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      August 6, 2010 at 6:34 AM

      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).

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    August 6, 2010 at 3:49 AM

    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. Pingback: Cool Things From the Blogosphere « Random Reflections

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    August 9, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    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.

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      Sadaf Farooqi

      September 8, 2010 at 11:03 AM

      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.

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    yorlin zelaya

    August 24, 2010 at 7:17 PM

    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!
    Yorlin (catholic)

    • Avatar

      Sadaf Farooqi

      September 8, 2010 at 11:05 AM

      Thanks for giving us your input, Yorlin. I am glad that the article was of benefit to you. :)

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    September 24, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    Asalam u alaykum warahmatulah i wabarakatuh
    that was really interesting and beutiful jazakallah u khairan

  11. Avatar


    October 12, 2010 at 6:23 AM

    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.

    • Avatar


      January 26, 2011 at 10:41 AM

      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. Avatar


    November 27, 2010 at 1:58 AM

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

  13. Avatar


    January 26, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    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. Avatar


    December 19, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    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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He Catches Me When I Fall: A Journey To Tawakkul

Tawakkul- a leaf falling
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While discussing an emotionally-heavy issue, my therapist brought up the point that in life we can reach a point of acceptance in regards to our difficult issues: “It sounds cliche, but there’s no other way to say it: it is what it is.”

Okay, I thought, as I listened. Acceptance. Yes, I can do this eventually. She went on to add: “It is what it is, and I know that everything will be okay.””

Tears had already been flowing, but by this point, full-blown sobs started. “I…can’t….seem…to ever…believe that.” There. I had said it. I had faked being confident and accepting, even to myself. I had faked the whole, “I have these health problems, but I am so together” type of vibe that I had been putting out for years.

Maybe it was the hormones of a third pregnancy, confronting the realities of life with multiple chronic diseases, family problems, or perhaps a midlife crisis: but at that moment, I did not feel deep in my heart with true conviction that everything would be okay.

That conversation led me to reflect on the concept of tawakkul in the following weeks and months. What did it mean to have true trust in Allah? And why was it that for years I smiled and said, “Alhamdulillah, I’m coping just fine!” when in reality, the harsh truth was that I felt like I had not an ounce of tawakkul?

I had led myself to believe that denying my grief and slapping a smile on was tawakkul. I was being outwardly cheerful — I even made jokes about my life with Multiple Sclerosis — and I liked to think I was functioning all right. Until I wasn’t.

You see, the body doesn’t lie. You can tell all the lies you want to with your tongue, but after some time, the body will let you know that it’s holding oceans of grief, unshed tears, and unhealed traumas. And that period of my life is a tale for another time.

The short story is that things came to a head and I suddenly felt utterly overwhelmed and terrified daily about my future with a potentially disabling disease, while being diagnosed with a second major chronic illness, all while caring for a newborn along with my other children. Panic attacks and severe anxiety ensued. When I realized that I didn’t have true tawakkul, I had to reflect and find my way again.

I thought about Yaqub (Jacob). I thought long and hard about his grief: “Yaa asafaa ‘alaa Yusuf!” “Oh, how great is my grief for Joseph!”

He wept until he was blind. And yet, he constantly asserted, “Wallahul-Musta’aan”: “Allah is the one whose help is sought.” And he believed.

Oh, how did he believe. His sons laughed and called him an old fool for grieving over a son lost for decades. He then lost another dear son, Binyamin. And yet he said, “Perhaps it will be that my Lord will bring them to me altogether.”

There is no sin in grief Click To Tweet

So my first realization was that there was no sin in the grief. I could indeed trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) while feeling a sorrow so profound that it ripped me apart at times. “The heart grieves and the eyes weep, but the tongue does not say that except which pleases its Lord. Oh, Ibrahim, we are gravely saddened by your passing.” These are the words of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) for a lost infant son, said with tears pouring down his blessed face, ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

I thought of the Year of Grief, Aamul-Huzn, when he, Allah’s peace be upon him, lost the woman who was the love of his life and the mother of his children; as well as an uncle who was like a father. The year was named after his grief! And here I was denying myself this human emotion because it somehow felt like a betrayal of true sabr?

Tawakkul, tawakkul, where are you? I searched for how I could feel it, truly feel it.Click To Tweet

Through years of introspection and then therapy, I realized that I had a personality that centered around control. I expressed this in various ways from trying to manage my siblings (curse of the firstborn), to trying to manage my childbirth and health. If I only did the “right” things, then I could have the perfect, “natural” birth and the perfect picture of health.

When I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, these illusions started to crack. And yet even then, I thought that if I did the right things, took the right supplements and alternative remedies and medications, that I wouldn’t have trouble with my MS.

See, when you think you control things and you attempt to micromanage everything, you’ve already lost tawakkul. You’ve taken the role of controlling the outcome upon yourself when in reality, your Lord is in control. It took a difficult time when I felt I was spiraling out of control for me to truly realize that I was not the master of my outcomes. Certainly, I would “tie my camel” and take my precautions, but then it was a matter of letting go.

At some point, I envisioned my experience of tawakkul as a free-fall. You know those trust exercises that you do at summer camps or company retreats? You fall back into the arms of someone and relinquish any control over your muscles. You are supposed to be limp and fully trust your partner to catch you.

I did this once with a youth group. After they fell–some gracefully and trusting, some not — I told them: “This is the example of tawakkul. Some of you didn’t trust and you tried to break your fall but some of you completely let go and let your partner catch you. Life will throw you down, it will hit you over and over, and you will fall–but He, subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), will be there to break your fall.”

I am falling. There is a degree of terror and sadness in the fall. But that point when through the pain and tears I can say, “It is what it is, and no matter what, everything will be okay”, that right there is the tranquility that comes from tawakkul.

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The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman

Janazah, funeral, legacy, Omar Suleiman, Edhi
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Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (may Allah be pleased with him) in the midst of the torture he endured at the hands of his oppressors used to say: baynana wa baynahum aljanaa’iz, which means, “the difference between us and them will show in our funerals.” The man who instigated the ideological deviation that led to his torture was an appointed judge named Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad.

At the moment of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal making those remarks, it appeared Imam Ahmad would die disgraced in a dungeon but Ahmad Ibn Abi Du’ad would have a state funeral with thousands of mourners. Instead, Imam Ahmad persevered through his struggle, was embraced by the people, and honored by Allah with the biggest Janazah ever known to the Arabs with millions of people pouring in from all over. Ahmad Ibn Abu Du’ad was cast aside and buried without anyone attending his janazah out of revulsion.

Now sometimes righteous people do die in isolation, and wicked people are given grand exits. There are people like Uthman Ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) who was murdered by the people of fitnah, then buried at night far away from the people out of fear of the large numbers that would’ve poured out to his janazah and potentially mobilized against his oppressors. But it may be that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) inspired Imam Ahmad with the vision to see his victory in this life before the next. To elaborate a bit on his statement though, allow me to reflect:

A wise man once said to me,

“Always put your funeral in front of you, and work backwards in constructing your life accordingly.” 

With the deaths of righteous people, that advice always advances to the front of my thoughts. When a person passes away, typically only good things will be said of them. But it’s important to pay attention to 2 aspects about those good things being said:

1. Is there congruence in the particular good quality being attested to about the deceased.

2. Are those good qualities being attested to actually truly of the deceased. 

The first one deals with consistency of character, the second one with sincerity of intention which is only known by the Creator and His servant. In regards to the first one, take our sister Hodan Nalayeh (may Allah have mercy on her) who was murdered tragically last week in a terrorist attack in Somalia. Everyone that spoke of her said practically the same thing about how she interacted with them and/or benefitted them. There is complete harmony with all of the testimonies about her. And in that case we all become the witnesses of our sister on the day of judgment, testifying to her good character.

For many that pass away, neither the deceased nor the community fully appreciates the way they benefitted others until that day. It was narrated that when Zainul Abideen Ali Ibn Al Husayn (may Allah be pleased with them), the great grandson of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) passed away, he had marks on his shoulders from the bags he used to carry to the doorsteps of the poor at night when no one else was watching. The narrations state that the people of Madinah used to live off his charity not knowing the source of it until his death.

How many people will miss you when you die because of the joy you brought to their lives? How many of those that you comforted when they were abandoned by others? That you spent on when they were deprived by others? That you advocated for when they were oppressed by others? 

Will your family miss you because of an empty bed in the home or a deep void in their hearts? Will it be the loss of your spending only that grieves them, or the loss of your smile? Will it be the loss of the stability you provided them only, or the loss of your service and sacrifices for them?

But Zainul Abideen didn’t care for the recipients of his charity to know that he was the source of it, because He was fully in tune with it’s true Divine source. He didn’t want to be thanked in this world, but in the next. He didn’t want the eulogy, he wanted Eternity. 

He understood that if you become distracted by the allure of this world, you may merely become of it. Focus on bettering the future which you cannot escape, rather than the present that you cannot dictate. Focus on the interview with the One who needs no resume, rather than the judgments of those who are just as disposable as you. 

اللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْ خَيْرَ زَمَانِيْ آخِرَهُ، وَخَيْرَ عَمَلِيْ خَوَاتِمَهُ، وَخَيْرَ أَيَّامِيْ يِوْمَ أَلقَاكَ

“O Allah, let the best of my lifetime be its ending, and my best deed be that which I seal [my life with], and the best of my days the day I meet You.”

Which brings us to the second aspect of your funeral, the sincerity of the good you’re being praised for. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “increase your remembrance of the destroyer of pleasures.” Death only destroys the temporary pleasures of this world, not the pleasure of the Most Merciful in the next. Keeping that in perspective will help you work towards that without being distracted. If it is the praise of the people you seek, that is as temporary as the world that occupies both your worldly vehicle ie. your body, and your companions in this world who shall perish soon after you.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned the one who passes away with the people lavishing praise on him that he is unworthy of. In a narration in Al Tirmidhi, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “No one dies and they stand over him crying and saying: ‘Oh what a great man he was! Oh how honored he was!’ except that two angels are appointed for him to poke him and say: Is that really you?”

But if it is Allah’s praise that you sought all along, the deeds that you put forth shall await you in your grave in the form of heavenly ornaments. Those that were known to the community, those that were known to only a select few, and those that were known by no one but Allah and you.

May Allah give us all a good ending, and an even better eternity.

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The Spirituality Of Gratitude

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The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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