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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 5 (Verses 42 to 54)



Section/Ruku 5 [Verses 42 to 54]: Birth of Jesus and his ministry:
Chapter 3: (Al-‘Imran: The Family of Amran)
(Revealed at Madinah: 20 sections; 200 verses)

1. Translation:

42 And when the angels said: O Mary, surely Allah has chosen thee and purified thee and chosen thee above the women of the world.

43 O Mary, be obedient to thy Lord and humble thyself and bow down with those who bow.a

44 This is of the tidings of things unseen which We reveal to thee. And thou wast not with them when they cast their pens (to decide) which of them should have Mary in his charge, and thou wast not with them when they contended one with another.a

45 When the angels said: O Mary, surely Allah gives thee good news with a word from Hima (of one) whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary,b worthy of regard in this world and the Hereafter, and of those who are drawn nigh (to Allah),c

46 And he will speak to the people when in the cradle and when of old age, and (he will be) one of the good ones.a

47 She said: My Lord, how can I have a son and man has not yet touched me?a He said: Even so; Allah creates what He pleases. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, Be, and it is.

48 And He will teach him the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel:

49 And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission,a and I heal the blindb and the leprous, and bring the dead to lifec with Allah’s permission; and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses.d Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers.

50 And (I am) a verifier of that which is before me of the Torah, and I allow you part of that which was forbidden to you;a and I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to Allah and obey me.

51 Surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so serve Him. This is the right path.

52 But when Jesus perceived disbelief on their part, he said: Who will be my helpers in Allah’s way? The disciplesa said: We are Allah’s helpers: we believe in Allah, and bear thou witness that we are submitting ones.

53 Our Lord, we believe in that which Thou hast revealed and we follow the messenger, so write us down with those who bear witness.

54 And (the Jews) planned and Allah (also) planned.a And Allah is the best of planners.b

2. Commentary:

43a. After speaking of Mary’s birth (v. 36) and her growing up in righteousness in the temple under the care of Zacharias (v. 37), the Holy Qur’an now speaks of her election just as the righteous before her were elected. Evidently this refers to a time when she had grown up to the age of puberty and left the temple. [Back to verse 43]

44a. The commentators think that the reference is to v. 37 when Mary as a child was dedicated to the temple and that lots were then cast as a result of which Mary was given into the charge of Zacharias. But this is quite out of place. The Holy Qur’an has described her history in the natural order. Her mother conceives her (v. 35); she is born and named (v. 36); she is dedicated to and resides in the temple under the charge of Zacharias (v. 37). Here follows the narration of Zacharias praying for a righteous son when he sees the devoutness of Mary and vv. 38–41 are, as it were, parenthetical. The story of Mary is again taken up in v. 42 where her election is spoken of, which is undoubtedly the time when she attained to the age of discretion (vv. 42, 43). V. 44 cannot therefore refer back to her history as a child in the temple. In the natural order it refers to a much later period.

It will be noted that when Mary’s mother prayed for her at her birth (v. 36), she also prayed for her offspring and therefore she had evidently in mind the time when Mary would be married and become a mother. V. 45 clearly gives Mary news of the birth of a child and therefore the particular incident referred to in v. 44 is the incident of her espousal. The casting of lots and the contention as to who should have her in his charge could not mean anything but her charge as a wife. Luke 1:26, 27 makes it clear that Mary received the news of the birth of Jesus after her espousal with Joseph. In view of all these considerations, v. 44 cannot be taken but as referring to the espousal of Mary. Lots were evidently cast because as a child she had been dedicated to the temple, and it was now by a lot only that she could be given away in marriage. Mary’s history as narrated in the Gospels casts no light on these circumstances and hence the verse starts with the statement that this was an announcement relating to the unseen. In fact, the whole history of Mary and Jesus was enveloped in darkness until the Holy Qur’an announced their right position as two righteous servants of God and rejected both extreme views, the Jewish view that Jesus was conceived in sin and was illegitimate and the Christian view that he was God or Son of God Who had entered Mary’s womb. He was only what the Prophet described him to be in his controversy with the Najran deputation when he said to them: “Do you not know that Jesus was conceived by a woman in the manner in which all women conceive? Then she was delivered of him as women are delivered of their children? Then he was fed as children are fed. Then he ate food and drank water and answered the call of nature (as all mortals do)?” The deputation replied to all these questions in the affirmative, on which the Prophet said: “Then how can your claim (that he was God or Son of God) be true?” (IJ). The Prophet’s clear argument which even the Christian deputation could not question settles the matter that Jesus was conceived in the ordinary manner and that Mary became a wife and mother in the ordinary way. [Back to verse 44]

45a. The words bi-kalimat-in min-hu mean either with a word from Him or of a word from Him, but as kalimah means word or prophecy, and as the personal pronoun in ismu-hu stands for the masculine gender, while kalimah is in the feminine gender and requires the personal pronoun ha, the first meaning is adopted. The good news was given by means of a prophetic word from the Divine Being. Compare 15:54, 55, where Abraham’s question is answered thus: “They said, We give thee good news with truth,” where the object is understood, as in the words under discussion, the significance being we give thee good news (of a son) with truth. For further explanation of what is meant by kalimah, see 39b and 66:12a.

Commenting on v. 39, Rz observes: “The announcement (of Jesus’ advent) had been made in the books of the prophets before him, so when he came it was said, This is that prophetic word, and so he was called a word ”. In support of this he cites instances of such phrases as ja’a qauli and ja’a kalami, i.e. “my word came” or “my speech came”, when an event foretold by a person happens, the real significance of the phrases being that which I said or that of which I spoke has come about. This explanation shows that kalimah really applies to the prophecy.

One of the explanations given by R is that Jesus is here called a kalimah in the same sense as the Prophet is called dhikr (lit., a Reminder) in 65:10. [Back to verse 45]

45b. Three names are given for the child — Al-Masih, ‘Isa, and Ibn Maryam. The first of these is more a title than a name, being preceded by al. The literal significance of Masih is either one who travels much or one wiped over with some such thing as oil (LL). It is the same word as the Aramaic Messiah, which is said to mean the anointed. Jesus Christ is said to have been so called because he used to travel much (Rz, R), or because he was anointed with a pure blessed ointment with which the prophets are anointed (Rz). It is, however, the first significance, viz., that Masih means one who travels much that finds the foremost acceptance with the commentators as well as the lexicologists, and this lends support to the evidence recently discovered which shows that Jesus travelled in the East after his unfortunate experience at the hands of the Syrian Jews, and preached to the lost ten tribes of the Israelites who had settled in the East, in Afghanistan and Kashmir. ‘Isa is the Arabic form of the Hebrew Yoshua, Jesus being the Greek form of the same name; and Ibn Maryam, or son of Mary, is a surname. It is remarkable that the Qur’an makes no mention at all of Mary’s husband, and in this respect, these circumstances bear a strong resemblance to those connected with Moses’ birth, for there, too, no mention at all is made of Moses’ father. The mere fact, therefore, that there is no mention of Jesus’ father is not sufficient to show that Jesus had no father. Moreover, of his two parents Joseph and Mary, Mary was undoubtedly much more well-known than Joseph. [Back to verse 45]

45c. Those drawn nigh to Allah are not necessarily the angels, as some have thought. Compare 56:7–11, where men are divided into three classes, one of these being those drawn nigh, the same word muqarrabin being used in both cases. Hence Jesus is here placed only in the foremost line of the righteous servants of God. [Back to verse 45]

46a. Jesus throughout the Holy Qur’an is spoken of as “one of those drawn nigh,” “one of the righteous,” thus showing that he is regarded only as one of the prophets. As to speaking in the cradle and when of old age, neither of them can be considered a miracle. Every healthy child which is not dumb begins to talk when in the cradle, and speaking when of old age also shows that this speaking is the ordinary experience of every human being who is healthy, and lives to an old age. The good news consists in the fact that the child announced will be a healthy child and shall not die in childhood. According to Rz, the reason for mentioning Jesus speaking in childhood and old age is to show the change of condition of Jesus from childhood to old age, while change in the Divine Being is impossible.

Kahl is, according to R, he in whose hair hoariness or greyness has become intermixed. LL has, on the authority of Msb, T, and Mgh, that a man is kahl after he has attained the limit of being a shabb, which is variously fixed at 32, 40 and 51 years. The same authority gives the meaning of kahl as of middle age, or between that age and the period when his hair has become intermixed with hoariness. It would thus appear that, according to the Holy Qur’an, Jesus did not die at thirty-three years of age, but lived to a sufficiently old age. [Back to verse 46]

47a. Only her espousal had yet been decided, and perhaps she had not been informed of this when she was given the good news of a son being born to her. Hence she says that man had not touched her yet. And she was told in reply, “Even so”; i.e., the child will be born by God bringing about the circumstances which result in the birth of a child. The words do not show that she would conceive out of the ordinary course of nature, for there is no doubt that Mary had other children, which no one supposes to have been conceived out of the ordinary course of nature. Nor do the words that follow prove anything beyond the simple fact that Mary must give birth to a son in accordance with the prophecy. The whole of creation is brought about, we are told again and again, by the Divine word Kun (‘Be’), yet no one supposes that creation is not brought about according to the laws of nature. [Back to verse 47]

49a. To understand the significance of this passage it is necessary to bear in mind that the chief characteristic of Jesus’ speeches is that he spoke in parables and preferred to clothe his ideas in allegorical language. If this is kept in mind, there is no difficulty in interpreting this passage. The first of the statements in this passage speaks of the making of birds and breathing into them. It is perfectly intelligible if taken as a parable, but quite incomprehensible as a statement of fact. If on the one hand a prophet’s dignity is much above such actions as the making of toy birds, on the other the act of creation is not attributable to any but the Divine Being. To understand this parable, however, the several words used may be explained first. In the passage under discussion four words require to be explained: khalq, tin, nafkh, and tair. The primary significance of khalq is measuring, proportioning, synonym taqdir (LL); hence khalq comes to signify the mere act of the determining of a thing. The word was used in this sense in pre-Islamic poetry. The act of khalq in the sense of creation cannot be attributed to any being except Allah. The Qur’an has laid the greatest stress upon this point. It again and again speaks of the Divine Being as the Creator of everything, so that there is nothing of which anyone else may be said to be a creator. And of those who are taken as gods by any people, it says in particular that they do not create anything, while they are themselves created (16:20; 25:3).

Then there are the two words tin and nafkh. Man is spoken of as being created from ßn or dust, which stands for his humble origin, but the nafkh or breathing into him makes him deserving of respect by the angels. This, while hinted at on various occasions, is clearly stated in 38:71, 72: “When thy Lord said to the angels: Surely I am going to create a mortal from dust. So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down submitting to him”. Thus it is by the breathing of the Divine Spirit into man that he is made perfect.

The word air or tair means a bird, but just as the word asad (lit., a lion) is metaphorically used for a brave man, in a parable it is quite unobjectionable to take the word air as signifying one who soars into the higher spiritual regions and is not bent low upon earth or earthly things. In 6:38 it is said: “And there is no animal in the earth, nor a bird that flies on its two wings, but (they are) communities like yourselves”, the meaning apparently being that among men there are those who only walk upon the earth and do not rise above their earthly concerns, while others soar into the higher spiritual regions. Elsewhere (7:179; 25:44), those who having hearts do not understand, and having ears do not hear, are likened to cattle. So what is meant here is that Jesus, by breathing a spirit into mortals, will make them rise above those who are bent low upon the earth, and the apostles of Jesus, who were all men of humble origin (which is referred to in the word dust in the parable), whose thoughts had never risen higher than their own humble cares, left everything for the master’s sake and went into the world by the command of the master preaching the truth. Here was, no doubt, mere dust having the form of a bird, which the messenger of God converted into high-soaring birds by breathing truth into them. The fact that a story of Jesus making birds is related in a Gospel of Infancy is in no way a bar to this explanation, for it is very likely that a parable was misunderstood by the writer of that Gospel, and the Qur’an has only referred to it to cast light upon the truth. [Back to verse 49]

49b. The miracle of Jesus healing the sick has been rationally explained in the Enc. Bib. by the Rev. T.K. Cheyne, who has shown that all the stories of healing of the sick have arisen from the spiritual healing of the sick, as in Matt. 9:12; “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick”; and as in Jesus’ message to John the Baptist: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5). The concluding words clearly show that the sick and the lame and the blind belong to the same category as the poor to whom the Gospel is preached, being the poor in heart. Compare also Matt. 13:15: “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Here the healing cannot refer but to healing of the spiritual diseases. The Holy Qur’an gives a similar explanation of the healing of the sick when, speaking of itself, it says that it is “a healing for what is in the breasts” (10:57), i.e. for the spiritual diseases. The prophet’s healing is spiritual, not healing of the physical diseases. The Qur’an speaks of the blind and the deaf frequently, but it never means those who have lost the senses of seeing and hearing. [Back to verse 49]

49c. Last come those who are dead. The Qur’an says plainly that those who die are not sent back to this world: “Allah takes (men’s) souls at the time of their death, and those that die not, during their sleep. Then He withholds those on whom He has passed the decree of death and sends the others back till an appointed term” (39:42). And again speaking of the dead: “And before them is a barrier, until the day they are raised” (23:100). But the use of the word mauta, i.e. the dead, and of their being raised to life, is frequent in the Holy Qur’an in a spiritual sense: “Is he who was dead, then We raised him to life ... like him whose likeness is that of one in darkness” (6:122). And again: “O you who believe, respond to Allah and His Messenger, when He calls you to that which gives you life” (8:24). Similarly we have: “Neither are the living and the dead alike. Surely Allah makes whom He pleases hear, and thou canst not make those hear who are in the graves” (35:22). The prophets are raised only for quickening to life those who are spiritually dead, and it is to this quickening through Jesus Christ that the Holy Qur’an refers here.

It should be noted that three classes of men are spoken of as being regenerated, viz.: (1) those who were found in the natural state of dust, and who, like dust, humbly submitted themselves to the prophets’ handling, and who were made to soar high into the spiritual regions, not caring for their worldly concerns, (2) those who were spiritually diseased, and they were healed and made whole, and (3) those who were quite dead and were spiritually quickened. Hence the three different descriptions. [Back to verse 49]

49d. Jesus’ preaching laid special stress upon not having any care “for the morrow”, and his advice to rich men when they came to him was to sell all that they had. He would have them lay up treasures in heaven. It is to this aspect of his teaching that the verse refers. They were not to devote their lives to the amassing of riches. [Back to verse 49]

50a. The law given by Moses was upheld by all the Israelite prophets, but its deficiencies were removed and other changes introduced from time to time to make it suit the needs of new times. These changes are particularly marked out in Jesus’ teaching, as anyone who reads any of the Gospels, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, can easily see. [Back to verse 50]

52a. The Arabic word hawariyyun is plural of hawari, which is thus explained by LL: “One who whitens clothes by washing and beating them. Hence its plural, hawariyyun, is applied to the companions of Jesus, because their trade was to do washing (M, Msb).” Some commentators, however, suggest that they may have been called so because of the purity of their hearts. [Back to verse 52]

54a. Makr is explained by R as the turning of another with ingenuity or skill from that which he aims at, and he considers makr as of two sorts, a good one and an evil one. Therefore the best interpretation of the word makara (including both sorts) is that adopted by T, viz. he exercised craft, cunning, art, or skill in the management or ordering of affairs with excellent consideration or deliberation, and ability to manage according to his own free will (LL). The idea of the plan being contrived for an evil purpose or clandestinely, which is included in the significance of the word, has led many to take that idea as its exclusive significance, which is not the case. Makara-llahu may also signify that Allah recompensed or requited them for their makr (T-LL). According to some, its original significance is the gathering of an affair and its strengthening (Rz). All these explanations show that it is the equivalent of the word plan, the good or evil nature of the plan being dependent on the object or doer’s intention. Allah is called here Khair al-makirin or the Best of planners, the qualifying word khair being inapplicable to an evil object. [Back to verse 54]

54b. The Jews planned to put Jesus to death by crucifixion, and Allah made a plan to frustrate their plans; and Allah’s plan was successful, i.e. he was saved from death on the cross, for which see 55a and 4:157a. [Back to verse 54]


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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 5 (Verses 42 to 54)

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