Interestingly you have made no mention of the verses 3: 38-40. So I am quoting them again with some doubts that you may not have received them altogether.
Thereupon Zacharias prayed to his Lord, saying: ‘Lord, grant me of Your own grace upright descendants. You hear all prayers.’ And as he stood praying in the Shrine, the angels called out to him, saying: ‘God bids you rejoice in the birth of John, who shall confirm the Word of God. He shall be princely and chaste, a prophet and a righteous man.’ ‘Lord,’ said Zacharias, ‘how shall I have a son when I am now overtaken by old age and my wife is barren?’ ‘Such is the will of God,’ He replied. ‘He does what He pleases’.
First where this translation says, “… who shall confirm the Word of God”, the Urdu translation says something like “… who shall confirm the prophethood of Jesus…”. How would you translate it?
And the other point is, what conceivably could be in Zacharias’ mind when he prayed for upright descendants, except a child or children? What bothers me is why was he sort of shocked on the acceptance of his prayers? So much so that he wanted some kind of a sign. And then the giving of a sign is completely not understood. Hadhrat1 Zacharias was told by Allah to fast for three days and during this period to say his prayers and not to talk to anyone – what is your point of view? (This last part is probably the translation of verse 3: 41)
Well, I have no problem in understanding the statement, “When God made His covenant with the prophets…”, I am taking ‘covenant’ to mean an agreement. But you seem to be taking the meaning of ‘covenant’ as an OATH, correct! No comments on the other parts of your understanding of the verse.
However, what puzzle my naive mind are questions like: When was this agreement done or oath taken in time? Was it done at any one particular instance? Or it was an on-going process before each of the prophets was sent? Or is it only metaphorical? If this agreement was done at one time then were all the prophets present there (logically, they should be)? It seems to be pointing toward the coming of the last prophet, if so was he present too, at the time of this oath taking? And did the others know of his presence? If he wasn’t there, why and where was he? Or is all that I have written rubbish?
Could you elaborate the part: “We have made plain to you Our revelations.”
I didn’t have anything to say about the verses 38 – 40 so I didn’t. However, now I think I should have done so… “who shall confirm the Word of God” should more accurately be translated as:
confirming (or giving news of the coming of) ‘A’ word of God
As, in “kalimatin minalah” the word “kalimatin” is not a proper noun, therefore, it should not be translated with the definite article, as NJD has done (“the word”) it should rather be translated with the indefinite article (“a word”).
As far as the difference in the Urdu and the English translations is concerned, it is basically a matter of interpretation. The literal translation would be close to what Dawood has done. But in the Urdu translation, the Arabic word “Kalimatin minallah” (translated: “Word of God”) is interpreted as “Jesus”, Jesus has been called a “word” of God here because he was born by His “word’ … “Kun2”.
I really do not have any objection to this interpretation. In fact, I think it is absolutely correct. Especially, when right after the reference to Zacharias’ story starts the story of the birth of Jesus (pbuh). There again it is obviously him (i.e. Jesus), who is referred to as “A Word” (or “kalimatin“) see verse 45.
I really could not understand your question: “What conceivably could be in Zacharias’ mind when he prayed for upright descendants, except a child or children?”. Please elaborate your question.
Zacharias was not shocked at the acceptance of his prayer. He just wanted to be sure that the glad tidings of a son were really from God and not just his own desires turning into a hallucination, a daydream, or just an intervention of the Devil. That, in my opinion, is why he asked for a sign.
I don’t know how NJD has translated 3: 41… As I understand it, the translation should be:
He said: God, give me a sign. God said: your sign shall be that you shall not be able to talk to people for three days, except in signs [i.e., as those who cannot speak do… in sign language] And keep to the remembrance of your Lord a lot and keep glorifying Him, day and night (i.e., all day)
Now, there is no reference to “fasting” here. As I see it, the thing given as a sign made it certain for Zacharias that the “Good News”, was really from Allah. As satan has no control over the powers of a human being… such as speaking. Furthermore, Zacharias is ordained to “keep to the remembrance of God” and to “keep glorifying Him”. Obviously both these orders cannot be from Satan. This satisfied Zacharias that the Glad Tidings of a son really were from Allah.
The answer to your questions regarding 3: 81 needs some explanation. I shall try to be brief and precise, however, if anything remains unclear, regarding my understanding of these verses, do let me know.
In Aal Imraan (Surah 3) from verse 33 to 99, God has commented on the deviations of Ahl-e-Kitaab (i.e. the people of the book), in general and Nasaara – or the Nazarenes – (i.e. the Christians living in Arabia), in particular. The following points may help in understanding these verses and their mutual relationship:
Verses 33 – 44: To begin with, it is declared that Aal Imraan (the family in which Jesus (pbuh) was born, according to the Qur’an ) were descendants of Adam, Noah and Abraham (pbut). Which, on the one hand, refutes the Divinity of Jesus as well as that of Mary3 (pbut) and, on the other, establishes the continuation of the tradition of the institute of prophet hood in the family in which Jesus (pbuh) was born. Then the circumstances surrounding the birth and childhood of Mary are referred to. Here again, the disappointment of Mary’s mother at her birth is especially mentioned. The purpose of this reference is again to refute the Divinity of Mary. The remaining reference to Mary is basically to stress her steadfastness in the way of Allah (to show that even though the Christians have elevated her to Divinity, yet she was, in fact, a model of submission and obedience to God). Then the circumstances surrounding the birth of John (pbuh) are mentioned. This again is to show that there was not much of a difference in the birth of Jesus (pbuh) and that of John (pbuh). You can also see the similarity in the narration of the two births.
Verses 45 – 63: The circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus are mentioned. The purpose is to show the similarity between Jesus (pbuh)’s birth and that of John (pbuh). Then the teachings of Jesus (pbuh) are mentioned. The purpose of this reference is to show that Jesus (pbuh) never presented himself as God, but as a messenger of God. Furthermore, the miracles of Jesus (pbuh) are also mentioned in such a way that shows that they were all performed by the pure intervention of God, and not by Jesus (pbuh), on his own. Then the sincerity and understanding of Jesus’ first followers is mentioned. Then the circumstances of Jesus’ death and the promise of Allah of giving those who believed in him (i.e. the Christians) dominance over those who rejected him (i.e. the Jews) till the end of time, is mentioned4. Then a reference is made to the similarity of Jesus and Adam… for if one was born without a father, the other was born without even a mother… thus if Adam does not become a “son” of God, even though he was born without either of the two parents, then why should Jesus (pbuh) be considered as the “son” of God?
Verses 64 – 71: The Ahl-e-Kitaab are called to the way of Allah on the basis of their own belief in Tawheed. Both the Jews and the Christians claimed that they were on the path that was followed by Abraham (pbuh). This claim is refuted. It is declared that the path of Abraham is followed only by the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers. Some ulterior motives of the Ahl-e-Kitaab are also made known. And finally they are called to follow the Truth and not to hide what they already know, very clearly, as a fact.
Verses 72 – 76: Some deceptive strategies of the Ahl-e-Kitaab are made known, and some flaws in their character are mentioned, especially, their false additions in religious teachings – doing what they want and wrongfully ascribing their actions to the teachings of Allah.
Verses 77 – 80: The importance of fulfilling the covenants made with Allah is stressed. And some more flaws in the character and beliefs of Ahl-e-Kitaab are made known.
Verses 81 – 91: A reference is made to the covenant that Allah took from the Ahl-e-Kitaab, regarding the prophets, and especially that prophet who was to come as predicted in their book. The correct belief, according to the directives of God, is explained. The Ahl-e-Kitaab are told that unless they repent and correct their behavior, they deserve the damnation of Allah. In case they do it not, they will have to face the everlasting punishment of hellfire and nothing shall be able to save them from the God’s wrath.
Verses 92 – 99: Some further wrongs and false claims of the Ahl-e-Kitaab are mentioned. And some arguments are given to substantiate the fact that it was actually the Ka`bah – and only the Ka`bah – that Abraham (pbuh) built for God’s worship, according to His directives. Finally, the Ahl-e-Kitaab are reminded that their position is that of witnesses of the truth, they should, therefore, declare and proclaim the truth – rather than hindering others from submitting to it – and make the true path leading to God’s truth known to others – rather than hiding it and making it difficult for others to find it.
This is the introduction of the topics discussed in the verses 3: 33 – 99. Keeping this in mind, Verse 81 should, I suppose, be quite clear. The verse actually refers to the covenant (oath) of the Ahl-e-Kitaab with Allah, according to which, they had promised to believe and help the prophets and especially the prophet who comes as a fulfillment of the prophecies of their book. (This covenant is also referred to in Al-Maaidah 5: 12 and Al-a`araaf 7: 156-157).
I hope that this brief explanation of the verses should provide the answer to your question regarding verse 81. Nevertheless, in case, anything remains unclear, do let me know.
And … yes… all that you have written is not rubbish.. but it should be clear now, why I say that the correct translation is: “The Covenant regarding the prophets (taken from Ahl-e-Kitaab)” and not “The covenant of the Prophets”.
It refers to the fact that Allah has made clear to you the motives and desires of the Ahl-e-Kitaab. You should, therefore, remain heedful and alert while interacting with them.
6th November 1997
- Normally used in the Urdu language to imply ‘respectable’. [↩]
- Referring to God’s command “Be”, i.e. when God decides about something, He orders it to ‘be’. [↩]
- It is clear from the Qur’an that the Nazarene sect in Arabia believed in the divinity of both Jesus as well as Mary (pbut). [↩]
- The referred dominance of the Christians over the Jews is a part of God’s laws relating to his messengers. For details refer to the question titled “Is There a Difference Between Prophets (Nabis) and Messengers (Rasu’l)“. [↩]