I have four nephews whose names are Zakareya, Idrees, Adam and Ibrahim. When I tell my non-Muslims friends and colleagues this, they are amazed that they sound so familiar to some of their names and some of the names they grew up hearing from the Bible. They are even more shocked when I tell them that they are the same people. ‘Muslims believe in Abraham? And Noah? And Jesus!?’
When I was younger, my parents bought me a book on the stories of the Prophets for Eid. This is where my fascination began. From the first man, Adam, to the seal of the Prophets Muhammad, peace be upon them both, I have been obsessed with the stories of these men. Years down the line, my bookshelf is now full of the tales of their lives, and my niece comes and asks me to read the stories of the people that her cousins and brother are named after.
They may be stories for her now, but for me, and for all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, they are people that we can look up to and people that should inspire us to be better. The Quran says in Surah Yusuf (my favourite story): ‘In revealing the Quran, We will recount to you the best of narratives’, so let me recount some to you.
Let us start at the beginning – nephew number 3 is named after Adam. One day, Allah (swt) informed His angels that he was going to make a ‘khalifah’ or custodian for the Earth. Before this, Allah had already created the jinn, who had caused mischief and war. The angels did not question Allah, but were confused and asked him why He was doing it after he saw the wars of the jinn. Allah simply replied ‘I know what you know not.’ Allah then told the angels to gather soil from all parts of the earth, and mixed this into a clay to form Adam. He then breathed His spirit into him, starting with the head. He taught Adam the names of everything and went back to the angels and asked them ‘Tell me the names of these things.’ The angels did not know, so Allah told Adam to tell them. ‘Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth?’ Allah said.
There are important lessons to learn from this. Firstly, it is that Allah defended us when the angels said we would cause mischief like the jinn. He also gave us a purpose, to look after the earth as custodians. Unfortunately, when we look at the state of the world, it seems that we are doing what the angels predicted, and we are letting Allah down after he defended us. The second lesson is that we are created from different parts of the earth, symbolising the many different types of people that now inhabit it. We all are from the same person, and we create divisions ourselves. Another lesson is that Allah breathed His spirit starting to the head, meaning that our brain is now our most precious part. Allah teaches us our limits when we put this in prostration on the ground when we pray, showing us that he is so much more important than us.
Nephew number 2 is named after Idrees, who came after Adam and Nuh. Allah may have taught Allah all the names, which shows us that as humans we have the capacity for incredible amounts of knowledge, but Idrees which means ‘the interpreter’ brought knowledge onto the earth. Tradition dictates that Idrees was the first person to use the pen, and was skilled in the arts and sciences. However, it is Idrees’ death that he is renowned for. The Quran says ‘Mention Idrees… Who we have raised to a high place.’ One day an angel and Idrees were discussing how a longer life meant more deeds accumulated. Idrees told the angel to take him to Allah so he could ask for a longer life to obtain more good deeds. At the same time, the angel of death had been commanded to take Idrees’ soul, but from the fourth heaven. Confused, the angel of death made his way. Idrees and his angel, and the angel of death met in the fourth heaven whilst they were both on their respective ways. Idrees understood Allah’s command and humbly let his soul be taken. He remains in the fourth heaven.
The lesson to learn here is that of time. Allah in Surah Asr swears by time that ‘surely man is at a loss’. Idrees understood that time on the earth is limited, so he went to seek more time from Allah. Life is short, and Idrees teaches us that once we are gone, we can no longer come back to do the good we should have done whilst we were still on the earth, so we should make good use of the time we have.
Nephew number 1, who holds a special place in my heart, is Zakareya. Zakareya and his wife were old and had no child. After much prayer, Allah granted him the news of Yahya, who was born and to become a prophet himself. His story shows us that with the power of prayer, anything is possible, and we should never give up. But what is important also about Zakareya, is that he was uncle to Maryam, and looked after her in Jerusalem.
Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the Quran. The angels said to Mary ‘Allah has chosen you. He has made you pure and exalted you above womankind.’ At the time, Mary defied the odds as the only girl to be allowed to pray in the temple of Jerusalem. One day, Allah sent her an angel which changed her life forever. The angel told her of God’s Word, that she was to have a son: Isa. This is where our story differs from our Christian and Jewish brothers, but where we can learn from Mary. In Muslim tradition there was no Joseph, and Mary was on her own. She left Jerusalem and gave birth to Isa under the shade of a date tree. ‘I would rather die than this pain!’ she cried, and Allah sent her dates and water. She was told to return to Jerusalem and not say a word, to allow Isa to perform his first miracle and speak to the people as a baby and defend his mother.
The story is still magical. It teaches us, especially girls, of endurance, strength and faith. Mary was independent, and put her faith in herself and her Lord.
My last nephew was born on Christmas Day. We joked that he would be called ‘Isa’ but he is named after the friend of Allah, Ibrahim. Out of all the Prophets, it was Ibrahim who was tested the most, but who came out of the other end shining. Ibrahim’s father made idols, and Ibrahim tried to convince him not too. Eventually, his own family and town tried to burn him, but Allah told the fire to cool. The first lesson we learn is of difficult families. A few generations down the line, Yusuf was to face sibling rivalry. Allah teaches us that when faced with this adversity, we should still be forgiving but also stand for what we believe in. Ibrahim prayed for his father, and Yusuf prayed for his brothers.
Ibrahim and his wife Sara could not have children, so he married Hajar to produce an heir: Ismail. After this, Allah did bless Sara in the same way he was to bless Zakareya’s wife and gave her a son in her old age: Is’haq. She grew jealous so Ibrahim left Hajar and Ismail in the Mecca valley on Allah’s command. We retrace her steps on Umrah and Hajj as she ran between Safa and Marwah finding water. Eventually Allah granted her the Zam-Zam well, and they settled there. Ibrahim reunited with them, but Allah tested them again and commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice Ismail. Ismail willingly obliged, teaching us that obedience and faith in Allah go side by side, something that the Quran and Hadith continuously remind us of. Allah gave a lamb to sacrifice at the last minute, proving to us that the tests in our lives are only to strengthen our faith and produce better reward.
Allah was to bless Ibrahim’s family, as all the prophets after him were from his progeny through Is’haq, apart from Muhammad, peace be upon him, who came from the family of Ismail. On the night journey, Muhammad recounted that he never saw anyone who looked so like him than Ibrahim, and it is no wonder given the amount of tests they both had to face.
These are the Prophets that my nephews are named after, but there are many more that we can learn from. Musa tells us that there is always hope to transform ourselves despite what we did in the past, Ayyub tells us that Allah only takes form us to give us better, and Harun tells us to stand with our brother no matter what. And it doesn’t stop at the Prophets, we can look at the companions of the Prophets too, like Ali who was humble and loyal.
This Ramadan, I urge everyone to read the stories of our Prophets. You will soon realise that the Quran indeed does, recount the best narratives.
by Hasin Amin