Maryam, Mother of Prophet Isa: An Honored Single Parent | SoundVision.com

Maryam, Mother of Prophet Isa: An Honored Single Parent

“And Allah sets forth an example for the believers… (the example of) Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her (womb) through Our angel (Gabriel). She testified to the words of her Lord and His Scriptures and was one of the sincerely devout.”

(Surah At-Tahrim, 66:11-12)

In this verse, Allah mentions one of the greatest women of the worlds – Maryam, the mother of Prophet Isa or Jesus, may Allah be pleased with her. Her story holds such significance that she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran, raising her status as a chosen servant of Allah. A whole chapter bears her name, another is dedicated to her family, and her story is related in countless verses. What sets Maryam apart is not only her status with Allah, but also that she was a single parent both literally and figuratively. There is no mention in the Quran of a husband or other children born to Maryam after Isa, peace be upon him. She is also lauded as a leader among women independent of her status as a single mother.  

The story of Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, is told in detail in the Quran, from before her birth with her mother’s supplications until just after the birth of her son, Prophet Isa, peace be upon him. We know through the teachings of the Quran that she conceived him as a virgin and single woman as a miracle from Allah. There were plenty of other prophets and messengers of Allah born to righteous women, but Maryam holds an especially lofty status. To fully appreciate her story, we must understand the magnitude of hardships and tests she endured to become the embodiment of righteousness. 

Maryam’s Birth

The birth of Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, was a miracle in and of itself. Her mother, Hannah, wanted desperately to have a baby, so she supplicated and proposed that, should she become pregnant, she would offer the baby to the service of Allah. She hoped to have a male child that could be raised working in the temple, Bait-ul-Maqdis. Hannah was later surprised when she gave birth to a girl. This story is told in detail in Surah Al-Imran, the chapter named after the family of Imran:

“Indeed Allah chose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of Imran above the worlds. Offspring, one from another, and Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. When the wife of Imran said: ‘My Lord! I have dedicated to You what is in my womb as a consecrated gift, so please accept this from me. You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.’ So when she gave birth to her, she said: ‘My Lord! I have delivered a female, and Allah knows best what she delivered, and the male is not like the female, and I have named her Mary (Maryam), and commend her and her offspring to your protection from Satan the outcast.’” 

(Surah Al-Imran, 3:33-36)

Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, was a special child because she was born to a noble family. Her mother dedicated her to Allah’s service before her birth. She was named Maryam, which means servant of God. From conception, she had a purpose. This teaches us that even before bringing our children into this world, we must first strive to be righteous believers. Secondly, we should make the intention to raise our children to be servants of Allah above anything else. We must recognize that children are not our property or a commodity, but rather a soul that has been entrusted to us by the Creator. When we turn to Allah constantly seeking refuge for our children, then they may be honored in this life and the next.  

Maryam’s Lineage

Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, was of a noble lineage. Ibn Kathir wrote in Stories of the Prophets that, “The House of Imran descended from the progeny of David, peace be upon him. Imran was a pious and righteous man. Mary’s mother was Hannah… She was also a God-fearing and righteous person. Zakariya was the Prophet of that time…” Zakariya was a relative of Maryam, but scholars differ concerning his relationship to her. Ibn Kathir mentions he may have been either the husband of her sister or her aunt’s husband. Other scholars say he was also her paternal cousin. In addition, Yahya, the son of Zakariya, was also a Prophet. Maryam would go on to give birth to one of the most renowned Prophets and Messengers of Allah, Isa, peace be upon him. In effect, she was a descendant of David, the cousin of Zakariya, an in-law to Zakariya, cousin to Yahya, and mother to Isa, peace be upon them all. 

Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, was also raised by Prophet Zakariya, peace be upon him. Allah goes on to say in the Quran, 

“So her Lord accepted her with gracious acceptance, and made her grow up in purity and beauty, and entrusted her to the care of Zakariya…” 

(Surah Al-Imran, 3:37)

Ibn Kathir wrote that she whenever she was not busy looking after the masjid, she would spend her time in solitude praying and supplicating to Allah. She had a private room built for her in the masjid and in the Quran it mentions that Allah used to send fruits that were out of season to her. Whenver Zakariya would check up on her, he used to see this food and ask where she had gotten it. She would respond, as it says in the Quran, 

“It is from Allah, surely Allah bestows sustenance upon Whom He pleases without measure.”

(Surah Al-Imran, 3:37) 

This was Maryam’s upbringing, may Allah be pleased with her. She lived an ascetic life dedicated to worship but despite that, she was tried with a mighty test. 

Maryam Is Put to the Test

Allah says in the Quran: 

“Do the people think that they will be left to say, "We believe" and they will not be tried?”

(Surah Al-Ankabut, 29:2) 

As human beings, our faith in the One Creator is often put to the test. Yet, we rarely associate this verse with the prophets, messengers, or pious people of the past. However, as the chosen people of Allah, they faced the most severe hardships to serve as an example for us all. Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, was no exception. 

Maryam, who was a young lady at the time (no more than 15-years-old according to reports) received a visit from a group of angels. One day, while she was in her private prayer room. Note that this room was a sanctuary, and no men would ever enter save for Prophet Zakariyya, peace be upon him. Imagine Maryam’s surprise when these strangers came in for a visit in human form. Allah describes this incident in various verses of the Quran. He says, 

“When the angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him, his name is the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world an in the Hereafter, and of those nearest to Allah. He shall speak to the people when in the cradle and in manhood, and he shall be from the righteous.’ She said: ‘My Lord! How can I have a son when no man has touched me?’ He said: ‘Even so, Allah creates what He pleases. When He decrees a matter, He says to it: Be – and it is. And He will teach him the Book and the wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel.’” (Surah Al-Imran, 3:45-48)

 In another verse, she added to her response, “nor am I unchaste.” 

(Surah Maryam, 19:20)

Regarding her reaction, Imam Suyuti, may Allah have mercy on him, said in Tafsir al Jalalayn that the first reason she gave was that no man had touched her in lawful wedlock. The second reason conveyed that she had never committed fornication. Her reaction and statements emphasize that she was a virgin at the time that she would conceive Isa, peace be upon him. 

Ibn Katheer reported that Muhammad ibn Ishaaq said: “When she became pregnant with him and her menses ceased, and she experienced the discomforts that all pregnant women face, then no household experienced what the household of Zakariyah experienced. Talk (slander and gossip) spread among the Children of Israel… So, she stayed away from people and put a screen between her and them so that no one could see her, and she could not see anyone.”

It is hard to even fathom the scandal that broke out when Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, a pious, God-fearing unmarried girl from a noble family becomes pregnant. Even now this situation would be unthinkable for someone who works and lives in the masjid. This incident took place hundreds of years ago in an ultra-conservative period in none other than the Holy Land. Maryam automatically withdraws from the public and tries to conceal her pregnancy. She has no support from the community she so diligently served. Once it is time to give birth, the Quran tells us that she went to a remote place and the contractions of labor were overwhelming. They drove her to grab on to the trunk of a palm tree as she called out in desperation, 

“Would that I had died before this, and become a thing forgotten!” 

(Surah Maryam, 19:23) 

Not only was it the physical pain but also the emotional turmoil of her reputation being questioned that caused her anguish. 

The Most Admired Woman of All Time

Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, eventually gives birth to Isa, peace be upon him, and is commanded to take a vow of silence. Maryam would have still been recovering from childbirth, but she carries the baby back to her town to face the wrath of her people. Although she knew that people would begin to blame her, and she could possibly be punished for allegedly having a baby out of wedlock, Maryam still obeys Allah. Then, an incredible thing happens. Prophet Isa, performs his first miracle by the command of his Lord – he speaks as a newborn baby to defend his mother’s innocence. Allah says about this incident, 

“And We made the son of Mary and his mother a sign.” 

(Surah Al-Muminun, 23:50)

There is so much honor in the way Allah refer to Prophet Isa, peace be upon him, as the son of Maryam. Throughout the Quran, Prophet Isa, peace be upon him, is called Isa ibn Maryam, Jesus, the son of Mary. In Surah Maryam, one of the things baby Isa says is that Allah has made him dutiful to his mother. There is no mention of father or family. This implies that she was his only parent and responsibility. Maryam would continue living her life as a single mother and virgin according to the Islamic tradition. Not only is she held in high esteem in the Muslim world, but also in Christianity. 

Allah places the highest honor upon Maryam, may Allah be pleased with her, who was a single mother. He said, 

“O Mary! Verily Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.” 

(Surah Al-Imran, 3:42)

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, added, 

“There were many men who achieved perfection, and none were perfect among women but Asiyah, the wife of Pharaoh, and Mary, the daughter of Imran.” 

(Bukhari, Muslim)

Nowadays, single parents are often ostracized in the Islamic community. We should respect and support the dedicated, practicing parents who are raising righteous believers alone. It may be that their sacrifice earns them a favorable status with Allah, inshaAllah. 

Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.

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