Birth of Jesus as a miracle — some general comments

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 21 October 2022

“He it is Who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases. There is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise.” — ch. 3: Āl-i Imrān, v. 6

ہُوَ الَّذِیۡ یُصَوِّرُکُمۡ فِی الۡاَرۡحَامِ کَیۡفَ یَشَآءُ ؕ لَاۤ اِلٰہَ اِلَّا ہُوَ الۡعَزِیۡزُ الۡحَکِیۡمُ ﴿۶

“…He creates you in the wombs of your mothers — creation after creation — in triple darkness. That is Allah, your Lord; His is the kingdom. There is no god but He. How are you then turned away (from truth)?” — ch. 39, Az-Zumar, v. 6

 یَخۡلُقُکُمۡ فِیۡ بُطُوۡنِ اُمَّہٰتِکُمۡ خَلۡقًا مِّنۡۢ بَعۡدِ خَلۡقٍ فِیۡ ظُلُمٰتٍ ثَلٰثٍ ؕ ذٰلِکُمُ اللّٰہُ رَبُّکُمۡ لَہُ الۡمُلۡکُ ؕ لَاۤ اِلٰہَ اِلَّا ہُوَ ۚ فَاَنّٰی تُصۡرَفُوۡنَ ﴿۶

The two verses I have recited speak of the development of the baby in the mother’s womb, and by saying that “there is no god but He” both these verses tell us that this development in the womb is the work only of God. The first verse also says that this process shows the power and the might and the wisdom of God. The second verse, in the words “His is the kingdom”, indicates that this process shows the control of God over the physical world. Another verse in the Quran, v. 14 of ch. 23 (Sūrah al-Mu’minūn), lists various stages in the development of the baby in the womb, from the point of the male sperm entering the female to fertilise the egg, to the point at which it can be considered as a human being, and it ends by saying: “then We cause it to grow into another creation [i.e. become a human being]. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators!” The Arabic of the last sentence is: فَتَبٰرَکَ اللّٰہُ اَحۡسَنُ الۡخٰلِقِیۡنَ . This creation in the womb is such a marvel that only the best of the creators, of those who create anything, could achieve it.

It is commonly believed by most Muslims that, when Mary became pregnant to give birth to Jesus, it was by a miracle and an extraordinary working of Allah. No human male made her pregnant, and it was what is known as the virgin birth. It is said that her becoming pregnant in this way is a display of the power of God, that He caused a woman to become pregnant without need of a human male.  Yet the Quran tells us that it is the familiar development of the baby in the womb, the common place event, which is a display of the power and wisdom and control of God. Unfortunately, people have the tendency to ignore the everyday working of nature and they treat it as ordinary and nothing special to think about, but on the other hand they are attracted towards and fascinated by some happening which goes against normal experience.

It is true that Allah brings about miracles and quite extraordinary occurrences, but because He is not only all-Powerful but also Wise, all such happenings have a purpose behind them. If indeed Jesus was conceived miraculously by his mother Mary, without the involvement of a male human being, what was achieved by it? Did it equip him better to perform his mission than any of the other prophets who all had fathers, or did it bestow any advantage on him in his life? Our Holy Prophet Muhammad also had no father in the sense that his father had died before he was born. Obviously, he missed not having a father to take care of him. We may also recall here that the story of Moses as an infant is mentioned in the Quran. The Pharaoh was after killing every male baby of the Israelites. So the Quran tells us, twice, that Allah revealed to the mother of Moses to cast him into the river and he would be picked up by Pharaoh’s people, and then Allah would arrange to bring him back to her. And it so happened that after he was picked up, lying in the basket that his mother had put him in, and brought into the Pharaoh’s palace, Moses’ sister had the opportunity to go and suggest to them that she knew of a suitable woman to nurse the baby, whose services they could employ. They agreed and as a result Moses was returned to his mother to be looked after by her (20:38–40 and 28:7–13). Moses’ father is not mentioned at all in the Quran in relating all these incidents. The revelation was sent only to his mother: “Suckle him; then when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear, nor grieve; surely We shall bring him back to you and make him a messenger (of Ours)” (28:7). There is no mention of the father fearing for his son’s safety, or having had any role in casting Moses into the river, and God’s promise is to bring back Moses to his mother. Regarding the fulfilment of that promise, Allah says: “So We gave him back to his mother that she might be comforted, and not grieve, and that she might know that the promise of Allah is true” (28:13). But there is no mention of the feelings of his father. No one draws the conclusion from this that Moses’ mother conceived him without the existence of a human father. Yet in the case of Jesus people put forward the argument that since his father is not mentioned it means that he was conceived by Mary miraculously without a father being involved.

Another important point about miracles is that they are shown to people openly, so that no one can deny about a miracle that the event itself actually took place. Of course, they may well deny that God caused it to happen, but what they can’t deny is that it took place. For example, the Holy Prophet Muhammad was protected from being killed by his enemies on a number of occasions, such as while emigrating from Makkah to Madinah, or in the course of battles. No one at that time could deny that those events actually took place. They happened openly and in front of them. Of course, his opponents did not accept that it was because of God’s protection. Again, the Holy Prophet presented his revelation before his opponents as a miracle and challenged them to produce a book like it. This miracle was visible to them. They could deny that the Quran was from God but what they could not deny was that it actually existed and could not be equalled. Take the case of Moses. God sent various punishments on Pharaoh’s people, bringing them destruction and death. People saw and experienced all those signs. They could not deny that they happened, even though they did not stop their persecution of Moses and his followers. But as regards a woman conceiving a child without a male participating in that act, as a miracle from God, it is not something that can be shown to people, so that they would be guilty if they don’t accept it.

Let us compare this to another incident mentioned in the Quran relating to someone’s birth, which could be called a miracle. This incident actually took place shortly before Mary conceived Jesus. Mary’s guardian, in whose charge she grew up, was a holy man called Zacharias (3:37). We are told in the Quran that he was so impressed with Mary’s righteousness and devotion to God that he prayed to God to grant him similarly righteous and devoted offspring. As a result, God gave him the good news of the birth of a son called Yahya (3:38–39), whom Christians call John the Baptist. But Zacharias expressed astonishment at this news because he and his wife were too old (3:40). Nonetheless, the news was fulfilled. Now that can be considered as a miracle shown to people, because people could see that an elderly husband and wife were not capable of producing any offspring, but then they could see that a child was born to the wife. People might not believe that this was a miracle and fulfilment of Zacharias’ prayer, but they could not deny that Zacharias’ wife gave birth to a child when it could not be expected that he and his wife could have a child. But in the case of Mary, if she did conceive Jesus while being a virgin, it is impossible to show people that this conception happened without a male.

Another point in this connection is that when God makes a miracle happen, He can hold people accountable if they deny that it was from God. The traditional story, which people say they derive from the Quran, is that Mary, after giving birth to Jesus, brought him to her people and they reprimanded her and said: You have done a terrible thing, your father and mother were not immoral people. The question is: How can you blame her people for saying this? How can anyone say that her people are making a false accusation against her? If she had conceived the child as a miracle without male involvement, they cannot possibly have seen this. This traditional story then goes, again based on misunderstanding the Quran, that when the people made this accusation, Jesus himself spoke to them, as an infant of hardly a few days old, telling them that he was in fact a servant of God, to whom God had given a book and made him a prophet, and instructed him to say prayers and give in charity. According to this story, people then immediate­ly knew, from this miracle of a few days old infant speaking these words to them, that he must be a true prophet and therefore his birth could not be impure, and he was not conceived through an immoral act by his mother. According to Maulana Maudoodi, this incident happened so that “after this baby grows up and is appointed as a prophet, there would be thousands of people who could testify to the fact that they had already seen this incredible miracle of Allah in him”.

This story is totally contrary to the laws and practice of Allah about prophethood and is against all known history. As to Maulana Maudoodi’s comment, it is not stated anywhere in the Quran or the Bible or in any history that when Jesus grew up and claimed to be a prophet there was any person whatsoever present who testified that he had heard Jesus making this claim as an infant in his mother’s arms. As to the laws of Allah about prophethood, if we look at the examples of Moses and of the Holy Pro­phet Muhammad we find that when Allah appointed them as His messengers they became very anxious, worried and nervous about the task being assigned to them and felt utterly unable to bear that burden. They were about forty years of age at the time. It took some more time, in fact years, before God gave them teachings to convey to people. But, according to this story about Jesus, he already knew at his birth, or perhaps even before his birth, that he was a prophet with a book of teachings from God, and he was preaching to people within days of his birth. If this really happened, people who heard him would have asked him to teach and guide them straightaway, and to answer any questions on religion that they may have, and to lead them in prayer!

To conclude, it simply cannot happen that, just for one prophet, Allah sets aside all his laws and principles which apply to all other prophets. Thankfully, our Lahore Ahmadiyya elders and scholars have clarified all these matters in the light of the Quran itself, while also using their God-given power of reasoning.