Here is an account of the mercy your Lord showed to His servant Zachariah; when he invoked his Lord in an under tone. He prayed, "O my Lord ! My very bones have become rotten, and my head is glistening with age. My Lord! I have never been disappointed in my prayer to Thee. I now fear (the consequences of) the evil ways of my kinsmen after me, and my wife is barren! I, therefore, pray Thee to bless me by Thy grace with a successor, who may inherit my heritage and that of the descendants of Jacob; and O Lord, make him a desirable person." (The answer was: ) "O Zachariah, We give you the good news of a son, who will be called Yahya ( John) . We have not created any other man of this name before." He said, "Lord, how can I beget a son when my wife is barren, and I have become impotent because of old age ?" In answer, it was said, "So shall it be. Your Lord says, `This is easy for Me, even as I created you before this, when you were nothing at all' ." Zachariah said, "Lord, appoint a sign for me". He said, "The sign for you is that you shall not talk to the people for three consecutive days." After this, he came out of the sanctuary to his people, and made signs, asking them, "Glorfy God morning and evening.”
To John We said, "Observe the Divine Book with a firm resolve. " We blessed him with "judgment" while he was yet a child, and bestowed on him tenderness of heart and purity from Ourself; and he was very pious and dutiful to his parents, and he was neither arrogant nor disobedient.
Peace was on him on the day he was born and on the day he died, and peace shall be on him on the day he will be raised to life. (The Holy Quran, 19:2-15)
In order to have a fuller understanding of the Mission and the pure character of Prophet John, about which brief references have been made in this Surah and Surah Ale-Imran, it will be useful to study this story as given in different Books of the New Testament in the following order:
According to Luke, Prophet John was older than Prophet Jesus by six months and their mothers were cousins. He was appointed a Prophet at the age of 30 years, and according to the Gospel of John, he started his mission of inviting the people toward God in Jordan. He would say: "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord." (John, I: 23)
According to Mark, "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptizm of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins." (Mark, I: 45). He thus came to be known as John the Baptist, and the Israelites held him as a prophet. (Mat. 21: 26). Prophet Jesus said about John: "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a man greater than John the Baptist." (Mat. 11 : 11)
"John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey." (Mat. 3: 4). He would say: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Mat. 3: 2). By this he meant that very soon Prophet Jesus was going to start his Mission of Prophethood. The same thing has been said about him in the Qur'an: ". . . he (John) will come to confirm a Command from Allah." (III: 39). For the same reason he has been called `a sign of or pointer to' Prophet Jesus.
He urged the people to observe the Fast and Prayers. (Mat. 9: 14, Luke, 5: 33, I1: 1). He would also tell them, ". . . He that hath two coats, let him -impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise." (Luke 3: 11). When the tax-collectors asked, "Master, what shall we do?" He said unto them, "Exact no more than that what is appointed you." (12-13), and when the soldiers sought his guidance, he said: "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages." (Luke, 3: 14)'
When the corrupt scholars, Pharisees and Sadducees of the Israelites, came to be baptized by him, he rebuked them, saying: "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?..think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father... now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." (Mat-3 :7-10)
The Jewish ruler of his time, Herod Antipas, in whose tetrarchy he was performing his Mission of inviting the people to the Truth, had been so deeply influenced by the Roman civilization that he was causing sin and evil to spread freely in the land. He had kept Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, unlawfully in his house; when Prophet John reproved him for this and raised his voice against other evils being committed by him, Herod got him arrested and sent to jail. However, he held him in high esteem for his piety and righteousness and even feared him on account of the great respect he enjoyed among the people. On the contrary, Herodias thought that the moral consciousness that Prophet John was producing among the people was directly aimed at women like herself and pulling them down in the public eye. Thus she nursed a grudge against him and would have him killed but could not. Soon an opportunity came her way. On the birthday banquet of Herod, her daughter danced and so delighted Herod and others that the king said to her, 'Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.' The girl asked her mother what she should ask for. The mother said, `Ask for the head of John the Baptist.' The girl went back to the king and requested to have there and then the head of John the Baptist on a dish. Herod felt sorry to hear this, but could not reject the demand of the daughter of his beloved. He at once got Prophet John killed in the prison and presented his head on a dish to the dancing girl. (Mat. 14: 3-12, Mark, 6 :17-29, Luke, 3 :19-20).
(Explanation of verses taken from Tafheemul Quran)