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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 3 (Al-‘Imran - The Family of Amran) > Section 4 (Verses 31 to 41)


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Section/Ruku 4 [Verses 31 to 41]: Last members of a chosen race:
Chapter 3: (Al-‘Imran: The Family of Amran)
(Revealed at Madinah: 20 sections; 200 verses)

1. Translation:

31 Say: If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you,
a and grant you protection from your sins. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

32 Say: Obey Allah and the Messenger; but if they turn back, Allah surely loves not the disbelievers.

33 Truly Allah chose Adam and Noah and the descendants of Abraham and the descendents of Amran above the nations,a

34 Offspring, one of the other. And Allah is Hearing, Knowing.a

35 When a woman of Amrana said: My Lord, I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Thy service), so accept (it) from me; surely Thou, only Thou, art the Hearing, the Knowing.

36 So when she brought it forth, she said: My Lord, I have brought it forth a female — and Allah knew best what she brought fortha — and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Mary, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed devil.b

37 So her Lord accepted her with a goodly acceptance and made her grow up a goodly growing, and gave her into the charge of Zacharias. Whenever Zacharias entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found food with her. He said: O Mary, whence comes this to thee? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.a

38 There did Zacharias pray to his Lord. He said: My Lord, grant me from Thee goodly offspring; surely Thou art the Hearer of prayer.a

39 So the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah gives thee the good news of John,a verifying a word from Allah,b and honourable and chaste and a prophet from among the good ones.

40 He said: My Lord, how can I have a son when old age has already come upon me, and my wife is barren? He said: Even thus does Allah do what He pleases.a

41 He said: My Lord, appoint a sign for me. Said He: Thy sign is that thou speak not to men for three days except by signs.a And remember thy Lord much and glorify (Him) in the evening and early morning.

2. Commentary:

31a. The love of Allah is the great goal of life to which Islam leads. Compare John 14:15,16: “If ye love me keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever”; and John 15:10: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love”. This Comforter appeared in the person of the Holy Prophet. Elsewhere the Jews and the Christians are mentioned as calling themselves “the sons of Allah and His beloved ones” (5:18). They are told that they could become the beloved ones of Allah by following the Prophet. [Back to verse 31]

33a. With this section begins the story of Jesus Christ, the central figure of the Christian religion, and as a preliminary we are told that if Jesus was chosen by God so were his great ancestors, Adam and Noah. The descendants of Abraham and Amran are then spoken of as having been chosen above the nations. For the choice of the descendants of Abraham, see 2:124a. They are divided into two branches, the Israelites and the Ishmaelites. The former are here spoken of as the descendants of ‘Imran. ‘Imran of the Holy Qur’an is the same as Amran of the Bible. The descendants of Amran are Moses and Aaron. Moses became the founder of the Israelite law and Aaron the head of the Israelite priesthood. The last of this race were John and Jesus. Their parents are first spoken of here, viz. Zacharias and Mary. [Back to verse 33]

34a. Noah was a descendant of Adam, Abraham a descendant of Noah, and Amran and his descendants were the offspring of Abraham, not a separate race. The reason for mentioning them separately is twofold: (1) the immediate descendants of Amran became the founders of a great law in Israel, and the Israelite nation had, in fact, received a new birth with them, and (2) it was with the descendants of Amran that the Mosaic dispensation came to an end. [Back to verse 34]

35a. Imra’at means a woman and also a wife. I take imra’at ‘Imran as meaning a woman of the family of Amran, because the name of a great ancestor is frequently used to indicate the nation which has sprung from him. Thus Kedar stands for the Ishmaelites and Israel for the Israelites. This interpretation is in perfect accord with what is said in the previous verse as to the election of the descendants of Amran. The general statement is followed by a particular instance. The second instance also relates to one of the descendants of Amran, viz. John the Baptist, who was also of “priestly descent through both parents” (Bib. Dic., Cambridge University Press). Though we know very little regarding the parentage of Mary, yet the fact that she was, according to the only tradition that we have about her, devoted to the Temple from three to twelve years of age, shows clearly that she belonged to the priestly class. She is elsewhere called the sister of Aaron (19:28) and not a sister of Moses, for priesthood was an exclusive prerogative of the descendants of Aaron. In the Semitic languages the words ab (father), umm (mother), akh (brother), and ukht (sister) are used in a broad sense, and do not necessarily imply the very close relations of real father, mother, brother, and sister. Thus we have a saying of the Prophet in which he speaks of himself as the prayer of my father Abraham. Jesus was also addressed as “son of David”. According to tradition, however, ‘Imran was the name of Mary’s father, and therefore the words imra’t ‘Imran may mean the wife of ‘Imran. [Back to verse 35]

36a. The words and Allah knew best what she brought forth are parenthetical. She had vowed the child to be devoted to the service of the Temple, but a female could not do the priestly work. [Back to verse 36]

36b. Rajim is derived from the root rajm, meaning the throwing or casting of stones, and also reviling, cursing, driving away, expelling, cutting off from friendly intercourse (LL). It therefore signifies accursed or driven away from the Divine presence. This is what is implied here, and this is apparent from 38:78, where Satan is thus accosted: “And surely My curse is on thee to the day of Judgment”. The other significance of rajim, i.e., one pelted with stones, is not applicable here. It is noteworthy that Mary’s mother while praying for Mary prays also for her offspring, which shows that when she dedicated her daughter to the Temple she had never an idea that she would remain a virgin all her life. On the other hand, she entertained the hope that Mary would become a wife and mother. [Back to verse 36]

37a. There is nothing extraordinary in Mary’s reply to Zacharias’ question. The reply that she got sustenance from Allah is the reply of every devout person who believes that Allah is the sustainer of all, and that therefore all provision or sustenance comes from Him. As elsewhere: “And there is not a thing but with Us are the treasures of it, and We send it not down but in a known measure” (15:21). Mary being attached to the Temple, the worshippers would naturally bring gifts to her, and as it was through Divine grace that she received these gifts, she said that it was Allah Who gave her these things. [Back to verse 37]

38a. The devoutness of Mary raised in Zacharias a yearning for such virtuous offspring. Elsewhere he is described as praying for a son who should inherit the great qualities of Jacob, and in whom God might be well-pleased (19:6). [Back to verse 38]

39a. The Arabic word is Yahya (being from the root hayat, i.e. life), meaning he shall live. The Qur’an elsewhere states that Zacharias prayed to God, saying, I fear my kinsfolk after me, (19:5) the fear being no doubt due to their leading unrighteous lives. Hence the significance underlying the name Yahya was that he would not die in sin like his other relations. R gives the same explanation: He gave him this name (Yahya) because sin was not to bring about his death. [Back to verse 39]

39b. The promise given to Zacharias was a word from Allah, and John was the verifier of that word, because his birth brought about the fulfilment of the prophecy. A word from Allah, therefore, stands for a Divine prophecy; see also 6:34; 10:64. Somewhat similar to this explanation is the one given by Abu ‘Ubaidah who interprets kalimat-in min-Allah as meaning a book from Allah (Rz). In 66:12, speaking of Mary, it is said: “And she accepted the truth (saddaqat) of the words of her Lord and His Books, and she was of the obedient ones”. Just as John is the verifier (musaddiq) of a word from Allah, Mary is the verifier of the words of her Lord, meaning clearly the prophetic words of her Lord.

One other significance of the word kalimah as used in the Holy Qur’an is the creation of God. Thus in 18:109 we have: “If the sea were ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would surely be exhausted before the words of my Lord were exhausted, though We brought the like of it to add thereto”. A similar statement is made in 31:27, and in both places it is clear that the words of the Lord signify His creation. [Back to verse 39]

40a. There is no disbelief on the part of Zacharias. It is simply an expression of wonder as to how a son can be born to him, for he had already reached a very old age. [Back to verse 40]

41a. The Qur’an does not say that Zacharias became dumb. He was only commanded not to talk to men for three days, remembering Allah much during the time. [Back to verse 41]

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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 3 (Al-‘Imran - The Family of Amran) > Section 4 (Verses 31 to 41)


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