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Did Eesa (Jesus) Speak From The Cradle ?

Yesterday a friend asked how come I have not written about the Quran and Islam for some time? He suggested that I write something about the Quran and Islam because there are folks who would like to read about it.

So today I thought I would say something about another interesting topic from the Quran.  Not to be presumptious ok (my apologies up front) but I say “another interesting topic” because what the Quran says seems to be not in parrallel with the conventional “teachings of the mullahs”. 

By the way to the non-Muslim readers if you do not wish to read this it is ok. If you do, you may gain some information that may be useful when you talk to the Muslims around you.

Anyway the question is ‘Did Eesa (Jesus) talk while he was in the cradle?

Here is Sura 19:29 :

Fa-asharat ilay-hi qa-loo kay-fa nu-kal-li-mu man ka-na fil mahdi sabiyyan

[19:29] She pointed to him. They said, “How can we talk with an infant (sabiyyan) in the crib (fil mahdi) ?”

Fa-asharat  : thus she pointed / signalled 

ilay-hi :  to him 

qa-loo :  they said

kay-fa :  how can 

nu-kal-li-mu : we speak 

man ka-na : (with) someone who was 

fil mahdi : in the crib /cradle

sabiyyan  : an infant

This is the story where Maryam (Miriam)  was confronted by people after Eesa (Jesus) had been born.  She did not answer them. Instead she pointed towards Eesa. This is when the people asked ‘How can we speak with someone who is still an infant in the cradle?’

But Eesa did speak and it was deemed a  “miracle” because  infants in the crib should not be able to speak.

The two words to note in Sura 19:29 are mahdi (cradle / crib) and sabiyyan (infant).

1.  For non Arab speakers when we study the Quran of course we must go back to the original Arabic in the Quran. That  goes without saying. 

2. It is also critical to find out the meanings of the root words to the Arabic words that are being used in the Quran. For example what is the root word of  the Arabic words ‘mahdi’ and ‘sabiyyan’ ?

3.  And then we must check the occurrence, usage and context of the same Arabic words if they are used in other verses in the Quran.

4.  The final step is we must  then impute the same meanings of the root word in ALL the different verses where that Arabic word occurs and see what it tells us.  
(How do I check these roots words and find all the verses so super quickly?
The answer is called the Internet.   There are dozens of Quran translations, Quran Browsers, Quran Indexes, Quran Concordance (also an Index) available for free on the Internet. Just Google ‘Quran Browser’, ‘Quran Index” etc and Google shall set you free.) 
So lets check the word sabiyyan first.  Sabiyyan and its derivatives appear THREE times in the Quran.

We have already seen Sura 19:29 above. See the Arabic word ‘sabiyyan’ highlighted in yellow. Here are the other two:

Surah 19:12 

Ya yahya khu-dhi al-kitaa-ba bi-quw-wa-tin wa-aatay-naa-hu al-hukma sa-biy-yan

 “O Yahya! take hold of the Book with might”, and We gave him Wisdom even as a youth.
This is some narrative about Yahya. Among other things Yahya was given wisdom as a 

youth (sa-biy-yan).  Now if sa-biy-yan means baby or infant, it would not fit here. Yahya could not have been given wisdom as an infant. So youth is correct here.

Then here is the story of Joseph or Yusuf when he was almost seduced by a group of women. Here is Sura 12:33 where the word as-bu (a derivative of sabiy) refers to youthful. 

12:33  Qala rabbi al-sijnu ahab-bu ilay-ya mim-ma yad-oona-nee ilay-hi wa-illa tasrif an-nee kayda-hun-na as-bu ilay-hinna wa-akun minal  ja-hi-leena.
Malik translation Joseph said: “O my Lord! I would rather go to prison than that to which they invite me; and unless You ward off their cunning snare from me, I may, in my youthful folly, feel inclined towards them and become one of the ignorant.

George Sale translation Joseph said, O Lord, a prison is more eligible unto me than the crime to which they invite me; but unless thou turn aside their snares from me, I shall youthfully incline unto them, and I shall become one of the foolish

JM Rodwell translation  He said, “O my Lord! I prefer the prison to compliance with their bidding: but unless thou turn away their snares from me, I shall play the youth with them, and become one of the unwise.”

Yusuf Ali  translation :  He said: “O my Lord! the prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me: Unless Thou turn away their snare from me, I should (in my youthful folly) feel inclined towards them and join the ranks of the ignorant.”

The four translators above translate as-bu as youthful. Implying also the innocence and naieveness of youth.

Again here the meaning of “infant” or “baby” would not fit into the meaning of as-bu.  Joseph or Yusuf could not have been an infant when he was almost seduced by the women.  

This is confirmed three verses earlier (in Surah 12:30) where Yusuf is also referred as a fatah or young man.

Surah 12:30  “Some women in the city gossiped: “The king’s wife is trying to seduce (turaa-widu) her young man (fataa-ha). She is deeply in love with him. We see that she has gone astray.”

Fataah refers a young man. The female gender or young woman is fatayaati.
Though a young man (fatah) Yusuf was perhaps still youthful (as-bu) that he was almost seduced by the women.  

So going back to Eesa or Jesus in Surah 19:29 did he speak as an infant in the cradle? 

Now lets look at the word “mahdi”  or what is translated as a ‘cradle’ in Surah 19:29.  Is it really a cradle?

Lets look at other verses in the Quran where this word and its derivafives appear.  
The word mahdi and its derivatives appear 16 times in the Quran.  

I will reproduce a few of those verses here :

Surah 78:6 Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse (mihaad)   (Alam naj’ali al-arda mihaad)

74:14  To whom I made (life) smooth and comfortable!  – Wa-mahhad-tu lahu tamheedan

7:41  For them there is Jahanam as a repose – Lahum min jahan-nama mihaad

20:53 and 43:10    He Who has, made for you the earth spread out – Allathee ja’ala la-ku-mu al-arda mahdan

30:44  Those who reject (kafir) will suffer from that rejection (kufruhu): and those who work righteousness will spread their couch (of repose) for themselves –  Man kafara fa’alay-hi kufruhu wa-man aamila saalihan fa-li-anfusi-him yamhadoona

Now try substituting the word cradle in all these verses above and see if it fits. So for example :

We made the earth a cradle ?
To whom I made life a cradle?
For them there is Jahanam as a cradle?
He Who has made for you the earth as a cradle?
Those who work righteousness will spread their cradle for themselves? 

It does not sound right.

The best fit for the word mahdi / mihaad etc that I can see in the English language is the word repose. A place of repose. The dictionary meaning of repose is : 

Repose,  NOUN,  a state of rest, sleep, or tranquillity,  “in repose her face looked relaxed”.

Synonyms :   rest · relaxation · inactivity · restfulness · stillness · idleness · sleep · slumber.

A place of repose is where you choose to stay or stop at or where you end up in. 

We made the earth a repose. 
To whom I made life a repose.
For them there is Jahanam as a repose. 
He Who has made for you the earth as a repose. 
Those who work righteousness will repose themselves.

So repose seems to fit all the verses above.   Here are two more verses (part of) which mention mihaad or repose.

3:12   Jahanam, an evil place of repose  (jahannama wabi’sa al mihaad)
3:197  Their ultimate abode is Jahanam : what an evil place of repose    (wa-hum jahan-namu wabi’sa al mihaad)
Again the word “cradle” will not fit in here. You cannot spread your “cradle” in the Jahannam.  It does not sound right plus you will most likely be an adult and be  too old to sleep in a cradle.
So going back to Surah 19:29 – did Eesa or Jesus speak from the cradle as an infant  or did Eesa  speak in his youthful repose (al mahdi sa-biy-yan) ? 

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