بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
والصلاة والسلام على رسوله الكريم
The great Prophet, Yahya, known as John “the Baptist”, is a very special figure who features in the holy Qur’an. Allah Most High places him in a special category of righteous individuals:
وَزَكَرِيَّا وَيَحْيَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ وَإِلْيَاسَ ۖ كُلٌّ مِّنَ الصَّالِحِينَ۞
And Zechariah, Yahya, Jesus and Elias; Each were among the righteous
These four individuals were all prophets. Three of them (Zechariah, Yahya and Jesus) were not only contemporaries, but close relatives; Zechariah was Yahya’s (John’s) father, while Jesus was the latter’s maternal cousin. Elias (Elijah) is added to the mention of these three because these four prophets had a similar message that was dissident and radical. It is for this reason that, according to the Christian Gospels, there is a special affinity between John “the Baptist” and the ancient prophet Elijah: “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” (Matthew 11:14) “But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:12-13) “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:17)
The historian Josephus wrote concerning John “the Baptist”:
“But to some of the Jews it seemed that the army of Herod was destroyed by God -indeed, God quite justly punishing (Herod) to avenge what he had done to John, who was surnamed the Baptist. For Herod killed him, although he was a good man and (simply) bade the Jews to join in baptism, provided that they were cultivating virtue and practicing justice toward one another and piety toward God. For (only) thus, in John’s opinion, would the baptism (he administered) indeed be acceptable (to God), namely, if they used it to obtain not pardon for some sins but rather cleansing of their bodies, inasmuch as (it was taken for granted that) their souls had already been purified by justice. And when the others (namely, ordinary Jews), gathered together (around John) - for their excitement reached fever pitch as they listened to (his) words - Herod began to fear that John’s powerful ability to persuade people might lead to some sort of revolt, for they seemed likely to do whatever he counseled. So (Herod) decided to do away with John by a preemptive strike, before he sparked a revolt. Herod considered this a much better (course of action) than to wait until the situation changed and (then) to regret (his delay) when he was engulfed by a crisis. And so, because of Herod’s suspicion, John was sent in chains to Machaerus, the mountain fortress previously mentioned; there he was killed. But the Jews were of the opinion that the army was destroyed to avenge John, God wishing to inflict harm on Herod.”
Thus we know from two different sources, i.e., Josephus and the Christian Gospels, that John “the Baptist” was indeed leading a religious movement centered on baptism, and that he was murdered by order of Herod Antipas. Strangely, the holy Qur’an mentions neither of these two facts about prophet Yahya, at least not explicitly. But perhaps the following verse is an allusion to Yahya’s ministry of baptism in the holy Qur’an:
يَا يَحْيَىٰ خُذِ الْكِتَابَ بِقُوَّةٍ ۖ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْحُكْمَ صَبِيًّا۞
وَحَنَانًا مِّن لَّدُنَّا وَزَكَاةً ۖ وَكَانَ تَقِيًّا۞
“O Yahya, take the Scripture with determination.” And We gave him judgement (while yet) a boy. And affection from Us and purity, and he was fearing (of Allah)
The granting of zakaat “purity” to Yahya may be considered an allusion to his ministry of baptism at the Jordan River - an outward expression or symbol of the inner purification.
As for the martyrdom of Yahya, the holy Qur’an simply states that there was to be peace upon him on the day he died (Sura 19:15), meaning, if he was martyred, which is highly likely based on what limited historical accounts we have, he was in a state of peace and tranquility.
To be continued