The Land of Prophets is said to be the present-day Middle East or, more precisely, Palestine. It is the home of so many Prophets sent by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to invite the people to the right path. Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is one of them.
As we know from various traditions, Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى had sent more than 124,000 Prophets to this world for the guidance of people. But only 25 of them have been mentioned in the Quran by name. Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is referred to by name 7 times in Quran. So, most of the details about the life and struggles of Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ come from various traditions.
Family Background of Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ
Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was born in Palestine in 97 BC. He was an Israelite (Bani Israel). There have been quite several Prophets in his ancestors. He was one of the descendants of Prophet Sulayman عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. His son Yahya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُwas also a Prophet.
He was married to one of the descendants of Prophet Haroon عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Name of his wife is said to be Yashbi. The husband and wife were well-known in society for their piety and righteousness. Unfortunately, the wife of Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was infertile; hence, they had no children for a long time. Despite this, Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ stood firm on his faith in Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. And Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى rewarded him with a son in his very old age. It is believed that this happened in the 92nd year of his life.
Life and Faith of Prophet Zakariya
By profession, he was a carpenter. He lived a very simple life. Despite his limited resources, Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is known for his generosity. He was always ready to help the people. Prophet Zakariya was also well-known for his piety and righteousness. He spent most of his time serving in Bait-ul-Maqdas, the 2nd Temple per Jewish traditions.
By faith, Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ followed the footprints of Prophet Musa. He kept the teachings of Prophet Musa alive. The people of his time, in general, were hardly inclined to the right path; rather, they were more twisted towards the wrong side, frequently committing evil deeds. Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was much worried about their behavior. He continued his efforts to attract them to the teachings of Allah. This endeavor highlights his whole life.
His prime concern then was that he had no offspring till then. He thought it would have been better if he had a son who would keep inviting the people to Allah.
Prophet Zakariya’s عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Role as a Guardian of Mariyam
The wife of Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ had a sister named Hannah. She was married to Imran. Both the sisters are believed to be infertile. So, the wife of Imran prayed for a child, which was accepted by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. She promised to devote her child to the temple. Surah Al-Imran, verse 35 to 37, narrates as under
˹Remember˺ when the wife of ’Imrân said, “My Lord! I dedicate what is in my womb entirely to Your service, so accept it from me. You ˹alone˺ are truly the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.”
When she delivered, she said, “My Lord! I have given birth to a girl,”—and Allah fully knew what she had delivered—“and the male is not like the female. I have named her Mary, and I seek Your protection for her and her offspring from Satan, the accursed.”
So her Lord accepted her graciously and blessed her with a pleasant upbringing—entrusting her to the care of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah visited her in the sanctuary, he found her supplied with provisions. He exclaimed, “O Mary! Where did this come from?” She replied, “It is from Allah. Surely Allah provides for whoever He wills without limit.”
So, she got a baby girl and named her as Mariyam. Per her promise, she dedicated Mariyam to the temple. And Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ became her pattern, per the command of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.
So, he used to visit Mariyam to look after her. He always noticed fresh fruits with her and asked where they came from. Mariyam said it was from Allah. This greatly inspired Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, and his faith in Allah further strengthened.
Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Prays for a Son
With the growing age, Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was even more worried about his nation. His concern was doubled because he had no child. Hence, he prayed to Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to give him a son who could keep his mission alive. He was sure his request would be accepted, though he was in his 90s. So, in continuation of previous verses, Surah Al-Imran verses 38 to 41, narrates this happening as under:
Then and there Zachariah prayed to his Lord, saying, “My Lord! Grant me—by your grace—righteous offspring. You are certainly the Hearer of ˹all˺ prayers.”
So the angels called out to him while he stood praying in the sanctuary, “Allah gives you good news of ˹the birth of˺ John who will confirm the Word of Allah and will be a great leader, chaste, and a prophet among the righteous.”
Zachariah exclaimed, “My Lord! How can I have a son when I am very old and my wife is barren?” He replied, “So will it be. Allah does what He wills.”
Zachariah said, “My Lord! Grant me a sign.” He said, “Your sign is that you will not ˹be able to˺ speak to people for three days except through gestures. Remember your Lord often and glorify ˹Him˺ morning and evening.”
In this way, Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was rewarded with a son named Yahya, who also became a Prophet. Eventually, Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, Prophet Yahya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام and Prophet Isa عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, brought the struggle of Prophets to guide the people, to a next level. All of them happened to be the most respected, prestigious and guided Prophets of their time, as narrated in 85th verse of Surah Al-Anaam.
Likewise, ˹We guided˺ Zachariah, John, Jesus, and Elias, who were all of the righteous.
Death of Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ
Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ lived a long life of around 130 years and eventually died in 33 AD. As we can find in the traditions, there are two opinions about his death.
The first Opinion is that when his son Prophet Yayha عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was killed by cutting his head, Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ tried to hide himself. Hence, he prayed and got himself inside the trunk of a tree. Satan managed to locate him with a piece of his clothes coming out of the tree. Satan guided the people who first thought to burn the tree but eventually went on to cut it into two pieces with a saw. Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was also cut into two halves and died a painful death but did not cry.
The second tradition about the death of Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is that he lived a normal life till he died a natural death in 33 AD at the age of 130 years.
Whatever may be the event of his death, known best to Allah, the life and Prophet-hood of Zakariyaعَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ has been a landmark in the history of Islam in general and the history of Bani Israel in particular. He happens to be one of the important Prophets that were sent to the Bani Israel from Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى, in a continuous chain. Prophet Zakariya عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is a crucial link in that chain of Prophet-hood. The best lesson that we can derive from his life is his firm and un-wavered belief and trust in his creator, Allah the Almighty سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. Faith, belief, piety, righteousness and struggle are the core of his life.