Sūrah Maryam (Part 3)
Part 3 of observations on the structuring, organization and coherence of Sūrah Maryam
Last week we continued our observations on Sūrah Maryam (Mary, mother of Jesus). Remember, our work has already been published and is available for purchase, so please consider supporting our teachers and institution if you have benefitted from this blog.
We ended the previous post partway through the analysis of Section [A] - Divine Intervention at Birth. This week we’ll conclude our analysis of Section [A].
Before moving to the final structure of Section [A], there are some notable parallels between the narratives of Zakariyyā & Yaḥyā and Maryam & ʿĪsā.1
Parallels Between Zakariyyā & Yaḥyā and Maryam & ʿĪsā
As we will see, there are many interesting parallels between the first two stories of this sūrah. The similarities, which occur in the same order, are summarized in the table below:
The parallels in this outline may inform us of a few points that were not readily apparent upon first reading. For example, notice that Yaḥyā being given wisdom as a child lines up with ʿĪsā being made a prophet. This may support the opinion that the “wisdom” given to Yaḥyā was foreshadowing his eventual prophethood.
Or we can look at what did not align. For example, notice that the āyāt describing Maryam’s pains of labor and childbirth lack an equivalent in the story of Yaḥyā. This could be a subtle point being made for us to appreciate the magnitude of child bearing and delivery. In other words, there is nothing to compare it to.
On a broader level, it seems that Allah ﷻ juxtaposes these two stories so closely together to drive home the message coming up in the final structure of Section [A], that is, Allah ﷻ never has, and never will, have a child. The miraculous birth of ʿĪsā is very similar to the divine intervention involved with the birth of Yaḥyā. Both were amazing prophets, but no more than that. It does not make sense to attribute divine attributes to ʿĪsā when Yaḥyā has such a similar story.
Returning to Section [A]
The final part of Section [A] contains another parallel structure, but this one focuses on the consequences of blasphemy and attributing a son to Allah ﷻ.
[A14/A14’] - The structure begins with a declarative statement about ʿĪsā as it is his account “about which they are in dispute.” The parallel āyah begins along the same vein mentioning that “the factions differed [concerning 'Īsā].”
[A15/A15’] - Allah ﷻ definitively declares Himself free of the attribution of a son, and to compliment that statement, the corresponding āyāt allude to the state of those who do not desist from making such claims. They will clearly “hear and see” the truth when they stand before Allah ﷻ on the Day of Judgment. What’s more, Allah ﷻ describes these people as being “in clear error (ḍalāl),” which is a callback to Sūrah al-Fātiḥah wherein many scholars say that the “astray (aḍ-ḍāllīn)” mentioned at the end of the Sūrah is referring to the Christians; the group directly associated with claiming ʿĪsā as a son to Allah ﷻ.2
[A16/A16’] - These two parts are connected through their shared usage of vocabulary. In the top āyah, Allah ﷻ begins it saying, “When He decrees an affair (idhā qaḍā amran)” which is similar to the parallel āyah in which He says, “when the matter will be decreed (idh quḍiya al-amr).” This creates a link between Allah’s ability to decree matters at will without the need for a son, and the fate of those who do not internalize that message.
[A17/A17’] - Finally, the structure ends with a comprehensive summary of what every prophet and messenger was sent to teach: Allah ﷻ is our Master, so worship Him and accept His guidance. Why? Because we will all be brought back to Him for accounting and judgment.
Integrative Coherence of Section [A]
Besides the numerous parallels between the stories of Zakariyyā and Maryam outlined above, there are other, more subtle, anchors and motifs running through this sūrah that help to create a sense of unity and coherence.
The sūrah began with Zakariyyā calling out (nādā) to his Master in a lowered voice (nidā’an khafiyyā). When we read the story of Maryam giving birth we learn that a voice called out (nādā) to her, but the details of how she was called are omitted. Maybe it is the case that Allah ﷻ used the same verb here as with Zakariyyā to hint that Maryam was spoken to in a comforting and lowered voice, such that no one else could hear.
When Zakariyyā prays for a child, he asks that he is gifted (hab-lī) it. This mirrors what the messenger said to Maryam when he said that he has come to gift her (ahab la-kī) a child. This again echoes the prayer for children we touched on earlier from Sūrah al-Furqān which states, “And those who say, ‘Our Master, gift us (hab lanā) from our spouses and children those who put our heart at ease, and make us leaders of the God-conscious.’”3
When praying for a child, Zakariyyā adds that he would like his offspring to “inherit from me and inherit from the family of Yaʿqūb (yarithunī wayarithu min āli Yaʿqūb)” which is similar to what Allah ﷻ says to conclude the Section, “Indeed, it is We who will inherit the earth and whoever is on it (Innā narithu al-arḍa waman 'alayhā).” We may inherit things while on this earth, but ultimately everything will return to its original owner, Allah ﷻ.
Finally, we see that the theme of being God-conscious (taqiyyā) runs throughout the sūrah. For this current comparison, we find it used to describe Yaḥyā, and in the desperate outcry of Maryam when the mysterious messenger approached her. Again, this ties into the very comprehensive prayer for children wherein we say, “And those who say, ‘Our Master, gift us from our spouses and children those who put our heart at ease, and make us leaders of the God-conscious (muttaqīna).’”4
Next week we’ll begin our study of Section [B] - Ibrāhīm and His Father!
والله أعلم - And Allah knows best
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The following parallels are built on the work of Bilal Gökkir in Form and Structure of Sura Maryam: A Study From Unity of Sura Perspective
Ibn Jarīr aṭ-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr aṭ-Ṭabarī, 1:7
25:47 - وَٱلَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَٰجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّـٰتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍۢ وَٱجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا