What Would Mariam Do?
Our second lesson: Mariam (as) had a deep spiritual relationship with Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala - exalted is He). We see in her example how a mind, body, and soul can be spiritually dedicated to Him. As we examine these elements, we also see how Allah (swt) rewards and honors her. As such, Mariam’s spiritual journey reveals significant spiritual pillars for those who seek to be rewarded and honored by Allah (swt).
1. Tawakkul during Tribulations
From her younger years as a student to her trials later on in life, we witness Mariam (as) in a constant state of tawakkul (trust in Allah). From hiding the test of her pregnancy, to delivering `Isa (as) on her own, to keeping silent while her infant (who according to at-Tabari was just forty days old) spoke to defend her honor, we feel her powerful dependence on Allah (swt) revealed. We also learn that there are some tests, where one may find no available human support for the struggle to do that which is right, which is closer to piety. In this scenario, Mariam provides us with a glimpse into the power of trusting Allah (swt). `Isa (as) speaking from the cradle was an amazing and unexpected blessing for Mariam, relieving her of the trial that she had endured, providing proof of her innocence:
“Then she pointed to him. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He [Isa] said: “Verily! I am a slave of Allah, He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I be…” (Qur’an, 19:29-31)
Subhan’Allah, in the lives of the righteous, many times mu’jizaat (miracles to Prophets) and kiramaat (miracles to non-Prophets), are granted during a period of trial, where the struggle to stay steadfast was rewarded with the relief that only Allah (swt) brings.
And yet we also take from Mariam’s case that her devotion is not only rewarded with relief, but also with success. Today, she is the most honored woman in human history, and she is the greatest woman in al-Akhirah (the Hereafter). Subhan’Allah, one can only begin to imagine what her heart endured for the sake of Allah (swt). Her story is a shining example of the promise:
“Truly the end is for the God-Conscious.” (Qur’an, 11:49)
2. Solitude with Allah
Her spirituality is also embodied in her khalwa (solitude) with Allah (swt). Like her mother and father, she was a devout worshiper who always sought to increase her closeness to her Lord. Allah described that He
“…accepted her with a goodly acceptance…” (Qur’an, 3:37)
Ibn Ashur comments that this is His acceptance of her service to Bayt Al-Maqdis, which is something no other woman was legally granted permission to do before her. He also mentions that the word mihrab comes from the word harb, meaning war. Thus the mihrab was understood as a place where one worships in solitude, waging war against the temptations and whispers of Shaytan. It is a place of introspection, reflection, prayer, learning and du`a’ (supplication). While the masajid we have today are also a place for these things, how often do we really go there to make i’tikaaf (spiritual seclusion)? Sisters, i’tikaaf is for us as well. And alhamdulillah (all praise is due to Allah) in America, the masajid are more female-friendly and stay open. When your iman (faith) needs a boost, remember Mariam, and try to pray Fajr in the masjid, stay a few hours and experience the sweetness of khalwa with Allah (swt). For those who are able to in their homes, also consider creating a musalah area that is only used the way one uses a masjid: a place for prayer, dhikr (remembrance), studying the Qur’an and other beneficial readings, tafakkur (deep contemplation), etc. Sometimes when the heart aches, one reaches for unhealthy distractions and the pain goes away temporarily. When the distraction is gone, the pain returns because our hearts are actually thirsty for being with Allah (swt), and the thirst was not quenched by the distractions. Rather, the thirst grew stronger and the pain increased. In Mariam we see how training the self to have khalwa with Allah (swt) helps the heart to endure and stay strong. We also see how having a special space allotted for this solitude can serve one well on the spiritual journey.
3. Appreciating Allah’s Divine Attributes
Mariam (as) also reflected an appreciation for the Attributes of Allah (swt). Her expression of iman is very practical. Allah (swt) says:
“Every time he (Zakariyah) entered al-Mihrab to (visit) her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said, “Oh Mariam, from where have you gotten this?” She said, “This is from Allah. Verily Allah provides sustenance to whom He wills without limit.” (Qur’an, 3:37)
The scholars differ over whether the part of the verse, “Verily, Allah provides sustenance to whom He wills without limit,” is also from what Mariam said or if it is a new sentence in which Allah (swt) is addressing the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Imam Al Aloosi adds that the former opinion is the more correct one.
At least five different books of tafsir mention a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ where he is with Fatima, and she brings him a full pot of meat and bread, at a time when there was very little food in the house. When he asks her from where she had gotten this food, she replies, “This is from Allah. Verily Allah provides sustenance to whom He wills without limit.” At this response, the Prophet ﷺ praises Fatima and says, “Alhamdulilah for He who made you like the best woman of Bani Isra’el (Mariam)!” (Narrated from Abu Ya ‘la)
The amazing point to take from Mariam’s response to Zakariyah (as), is that as she recognized Allah (swt)’s ultimate power and control over her sustenance, she also inspired a prophet! When the Prophet Zakariyah hears her response he supplicates to Allah asking for a son. The verse starts with “hunaalika”—he makes du`a’ on the spot!
“In that same place, Zachariah prayed unto his Sustainer, saying: “O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me [too], out of Your grace, the gift of goodly offspring; for You, indeed, hear all prayers.”(Qur’an, 3:38)
If Ar-Razzaq (the Supreme Provider) can provide Mariam with the fruits of the summer at winter time and the fruits of the winter at summer time (Tafsir Ibn Kathir), He can also provide Zakariyah (as), a very old man, with a son. How many times are we asked about our provisions and possessions, and how often do our answers reflect our deep belief that they are ultimately blessings given to us from Allah (swt)? How beautiful that such a wise answer would give others renewed hope in Allah (swt) in receiving those things they desire and hold dear! From Mariam we appreciate how a genuine personal example in knowing Allah (swt) is a potent da`wah (invitation), such that even a Prophet would benefit from it.
4. Submission in Prayer
Allah (swt) also commands Mariam toward developing her relationship with Him:
“Oh Mariam, submit yourself with obedience to your Lord and prostrate yourself and bow down along with the Raki’een (those who bow down).” (Qur’an, 3:43)
In this command for Mariam to observe prayer, Allah (swt) mentions the parts of the prayer rather than simply the command to pray, and mentions the sujood (prostration) before the ruku’ (bowing). Imam Al-Alusi explains that some scholars believed in the precedence of sujood over ruku’ in the verse, as sujood is the most important cornerstone of the prayer, and it is the most humble human position, as well as the point at which the Muslim is closest to Him. Both ruku’ and sujood are symbolic of one’s physical submission to the Creator. The spiritual relationship is not just an act of the heart, but also one of the limbs. Also, this verse is an evidence for the fact that prayer did not start with the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Rather, it was the practice of all the Prophets and righteous people in our history.
As Allah (swt) called on Mariam to draw close to Him in prayer, He describes her response:
“…she was of the Qaniteen (obedient).” (Qur’an, 66:12)
5. Responding to the Mention of Allah (swt)
Can you imagine the state of Mariam’s heart when she was informed by the angels that Allah (swt) has addressed her by name and commanded her by name to pray to Him? What about the condition of our hearts as Allah (swt) also addresses us as a group by name to do the same!
“Oh you who believe! Seek help through patience and prayer.” (Qur’an, 2:153)
Any time we see a verse start with “Oh you who believe!” we should check our hearts as these verses are calling us out by name, the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Will it be recorded in our book of deeds that we were of the Qaniteen (those obedient to Allah)? It is interesting to note that we always benefit in multiple ways when we obey the commands of Allah (swt). In prayer, we find a place of help. Stress is relieved. Sins are prevented. Iman is tasted. Du`a’ are answered. Hearts are softened. Forgiveness is granted… How Merciful is the One who obligated goodness and benefit on us?! How do we feel when we remember that this obligation was given to us in the Heavens. And in the Heavens, in a very special space, in a conversation between only the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Allah, we were mentioned as well! And this moment of mention, is itself mentioned every time we pray and sit for the tashaahud, as we say “Wa salaamu alayna ala ibaadullah as-Saliheen!” (And peace be upon us, the righteous servants of Allah!)
Perhaps we can compare our hearts to another great woman of Paradise, Khadijah (ra) whose name was also mentioned by Allah (swt). We see in her response, a heart that wants to be mentioned by Allah (swt), and thereafter is overflowing towards Him.
One day, Jibril came down and told the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to convey the peace and blessings of Allah to Khadija. Hearing this, Khadijah (ra) exclaimed, “Did Allah mention my name, Oh Prophet of Allah?!” When the Prophet ﷺ said yes, she was so elated that she said, “And unto Allah be all the blessings and peace!” (Bukhari)
Subhan’Allah, what would we do, how far would we go, just to have our Creator mention our specific names and say He is pleased with us? The way He mentioned Mariam (as), and Khadijah (ra), we too can be mentioned by Him!
We know from the famous hadith qudsi, Allah (swt) Himself says as related by the Prophet ﷺ:
“I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself. And if he makes mention of Me in a gathering, I make mention of him in a gathering greater than it.” (Bukhari)
One of the ways we can have our names mentioned by Allah (swt) is through dhikr (remembrance), as well as by joining study circles and gatherings where His name is being mentioned.
Abu Hurairah and Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with them) reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah, the angels surround them (with their wings), (Allah’s) mercy envelops them, tranquility descends upon them and Allah makes a mention of them before those who are near Him.” [Muslim].
Abu Hurairah also reported from the Prophet ﷺ a conversation that happens between the angels and Allah (swt) when people gather to remember Him and ask His forgiveness. For these people, Allah (swt) says, “I call you to witness that I hereby grant pardon to them and confer upon them what they ask for; and grant them protection against what they seek protection from.” One of the angels says, “Our Lord, there is amongst them such and such slave who does not belong to the assembly of those who are participating in Your remembrance. He passed by them and sat down with them.” He says, “I also grant him pardon because they are the people by virtue of whom their associates will not be unfortunate’.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Sometimes we forego the opportunity to sit in a halaqa (study-circle) or lecture thinking the information may not be new, but we forget that such a gathering is what the angels search for so they may join and tell our Creator what was said, and the names of those who listened. Such a gathering would be the reason for Allah (swt) Himself to mention our names and forgive us!
When I ask myself, “What would Mariam do in her spiritual relationship with Allah (swt)?” there is so much to reflect on and take lessons from. She persevered in her trials armed with tawakkul. She enjoyed khalwa (solitude) with Allah (swt) in the masjid for different types of ibadah. She appreciated the Attributes of Allah (swt) such that her iman illuminated the hopes of her teacher, a Prophet. She was steadfast in her prayers and obedient to Allah’s commands. She did those things that allowed her name to be mentioned by the Only One Whose mention is truly worth striving for.
May Allah (swt) enable us to benefit from her mention in the Qur’an such that we too would be mentioned by Him. May we seek the enjoyment of khalwa, ibadah, salah, and tawakkul. May Allah inspire us to turn towards Him, on the spot, with a renewed sense of hope as Prophet Zakariyah (as) did. May we be recorded with Mariam (as) and the Qaniteen. Ameen.