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Mary’s Fasting

EACH TİME I read and listen to the chapter Maryam in the Quran, I come across with a big ocean of surprise and admiration. The unique knitted verse by verse eloquence of the chapter produces a deep satisfactory feeling in my inner world.

The name of the chapter is Maryam (Mary), yet it starts with God’s mentioning His mercy on His servant Zachariah (peace be upon him)[1]. This is a matter of amazement itself. While thinking why Zachariah (pbuh) was mentioned in the first verse of a chapter called Mary, new verses come down into your world.

Zachariah (pbuh) was a prophet. And he was too old. His wife was barren. They had no children. However, Zachariah (pbuh) was praying to His Lord secretly despite all impossibilities. He wanted a dutiful child to maintain his task, the prophethood.

And one day Gabriel came to give Zachariah the good news that he would be given a child. A dutiful and auspicious child. His name too was given by the merciful Creator: He is Yahya.[2] The child would take this name and be an obvious proof that his Creator was not dependent to the natural causes to create life, that if He wished, He would allow the creation of a human being from an over-aged father and a barren mother.

Zachariah was surprised and pleased with Gabriel’s good news. “How shall I have a son,” he said, “when my wife is barren and I have reached infirm old age?” Gabriel answered: “So (it will be)” and added with the divine language: “Thy Lord saith: ‘It is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing!’”[3]

Yahya was born, became a good servant of God, a model of obedience and mercy, a prophet.

That, chapter Maryam starts with this secret prayer of Zachariah and the life story of Yahya.

It is, in fact, hard to link this event to the story of Mary at first sight. Yet, God prepares us for the real story with this introduction. He approaches our mind that is covered with the curtain of causes. The story of Zachariah is like a preparatory class to the school of Mary. In this class, we noticed a major misperception that the Generous Creator always creates children from parents of certain age limits and qualities and therefore, as a result of this misperception, we think that He is obliged and subject to some restrictions. Since His wisdom necessitates, He creates man in a certain order and within some certain causes, but He himself is not obliged to this order and causes. If He wills, He makes things possible that seem impossible within the circle of natural causes. He is Almighty, Hehas absolute will. If the Creator wants something to be that thing becomes existent at once. He is able to create an infant out of a too old father and a barren mother, if He wants and when His wisdom necessitates. This job is so easy for Him, because as the universe witnesses, His power is absolute. Both His will and power are absolute.

With the story of Zachariah, our minds realize this fact. And the story of Mary follows right at the time of this awakening. God Almighty who is able to create a child out of an old father and barren mother, at this time gives His servant Mary the good news that she will have a son with no father.

Mary has witnessed the miracle of her barren relative and her aged husband Zachariah having a baby. Yet, when she heard of a child without a father, she couldn't help asking: “How can I have a son when no mortal hath touched me; neither have I been unchaste?” Angel Gabriel repeated to Mary what God said to Zachariah with the clarity and plainness of the divine language. “So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: ‘It is easy for Me.’”[4]

After some time, Jesus was born.

But those, whose life was made up within the circle of causes, who made the matter a curtain to divinity rather than making it a window, who could not understand the existence of the Creator of causes under the curtain of causes, surely could not understand this either. Creation of man from a drop of water as a wonder of power was lesson-giving enough, but they did not seem to get their lesson. Moreover, the curtain before them was slightly opened. They had seen the creation of the same wonder from an old father and a barren mother, but they still did not learn a lesson from it. They still would not understand that it is the Glorious Creator who creates man and He has the absolute power.

There was an obvious miracle proving the helplessness of the causes. Causes were suspended but still a child was born.

However, they looked for a ‘certain’ cause and therefore, by their way of thinking, they believed a bad action had been committed and hidden until the birthday of a child. Since they always had the fruit from a tree and the child from a father, they could not see the Causer behind the causes and understand that He has an absolute power and is not subject to causes, and so they attempted to blame Mary, the symbol of chastity.

The blame, in fact, was not only Mary’s, but also the Lord’s. Mary was blamed only for being unchaste. But her Lord was blamed for needing causes to create a child, in this case needing a father, and not having an absolute power and will to do it without father.

Their Lord showed a miracle to those who did not get their lesson at the creation of every human from a drop of water and blood. But those bigoted cause-worshippers, depending on causes with a blind belief, did not bat an eyelid.

Rather, they attacked Mary in the same manner. They dared to cross-question how if she committed such a bad sin while being the daughter of a pure family coming from the generation of Moses and Aaron (peace be upon them). They were insolent because they sentenced Mary without listening to her. They accused Mary without inquiring despite the fact she never was unchaste in her entire life. They did not even think that they would be mistaken.

Mary said not a single word in answer upon her Lord’s order. Gabriel already conveyed to her The Lord’s order on fasting (sawm); she was to ‘fast’ by keeping silence when hearing troubling question:

“So eat and drink and be consoled. And if thou meetest any mortal, say: Lo! I have vowed a fast unto the Beneficent, and may not speak this day to any mortal.”[5]

In fact, our Lord wanted her to keep quiet against those who tried to explain that event within the circle of causes and attempted to cross-examine her. What could be said to bigoted deniers where even a most obvious miracle could not help to break their fanaticism.

The expression of this silence in the Quran as ‘fasting’ also carries a message that fasting is not limited to eating or drinking. Abstaining from eating and drinking for the sake of the Lord at a certain period is fasting; likewise remaining silent when there is no talk in the name of God is also called fasting. It is also fasting not to interfere with cause-worshipping logic of the people who cannot see the divine work behind the material world; the Causer behind the causes, and therefore, cannot turn this world into a window reflecting and introducing our eternal Lord.

That is Mary’s fasting.

Mary precisely kept this fasting. She did not talk to people who did not recognise the Lord, who did not see His absolute power and will connecting the effects to the causes.

She was not supposed to talk because the people did not intend to understand or receive what she would say. Their perspective was so narrow that they are not able to question their own suppositions.

Mary, who took this universe as the creation of her Lord, recognized Him with His thousands of beautiful names that the universe and her own nature witness, loved her Lord appropriately as she attributed all gifts, grants, beauties,

briefly all the existence to Him, and obeyed all His orders up to that day since she loved Him, kept her fasting in silence although facing a severe accusation on the contrary with the unique purity in her chastity. Without saying a single word, she pointed out: “I can not speak, go to the baby in the cradle and listen to him.”

Those not able to think of a child with no father and therefore who blamed the mother with being unchaste so looking for a hidden ‘reason’ for this, were certainly not ready to talk to a newborn baby. According to them, a child talking was dependent on his age and the one you called child would talk only at a certain age. “We,” they said, “How can we talk with a newborn baby in the cradle?”[6]

And the baby talked. By talking soon after he was born, he showed to the ones whose world was made up of causes that his Lord was not subject to any causes. He proved the fact that the Lord who creates the child from a father and a mother and makes the child talk at a certain age is not dependent on parents for the child nor does He need to wait for the baby to talk. And as everything is created so is the cause of everything created; his Lord would create the results free of causes if He wished, nobody and nothing could claim partnership to His power and will. A little baby answered the cause-worshippers who blame his mother giving him birth without a father: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet.”[7]

It is definitely not possible to fully conceive and comprehend this chapter of Quran, which contains endless lights with all its messages and profundity like every other chapter. However there are lessons this story teaches to every mind that is enlightened and every heart that acts wisely.

Mary's fasting is one of those lessons.

Indeed, if we purified our inner world from worldly affairs, cleaned it from the talks tackled with the causes and thus lived with a very clean soul, everything would become apparent with their real faces. Every event and every creature will whisper to us’God Almighty’ if only we do not darken our inner world with unwise chattering, and establish all our whole life as a servant obedient to His orders. While the causes will keep quiet, those who are supposed not to talk shall talk. They will remind us of their and our servantship to God.

Let us keep Mary's fasting thoroughly. Let us know remaining silent is also a kind of fasting in an atmosphere where heresies are dominant, where daily chats, neighbor-friend visits, press and TV news present interpretations which are leading us to forget our servantship rather than remembering it. As we abstain from eating and drinking to ensure our stomachs obey the order of our Lord, so we should ensure our tongue to keep on the fasting of “either tell the truth or keep quiet.”[8]

The more we keep our tongue away from heedless words the more we keep our heart and mind away from heedlessness, and thus the creatures around shall talk to us more meaningfully. The more we keep away from heedless words, that are messengers of heedless positions and thoughts, those who are supposed to be dumb will whisper to us the beautiful names of our Sustainer.

Just as baby Jesus’ speech whispering, “I am indeed a servant of God” after Mary’s fasting in silence as the symbol of chastity...

by Metin Karabasoglu

** from the author’s Kur’an Okumalari (Quranic Readings), fifth edition, Istanbul: Karakalem, 2001, pp. 43-48.

[1] That expression of respect is recommended for Muslims in referring to all the prophets.

[2] Yahya, i.e. John the Baptist in Christian sources.

[3] Quran, 19:8-9.

[4] Quran, 19:21.

[5] Quran, 19:26.

[6] Quran, 19:29

[7] Quran, 19:30

[8] Hadith from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).


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