بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The Quran is a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom – akin to a jewel chest that lets us extract a new kind of gem every time we open it to ponder on its verses.
It provides numerous insights about Allah in order to enable us to get to know Him, and to improve our relationship with Him.
In numerous places in the Quran, Allah addresses us directly; at other places, He puts forth parables or امثال that are analogies carrying deeper meanings.
These verses impart great wisdom to the one who ponders upon them; wisdom about how to perceive and deal with the realities of life and understand the innate psychology of human beings.
Still in other places, Allah narrates for us the stories of the events in the lives of bygone Prophets and nations, inviting us to reflect upon their details so that we can glean practical lessons from them. Each one of us derives different insights from these narratives, depending upon our diverse past experiences and varying levels of reflectiveness.
At times, reciting and pondering on certain verses of the Quran suddenly reveals new ideas and concepts that offer solutions to our practical problems.
This happens when, suddenly, a verse make new sense to you, resulting in knowledge that helps you recognize Allah more closely, or identify traits and behaviors that He likes in a slave, and allows you to make your actions more pleasing to Him; to mould them in a way that can get you His approval and love.
Recently, I had such an epiphany of sorts after reciting in salah the beginning few verses of Surah Maryam. It made me realize how I should be communicating to Allah during my dua’s if I really want Him to grant them.
Surah Maryam starts with the mention of Prophet Zakariyya (عليه السلام) and how he prayed to Allah for a successor.
كهيعص _ ذِكْرُ رَحْمَةِ رَبِّكَ عَبْدَهُ زَكَرِيَّا
“An account of the grace which your Sustainer bestowed upon His servant Zakariyya.” [19:2]
Note how Allah doesn’t refer to Prophet Zakariyya as a prophet (نبى) or a messenger (رسول). Instead, He calls him عبد – a slave or servant – and mentions how He showered His mercy رحمة upon him.
The Nature of the Call
إِذْ نَادَى رَبَّهُ نِدَآء خَفِيًّا
“When he called out to his Sustainer in the secrecy of his heart.” [19:3]
The quality Allah mentions about the supplication of Prophet Zakariyya is: نِدَآء خَفِيًّا – a “secret” call.
The meaning of the word “خَفِىٌّ” provided by Lane’s lexicon is:”Unperceived or imperceptible, unapparent; hardly perceived by any of the senses, or only by the eye, or ear, or mind. Hidden, concealed, or inconspicuous. When applied to the sight: dim, or faint. When applied to the voice: suppressed or stifled. When applied to the ear: low, faint, gentle, or soft. Secret, private or clandestine.”
This word that was used to describe the call (نِدَآء) of Prophet Zakariyya made me think, “Perhaps Allah prefers that His slave calls Him in secret?”
Its true, because elsewhere in the Quran, Allah says:
ادْعُواْ رَبَّكُمْ تَضَرُّعًا وَخُفْيَةً إِنَّهُ لاَ يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ
“Call on your Lord with humility and in private, for Allah loves not those who trespass beyond bounds.” [7:55]
At that point I started to think about how we prefer talking to someone we love, trust and are close to, when we want to earnestly discuss something important with them?
Do we choose a setting or time when there are distractions, noise, and other people around in the surroundings? Do we call them, say, on the phone, when we know they will not be able to give us an attentive ear, or when they will probably be disturbed by others during the conversation?
No. We prefer to talk to a close loved one about important, earnest, intimate matters, especially our troubles and worries, when there is no soul around to disturb the conversation. We love to talk to a confidante or a friend exclusively and privately, in secret.
Stating the Obvious – to Get Support
Next, Allah tells us what Prophet Zakariyya said to Him:
قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَهَنَ الْعَظْمُ مِنِّي وَاشْتَعَلَ الرَّأْسُ شَيْبًا
“He prayed: “O my Sustainer! Feeble have become my bones, and my head glistens with grey hair….”
As I reflected upon the starting part of his dua, I wondered, “How come His dua doesn’t jump directly to what he wants from Allah? Why is he describing to Allah what the latter already knows, as He is the All-Knower of the Unseen – عالم الغيب?”
I then realized how we talk to a close friend when we are anxious about something; when we seek a shoulder to cry on just to vent our frustrations in front of that attentive, sympathetic ear. How do we usually start?
We tend to get emotional as we list the factual details of how we feel and what’s bothering us, e.g., “I am so stressed out. I feel so tired; my bones are aching due to fatigue and I have still got this-and-this stuff left to do. What will I do? I feel so hopeless and like an utter failure!”
Ironically, this is also how we would expect someone we care about to confide in us when they, in turn, are down.
When we are close to someone, when we love them, we get hurt if they stop opening up to us about their problems during rough times in their lives, and if they instead become aloof and withdrawn; talking to us stiffly, half-heartedly or only when necessary.
However, when someone we love confides in us candidly, making us feel trusted and needed, we feel good inside, and our relationship with them improves.
We reciprocate by giving them our attention and reassurance. If they cry before us, letting out sobs and sighs, we become even more concerned and attentive towards them, perhaps giving them a warm hug and making them a cup of tea, or bringing them their favorite comfort food.
So what lesson do we come away with from the first part of Prophet Zakariyya’s dua? The lesson is: when you call Allah, do so in private seclusion whence no one else is around to hear you or disturb you as you supplicate, and start off by telling Him how you feel, what you are suffering from, and what’s making you sad. Just talk.
Expressing Faith in Allah’s Powers
وَلَمْ أَكُن بِدُعَائِكَ رَبِّ شَقِيًّا
“But never yet, O my Lord, has my prayer unto You remained unanswered.” [19:4]
This next part of Prophet Zakariyya’s dua is perhaps the most emotion-ridden, cathartic one!
After listing the facts about his getting old – the greying of his hair and the weakening of his bones due to age – he goes on to say something that would immediately “hook” his Lord’s attention – that Allah has never let his supplications go unanswered.
This shows us that whilst supplicating to Allah, we should similarly try to engage His attention to ourselves, by expressing His bounties upon us and/or our faith in His powers and in the descent of His Divine help and mercy.
It makes me think of when a child of mine comes to me whilst I am absorbed in some work, and asks me directly, in a point blank manner, “Mama, I want you to buy me a barrette that is in the shape of a bow, the next time we go to the market.”
I think about how I, as a mother, react to such demands that just come suddenly, out of the blue – I get irritated and usually chastise in reply, “Perhaps you can first say “Excuse me, may I ask you something?”, and then say “please” when you ask for it?”
In contrast, when once my daughter approached me when I was busy, and said with a voice full of love, “Mama, I really like it when you give me new things, so I try to take good care of them”. I remember how those words touched me, so much so that I stopped what I was doing, turned towards her and said, “Aw, that is so sweet of you.” I know that, at that moment, had she asked me for a barrette, I would have agreed to buy her one!
Perhaps what caught the attention of Allah when Prophet Zakariyya secretly divulged his worries to Him was his expression of gratitude and appreciation, that calling to Allah had never been a wasteful exercise for him?
The lesson for us, thus, is that when we pray to Allah for something, we should first list the innumerable blessings He has bestowed upon us, or perhaps mention some special incidents in our lives when He relieved us from pain, affliction or difficulty.
Expressing his Fears
The fear about getting old that was occupying Prophet Zakariyya’s thoughts was somewhat different to the fear of aging that affects other human beings.
Since he was childless, he feared about his work of da’wah as a Prophet of Allah being curtailed with his death.
وَإِنِّي خِفْتُ الْمَوَالِيَ مِن وَرَائِي وَكَانَتِ امْرَأَتِي عَاقِرًا فَهَبْ لِي مِن لَّدُنكَ وَلِيًّا
“Now, behold, I am afraid of [what] my kinsfolk [will do] after I am gone, for my wife is barren. Bestow, then, upon me, out of Your grace, a successor.” [19:5]
Tafsir Ibn Kathir states about the part of this verse وَإِنِّي خِفْتُ الْمَوَالِيَ مِن وَرَائِي – “Mujahid, Qatadah and As-Suddi, all said, “In saying the word ‘mawali’, he (Zakariyya) meant his succeeding relatives.” The reason for his fear was that he was afraid that the generation that would succeed him would be a wicked generation. Thus, he asked Allah for a son who would be a Prophet after him, who would guide them with his prophethood and that which was revealed to him.”
Prophet Zakariyya expressed his fear and worry to Allah in his dua. Note how Prophets’ worries revolve around not worldly or material things but rather around things that affect their or others’ Akhirah. Their sincerity towards other people is reflected even in their private dua’s before Allah.
When we supplicate to Allah, we too, should mention to Him clearly what we fear – the doubts, worries and insecurities about the future that are troubling us.
Asking for That Which Has No Apparent Means of Being Granted
What is notable is how Prophet Zakariyya next mentions the fact that his wife is barren – وَكَانَتِ امْرَأَتِي عَاقِرًا – yet, he still goes on to ask Allah for a successor!
This is, in my opinion, the most noteworthy part of his whole supplication – because it is proof of his 100% certainty of Allah’s power and might as a Creator (خلِّاق), reflecting his staunch conviction that He can answer any dua, and grant any blessing, even if what is being asked has no apparent, worldly means to be given to the slave.
When we pray to Allah for something, do we really believe with unflinching certainty that He can give that thing to us, even if no apparent means exist in sight?
Describing in Detail the Traits of What is Wanted
يَرِثُنِي وَيَرِثُ مِنْ آلِ يَعْقُوبَ وَاجْعَلْهُ رَبِّ رَضِيًّا
“Who will be my heir as well as an heir [to the dignity] of the House of Yaqoob; and make him, O my Sustainer, well-pleasing to You!” [19:6]
Prophet Zakariyya deliberately overlooked the one fact staring in his face that represented a major obstacle to the fulfillment of his wish – the fact that his wife was barren – and went on to describe to Allah the good qualities he desired in his successor. He asked that the latter inherit prophethood and knowledge from him and from the posterity of his ancestor Prophet Yaqoob, and that he be a person with whom Allah and Allah’s creation is well-pleased.
We should analyze our own style of calling to Allah when we desire something. Do we ask for only material blessings that bring worldly benefits? E.g. when we ask for a baby/child, do we do so so that s/he will carry on doing good deeds and continue our righteous da’wah work after we are gone? Or do we ask for a child only so that we have someone to care and provide for us when we become old?
Do we go ahead and ask Allah for what we want any way, even if no physical means for getting that thing exists before our eyes? Do we describe in detail the traits of the blessing(s) we desire, because we believe with conviction that Allah can grant us anything?
يَا زَكَرِيَّا إِنَّا نُبَشِّرُكَ بِغُلَامٍ اسْمُهُ يَحْيَى لَمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُ مِن قَبْلُ سَمِيًّا
“Thereupon the angels called out unto him: “O Zakariyya! We bring you the glad tiding of [the birth of] a son whose name shall be Yahya. [And Allah says,] “Never have We given this name to anyone before him.”” [19:7]
With such a beautiful manner of calling to Allah, it should come as no surprise that Prophet Zakariyya got his dua answered by Allah and received the glad tidings of a successor – one who was given a name by Allah Himself; a name that no one before him had ever possessed.
Prophet Zakariyya’s human response of bewildered wonder
قَالَ رَبِّ أَنَّى يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَكَانَتِ امْرَأَتِي عَاقِرًا وَقَدْ بَلَغْتُ مِنَ الْكِبَرِ عِتِيًّا
[Zakariyya exclaimed:] “O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when my wife has always been barren and I have become utterly decrepit through old age?” [19:8]
Ironically, when Prophet Zakariyya received the good news that his dua had been granted and that he would soon have a son named Yahya, he became incredulous and asked Allah in wonder how he would beget a son when his wife was barren and he was infirm due to old age?
Isn’t it amazing that he never considered his own and his wife’s human, physical shortcomings or weaknesses before, when he was asking Allah for a son? Doesn’t this show that even we should believe, when we pray to Allah and supplicate to Him, that He can do anything?
قَالَ كَذَلِكَ قَالَ رَبُّكَ هُوَ عَلَيَّ هَيِّنٌ وَقَدْ خَلَقْتُكَ مِن قَبْلُ وَلَمْ تَكُ شَيْئًا
“Answered [the angel]: “Thus it is; [but] your Sustainer says, “This is easy for Me – even as I have created you before, out of nothing.” [19:9]
Truly, for Allah to grant even the whole of mankind and jinn all that they ask for and desire from among His innumerable blessings, it is as simple and easy a matter as كَذَلِكَ.
إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُ إِذَا أَرَادَ شَيْئًا أَنْ يَقُولَ لَهُ كُنْ فَيَكُونُ
“Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is!” [36:82]
Allah can create anything He wants out of nothing, so any doubts or despair that we mortal souls feel when we think, “How will this-and-that be possible?”, the whole “problem” actually inherently lies in our own hearts.
We thus need to cure the diseases in our own hearts, and nurture our faith and belief in Allah’s might with sound Islamic knowledge, so that not only can we also reach the level of conviction in Allah’s attributes that Prophet Zakariyya and other prophets possessed, but also so that we can take heed from the above verses of Surah Maryam and drastically change/improve the way we “call” Allah; the way we communicate with Him when we supplicate to Him about our innate worries, fears, desires and demands.
Perhaps then our dua’s will also be answered the way Prophet Zakariyya’s dua was – كَذَلِكَ – just like that!