Prophet John According to the Quran
John the Baptist, son of Prophet Zechariah, is one of the most frequently mentioned characters in the Gospels. He was the forerunner of Messiah, Jesus Christ, and paved the way for his coming. We may find no other person as highly acclaimed by Jesus as John:
I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. [Matthew, 11:11]
According to the Bible, John lived mostly in the desert until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Then he started preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Even Jesus is baptized of him. John was finally imprisoned and killed most cruelly by king Herod.
The Islamic narrative of John's life and death is indeed very much similar to what we read in the Gospels. Still, it is not without value to have a look at what Islamic sources say about this great prophet.
Here's how the Quran describes John, a prophet of the Most High:
Strange Birth, Strange Name
Zechariah has got very old and his wife is barren [Quran, 19:2-5]. But it doesn't keep the righteous couple from asking their All-powerful Lord to grant them a child:
... grant me from Yourself an heir, who may inherit from me and inherit from the House of Jacob, and make him, my Lord, pleasing [to You]! [Quran, 19:5,6]
And the God-granted child also has a strange God-granted name:
O Zechariah! Indeed We give you the good news of a son, whose name is ‘‘John [Yahya in Arabic].’’ Never before have We made anyone his namesake. [Quran, 19:7]
Being well on in years and having a barren wife, the revelation naturally fills Zechariah with awe! He asks God how they could possibly have a child. And God replies:
... It is simple for Me. Certainly I created you before when you were nothing. [Quran, 19:9]
This is the same as the answer Mary received when asking the Holy Spirit how she could have a child without being touched by any man. [Quran, 19:20-21]
Narrating from Zechariah, the Gospel of Luke says:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. [Luke, 1:76-79]
Many preceding prophets and messengers had prophesied the coming Jesus and had borne the tidings of Messiah and the new covenant. Appearing right on the verge of the new era, John the Baptist played a big role in preparing the ground and directing people towards Jesus and his teachings. The Quran says:
Then, as he [Zechariah] stood praying in the sanctuary the angels called out to him: ‘God gives you the good news of John, as a confirmer of a Word of God [Jesus Christ], eminent and chaste, a prophet, and one of the righteous.’ [Quran, 3:39]
Zechariah passes away before his son is fully grown, and John becomes the next prophet:
‘O John!’ [We said,] ‘Hold on with power to the Book!’ And We gave him judgment [Prophethood] while still a child. [Quran, 19:12]
The Quran, then, lovingly depicts the noble character of John:
... and a compassion and purity from Us. He was Godwary and good to his parents, and was not self-willed or disobedient. [Quran, 19:13,14]
Protected by God's Mercy
There are three most important frightening events which all human beings equally experience with no little difficulty. And we all need God's mercy and kindness on them.
First is the day one is born and just getting out of mom's belly, sees this big strange -and naturally terrifying- world for the first time. Second is the day he dies and sees the greater world of afterlife and its inhabitants. And last is when the dead is raised to their Judgment! God has granted John His peace and mercy on the three events to secure and protect him from the fears of these big days:
Peace be to him, the day he was born, and the day he dies, and the day he is raised alive! [Quran, 19:15]
Of course, the beheading of John is not directly mentioned in the Quran. But the story is recounted several times in Islamic narrations.