Yahya’s (A.S.) Childhood
Yahya (A.S.) was born a stranger to the world of children who used to amuse themselves, as he (A.S.) was serious all the time. Most children took delight in torturing animals whereas; he (A.S.) was merciful to them. He (A.S.) fed the animals from his food until there was nothing left for him, and he (A.S.) just ate fruit or leaves of trees. Yahya (A.S.) loved reading since childhood. When he (A.S.) grew up, Allah the Exalted called upon him: “0 Yahya! Hold fast to the Scripture (The Torah).” And We gave him wisdom while yet a child. Surah 19:12
Yahya’s (A.S.) Qualities
Allah guided him to read the Book of Jurisprudence closely; thus, he (A.S.) became the wisest and most knowledgeable man of that time. Therefore, Allah the Almighty endowed him with the faculties of passing judgments on people’s affairs, interpreting the secrets of religion, guiding people to the right path, and warning them against the wrong one.
Yahya (A.S.) reached maturity. His compassion for his parents, as well as for all people and all creatures, increased greatly. He (A.S.) called people to repent their sins. There are quite a number of traditions told about Yahya (A.S.). Ibn Asaker related that once his parents were looking for him and found him at the Jordan River. When they met him, they wept sorely, seeing his great devotion to Allah, Great and Majestic. Ibn Wahb said that, according to Malik, grass was the food of Yahya (A.S.) Ibn Zakariyah, and he wept sorely in fear of Allah.
A chain of narrators reported that Idris Al-Khawlawi said: “Shall I not tell you he who had the best food? It is Yahya Ibn Zakariyah, who joined the beasts at dinner, fearing to mix with men.”
Why Yahya (A.S.) Always Wept?
Ibn Mubarak stated that Wahb Ibn Al-Ward narrated that Zakariyah (A.S.) did not see his son for three days. He (A.S.) found him weeping inside a grave which he (A.S.) had dug and in which he resided. “My son, I have been searching for you, and you are dwelling in this grave weeping!” “0 father, did you not tell me that between Paradise and Hell is only a span, and it will not be crossed except by tears of weepers?” He (A.S.) said to him: “Weep then, my son.” Then they wept together.
Other narrations say that Yahya (A.S.) said: ‘The dwellers of Paradise are sleepless out of the sweetness of Allah’s bounty; that is why the faithful must be sleepless because of Allah’s love in their hearts. How far between the two luxuries, how far between them?” They say Yahya (A.S.) wept so much that tears marked his cheeks.
Yahya’s (A.S.) Love of Nature
He (A.S.) found comfort in the open and never cared about food. He (A.S.) ate leaves, herbs, and sometimes locusts. He (A.S.) slept anywhere in the mountains or in holes in the ground. He (A.S.) sometimes would find a lion or a bear as he (A.S.) entered a cave, but being deeply absorbed in praising Allah, he (A.S.) never heeded them. The beasts easily recognized Yahya (A.S.) as the Prophet who cared for all the creatures, so they would leave the cave, bowing their heads.
Yahya (A.S.) sometimes fed those beasts, out of mercy, from his food and was satisfied with prayers as food for his soul. He (A.S.) would spend the night crying and praising Allah for His blessings.
When Yahya (A.S.) called people to worship Allah, he (A.S.) made them cry out of love and submission, arresting their hearts with the truthfulness of his words.
Yahya’s (A.S.) Cruel Death
A conflict took place between Yahya (A.S.) and the authorities at that time. A tyrant king, Herod Antipas, the ruler of Palestine, was in love with Salome, his brother’s daughter (Ibn Kaseer wrote here “Herodias,” who was Herod’s brother’s wife, according to Matthew 14. Their daughter is known by tradition as Salome. According to Matthew 14, New Revised Standard version, Herod wanted to marry his brother’s wife, but I believe Ibn Kaseer’s version makes more sense – Editor). He was planning to marry his beautiful niece. The marriage was encouraged by her mother and by some of the learned men of Zion, either out of fear or to gain favor with the ruler. On hearing the ruler’s plan, Yahya (A.S.) pronounced that such a marriage would be incestuous. He (A.S.) would not approve it under any circumstance, as it was against the Law of the Torah.
Yahya’s (A.S.) pronouncement spread like wildfire. Salome was angry, for it was her ambition to rule the kingdom with her uncle. She plotted to achieve her aim. Dressing attractively, she sang and danced before her uncle. Arousing his lust, Herod embraced her, he offered to fulfill whatever she desired. At once she told him: “I would love to have the head of Yahya, because he has defiled your honor and mine throughout the land. If you grant me this wish, I shall be very happy and will offer myself to you.” Bewitched by her charm, he submitted to her monstrous request. Yahya (A.S.) was executed and his head was brought to Salome. The cruel woman gloated with delight. But the death of Allah’s beloved prophet was avenged. Not only she, but all the children of Israel were severely punished by invading armies which destroyed their kingdom.