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Prophet Abraham(pbuh)

 
Abraham (‘alaihi salaam) – The Father of the Prophets

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 The birth of a Great Prophet Abraham (pbuh) was born in a house of idolaters, in the kingdom of Babylon. His father Aazar was a well known idol sculptor that his people worshipped. As a young child, Abraham (pbuh) used to watch his father sculpting these idols from stones or wood. When his father was done with them, Abraham (pbuh) would use them as toys, riding on their backs, and kicking them at times. Then after a while, he would see these same statues in the temple, and people prostrating in front of them! Abraham (pbuh) asked his father: “Why do you take these toys to the temple?” His father said: “They are statues that represent our gods. We worship them, we ask favors from them, and we offer them presents.” Abraham (pbuh)’s mind rejected this idea, and he felt a repulsion towards the idols.
 
In search for the Truth

Time went by, and Abraham (pbuh) became a young man. He still could not believe that his people were worshipping the statues. He laughed whenever he saw them entering the temple, lowering their heads, silently offering the statues the best of their food, crying and asking forgiveness from them. He started feeling angry towards his people, who could not realize that these are only stones that could neither benefit nor harm them. They could not be gods, they have no power. God is Greater than what his people were worshipping, Most Powerful, Most Magnificent. One could not find Him sitting on a table in a temple!

One night, Abraham (pbuh) went up to the mountain, leaned against a rock, and looked up to the sky. He saw a shining star, and told his people: “Could this be my Lord?” But when it set he said: “I don’t like those that set.” The star has disappeared, it could not be God. God is always present. Then he saw the moon rising in splendor and told them: “Could this be my Lord?” But it also set. At daybreak, he saw the sun rising and said: t “Could this be my Lord, this is bigger?” But when the sun set he said: “O my people I am free from all that you join as partners with Allah! I have turned my face towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah.” Our Lord is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything. He has the power to make the stars rise and set. Abraham (pbuh) then heard Allah calling him: “O Abraham (pbuh)!” Abraham (pbuh) said trembling: “Here I am O my Lord!” “Submit to Me! Be a Muslim!” Abraham (pbuh) fell on the ground, prostrating and crying, he said: “I submit to the Lord of the universe!”  Abraham (pbuh) kept prostrating until night came again. He got up and went back to his home, in the peace, full of conviction that Allah has guided him to the Truth.

 

Abraham (pbuh) invites his father to Islam 

A new life started for Abraham (pbuh). His mission now was to call his people to the Truth. He would start with his father who was the closest person to him, and whom he loved so much. He said to him in the softest and kindest voice: “O father! Why do you worship that which doesn’t hear, doesn’t see, and cannot avail you in anything? O father, I have got knowledge which you have not, so follow me. I will guide you to a straight path.” His father

replied angrily: “Do you reject my gods, O Abraham (pbuh)? If you don’t stop I will stone you.

Get away from me before I punish you.” Abraham (pbuh) said:
“Peace be on you! I will ask forgiveness of my Lord for you.”

Abraham (pbuh) confronts his people and rejects their idols

He left his father after he lost hope to convert him to the right path, and directed his efforts towards the people of the town, but they rejected his call and threatened him. By Allah, he said, I shall plot a plan to destroy their idols. He knew that a big celebration was coming soon, where everybody would leave town for a big feast on the riverbank. After making sure that nobody was left in town, Abraham (pbuh) went towards the temple armed with an ax.

Statues of all shapes and sizes were sitting there adorned with decorations. Plates of food were offered to them, but the food was  untouched. “Well, why don’t you eat? The food is getting cold.” He said to the statues, joking; then with his ax he destroyed all the statues except one, the biggest of them. He hung the ax around its neck and left.

How big was the shock when the people entered the temple! They gathered inside watching in awe their gods broken in pieces. They wondered who might have done this? Then they all remembered that the young Abraham (pbuh) was talking evil of their idols. They brought him to the temple and asked him: “Are you the one who has done this to our gods?” Abraham (pbuh) said: “No, this statue, the biggest of them has done it. Ask them if they can speak.”

“You know well that these idols don’t speak!” They said impatiently. “Then how come you worship things that can neither speak nor see, nor even fend for themselves? Have you lost your minds?”

They kept silent for a while, for he got a point there. Their minds and their senses were telling them that the Truth is with Abraham (pbuh), but their pride prevented them to accept it, and reject the idols they were worshipping for generations. This they thought would be total defeat. They started yelling at him and shouting: “Burn him! Burn him! Take revenge for your gods !”

The Miracle: Allah saves Abraham (pbuh) from the fire.

The decision to burn Abraham (pbuh) to death was affirmed by the priests and the king of Babylon, Nimrod. The news spread like a fire in the kingdom, and people were coming from all places to watch the execution. A huge pit was dug up and a large quantity of wood was piled up. Then the biggest fire people ever witnessed was lit. The fire flames were so high up in the sky that the birds could not fly over it for fear of being burned ! Abraham  (pbuh)’s hands and feet were chained, and he was put in a catapult to throw him into the fire. At that time, Angel Jibreel came to him and said: “O Abraham (pbuh)! Is
there anything you wish for?”

Abraham (pbuh) could have asked to be saved from the fire, to be taken away, but no, he said:

“I only wish that Allah be pleased with me.” The catapult was released, and Abraham (pbuh) was thrown in the heart of the fire. But Allah would not allow His Prophet to be killed, He ordered the fire: “O fire! Be coolness and safety for Abraham (pbuh)!” And the miracle happened. The fire obeyed and burned only his chains. Abraham (pbuh) came out from it as if he was coming out from a garden, peaceful, his face illuminated, and not a trace of smoke on his clothes. People watched in shock and said: “Amazing !
Abraham (pbuh)’ s God has saved him from the fire!”

Abraham (pbuh) debates the Babylonian king, Nimrod

Abraham (pbuh)’s notoriety grew bigger after this event and the king of Babylon felt that his throne was in danger, and that he was loosing power, because he was pretending that he was a god. He sent for Abraham (pbuh). He wanted to debate with him and show his people that he, the king is indeed the god, and Abraham (pbuh) was a liar. He asked Abraham (pbuh):

What can your god do that I cannot?

-My Lord is He Who gives life and death.” Abraham (pbuh) said

-I give life and death. I can bring a person from the street and have him executed, and I can grant my pardon to a person who was  sentenced to death and save his life.” The king said proudly

-Well my Lord Allah makes the sun rise from the East. Can you make it rise from the West?

The king was confounded. He was beaten at his own game, on his own territory, in front of his own people! Abraham (pbuh) left him there speechless and went back to his important mission, calling people to worship the one and only God, Allah.

Allah blesses Abraham (pbuh) with a son to become a prophet

Only a woman named Sarah and a man named Lot believed in Allah, and followed Abraham (pbuh). He realized that nobody else would listen to him, and decided to emigrate for the cause of Allah, and to spread His Message elsewhere. Before leaving, he tried once again to convert his father to Islam, but to no avail.  Abraham (pbuh) said to his father and his people:

“We are free of you and of whatever you worship besides Allah. We have rejected you and there has arisen between us and you enmity and hatred forever unless you believe in Allah and Him alone.”

Abraham (pbuh), Lot and Sarah started their long travel. They crossed Babylon, went through Syria and Palestine calling people to Allah, helping the poor and doing good deeds.

By that time Abraham (pbuh) married Sarah. Their hope was to have children who would spread the Message of Allah after their death. As for Lot, he emigrated to the land of Sodom and settled there.

Time went by and no children were born to Sarah. She realized she was sterile. She accepted her fate and submitted to the will of Allah. Abraham (pbuh) and Sarah moved to Egypt where the king gave Sarah a woman to be her servant. The woman’s name was Hajar. Sarah was seeing Abraham (pbuh)’ s hair getting white, and it grieved her to see his chance of having any child slipping away. She  offered Hajar her servant as a wife to her husband, and prayed Allah to bless Hajar and Abraham (pbuh) with a child. And so came Ismail, a baby boy born to Hajar. How unselfish Sarah was! For her, the need to have an offspring who would carry the Message after Abraham (pbuh) was greater than her pride. Fourteen years later Allah rewarded Sarah with a son, Ishaq in spite of her old age.

Young Ismail and his mother alone in the desert of Makkah

Abraham (pbuh) woke up one day and asked Hajar to prepare herself and baby Ismail for a long travel. Abraham (pbuh) and Hajar kept walking, crossed a fertile land followed by barren mountains till they arrived at the Arabian desert. Abraham (pbuh) brought Hajar to a high hill called al-Marwa, made her and her baby sit under a tree, placed a bag of dates and some water near her, and set out homeward. Hajar ran after him and said: “Are you going to leave us in this desert where there is no one to keep us company?” She repeated this many times but he would not look back at her. She asked: “Has Allah ordered you to do so?” He said yes. “Then He will not neglect us.” She said. Abraham (pbuh) walked away until he got out of their sight, he raised his hands and prayed Allah: “O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring dwell in a valley with no cultivation, by Your Sacred House, in order that they may offer prayers. So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and provide them with fruits, so that they may give thanks.”

 
Zamzam
Hajar went on nursing Ismail and drinking from the water until it was all used up. She became very thirsty and the child was crying. She left him on the al-Marwa hill and hurried to the nearest hill, as-Safa. She stood there and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She descended from as-Safa, crossed the valley running and reached al-Marwa hill. She stood and started looking but could see nobody. She kept running between as-Safa and al-Marwa seven times. When she reached al-Marwa for the last time, she was  exhausted, she sat next to the baby. Then she heard a voice. She stood up and said: “O whoever you might be!
Have you got something to help me?’ She saw an angel, Angel Jibreel, digging the earth until water flowed ! She built a little basin around it. She scooped water with her hands, drank, filled her water-skin, and nursed her baby. The place from which water flowed was Zamzam. Muslims till this day drink from the holy water of Zamzam, and during Hajj they walk between as-Safa and al- Marwa seven times to commemorate this event. Some Arabs traveling through Makkah saw birds flying around alMarwa. “They must be flying around water.” They said. When they arrived at the water, they found Hajar and asked her: “Would you allow us to stay with you, and use the water from your well?” She agreed and was pleased by their company. The people sent for their families, settled there and became permanent residents. The whole valley became alive.

Ismail grew up, learned Arabic, and later married a woman from amongst the Arabs. Meanwhile, Abraham (pbuh) who had not seen his son since he was a baby, came back to Makkah to visit him. Upon arriving, he heard that Hajar had died, but Ismail was still living there. Abraham (pbuh) was yearning to see his son whom he loved and missed a lot. He saw Ismail under a tree near Zamzam, sharpening his arrows. When he saw his father, Ismail rose up, hugged him and greeted him. It was the happiest moment for both father and son. But Allah wanted to put them to test, and it was a tough test indeed. During one night, Abraham (pbuh) had a dream. He came to Ismail and said: “O my son ! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you as a sacrifice to Allah, so what do you think?” They both realized that this was an order from Allah. Ismail said without hesitation: “Do what you are commanded, you shall find me very patient insha Allah.” They had both submitted to the will of Allah.

Abraham (pbuh) laid his son prostrate, put his forehead on the ground and directed a sharp knife towards his neck. At this very moment, Allah called him:
“O Abraham (pbuh)! You have fulfilled the dream! Thus do We reward the good doers !” A big sheep was sent down from heaven to be slaughtered instead of Ismail, which Abraham (pbuh) did, and they both had a big celebration that day. This event is celebrated every year by all Muslims. It is Eid al-Adha where we slaughter the sacrificial sheep.

Abraham (pbuh) and Ismail kept on calling people to worship Allah. At that time there was no place built for the worship of Allah.  Abraham (pbuh) wished there could be such a place where people would be in peace, and concentrate solely for the worship of Allah. His wish was answered when Allah ordered him to build the Sacred House, the Ka’bah. Abraham (pbuh) said to Ismail: “O Ismail, Allah has given me an order, will you help me execute it?”

“Yes I will.” Ismail said. “Allah has ordered me to build a house here.” He said, pointing to a hillock higher than the land surrounding it. They went towards the place and started building the foundations of the Ka’bah Ismail brought the stones and Abraham (pbuh) built the walls, and when the walls became high, Ismail brought a large stone and put it in front of his father who stood over it and carried on building, while Ismail was handing him the stones.

Both of them went on building and going around the Ka’bah, saying: “O our Lord accept this service from us.” When they finished the building, Angel Jibreel descended from heaven and showed Abraham (pbuh) the rituals of Hajj. Then Abraham (pbuh) stepped on the stone and called on people: “O  people obey your Lord.” This large stone which Abraham (pbuh) stepped on is still there to this day near the Ka’bah. It is called Makam Abraham (pbuh).

Thus ends the story of Abraham (pbuh), the father of the prophets. From him descended all the prophets who came later, including Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Abraham (pbuh) devoted all his life calling others to the worship of One God. Alone he stood against his people, his father, and even the mighty king of Babylon, and never flinched. Yet his method was always to gradually persuade them by bringing irrefutable proofs, that most often embarrassed those who refused to accept the Truth, but as God said: “Any whom Allah leaves to stray, there is none to guide !”

Place of Abraham (‘alaihi salaam) in Islam, Christianity and Judaism

Faith, Sacrifice, Commitment and Patience. These are just some of the qualities that characterize Prophet Ibrahim or Abraham as he is called in English (peace be upon him). So it should come as no surprise that he is revered not just in Islam, but in Christianity and Judaism as well. Prophet Ibrahim is also a great personality to discuss in dialogues between Muslims, Jews and Christians. Here is some basic information about him from the three perspectives:
 
1. Islam
“Salam (peace) be upon Abraham!” God says in the Quran (37:109). In Islam, Prophet Ibrahim is the friend of God and the father of Prophets (Ismail or Ishmael in English and Ishaq or Isaac and the grandfather of Prophet Yaqub or Jacob). He is also one of the ancestors of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Anyone who rejects Prophet Ibrahim is not a true believer in Islam. Prophet Ibrahim plays a key role in this regard. In terms of beliefs, a Muslim must believe in all of the Prophets. This includes not just Prophet Ibrahim, but his sons Ismail, Ishaq, his grandson Yaqub and of course his descendant Prophet Muhammad. When it comes to the five pillars of Islam, the importance of Prophet Ibrahim becomes even more evident.

The second pillar of Islam is Salah, the obligatory five daily prayers. Every Muslim who has reached the age of puberty is accountable for their prayers, be he male or be she female, whether they live in the desert of northern Arabia, a village of northern Pakistan or an urban center of North America.

During one part of each of these five prayers, Muslims must ask God to send His blessings upon Prophet Ibrahim. Now calculate this: you’ve got more than a few million Muslims, every day, five times a day, in virtually every time zone on this planet asking God to send His blessings on Prophet Ibrahim in the course of his/her prayer.

More importantly, the direction in which every Muslim must face when praying is towards a structure Prophet Ibrahim built with his son Ismail: the Kaba, in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

With regards to the Kaba, God says this about it: “The first House (of worship) appointed for  men was that at Bakka (another name for Makkah); full of blessings and guidance for all kinds of beings: in it are signs manifest, the station of Abraham-whoever enters it attains security; pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God-those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, God stands not in need of any of His creatures”(Quran 3:96-97).

This leads to the second way in which this Prophet, described as the intimate friend of God (Quran 4:125), is revered: Hajj. Hajj is the pilgrimage every Muslim must make to Makkah at least once in his/her lifetime. Hajj is also an obligation no Muslim is allowed to reject or ignore. It is in this rite that Prophet Ibrahim’s importance becomes even more prominent.

In general, Prophet Ibrahim’s centrality to this fifth pillar of Islam is indicated by the Prophet Mohammed’s statement, You must adhere to the traditions and  rituals (of Hajj), for these have come down to you from (your forefather) Ibrahim in heritage (Tirmidhi).

First, the Kaba is the central structure around which the Hajj takes place. No Hajj is valid without going around this structure built by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail in counterclockwise fashion seven times.

Second, Muslims who perform the Hajj or Umra must run in the middle portion of the distance between Safa and Marwa (two hills close to the Kaba) seven times. This is a commemoration of the sacrifice of the wife of Abraham, Hajira (may God be pleased with her) for her son Prophet Ismail Prophet Ibrahim had settled his wife and son in the valley of Makkah by God’s order to pioneers a civilization. It was from this civilization that the Prophet Mohammed was born.

Finally, Prophet’s Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail for the sake of God exemplifies not only his sincere devotion to God. The commemoration of this sacrifice is practiced with the sacrifice of an animal during Hajj and one of the two Islamic holy days:

Eid-ul-Adha.

Both father and son willingly submitted to God’s command. God substituted a ram in Ismail’s place at the last moment. God talks about this incident in Quran 37:100-107.

The sacrifice that is offered by Muslims all over the world every year (at Eid-ul-Adha) is in commemoration of the supreme act and spirit of sacrifice offered by Prophet Abraham in lieu of his son Ismail.

 

2. Judaism
According to A Concise Encyclopedia of Judaism by Dan Cohn-Sherbok (Oneworld Publications 1998), Prophet Abraham is the father of Jewish people. According to Scripture, he was the son of Terah and the father of Isaac, who was born to Sarah, and he is also the father of Ishmael, who was born to Hagar.

After leaving Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham traveled to Canaan, visited Egypt and returned to Hebron. God appeared to him in a vision. He promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land. God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 11:26-25:10).

When the mother of Isaac, Sarah, died, Abraham bought the cave of Macpelah as a burial place. Abraham died at the age of 175. According to the Oxford Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion by Louis Jacobs (Oxford University press 1999), the story of Abraham is narrated in the book of Genesis (11:27- 25:18). Here is an excerpt from that section (from Genesis 22:2-13) which focuses on the Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac, according to Jewish tradition:

And He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you”.

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place which God had told him.

Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.’

So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together.

But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

And he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” And the two of them went together.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an alter there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the alter, upon the wood.

And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horn. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.

A majority of contemporary scholars think that he lived in approximately the eighteenthcentury before the Christian Era. In the Jewish tradition, he is the father of the Jews and Judaism.

God’s covenant with Abraham is expressed in the rite of circumcision (Genesis 17) and male Jewish children, to this day are, for the most part circumcised.

This act is called ‘entry into the covenant of Abraham our father’, and the name of the rite itself is the ‘berit’; the ‘covenant’. Abraham is also considered the spiritual father of anyone who converts to Judaism. At a Jewish conversion ceremony, a convert is given a Hebrew name and is called a ‘child of Abraham our father’.
 
3. Christianity
It is through the central figure of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) that Prophet Abraham is given prominence in the Christian tradition. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia Volume 1 (1999, Kevin Knight, online version), in the New Testament, the generation of Jesus Christ is traced back to
Abraham by St. Matthew.

Similarly, as the New Testament traces Prophet Jesus’ descent of Jesus to Prophet Abraham, it does the same of all Jews in terms of “carnal” descent.

However, in the New Testament, it is not this carnal descent from Abraham to which importance is attached but importance is placed on practicing the virtues attributed to Abraham in Genesis. Thus in John, 8, the Jews say (33): “We are the seed of Abraham”, and Jesus replies (39): “If ye be the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham”.

The Catholic Encyclopedia also notes that Prophet Abraham may considered the source of Old Testament religion. From the days of Prophet Abraham, men were accustomed to speaking of God as the God of Abraham, while Prophet Abraham is not found referring in a similar way to anyone preceding him.

According to the A Concise Encyclopedia of Christianity by Geoffrey Parrinder

(Oneworld Publications 1998), Abraham is a great Hebrew patriarch and is considered the common spiritual father of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Paul wrote of all those who have faith being children of Abraham  (Gal. 3:7). Prophet Abraham’s faith and example is cited by many Christian authors.

According to Luke 16:22, Jesus spoke of Abraham’s bosom as a symbol of Paradise (Luke 16:22).

Christians believe God first gave Abraham a son through a bond woman named Hagar. This son was named Ishmael. God gave him a second son from his barren wife Sarah. He was named Isaac.

According to Christian tradition, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac “to prove that he was ‘worthy of becoming the father of a mighty nation, which would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore’”

 
From “A History of God, the 4,000-year Quest of Judaism,
Christianity and Islam” by Karen

Armstrong published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.