Date, Context and Theme
It is a Meccan sura. The story behind this sura is that some of the early Muslims fled from Mecca and went to Abyssinia (a Christian kingdom). The Christian king (Negus) gave them protection. He asked about their beliefs and it is reported that sura 19 or part of it was read out to him.
The example and pious life of the prophets
vv. 1-11 Zechariah
vv. 12-15 John
vv. 16-34 Mary and Jesus
vv. 35-40 A rebuke to the Meccans (or maybe Christians???)
vv. 41-50 Abraham
vv. 51-53 Moses and Aaron
vv. 54-55 Ishmael
vv. 56- 57 Idris (Enoch)
v. 58 summary
The final address to the Meccans
vv. 59-66 Turn to God, blessing if your do, hell if you don’t.
Vv. 67-72 Meccan questions - Will I really be judged?
Vv. 73- 83 Meccan boast - Our army and families are bigger than yours
vv. 84-98 Be patient Muhammad. Your time will come.
What I found interesting.
1. The sura has a clear structure that is easy to follow.
2. Again the lives of the prophets are told in such a way (very few details) that it assumes you know about them already, like Hebrews 11.
3. Often the details it does give are just wrong.
(It was said unto him): O Zachariah! Lo! We bring thee tidings of a son whose name is John; we have given the same name to none before (him). 19:7
John is a common name in Israel and was widely used before John the Baptist.
He said: My Lord! Appoint for me some token. He said: Thy token is that thou, with no bodily defect, shalt not speak unto mankind three nights. 19:10
Zechariah could not speak until the birth of John.
Jesus' mother Mary, is Mary (Miriam) the sister of Aaron.
O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot.
4. Jesus’ conception and birth is described in this sura.
He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son. 19:19
He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me. And (it will be) that We may make of him a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained. 19:21
Jesus is a revelation for all mankind not just Israel. And he speaks from the cradle.
5. A very clear denunciation of God having a son.
It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. 19:35
And they say: The Beneficent hath taken unto Himself a son. Assuredly ye utter a disastrous thing 19:88-89
In fact you can never be more than a slave with Allah.
When it is not meet for (the Majesty of) the Beneficent that He should choose a son. There is none in the heavens and the earth but cometh unto the Beneficent as a slave. 19:92-93
But you can be a loved slave.
Lo! those who believe and do good works, the Beneficent will appoint for them love. 19:96
How different this is to the prophets that talk about Israel and the Messiah and all God’s people being sons.
6. Here is a reference to Abraham being given Isaac and Jacob.
So, when he had withdrawn from them and that which they were worshipping beside Allah, We gave him Isaac and Jacob. Each of them We made a prophet. 19:49
But it seems that it should read Isaac and Ishmael. This is particularly the case in,
And make mention in the Scripture of Ishmael. Lo! he was a keeper of his promise, and he was a messenger (of Allah), a prophet. 19:54
Here Ishmael is not connected to Abraham as a son. In Medinan suras Ishmael is Abraham’s son, but it does not seem to be the idea here. It would be interesting to see when Ishmael is explicitly said to be Abraham’s son. Is it part of Meccan or Medinan theology?
7. Here is an interesting verse in which the “we” of the Qur’an is not referring to God but angels. This is a record of angels speaking not God.
We (angels) come not down save by commandment of thy Lord. Unto Him belongeth all that is before us and all that is behind us and all that is between those two, and thy Lord was never forgetful - Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them! Therefor, worship thou Him and be thou steadfast in His service. Knowest thou one that can be named along with Him? 19:64-65
8. It seems that everyone is taken to the edge of hell and then Allah rescues those he wills.
There is not one of you but shall approach it. That is a fixed ordinance of thy Lord. Then We shall rescue those who kept from evil, and leave the evil-doers crouching there. 19:71-72
9. There is no intercession except if you have a covenant with Allah.
They will have no power of intercession, save him who hath made a covenant with his Lord. 19:87