Maryam, or Mary, Mother of Jesus, is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran. Her story is quite detailed, starting from when her mother dedicated the baby in her womb to the service of the temple (3:35). It tells how Zachariah became her sponsor (3:44), how she grew in purity (3:37), and that she guarded her chastity (19:20). It records the conversation between her and the angel who gave her the news of a child she would immaculately conceive (3:45), and how he would be a prophet of God sent to the Children of Israel (61:6). It describes her in labor (19:23), and the reaction of her astonished community when she brought her baby Jesus to them (19:27). The Quran says she was an upholder of truth (66:12)and chosen over all the women of the world (3:42).
The story of Maryam is truly inspiring, but there is one phrase spoken by her that, although sounding quite ordinary, has had a deep impression on me. Chapter 3 describes a scene where Zachariah enters her prayer chamber and finds that she has “provision.” Exegeses describe the provision as out-of-season fruits, which would have been near-miraculous in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. So Zachariah asks her, “From where is this?” And she replies (in verse 37), “It is from God. He provides for whom He wills without account.” These wise words inspired Zachariah to ask God for a son, who would also be “out of season” due to the fact that Zachariah and his barren wife were quite old. Their son is John the Baptist, but that’s another story.
I find Maryam’s answer to the question, “From where is this?” quite interesting. Most people probably would have said, “The neighbor sent it to me” or “A caravan has just arrived from Yemen” or “I bought it this morning from the farmers’ market.” Although any answer would satisfy the most curious person, it didn’t satisfy her. She was so devout and so wise that she could see beyond the obvious and the circumstantial – she could see the Truth. So she answered, “It is from God.” And it doesn’t really matter if the provision she referred to had a mysterious origin or not. Even if Zachariah found her with her usual meal and asked, “From where is this?” I imagine she would have answered, “It is from God” because it is the truth. The Quran says, “Whatever good has come to you, it is from God” (4:79).
We should respond as wisely as Maryam when asked about our blessings. Imagine if someone asked you, I love your glasses! Where did you get them? and you said, “They are from God!” Or You look so young! How do you do it? And you replied, “It’s from God!” Or You have a lovely home. “Thanks to God! It is from Him.” Or What’s for dinner? “Steak and potatoes from God.” That’s the outlook that Maryam had: appreciative, humble, insightful. Look around and start counting your blessings – from the cup of tea beside you, to the warm blanket on your bed, to the car in the driveway. If it’s good, it’s from God.
And if it’s not good, it’s from you. The Quran says, “Whatever good has come to you, it is from God, and whatever harm has stricken you, it is from yourself” (4:79). Sometimes God allows something seemingly bad to happen to alert us to mistakes we are making so that we correct our actions and reform (see 30:41). Sometimes God allows bad things to happen so that we turn to Him sincerely and forsake other “gods” to whom we may have wrongly ascribed power. Sometimes we need hard times to make us more humble and receptive to spiritual guidance. God says, “And it may be that you dislike something while it is good for you, and it may be that you love something while it is bad for you. And God knows while you do not know!” (2:216). So even a calamity can be a blessing in disguise for he who benefits from it by turning to his Creator for solace and support. Whatever happens, we should be receptive to the good in it and count it as a blessing.
If we perceive all events in our lives as good for us – either as a source of enjoyment from God or a means of improving ourselves and growing closer to our Creator – then we can never count our blessings because they are innumerable. In fact, the Quran proclaims that if you attempt to count the blessings of God, you could never enumerate even a single one (16:18), reminding us of the multifaceted goodness in a single blessing. (Most English translations don’t express the Arabic meaning correctly, perhaps due to the seeming incongruence between blessings and single one.) Certainly we don’t deserve such continuous generosity, and we can never repay God for His care. But we can acknowledge God as the source of all good, thank Him for His blessings, and uphold the truth when we understand it. We can adopt the insight and wisdom of Maryam, chosen above all the women of the world, who said about a meal, “It is from God.” God’s amazing response to our appreciation is this: “If you give thanks, I will give you more” (14:7). As Maryam rightfully concluded, “He provides for whom He wills without account.”