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BLESSED MARY: THE MOTHER OF JESUS

Iqbal Ebrahim
UNDERSTANDING ISLAM

Many non-Muslims will be surprised to learn that Mary, the mother of Jesus (pbuh) is a much respected figure in Islam. The Qur’an honours her with an entire chapter titled: Surah Mariam.

Both Christ and his mother are highly revered in Islam. Jesus (pbuh) is considered one of the five greatest prophets sent to mankind.  The Muslims’ knowledge about Jesus (Isa) is based on the two main sources: the Quran and Hadeeth (prophetic sayings).  Jesus is referred to as Isa ibn Mariam, or Jesus, the son of Mariam (Mary) (pbut).  

Her story is spoken with reverence in the Quran, for she is a woman like no other. Mary was born to the pious household of the family of Imran. The story starts with the mother of Mary who when expecting a baby, hoping for a boy child, planned on devoting him to the priesthood made an appeal to the Lord: ‘O my Lord! I do dedicate unto you what is in my womb for your special service.’ (Quran 3:35).

But instead she gave birth to the girl, Mary, knowing that she could not take up priesthood, she prayed thus to the Lord: ‘………..when she delivered a female, she said “I have named her Mary and I commend her and her offspring to your protection from the evil one”……Right graciously did her Lord accept her; He made her grow in purity and beauty’ (Quran 3: 35-37)  

Afterwards the honour and responsibility of taking care of and raising the child Mary was given to an elderly and childless couple, Zachariah and his wife. ‘She was assigned to the care of Zakariya’. (Quran 3: 37). He noticed that the young Mary was a unique and special girl. This uniqueness was also relayed to her by the angels: “And [mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed God has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of all nations.  O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow down in prayer with those who bow down …… (Quran 3:42)

The Quran holds the Virgin Mary as an example of what the virtuousness and the chastity of all believers should be. ‘And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His Revelations—and was one of the truly devout’ (66:12).

Zachariah noticed that Mary always had provisions provided for, when he asked her how she came by the food and she answered: ‘It is from Allah.  Indeed, Allah provides sustenance to who He pleases without measure. (Quran 3:37)

As she grew into womanhood she became a well-respected and much loved person in the community. Allah sent to her the Angel Gibraeel (Gabriel) with a message.  He said, ‘I am the messenger of your Lord to give you news of a pure boy (son)’.  She said, ‘How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?’  He said, so it will be, for God creates what he wants. When he decides something He only says to it ‘Be’ and ‘it is’ and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us.  And it is a matter already decreed.’” 

So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.” (Quran 19:16–22) And also in an earlier verse: ’Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him; his name shall be Christ Jesus…held in honour in this world and the Hereafter and of the company of those nearest to Allah. He shall speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. And he shall be of the company of the righteous’ (Qur’an 3:42-45)

From the Quranic description we deduce that Mary spent most of her pregnancy alone and in seclusion. The Quran picks up the story at the time that Mary goes into labour.

“And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of palm tree.  She said, ‘Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.’  But a voice cried to her from beneath the palm tree, ‘Do not grieve; your Lord has provided you with a stream……And shake toward yourself the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates…… So eat and drink and be contented. (Quran 19: 23 -26)  

After the baby Jesus had been born Mary faced another difficult and terrifying task: Because her character was impeccable she was worried about having to face the shock and disgust of the community with accusations and maligning of her character of being single mother. God further guided her how to deal with the situation: ‘….. A voice cried out to her…… and if you see any person, say ‘I have vowed to fast to Allah Most Gracious, and this day I will not enter into any talk with any human being’. (Quran 19:26).

When she brought out the baby Jesus to her people, they were very perturbed that she had had a child out of wedlock and they started questioning her. They said, ‘O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented.  O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.’  Instead of responding to them she just pointed to the baby Jesus.  ‘They said, ‘How can we speak to one who is a child in the cradle?’ (Quran 19: 28-29).

Much to their surprise the baby Jesus miraculously defended his mother from accusations of adultery and sin, and in a nutshell, explained who he was and why he was sent by God. ‘He said, I am indeed a servant of Allah; He has given me Revelation and made me a Prophet; and He has made Blessed where so ever I be and has enjoined on me Prayer and charity as long as I live. He has made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or miserable…….so peace is on me the day I was born and the day that I die…..’ (Quran 19: 30 – 33)

So is the story of the miraculous birth of one of the greatest Prophets, Jesus (Isa) (pbuh) described in the Quran. We can see that Mary was an amazing woman and she did it with grace, faith and a fortitude that would shame even the staunchest of believers, thus our faith calls upon us to honour her in the most reverent way possible.

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Technology saves Lions from angry Okavango villagers

22nd November 2022

Villagers in the eastern Okavango region are now using an alert system which warns them when collared lions approach livestock areas. The new technology is now regarded as a panacea to the human/wildlife conflict in the area as it has reduced mass poisoning and killing of lions by farmers.

The technology is being implemented by an NGO, Community Living Among Wildlife Sustainably (CLAWS) within the five villages of Seronga, Gunutsoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa in the eastern part of the Okavango delta.

A Carnivore Ecologist from CLAWS, Dr Andrew Stein explained that around 2013, villagers in the eastern Okavango were having significant problems with losses of their cattle to predators specifically lions, so the villagers resorted to using poison and shooting the lions in order to reduce their numbers.

He highlighted that as a form of progressive intervention, they designed a programme to reduce the conflicts and promote coexistence. Another component of the programme is communal herding, introduced in 2018 to reduce the conflict by increasing efficiency whereby certified herders monitor livestock health and protect them from predators, allowing community members to engage in other livelihood activities knowing that their livestock are safe.

They are now two herds with 600 and 230 cattle respectively with plan to expand the programme to other neighbouring villages. Currently the programme is being piloted in Eretsha, one of the areas with most conflict incidences per year.

Dr Stein explained that they have developed the first of its kind alert system whereby when the lions get within three or five kilometers of a cattllepost or a homestead upon the five villages, then it will release an alert system going directly to the cellphones of individuals living within the affected area or community.

‘So, if a colored lion gets to about five kilometers of Eretsha village or any villagers in the Eretsha that has signed up for, the system will receive an SMS of the name of the lion and its distance to or from the village”, he stated. He added that this enables villagers to take preventative action to reduce conflicts before its starts.

Dr Stein noted that some respond by gathering their cattle and put them in a kraal or put them in an enclosure making sure that the enclosure is secure while some people will gather firewood and light small fires around edges of the kraal to prevent lions from coming closer and some when they receive the SMS they send their livestock to the neighbours alerting them about the presence of lions.

He noted that 125 people have signed to receive the alert system within Seronga, Eretsha, Beetsha, Gunutsoga and Gudigwa. He added that each homestead is about five people and this means more than 600 people immediately receive the messages about lions when they approach their villages. He also noted that last year they dispersed over 12 000 alerts, adding that this year is a bit higher as about 20 000 alerts have been sent so far across these villages.

Stein further noted that they have been significant changes in the behavior of the villagers as they are now tolerant to lions. “85 percent were happy with the SMS and people are becoming more tolerant with living with lions because they have more information to reduce the conflicts,” he stressed.

Stein noted that since the start of the programme in 2014 they have seen lion populations rebounds almost completely to a level before and they have not recorded cases of lion poisoning in the last three years which is commendable effort.

Monnaleso Sanga from Eretsha village applauded the programme by CLAWS noting that farmers in the area are benefiting through the alert system and take preventative measures to reduce human/lion conflict which has been persistent in the area. He added that numbers of cattle killed by lions have reduced immensely. He also admitted that they are now tolerant to lions and they no longer kill nor poison them.

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THE IDEAL QUALITY OF A MUSLIM

8th September 2022

A Muslim is supposed to be and should be a living example of the teachings of the Quran and the ‘Sunnah’ (the teachings and living examples of Prophet Muhammed (SAW – Peace be upon Him). We should follow these in all affairs, relations, and situations – starting with our relationship with our Lord, our own self, our family and the people around us. One of the distinguishing features of the (ideal) Muslim is his faith in Allah, and his conviction that whatever happens in the universe and whatever befalls him, only happens through the will and the decree of the Almighty Allah.

A Muslim should know and feel that he is in constant need of the help and support of Allah, no matter how much he may think he can do for himself. He has no choice in his life but to submit to the will of his Creator, worship Him, strive towards the Right Path and do good deeds. This will guide him to be righteous and upright in all his deeds, both in public and in private.

His attitude towards his body, mind and soul

The Muslim pays attention to his body’s physical, intellectual and spiritual needs. He takes good care of his body, promoting its good health and strength. He shouldn’t eat in excess; but he should eat enough to maintain his health and energy. Allah, The Exalted, Says “…Eat and drink; but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” [Quran 7: 31]

The Muslim should keep away from alcohol and drugs. He should also try to exercise regularly to maintain his physical fitness. The Muslim also keeps his body and clothes clean, he bathes frequently. The Prophet placed a great emphasis on cleanliness and bathing. A Muslim is also concerned with his clothing and appearance but in accordance with the Islamic ideal of moderation, avoiding the extremes.

As for his intellectual care, the Muslim should take care of his mind by pursuing beneficial knowledge. It is his responsibility to seek knowledge whether it is religious or secular, so he may understand the nature and the essence of things. Allah Says: “…and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” [Quran 20: 114

The Muslim should not forget that man is not only composed of a body and a mind, but that he also possesses a soul and a spirit. Therefore, the Muslim pays as much attention to his spiritual development as to his physical and intellectual development, in a balanced manner which ideally does not concentrate on one aspect to the detriment of others.

His attitude towards people

The Muslim must treat his parents with kindness and respect, compassion, politeness and deep gratitude. He recognizes their status and knows his duties towards them. Allah Says “And serve Allah. Ascribe nothing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents…” [Quran 4: 36]

With his wife, the Muslim should exemplify good and kind treatment, intelligent handling, deep understanding of the nature and psychology of women, and proper fulfilment of his responsibilities and duties.

With his children, the Muslim is a parent who should understand his responsibility towards their good upbringing, showing them love and compassion, influence their Islamic development and giving them proper education, so that they become active and constructive elements in society, and a source of goodness for their parents, community, and society as a whole.

With his relatives, the Muslim maintains the ties of kinship and knows his duties towards them. He understands the high status given to relatives in Islam, which makes him keep in touch with them, no matter what the circumstances.

 

With his neighbours, the Muslim illustrates good treatment, kindness and consideration of others’ feelings and sensitivities. He turns a blind eye to his neighbour’s faults while taking care not to commit any such errors himself. The Muslim relationship with his wider circle of friends is based on love for the sake of Allah. He is loyal and does not betray them; he is sincere and does not cheat them; he is gentle, tolerant and forgiving; he is generous and he supplicates for them.

In his social relationships with all people, the Muslim should be well-mannered, modest and not arrogant. He should not envy others, fulfils his promises and is cheerful. He is patient and avoids slandering and uttering obscenities. He should not unjustly accuse others nor should he interfere in that which does not concern him. He refrains from gossiping, spreading slander and stirring up trouble – avoids false speech and suspicion. When he is entrusted with a secret, he keeps it. He respects his elders. He mixes with the best of people. He strives to reconcile between the Muslims. He visits the sick and attends funerals. He returns favours and is grateful for them. He calls others to Islam with wisdom, example and beautiful preaching. He should guide people to do good and always make things easy and not difficult.

The Muslim should be fair in his judgments, not a hypocrite, a sycophant or a show-off. He should not boast about his deeds and achievements. He should be straightforward and never devious or twisted, no matter the circumstances. He should be generous and not remind others of his gifts or favours. Wherever possible he relieves the burden of the debtor. He should be proud and not think of begging.

These are the standards by which the (ideal) Muslim is expected to structure his life on. Now how do I measure up and fit into all this? Can I honestly say that I really try to live by these ideals and principles; if not can I really call myself a true Muslim?

For the ease of writing this article I have made use of for want of a better word, the generic term ‘he’, ‘his’, ‘him’ and the ‘male’ gender, but it goes without saying that these standards apply equally to every female and male Muslim.

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OUR BELOVED CHILDREN

29th August 2022

“Homicide and suicide kill almost 7000 children every year; one in four of all children are born to unmarried mothers, many of whom are children themselves…..children’s potential lost to spirit crushing poverty….children’s hearts lost in divorce and custody battles….children’s lives lost to abuse and violence, our society lost to itself, as we fail our children.” “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” (Quotation taken from a book written by Hillary Clinton).

These words may well apply to us here in Botswana; We are also experiencing a series of challenges in many spheres of development and endeavour but none as challenging as the long term effects of what is going to happen to our youth of today. One of the greatest challenges facing us as parents today is how to guide our youth to become the responsible adults that we wish them to be, tomorrow.

In Islam Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has enjoined upon the parents to take care of the moral and religious instruction of their children from the very beginning, otherwise they will be called to account for negligence on the Day of Judgement. Parents must inculcate God-consciousness in their children from an early age, whereby the children will gain an understanding of duty to The Creator.

 

The Holy Qur’an says: ‘O you who believe! Save yourself and your families from the Fire of Hell’. (Ch. 66: V6). This verse places the responsibility on the shoulders of the parents to ensure that training and guidance begin at home. The goal is to mould the child into a solid Islamic personality, with good morals, strong Islamic principles, knowledge and behavior so as to be equipped to face the demands of life in a responsible and mature manner. This should begin with the proper environment at home that inculcates the best moral and behavioral standards.

But what do we have instead? Believers of all Religious persuasions will agree that we have children growing up without parental guidance, a stable home environment, without role models, being brought up in surroundings that are not conducive to proper upbringing and moulding of well-adjusted children. These children are being brought up devoid of any parental guidance and increasingly the desperate situation of orphaned children having to raise their siblings (children raising children) because their parents have succumbed to the scourge of AIDS.

It is becoming common that more and more girls still in their schooling years are now falling pregnant, most of them unwanted, with the attendant responsibilities and difficulties.

Observe the many young ladies who are with children barely in their teens having illegitimate children. In the recent past there was a campaign focused on the ‘girl-child’; this campaign targeted this group of young females who had fallen pregnant and were now mothers. The situation is that the mother still being just a ‘child’ and not even having tasted adulthood, now has the onerous responsibility of raising her own child most of the time on her own because either the father has simply disappeared, refuses to takes responsibility, or in some cases not even known.

We cannot place the entire blame on these young mothers; as parents and society as a whole stand accused because we have shirked our responsibilities and worse still we ourselves are poor role models. The virtual breakdown of the extended family system and of the family unit in many homes means that there are no longer those safe havens of peace and tranquility that we once knew. How then do we expect to raise well-adjusted children in this poisoned atmosphere?

Alcohol has become socially acceptable and is consumed by many of our youth and alarmingly they are now turning to drugs. Alcohol is becoming so acceptable that it is easily accessible even at home where some parents share drinks with their children or buying it for them. This is not confined only to low income families it is becoming prevalent amongst our youth across the board.

 

It is frightening to witness how our youth are being influenced by blatantly suggestive pop culture messages over television, music videos and other social media. Children who are not properly grounded in being able to make rational and informed decisions between what is right and what is wrong are easily swayed by this very powerful medium.

 

So what do we do as parents? We first have to lead by example; it is no longer the parental privilege to tell the child ‘do as I say not as I do’- that no longer works. The ball is in the court of every religious leader (not some of the charlatans who masquerade as religious leaders), true adherents and responsible parents. We cannot ignore the situation we have to take an active lead in guiding and moulding our youth for a better tomorrow.

In Islam Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “No father gives a better gift to his children than good manners and good character.”  Children should be treated not as a burden, but a blessing and trust of Allah, and brought up with care and affection and taught proper responsibilities etiquettes and behaviour.

Even the Bible says; ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein’. (Mark 10:14-15)

The message is clear and needs to be taken by all of us: Parents let us rise to the occasion – we owe it to our children and their future.

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