The Quran mentions the prophets as having special names and qualities. For example, Prophet Muhammad is called the Seal of the Prophets (Q. 33:40) and a mercy for the worlds (Q.21:107). Abraham is called Imam (Q. 2:124), the friend of God (Q. 4:125), a model to the world (Q. 16:120), one who is forbearing and repentant (Q. 11:74), a monotheist (Q. 16:123). Isaac is also given the quality of an Imam (Q. 21:73) who has power of vision (Q. 38:45). Aaron is called a minister (Q. 20:29); he is blessed with eloquence (Q. 28:34) and he is sent with signs and manifest authority (Q. 23:45). David is called a vicegerent on the earth (Q. 38:26) who has power and wisdom (Q. 2:251); a man of strength (Q. 38:17). Solomon is a king (Q. 38:35); he is taught the speech of birds and is bestowed with all things (Q. 27:16). Joseph is a ruler (Q. 12:88) and one who interprets dreams and visions (Q. 12:21), a man of truth (Q. 12:46), concealed as a treasure (Q. 12:19). Jacob is also called Imam (Q. 21:73). He is given the power of vision (Q.38:45). Jesus is called the Messiah (Q. 3:45). He spoke in the cradle (Q. 3:46) and is a sign to humanity and a mercy from God (Q. 19:21).
These are all prophets whose lives are familiar to us. What about the Prophet Yahya? What have we been taught about this prophet who has been overlooked and misrepresented. One reason he has been overlooked is because there are five words used in the Quran to describe Prophet Yahya that have been misinterpreted in translations of the Quran. The first is the word hasur used in the Quran (Q. 3:39) which is usually translated ”chaste.” My research shows that the Arabic word hasur does not mean “chaste” with regard to Yahya; rather, it means “a concealer [of secrets].”
Why the mistake in translation and commentary? As there was no extensive information given in the Quran about the life of Prophet Yahya nor in the Tradition (hadith), the commentators then turned to Christian tradition and simply repeated what they found there.
Nonetheless, the commentators of the Quran have placed considerable emphasis on this word. Al-Tabari interprets the word hasur to mean one who abstains from sexual intercourse with women. He then reports a Tradition on the authority of Said ibn al-Musayyab which has Prophet Muhammad saying the following: “Everyone of the sons of Adam shall come on the Day of Resurrection with a sin (of sexual impropriety) except Yahya bin Zechariah.’ Then, picking up a tiny straw, he continued, ‘this is because his generative organ was no bigger then this straw (implying that he was impotent).’”
Does this mean that even the prophets outside of Yahya will be raised up with this sin of sexual impropriety? How can we accept that this was said by such a modest human being, comparing a straw to another prophet’s generative organ? Was Yahya impotent? One commentator, Ibn Kathir, a renowned Islamic scholar, rejects this view and adds, “This would be a defect and a blemish unworthy of prophets.” He then mentions that it was not that he had no sexual relations with women, but that he had no illegal sexual relations with them. Indeed, the whole discussion is unseemly. It is known that prophets of God are immune from major sins, so this statement makes no sense at all when interpreting the word, hasur. In addition, I would like to mention the fact that in his commentary, Ibn Kathir says he (Yahya) probably married and had children. He said this on the basis of what was related in the Quran of the prayer of Zachariah. There are several reasons why interpreting hasur in this context as “chaste” or ”celibate,” as has been done by some commentators, is a misinterpretation:
First of all, there is another word in the Quran for “chaste” and that is muhsin As God used a different word with hasur, it must mean something different. Secondly, God says in the Quran that Islam did not bring monasticism but that it was something that they (the Christians) invented. (Q. 57:27) Also, And verily We sent messengers (to mankind) before thee, and We appointed for them wives and offspring, and it was not given to any messenger that he should bring a portent save by God’s leave. For everything there is a time prescribed. (Q. 13:38) This is definitely not a recommendation for monasticism.
Furthermore, we find in the Traditions that the Prophet said that there is no monasticism in Islam. Therefore, God would not have sent a Prophet who was celibate. In addition, it is contrary the exhortation in the Torah to “go forth and multiply.” Thirdly, Yahya’s father, Zechariah prayed for a protector who would provide descendants (dhurriyah) for his family. There Zachariah called to his Lord; he said: My Lord! Bestow on me good offspring from Thy presence; truly Thou art hearing supplication. (Q. 3:38) God gave him Yahya. God would not have sent a son to Zechariah who would not carry on the line of Jacob’s descendants because then God would not have answered the prayer of Zechariah.
The word hasur is used only one time in the Quran and that is in regard to the Prophet Yahya. A major Arabic-English lexicon, that of Edward William Lane (Taj al-Arus) states that when hasur is used alone, it means “concealer [of secrets].” In his translation, of Ibn al-Arabi’s Book of the Fabulous Gryphon, Elmore also translates the Arabic hasur “as concealer [of secrets].” In the referenced passage, “chaste” would not have been appropriate (Gerald T. Elmore, Islamic Sainthood in the Fullness of Time, Brill 1999, P. 482)
The second word that has been misinterpreted is waliy (Q. 19:5) which in this verse and many other places in the Quran means “protector” rather than “heir” or “successor.” In this specific case, Zechariah prayed to his Lord: “And truly I have feared my defenders after me and my wife has been a barren woman. So bestow on me from that which proceeds from Thy Presence a protector (waliy).”
In Q. 3:39, Zachariah’s prayer was answered, “…God, giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) Yahya (who cometh) to confirm a word from God, and (he will be) a chief (sayyid), and concealer (of secrets) (hasur), a prophet of the righteous.” His prayer for a protector was answered by God’s giving him a son, one with spiritual authority (sayyid). It is commonly thought that Zachariah was simply asking for a son; however, this misconception may be corrected by reading further into the text.
After receiving this good news, Zachariah asked, “O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when age hath touched me already and my wife is barren?” Zachariah was asking how this would be possible as he had not even contemplated being blessed with a son in his old age, and that with a barren wife. Compare this with Mary who said, when she was given good news of a son, “How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?” (Q. 3:47)
Both Zechariah and Mary were asking about the possibility of such a thing. If Zachariah were asking for a son, as has been suggested by many scholars of Islam, than why did he ask such a question when God informed him of the impending birth?
The truth is that Zachariah was not asking for a son explicitly. He was asking God to send him a divinely appointed protector, from the same place whence Maryam received her provisions (rizq); hence “Give me from thy presence a protector (waliy)’ (Q. 19:5, 3:38).
The third word that is misinterpreted is fard in Q. 21:89: “And mention Zechariah when he cried out to his Lord: My Lord! Forsake me not unassisted (fard) and Thou art the Best of the ones who inherit.” It is usually translated as “childless” or “heir,” but the same reasoning applies as above. The word “unassisted” refers to the fact that Zechariah did not want to be left alone without any protector. He feared for those who would defend him and his honor after he died, that they would be left without a protector and thereby could not defend his honor.
The fourth misinterpreted word in relation to Prophet Yahya is sayyid. Prophet Yahya is referred to as a sayyid, chief in the Quran. The commentators have interpreted this to mean that he was a scholar of religious law, a wise man, a noble wise and pious man, and so forth. This was a prophet of God. Knowledge and wisdom were given to him by his Lord. The title given to Yahya by his Lord shows that Prophet Yahya is one who has spiritual authority over his people and not “noble” or “honorable” as this word is usually translated. Honor and nobility are good qualities but they fail to indicate that Prophet Yahya is given a role of leadership by his Lord.
The fifth word is hanan which means “mercy,” which is part of the compound name Yu’hanan (in English “John”), meaning “God is Merciful.” The word hanan is used once in the Quran (Q. 19:13) and that is in reference to Prophet Yahya: “And continuous mercy from Us and purity…’ This is singularly appropriate to the circumstances of the Prophet Yahya. The names Yahya and Yuhanan are not the same as many assume. They have two entirely different roots. hanan and the hannah both derive from the Semitic root h n n. While the word hannah means “mercy or tenderness,” the root word for Yahya ish y y. It means “life” or “he lives.” One does not need to be a linguist to see the obvious.
In addition, I would like also to mention that this name and attribute given to Prophet Yahya can also be found in Sabian literature. The Sabians are mentioned in the Quran in verses (Q. 2:62), (Q. 5:69) and (Q. 22:17). In their canonical prayer book we find Yahya Yuhanna. It has been known that it is the practice of the Sabians to have two names, a real name and a special name. According to the Sabians, this prophet’s real name was Yahya (he lives) and his lay name was Yuhanna (John).
Prophet Yahya is the only one given this name as the Quran clearly states: “O Zechariah! Truly We give thee the good tidings of a boy; his name will be Yahya (he who lives) and We assign it not as a namesake (samiy) for anyone before.”
Again, another word that we need to pay attention to is sam\y. It is used twice in the Quran, once in reference to Yahya (Q. 19:7) “O Zechariah! Truly We give thee the good tidings of a boy; his name will be Yahya and We assign it not as a namesake (Q. samiya) for anyone before.” The other time it is used is in reference to God. “…Knowest thou any namesake (samiy) for Him [God]?” (Q. 19:65) In the famous Arabic lexicon Lisan al-Arab, the root s m w means ”elevation or highness.”
See The Sublime Quran Pocket Size translated by Laleh Bakhtiar (2009) whichincorporates the results of this research about the Prophet Yahya.
Jay R. Crook (Md. Nur) was born in upstate New York, the second son of a clergyman, but spent his formative years in the New York metropolitan area. A chance acquaitance awakened his interest in Islamic culture and civilization, and he soon embraced Islam. After completing his military service and saving some money, he traveled to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to study for a few years. He wound up spending most of his working life in the Middle East, especially in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Hired by the Peace Corps as a field representative, he finished in 1971 as Deputy Director in the Iran program. He then enrolled in the Doctoral Program of Persian Literature for Foreigners at Tehran University and received his Ph.D. in 1978. His doctoral thesis was A Comparison of the Quranic Stories of Surabadi With the Bible.  Much revised and expanded, it has become the core of The New Testament: an Islamic Perspective and its companion volume The Old Testament: an Islamic Perspective. Subsequent to leaving Iran in 1980, he worked as an English teacher in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia before retiring in 1997. He now resides in Arizona and has translated several books from Persian into English, including Kashifi’s The Royal Book of Spiritual Chivalry and Ghazzali’s The Alchemy of Happiness.

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And No One Had The Name Yahya (= John?) Before: A Linguistic & Exegetical Enquiry Into Qur'an 19:7
M S M Saifullah, Muhammad Ghoniem & Elias Karim
© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.
First Composed: 8th July 2000
Last Updated: 18th August 2000

Assalamu-`alaikum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:
1. IntroductionIn the chapter of the Qur'an that carries the name Mary (Surat Maryam), the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus (19:16-34) is immediately preceded by the story of the miraculous birth of the Yahya to the aged Zechariah and his old and barren wife (19:1-15). Yahya has been traditionally identified as being none other than John the Baptist. The Christian missionaries have pointed to a difficulty arising at verse 19:7 where the birth of the Yahya is announced:
"O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahyâ: on none by that name have We confered(?) distinction before." [Qur'an 19:7]
"O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahya: on none by that name have We conferred distinction before." [Qur'an 19:7]
They claim that this verse is in error. According to their understanding of verse 19:7, the name Yahya (John)  is unique, and no human being prior to the birth of Yahya (John) ever had such a name, yet in the Old Testament there are more than twenty-five references to the name John:
In fact, there are 27 instances of the name "Johanan" mentioned in the Old Testament.
Thus the name John (Yahya) is neither unique nor exceptional and the Qur'anic error is clearly apparent. It seems that the original source of this controversy is Abraham Geiger who wrote a book entitled Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?:
He [i.e., Muhammad(P)] actually asserts that before John the Baptist no one had borne the name of John. Had he known anything of Jewish history he would have been aware that, apart from some historically unimportant people of the name mentioned in Chronicles, the father and the son of the celebrated Maccabean priest, Mattathias, were both called John. This mistake must have been obvious to the Arabic commentators, for they try to give another meaning to the clear and unmistakable words.[1]
Geiger did not cite any Muslim commentators to support his claims, and, as will be demonstrated in the sections below, one has to wonder whether the claim that "this mistake must have been obvious to the Arabic commentators" is purely his own invention.
As the missionaries are unable to shed any further light on this issue, it is left to us to investigate and supply the essential missing information. Are the names Yahya and John one and the same? Does the ayah (verse) actually means what the translation says? This paper will examine the various issues surrounding the name Yahya:
2. Is The Name John Linguistically Equivalent To Yahya?According to the Christian Missionaries the name Yahya is the Arabic form of John:
John: Hebrew: Johanan, Arabic: Yahya. Greek: Ioannes
The fact is that the Arabic equivalent of John of the New Testament is Yuhanna not Yahya.  And similarly, the Arabic equivalent of John of the Hebrew Bible is Yuhanan not Yahya. Anyone who possesses a basic knowledge of Semitic languages will straight away point out that the names Yahya and John (Yuhanan or Yuhanna) are two entirely different names. One do not need to be an expert in Semitic languages to verify this claim; a simple Arabic translation of the Bible will suffice.
The name John of the Hebrew Bible as listed in Strong's Concordance is Yowchanan in Hebrew:

Yowchanan {yo-khaw-nawn'} a form of 3076; n pr m
AV - Johanan 24; 24
Johanan = "Jehovah has graced"
  1. A priest during the high priesthood of Joiakim who returned with Zerubbabel
  2. A Jewish captain after the fall of Jerusalem
  3. The eldest son of king Josiah
  4. A post-exilic prince of the line of David
  5. Father of Azariah, priest in Solomon's time
  6. A Benjamite, one of David's mighty warriors
  7. A Gadite, one of David's mighty warriors
  8. A returning exile

In Arabic Bibles this name is rendered as Yuhanan as shown in the texts below
I Kings 25:23 showing Yûhanan
I Kings 25:23
I Chronicles 3:15 showing Yûhanan
I Chronicles 3:15
I Chronicles 3:24 showing Yûhanan
I Chronicles 3:24
Ezra 8:12 showing Yûhanan
Ezra 8:12
Let us now take examples from the New Testament. The name John (the Baptist) in Greek is Ioannes according to Strong's Concordance :

Ioannes {ee-o-an'-nace} of Hebrew origin 3110; n pr m.

AV - John (the Baptist) 92, John (the apostle) 36, John (Mark) 4, John (the chief priest) 1; 133

John = "Jehovah is a gracious giver"
  1. John the Baptist was the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, the forerunner of Christ. By order of Herod Antipas he was cast into prison and afterwards beheaded.
  2. John the apostle, the writer of the Fourth Gospel, son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of James the elder. He is that disciple who (without mention by name) is spoken of in the Fourth Gospel as especially dear to Jesus and according to the traditional opinion is the author of the book of Revelation.
  3. John surnamed Mark, the companion of Barnabas and Paul. Acts 12:12
  4. John a certain man, a member of the Sanhedrin Acts 5:6

In Arabic Bibles the name John, as used in the Maccabees and the New Testament, is Yuhanna:
1 Maccabees 2:2 showing Yûhanna
1 Maccabees 2:2
John 1:6 showing Yuhanna, not Yahya.
John 1:6
 Needless to say, the Gospel according to John, is also Yuhanna:
Gospel according to Yûhanna (John)
Gospel according to Yuhanna (John)
Thus the Arabic equivalent of John (Yowchanan) of the Hebrew Bible is Yuhanan not Yahya, and the Arabic equivalent of John (Ioannes) of the New Testament is Yuhanna not Yahya. By blindly following every cheap anti-Islamic polemic, such as those of Abraham Geiger, the Christian missionaries have been lead astray.
3. The Meaning Of The Name YahyaThe names "Yahya" and "John" (Yuhanan or Yuhanna) are entirely different names. The Qur'an speaks of Zechariah's son as Yahya not John. The Qur'an does not mention the name John whether Yuhanna or Yuhanan.
Biblical scholars stress that the names Yuhanna and Yuhanan are one and the same. In the Hebraic translation of the Gospels they do not make use of Yuhanna but they revert it to the original Yuhanan. They also give both names the same meaning. Both names contain "Yu", the short form of Jehovah, the Hebraic name of God. As for hanan or hanna, both derive from the Aramaic root hanan (the same as the Arabic root for hanna) which means "tenderness/indulgence of God" exactly like the Hebraic name Hanania.
Is the name Yahya Arabic or foreign? In Arabic, the present form Yahya is the third person of the Arabic root haya. The Arabic root haya (which could be written with a lean alif or an upright alif in both the present and past form) has two meanings:
  • The first is derived from al-hayah, i.e., life which is the opposite of death like when it is said: lan ansa laka hadha as-sani`a ma hayit, i.e., "I won't forget this favour of yours as long as I live" meaning as long as I am alive and did not die.
  • The second meaning of the Arabic root haya is derived from al-haya' ending with a hamzah meaning shyness/chastity. In this second sense it is said: hayitu minhu meaning that one is shy or confused from someone. The origin of al-haya' comes from al-inqibad and al-inziwa', i.e., introversion. This is why the snake is called hayyah since it gathers its body around itself in the shape of a disc. 
However, there seems to be a difference of opinion among the Muslim scholars concerning the origin of this name. Al-Suyuti states in his Al-Itqan fi `Ulum al-Qur'an:
Yahya: The son of Zakariyya, the first one to bear that name according to the Qur'an. He was born six months before Jesus, and was given prophethood while young, and was killed unjustly. God moved Nobukhod Nosor and his armies against his murderers. Yahya is a non-Arabic name, but it is also said [by some] to be of Arabic origin. According to al-Wahidi: In both cases the name does not permit nunation. 
Al-Kirmani stated: In the second case [i.e., the name is Arabic in origin], it has been said that: he was so-called because God made him live with faith, that the womb of his mother became alive with him, and that he was martyred, because martyrs are alive [bal ahya'un `inda rabbihim yurzaqun]
It was also said that its meaning is "yamut", i.e., "he dies" like when we use "mafazah" to mean "mahlakah" and "salim" to mean "ladigh".[2]
The name Yahya has also perplexed many orientalists. Paul Casanova is of the opinion that Yahya is an "error" which needs to be "corrected":
Therefore I hesitated for a long time to suggest the corrections that seemed more likely to me. What decides me today to do so is, I must note, that the Western scholars tend more and more to free themselves of the superstitious respect they had for the absolute integrity of the Qur'an, and that a "semitizing" German scholar, Barth has also suggested fairly important corrections among which one interests me particularly, since I have been thinking about it for a long time and I am happy to see it presented as I have imagined it myself. It is the correction Youhanna for Yahya, Youhanna instead of Yahya, the name of Saint John the Baptist. I did not dare to publish it, firstly for the general reason stated earlier, because it leads to an odd coincidence. Indeed, the Mandaeansor pseudo-Christians of Saint John, identified with the Sabians of the Qur'an, have a book where their principal Prophet is called Yahio [sic!]. If that name was due to a misreading of the writers of the Qur'an, the book would necessarily be older than the diffusion of the canonical Qur'an and all the theories built on that identification would fall apart.[3]
Mingana, following the footsteps of Margoliouth[4], believed that the pre-Islamic poetry is a post-Islamic forgery (a theory which has now been well-refuted by Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike). Therefore, for Mingana, the Qur'an is the first book in Arabic whose "author" had:
... immense difficulties. He had to adapt new words and new expressions to fresh ideas, in a language that was not yet fixed by any grammar or lexicography.[5]
Mingana resorted to heavy application of Syriac in order to understand the "origin" of word Yahya: He states:
To express "John" the Kur'an of our days has the strange form Yahya. I believe with Margoliouth[6], that the name is almost certainly the Syriac Yohannan.[7]
He also makes a rather strange pronouncement that in the early and undotted Qur'anic manuscripts, the Arabic letters y-h-y of the name Yahya could be read as:
Yohanna, Yohannan, or Yahya, and the Muslim kurra' who knew no other language besides Arabic adopted the erroneous form Yahya.[8]
Arthur Jeffery believes that the above suggestion[9] is worthy of endorsement but at the same time he informs us that:
... there appears to be no trace of the name [i.e., Yahya] in the early literature [of the Arabs].[10]
A rhetorical question should be asked: If there is no trace of the name Yahya in the pre-Islamic Arabic literature, then why should the undotted text be read as Yahya (y-h-y)? Why can it not be read as something else, such as t-h-t?
C. C. Torrey, like Casanova and Jeffery, also believes that the Qur'anic Yahya is a misreading of Yuhanna,[11] but all the Qira'at are unanimous in stating that theundotted y-h-y can only be read as Yahya and not as Yuhanna or Yuhanan.
Furthermore, these Orientalists whose opinions are cited above also believe Yahya to be of foreign (i.e., non-Arabic) origin, but their suggestions that the name Yahya is an "error" is stated without any proof what-so-ever! Although most Western scholars (unlike Geiger or Christian missionaries) are aware that the names Yahya and John (Yuhanan or Yuhanna) are two entirely different names derived from two different roots,  they can only conjecture at the origin of the name.
4. The Mandaeans - "The Christians Of St. John"Has John the Baptist ever been known as Yahya by any group of people?
The Mandaeans are a community that live in Iraq and Iran, and speak a dialect of Aramaic (or Mandaic as it is usually referred to in the literature). They claim to be the followers of John the Baptist and are sometimes (wrongly) referred to as "Christians of St. John" a title first used  by Portuguese Christian missionaries. They are colloquially known as Subba (singular Subbi). The appellation Subba is accepted as referring to their principal religious ritual - Baptism by immersion. The name used by themselves to described their religion and race is Mandai, or Mandaeans.[12]
Before we go further, let us deal briefly with the identification of Sabians or Sabi'un. There has been a great deal of speculation about the identification of Sabi'un, a religious group, mentioned thrice in the Qur'an. The Qur'anic commentators had theorized about the possible identity of this group. We will only sum up the various viewpoints. Interested readers may consult this subject that has been dealt with at length by Jane Dammen McAuliffe.[13]
Some of the Qur'anic commentators have credited Sabi'un with worshipping angels and some with monotheism; the Sabi'un praying towards the qibla, and they are different from Jews, Christians and Magians. They were usually identified with a group of people from Iraq.
The Western scholarship on the identification of Sabi'un of the Qur'an perhaps began with the encyclopaedic work of Daniel Chwolson.[14] A brief summation of Chwolson's view was done by John Pederson.[15] Chwolson postulated a two fold identification of Sabi'un.[16] Mandaeans, who are monotheists, was one such group and the other was thought to be the pagan star-worshippers in Harran whom Muslim historians claimed to have adopted the name Sabi'un in order to be included in the category of People of the Book.
Pederson, however, took an exception to Chwolson's two-fold identification. He says that Sabi'un should be identified with the hanifs as
They too are people who believe in God, neither Jews nor Christians; the nearest model for the believers, as Abraham himself was hanif.[17]
This identification by Pederson came about by equating hanif and gnostic. The result of this is that he harmonizes between the common designation of Mandaeans and Harranians as Sabi'un.
Pederson's harmonization is also supported by E. S. Drower; but she recognizes within the latter community a division between the the priestly class, known as Nasoraeans, and the ignorant or semi-ignorant laity who are called Mandaeans.[18] Bayard Dodge's position is that there is insufficient evidence for this identification. He is quite comfortable with the correlation of Sabi'un and the Mandaeans, but beyond that he is not willing to go by admitting that
... we do not know how their originated or what groups might have been Sabians.[19]
Mandaeans call their teacher John the Baptist Yahia Yuhana.[20] In their canonical prayer book one can read:
King Yahia-Yuhana,
Healing and victory be thine;[21]
One of their holy books is called Drasha d. Yahia or The Book of Yahia. Examples of the presence of the name Yahia can be found in The Book of John (seechapter 3 and chapter 4).
A Mandaic Dictionary throws further light on the names "iahia" and "iuhana" as used in their holy books:[22]

Note the absence of the emphatic "h" in Yahia Yuhana (the "h" sound in Yahia Yuhana is soft) unlike its Arabic and Aramaic counterparts. In the Aramaic dialect of Mandaeans, the emphatic "h" did exist at one time; but its vocalisation now has vanished.[23]
The name Yahia in Yahia Yuhana has puzzled many Western scholars. According to them, Yahia is not an Aramaic name but rather an Arabic one but as we have already discussed, there is a difference of opinion among Arab linguists concerning the origin and meaning of the name Yahya. The Arabic word haya, has its counterpart in Aramaic and Hebrew, and are certainly cognates, identical in origin.[24,25]  In Syriac, the verb hy, (that's the past tense) is "to live; recover; lighten (of pain)"; the present/future tense third person singular being nehhe. And in many other forms of Aramaic it is yehye or yahye;[26] the latter is similar to the ArabicYahya and with imalah (in Arabic) it is read Yahyei.[27] We present the various Qiraa'aat of verse 19:7 as audio files in the Real Audio format.
 In the Qira'at of Hafs, it is read as Yahya without imalah.
 In the Qira'at of Warsh, it is read as Yahyei with imalah.
 In the Qira'at of Hamzah, it is read as Yahyei with imalah.
Coming back to Aramaic, adjective hayya is "alive, raw (uncooked), pure (unmixed), flowing (water)",  hayye is "life, salvation", hayutha "life", haywtha "animal",haytha "midwife" etc.
In order to resolve this puzzle (i.e. the presence of the name Yahia in Yahia Yuhana) Western scholars have suggested various explanations ranging from the name Yahia being inserted into the scriptures at a later date to Muslims forcing its use upon Mandaeans![28]  None of these theories are supported by any historical evidence.
This is perhaps the right time to discuss the significance of name Yahia in Mandaic literature. Every Mandaean has two names, his malwasha, or Zodaical name, and his laqab or the worldly name. E. S. Drower explains the difference between the malwasha and laqab names.
The latter is usually a Muhammadan name and is used for all lay purposes, the former [i.e., malwasha] is his real and spiritual name and is used on all religious and magic occasions.[29]
So, in Yahia Yuhana, Yahia is a malwasha name or the real name and Yuhana is a laqab or a lay name as one can see from the entry in the Mandaic dictionary.What is interesting here is that the Qur'an uses only the real and spiritual name, i.e., Yahya; but what about Yuhanna?
5. Wa hananan min ladunna.... : Attributes Of Yahya As Mentioned In The Qur'an 19:13The Mandaean use of Yahia Yuhana for John the Baptist is quite interesting as we have seen in the earlier section. Here we will briefly digress and discuss some of the attributes of Yahya as mentioned in the Qur'an. The Qur'an mentions Yahya but what about Yowchanan/Yuhanna? We know that Yowchanan/Yuhanna means tenderness of God or Jehovah (the Hebraic name of God) is a gracious giver. It is composed of two words "Yu", short form of Jehovah in the Hebrew Bible and "hanna", derived from "hanan". Incidently God says in the Qur'an:
wa hananan min ladunna wa zakatan wa kana taqiyya, i.e., "And tenderness [hananan] from Us and purity, he was devout." [Qur'an 19:13]
In other words, Yahya was a hananan from God; this is nothing but a paraphrase of what Yowchanan/Yuhanna actually means, i.e., Jehovah [or God] is a gracious giver! What is even more interesting is that the word "hananan" occurs only once in the Qur'an,[30] i.e., in connexion with Yahya in the above verse (19:13). It is to be reminded that the root word "hanan" has a similar meaning in Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic.
Attention should also drawn to the name Yuhanna. Etymologically speaking, "Yu" in Arabic does not mean God unlike in Hebrew; hence making the word "Yuhanna" quite meaningless. The Arabic word for the God is "Allah". It appears that Yuhanna was borrowed into Arabic either from Syriac or Hebrew for the sake of usage.[31]
Let us now see what the tafsirs say concerning verse 19:13. Below is an excerpt from Tafsir of Ibn Kathir about verse 19:13.
wa hananan min ladunna wa zakatan wa kana taqiyya, i.e., "And tenderness from Us and purity, he was devout,"
"And tenderness from Us": `Ali Ibn Abi Talhah narrated from Ibn `Abbas his saying wa hananan min ladunna means "mercy [Arabic: rahmah] from Us" and similarly spoke `Ikrimah and Qatadah and al-Dahhak and he added "None is capable of such [mercy] except Us". Qatadah added "a mercy from God to Zakariyya". Mujahid said wa hananan min ladunna means "a pity from his Lord towards [English??] him". `Ikrimah said wa hananan min ladunna means "love upon him". Ibn Zayd said: As for "hanan" it means love. `Ata' Ibn Abi Rabah said: wa hananan min ladunna means "exaltation/elevation from Us" [Arabic: ta`dhim]. Ibn Jurayj told us, `Amr Ibn Dinar told me that he heard `Ikrimah narrate from Ibn `Abbas his saying: "Nay, by Allah, I don't know what hananmeans". Ibn Jarir said: Ibn Humayd told us, Jarir narrated to us from Mansur: I asked Sa`id Ibn Jubayr about wa hananan min ladunna, he said: I asked Ibn `Abbas about it and he did not know much about it. [...][32]
Many Islamic references like Tafsir of al-Qurtubi and Al-Itqan by al-Suyuti and others narrated similar reports from Ibn `Abbas concerning "hanan".
6. Exegesis Of Verse 19:7
... lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya.
... on none by that name have We conferred distinction before.
[Qur'an 19:7]
Ibn Kathir said in his tafsir concerning this verse:
Ibn Kathir's Tafsir
The translation of which is:
And Mujahid said:
lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya,[samiyya means] shabihan - someone like him. 
He drove this meaning from God's speech [verse 19:65]
... fa`budhu wastabir li`ibadatihi hal ta`lamu lahu samiyya, worship Him, and be constant and patient in His worship: knowest thou of any who 
[qualifies to be] His samiyya
Meaning [of samiyya is] shabihan - someone like him. 
`Ali Ibn Abi Talhah narrated from Ibn `Abbas that it means: No barren woman gave birth to someone like him before.
This also proves that Zakariyya was sterile[33] as was his wife [who was sterile from the beginning of her life] unlike Abraham and Sarah. The reason for their[Abraham and Sarah's] amazement at the glad tidings of Isaac was due to their old age and not to infertility. This is why Abraham said [in amazement]
abashshartumuni `ala an massaniya al-kibaru fabima tubashshirun,
i.e., Do ye give me glad tidings even though old age has seized me? Of what, then, is your good news? [verse 15:54]
even though had Isma`il 13 years earlier. 
Likewise, his wife said: 
ya waylata a'alidu wa ana `ajuzun wa hadha ba`li shaykhan inna hadha lashay'un `ajib. Qalu ata`jabina min amrillahi rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu `alaykum ahla al-bayti innahu hamidun majid,
i.e., She said: "Alas for me! shall I bear a child, seeing I am an old woman, and my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!". They said: "Dost thou wonder at Allah's decree? The grace of Allah and His blessings on you, o ye people of the house! For He is indeed worthy of all praise, full of all glory! [verses 11:72-73].
The key word here is samiyya and a detailed analysis of this word is given in the Appendix A. The word samiyya occurs only twice in the  Qur'an:[35] at verse 19:7 in connection with Yahya and in 19:65 in reference to Allah.
Using the method of using the Qur'an to explain the Qur'an, Ibn Kathir drives home the point that the birth of Yahya was unlike the birth of any other. This explanation is also supported by the hadith from Ibn `Abbas. Ibn `Abbas said that what is meant here is that there had never been a boy similar to Yahya in the sense of being born to an aged father and a barren mother. Although Isaac was born to parents who were also old, neither of them were infertile. It is for this reason that  Isaac was unlike Yahya in his birth.
And al-Suyuti says the following in his tafsir:
Al-Suyuti's Tafsir
The translation of which is:
Narrated al-Faryabi and Ibn Abi Shaybah and `Abd Ibn Humayd and Ibn al-Mundhir and Ibn Abi Hatim and al-Hakim who declared it Sahih that Ibn `Abbas said:  lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya
Narrated `Abd ar-Razzaq and Ahmad in Al-Zuhd and `Abd Ibn Humayd that Qatadah said concerning lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya
Ahmad narrated the same report in Al-Zuhd from the way of `Ikrimah. Ibn al-Mundhir and Ibn Abi Hatim narrated that Ibn `Abbas said concerning lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya: "No barren woman gave birth to child like him". 
Narrated Ahmad in Al-Zuhd and `Abd Ibn Humayd and Ibn al-Mundhir and Ibn Abi Hatim that Sa`id Ibn Jubayr said concerning lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya: He said: [samiyya means] shabihan - someone like him.  
`Abd Ibn Humayd narrated a similar report from the way of `Ata'. Al-Bukhari narrated in his Tarikh from Yahya Ibn Khallad al-Zarqi that when he [Yahya]was born, he was brought to the Prophet(P) who fed him a chewed date and said: "I shall give him a name that was never given [to anyone] before: Yahya Ibn Zakariyya" and so he called him Yahya.[36]
From the above discussion, we see that scholars hold  two opinions concerning the verse lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya:
  1. Samiyy, means shabihan or mithlan, i.e., someone like him.  The verse is interpreted to mean that the birth of Yahya was unlike the birth of others, as he was born to an aged father and a barren mother.
  2. No one prior to the birth of Yahya was ever given that name by God.
Al-Tabari provides reports for both interpretations, but opines that the latter seems to be more correct. Al-Qurtubi mentions both opinions but did not express a preference. And Ibn Kathir, who cites al-Tabari's opinion (see above), also does not express any preference.
7. ConclusionsGeiger and the Christian missionaries have pointed to a difficulty arising at verse 19:7 where the birth of the Yahya is announced. According to their understanding, the name Yahya is the Arabic equivalent of the name John. They also understand that the name Yahya is unique, and no human being prior to the birth of Yahya ever possessed such a name. However,  in the Old Testament there are more than twenty-five references to the name John, and it is for this reason that the Qur'an is in error.
This study has shown conclusively that the names Yahya and John (Yuhanan or Yuhanna) are two entirely different names derived from two different roots. Geiger and the missionaries have failed to investigate the linguistic origins of the two names, and have wrongly concluded that the Qur'an is in error.
The verse at 19:7 which reads lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya may be interpreted in two ways:
  1. Samiyy, means shabihan or mithlan, i.e., someone like him.  The verse is interpreted to mean that the birth of Yahya was unlike the birth of others, as he was born to an aged father and a barren mother.
  2. The name Yahya is unique, and no one prior to the birth of Yahya was ever given such a name by God, a point conveniently overlooked by the missionaries. 
Was Yahya also called Yowchanan [or Yuhanna]? It appears to be so, and God knows best. It is through the Mandaeans we get the dual name Yahia Yuhana. According to Mandaic literature Yahia is a malwasha name or the real name and Yuhana is a laqab or a lay name. The Qur'an uses only the real and spiritual name, i.e., Yahya; Yuhanna is expressed as a paraphrase in the verse 19:13 perhaps due to the fact that "Yu" in Arabic does not mean God, hence making the word "Yuhanna" etymologically meaningless. Presumably, "Yuhanna" was borrowed into Arabic through Hebrew or Syriac sources.
Interestingly, the Encyclopaedia Judaica under the entry 'John the Baptist'[37] mentions only the Arabic name: Yahya ibn Zakariyya. There follows no discussion concerning the name, unlike the entries for Moses, Jesus etc.
The use of the name Yahia Yuhana among the Mandaeans is certainly interesting. It should also be noted that much of their surviving literature is relatively late. There do exist Mandaean incantation bowls that are dated from pre-Islamic period.[38] Further research and discoveries would throw more light on the origins of Mandaic literature, insha'allah.
Once again the Christian missionaries have failed to show a "historical" contradiction in the Qur'an. Had they bothered to probe this controversy, even slightly, they would never have made such blunders. But as it stands, there is a preference among Christian missionaries to blindly follow each and every cheap polemic, and had this "contradiction" not been so widely circulated, we would not have bothered with its response.
And as always Allah knows best!
One of the authors (MSMS) would like to thank Professor Robert Hoberman, Dr. Geoffery Khan and Mr. Shibli Zaman for stimulating discussions on comparative linguistics.
Professor Robert Hoberman and Dr. Geoffery Khan are not associated with Islamic Awareness.

Appendix AThe note made by al-Tabari in his tafsir regarding the pattern of samiyy being fa`il pushed us to look up its root in an Arabic lexicon. Below are some interesting excerpts from the famous Arabic lexicon Lisan al-`Arab. We do not quote it in its entirety, due to unnecessary length:[39]
The translation of which is:
Sama: "as-sumuww" means elevation and highness.
You say: "samawtu" and "samaytu" 
[i.e., I rose] in the same pattern of "`alawtu" and "`alaytu" and "salawtu" and "salaytu", according to Tha`lab. 
And "sama ash-shay'u" [i.e., something rose] "yasmu" [i.e., it rises] "sumuwwan" [i.e., raising] fahuwa "samin" [i.e., it is elevated]. And [you say] "sama bihi" and "asmahu" meaning: made someone or something high. And you say to the noble: "qad sama". 
And when you raise your eyes to something, you say: "sama ilayhi basari" [i.e., my eyes rose to it]. And when a remote thing is elevated for you so that you see it distinctly, you say: "sama li shay'un". 
And [you say] "sama li shakhsu fulan" [literally: the person of someone rose to me] meaning that he rose until I saw him distinctly. And [you say] "sama basaruh" [i.e., his eyes rose] meaning that they went up.
Further we read:
The translation of which is:
Something's "ism" [i.e., its name], and its "sam", "sim", "sum" and "sama" is its [distinctive] sign. 
In Al-Tahdhib: the alif of "ism" is classified as "alif wasl" [i.e., it does not belong to the root] and the proof is that its diminutive form is "sumayy". 
The Arabs say "hadha-smun mawsul" and "hadh[???]". 
Al-Zajjaj said: The meaning of the word "ism" [i.e., its name] is derived from "as-sumuww" which is highness. He said: it's origin is "simw" [i.e., the third letter of the word is an omitted waw] like the word "qinw" and [the plural] "aqna'". 
Al-Jawhari said: "ism" [i.e., its name] is derived from "samawtu" because it denotes highness and it's pattern is "if`", and the omitted letter is a waw because it's plural is "asma'" and its diminutive form is "sumayy". There was disagreement on the pattern of its origin. Some said: "fi`l" and others said "fu`l" and the plural "asma'" is possible for this pattern also illustrated in "jidh`" and "ajdha`" and "qufl" and "aqfal" and this could not be settled except through listening [to the native Arabs] and it has four ways: "ism" and "usm" with an u, and "sim" and "sum".
And going further we see:
And your "samiyy": the one who bears your name. You say: He is the "samiyy" of someone when their names match like when you say his "kaniyy" [to the one who has the same nickname]
And in the Holy Scripture: lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya: None before him was his 'samiyy'; 
Ibn `Abbas said: None before him was given the name Yahya. It was also said: It means none before him was equivalent to him or like him. It was also said: He was called Yahya because he "haya" lived with knowledge and wisdom. With regard to Almighty's speech: hal ta`lamu lahu samiyya, i.e., "knowest thou of any who [qualifies to be] His samiyy?" meaning "nadhir" [i.e., equivalent] who deserves the same name.
From the above quotations, we learn that samiyy is derived from the root "sin+mim+waw" which refers to highness and elevation. Besides all the linguistic details, when we get to the root, we learn that the word samiyy has two meanings. It means "namesake" and it can also refers to a like or someone equivalent. Both these meanings are discussed in tafsir literature.

References[1] A. Geiger, Judaism And Islam (English Translation Of Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?), 1970, Ktav Publishing House Inc.: New York, pp. 19.
[2] Jalaluddin `Abd ar-Rahman al-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fi `Ulum al-Qur'an, 1987, Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyyah: Beirut, First Edition, Volume 2, Section 69: "The Names, Surnames and Titles that Occur in the Qur'an", pp. 304-305.
[3] P. Casanova, "Idris et Ouzaïr", Journal Asiatique, 1924, Volume CCV, p. 357. Since ours in not the official translation, we publish the original.
Aussi ai-je hésité longtemps à proposer les corrections qui me paraissaient vraisemblables. Ce qui me décide aujourd'hui, c'est que, je dois le constater, les érudits occidentaux tendent de plus en plus à s'affranchir du respect superstitieux qu'ils avaient jusqu'alors pour l'intégrité absolue du Coran, et qu'un savant sémitisant allemand, feu Barth a proposé à son tour des corrections assez importantes, entre autres une qui m'intéresse particulièrement, car il y a longtemps que j'y avais pensé et je suis heureux de la voir présentée, tells que je l'avais imaginée moi-même. C'est la correction Youhanna pour Yahya Youhanna au lieu de Yahya, nom de saint Jean-Baptiste. Je n'osais pas la publier, d'abord pour la raison générale énoncée plus haut, ensuite parce qu'elle entraine une curieuse conséquence. En effet, les Mandaïtes ou pseudo-Chrétiens de saint Jean, qu'on identifie aux Sabiens du Coran, ont un livre où leur principal prophète est appelé Yahio. Si ce nom est du à une erreur de lecture des rédacteurs du Coran, le livre est nécessairement postérieur à la diffusion du Coran canonique et toutes les théories édifiées sur cette identification s'écroulent.
[4] D. Margoliouth, "The Origins Of Arabic Poetry", Journal Of The Royal Asiatic Society, 1925, pp. 417-449.
[5] A. Mingana, "Syriac Influences On The Style Of The Kur'an", Bulletin Of The John Rylands Library Manchester, 1927, Volume II, p. 78.
[6] D. Margoliouth, "Textual Variations Of The Koran", The Moslem World, 1925, Volume XV, p. 343.
[7] A. Mingana, "Syriac Influences On The Style Of The Kur'an", Bulletin Of The John Rylands Library Manchester, 1927, op. cit., p. 84.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary Of The Qur'an, 1938, Oriental Institute: Baroda, p. 290.
[10] Ibid., p. 291.
[11] C. C. Torrey, The Jewish Foundation Of Islam, 1967, Ktav Publishing House, Inc.: New York, pp. 50-51.
[12] Further details concerning this community can be found in Encyclopaedia Britannica under Mandaeanism. And information concerning their beliefs can be foundhere.
[13] J. D. McAuliffe, "Exegetical Identification Of The Sabi'un", The Muslim World, 1982, Volume LXXII, pp. 95-106.
[14] D. A. Chwolson, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus (In two volumes), 1856, St. Petersburg.
[15] J. Pedersen, "The Sabians" in T. W. Arnold & R. A Nicholson (editors), A Volume Of Oriental Studies Presented To Edward G. Browne On His 60th Birthday, 1922, Cambridge At The University Press, pp. 383-391.
[16] See also Vaux's article for some support to this hypothesis. B. Carra De Vaux, "Al-Sabi'a", Encyclopaedia Of Islam (Old Edition), 1934, E. J. Brill Publishers: Leyden & Luzac & Co.: London, p. 387.
[17] J. Pedersen, "The Sabians", in T. W. Arnold & R. A Nicholson (editors), A Volume Of Oriental Studies Presented To Edward G. Browne On His 60th Birthday, 1922, op. cit., p. 387.
[18] E. S. Drower, The Secret Adam: A Study Of Nasoraean Gnosis, 1960, Oxford At The Clarendon Press, p. ix.
[19] B. Dodge, "The Sabians Of Harran" in Fu'ad Sarruf & Suha Tamim (Eds.), American University Of Beirut Festival Books, 1967, p. 63.
[20] E. S. Drower, The Mandaeans Of Iraq And Iran, 1962, E. J. Brill: Leiden, pp. 2-3.
[21] E. S. Drower, The Canonical Prayer Book Of The Mandaeans, 1959, E. J. Brill: Leiden, p. 106. See also p. 152.
[22] E. S. Drower & R. Macuch, A Mandaic Dictionary, 1963, Oxford At The Clarendon Press, see p. 185 for 'iahia' and p. 190 for 'iuhana'.
[23] ibid., p. 171.
[24] C. Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum, 1928, Halix Saxonum, Sumptibus Max Niemeyer, pp. 228-229. See also p. 220.
[25] J. Payne Smith (ed.), A Compendious Syriac Dictionary, 1967, Oxford At The Clarendon Press, pp. 138-139.
[26] We are grateful to Professor Robert Hoberman for pointing this out.
[27] `Alawi Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Bilfaqih, Al-Qira'at al-`Ashr al-Mutawatir, 1994, Dar al-Muhajir, p. 305. In the Qiraa'aat, for example, of Hamzah, al-Kisa'i, Warsh and Khalaf, with imalah it is read Yahyei. In the Hafs Qiraa'aat, it is read as Yahya without imalah.
[28] E. M. Yamauchi, Gnostic Ethics And Mandaean Origins, 1970, Harvard University Press: Cambridge (MA), p. 5.
[29] E. S. Drower, The Mandaeans Of Iraq And Iran, 1962, op. cit., p. 81.
[30] Muhammad Fu'ad `Abd al-Baqi, Al-Mu`ahjam al-Mufahris li al-Fadh al-Qur'an al-Karim, 1997, Dar al-Fikr: Beirut (Lebanon), p. 279.
[31] We are grateful to Professor Hoberman and Dr. Geoffery Khan for a detailed discussion on the etymological issues surrounding the word "Yuhanna" in both Hebrew and Arabic.
[32] Tafsir Ibn Kathir, available online.
[33] This is a rather strange assertion by Ibn Kathir unsupported by any evidence.
[34] Tafsir Ibn Kathir, available online.
[35] Muhammad Fu'ad `Abd al-Baqi, Al-Mu`ahjam al-Mufahris li al-Fadh al-Qur'an al-Karim, 1997, op. cit., p. 451.
[36] Jalaluddin `Abd ar-Rahman al-Suyuti, Al-Durr al-Manthur, downloadable from al-Muhaddith website.
[37] Under "John the Baptist", Encyclopaedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition), 1997, Judaica Multimedia (Israel) Limited.
[38] W. S. McCullough, Jewish And Mandaean Incantation Bowls In The Royal Ontario Museum, 1967, University Of Toronto Press. Five terracotta bowls are discussed in this book.
[39] Ibn Mandhur, Lisan al-`Arab, downloadable from al-Muhaddith website.


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