Yahya Ibn Zakariya was a Prophet as well as the son of a Prophet. He was born as a result of an invocation made by his father for a righteous heir to guide the Israelites after him.
Yahya himself was also the descendant of Prophet Dawud through Prophet Sulayman and as similarly descended from Judah, the fourth son of Prophet Yaqub, the latter was otherwise known as Israel.
The Early Years
As a child, the Prophet Yahya was a stranger to games, entertainment and amusement. He was serious all the time, which was unusual for someone his age and refused to play even for small periods with the other children.
Unlike other children he had no delight in torturing animals and instead was very merciful towards them even feeding them from his own food until there was nothing left for himself and he just ate fruit or the leaves of trees.
He was given knowledge of the Book of Allah, the Torah, while still a child and grew up to be more mature than many people of his age and generation. He was endowed with righteousness and taqwa and had a great passion and zeal for knowledge and assisted his father, who was the chief leader in religion among the Israelites, in matters of Deen.
Yahya was bestowed with an excellent character, was pure and devout in worship and was known for his devotion to his parents. He surpassed his comrades in love, compassion and obedience to his parents to the extent that people would point him out.
At some point very early in his youth, the Prophet Yahya moved out of the city and into the desert of Judea. He dressed himself only in a robe, which was itself made of camel hair and from then on lived a life of complete austerity.
The Mufasireen state the greater part of Yahya’s life was spent in the wilderness where he ate herbs, leaves and sometimes locusts and lived off the land instead of in the towns and among the people. He used to eat with the animals to avoid mixing with people. One narration adds he even ate grass.
Yahya receives revelation
It was there in the wilderness Yahya received revelation and he began his mission in the vicinity of the River Jordan and as a harbinger proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary.
Despite living away from the people, Yahya used to come into the town and teach in the chief temple and impart commands. He had students and disciples who would follow and obey him.
Yahya was instructed by Allah to teach five things in particular. First he needed to exert them on himself as an example before he could tell the people and once he did so he addressed the people with Allah’s Commands. They included-
Tawheed. Associating no other with Allah as the object of worship.
To offer prayers to Allah.
To fast for Allah.
To give in charity for Allah.
To continue remembrance of Allah day and night.
Yahya the Judge
Allah guided Yahya to be the wisest and most knowledgeable man of his generation and endowed him with the faculties of passing judgements on peoples’ affairs, interpreting the secrets of religion, guiding people to the correct path and warning them against wrong things.
As someone who had read and knew the Torah well and learnt it accurately from an early age, Yahya was the only man at the time who interpreted the Torah and made judgements from it.
He spent time explaining religious laws that the common people did not understand and as a result they came to admire him. Yahya also sought out people personally who had been evil and helped to purify them.
He was a man who urged people to turn strongly towards truth and justice and he denounced falsehood at all times, for himself he feared neither blame nor oppression. He feared only Allah alone. Traditions add Yahya was so overwhelmed with the fear of Allah that he would frequently weep and traces of his tears would appear on his cheeks.