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The life of Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him)


Prophet Abraham was an ideal model for humanity. He is referred to by Allah as a nation by himself for his unwavering submission to his Creator. Speaking highly of him the Holy Quran says:

"The fact is that Abraham was a community in himself: he was obedient to Allah and had turned to Him solely, and he was not of the idolaters. He was grateful for His favors. Accordingly, Allah chose him and guided him to the straight path"
(Qur'an 16:120-121)

He was a community by himself for when there was not a single Muslim on earth, all being steeped in unbelief, Abraham stood out as the sole standard-bearer of Islam. He single-handedly performed a task that was stupendous enough to have been performed by a whole nation.

"Recall that when his Lord put Abraham to test in certain things and he fulfilled all of them, He said, `I am going to make you the leader of humanity.' Abraham humbly asked, `Does this promise apply to my descendants also?' He replied, `My promise does not apply to the transgressors."
(Qur'an 2:124)

The series of tests and sacrifices Abraham was subjected to in establishing his loyalty to his Master is diverse, protracted, and breath-holding. It stemmed from his critical observation of the surroundings he grew up in. For people of understanding, as the Quran repeats time and again, everything in the nature has a lesson to offer: "Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the difference of night and day are signs (of Allah's Sovereignty) for people of understanding."(Quran, 3:190) At an early age, Abraham engaged himself open-mindedly with a process of soul searching and uncovering the truth about the universe and its Creator. He set out on this expedition without suppressing his conscience, however. In fact, Allah has inspired rationality in the conscience of every human being as his first guide; and those who are intelligent are assured to benefit from it in finding their way to success:"And (by) the soul and Him Who perfected it and inspired it (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and (what is) right for it. He is indeed successful who causes it to grow; and he is indeed a failure who suppresses it." (Quran, 91: 7-10)

His first challenge was his own home environment. His father (Azar) was not just an idolater like many of his community members, but he used to carve and sell statues. Abraham did not know as yet who was truly the worthy of worship, but he knew at least that the stone worshipping contradicts human rationality and honor. So, he could not accept the status quo and expressed early on his feelings to his father by saying: "...I see you and your people in manifest error." (Quran, 6:741)

As he restlessly continued his search for the guidance he systematically renounced all those objects that people had accepted as their deities, such as the moon or the sun. The thesis of Abraham was that the deities that lack permanency are themselves dependent on some higher authority for their existence; and, therefore, cannot be sovereign. He defended this thesis vehemently each time he rejected a false god. Ultimately, he reached the inescapable conclusion that the only sovereign is He Who has created everything else; and declared:"Lo! I have turned my face in exclusive loyalty toward Him Who has created the heavens and the earth..." (Quran, 6:79) This deductive, yet logical, approach to reach Allah is unique to Abraham and he is recognized by Allah as an institution of "Oneness of Allah" and the founder of monotheistic religion.

Inquisitively, though, now he was settled, his bigger challenges to demonstrate his total submission to his Lord were yet to come. His first invitation, as a Prophet, toward "Oneness of Allah" was to his own father. He reminded him of the absurdity of polytheism and of bowing to statues, who could neither hear or see, nor could they help their devotees in any way. The Quran recalls that encounter when Abraham said: "...O my father! I have received that knowledge which you have not got; so follow me, I will lead you to the right path." (Quran, 19:43)

Unfortunately, those who are on the wrong side "not because of ignorance, rather arrogance" see their positions threatened by such invitations. They are predisposed and often become combative in response. Azar was no exception. He replied: "O Abraham! Have you renounced my deities? If you do not desist from it, I will stone you to death; get away from me for ever." (Quran, 19:46) On the other hand, those who are sincere in their approach remain in control of their emotions and always stand on high moral grounds. Thus, in his first confrontation, Abraham exhibited that character and remained respectful to his father. Since he could not live with an idolater father, he chose to leave home. This was his first and a very painful sacrifice for Islam. Still he bade farewell to his father with utmost politeness: "...peace be unto you; I will pray to my Lord to forgive you..." (Quran, 19:47) The tenderness of Abraham is highlighted by Allah as part of his personality. He describes him as: "...soft hearted, God-fearing and forbearing." (Quran, 9:114)

While his departure from home made him only stronger and more determined to fight polytheism and other moral ills of the society with the message of "Oneness of Allah," his adversaries also grew in their hostilities. But in the pursuit of his mission, no hurdle was too high for him to overcome and no sacrifice was too big to offer. His perseverance, trust in Allah and devotion to cause were just insurmountable. He passed test after test and willingly offered whatever sacrifice he was called upon.

For criticizing idol worship, his entire community turned against him and persecuted him. He defied a despotic ruler, who was claiming to be a god. He smashed the idols that people were ignorantly worshipping to show to them that they (idols) could not even defend themselves, let alone help the faithful worshippers. For this crime, he was tossed into a roaring fire. Angel Gabriel offered to help. But Abraham rejected the offer because Gabriel had not been sent by Allah to help. This was, in fact, another test for Abraham as of his total reliance in the Almighty. Allah then ordered the fire to cool off on Abraham: "O fire! Be cool and become peace for Abraham." (Quran, 21:69)

Despite having witnessed that the fire had burned itself out and Abraham was absolutely unharmed, no hearts were changed "a clear evidence of arrogance. He was, instead, forced into exile for reminding them of Accountability on the Day of Judgment. He made all these sacrifices to carry on his message; and if that was not enough, Allah subjected him to yet more arduous tests. He was ordered to abandon his wife and infant (Ishmael) in a desert without food, water, or shelter.

Finally, and most unnervingly, he was commanded to slaughter his, then the only, son to demonstrate his loyalty to Allah beyond imagination: "Said he unto his son, `I see you in a vision that I offer you in sacrific...' Replied the son, 'Do, my father, as you are commanded..." (Quran, 37:102) Abraham proceeded with the sacrifice of his son. It was Allah's grace and mercy that He accepted the sacrifice before Abraham could move the knife on Ishmael's throat and called Abraham to stop. Allah wanted the whole humanity to know that when Abraham proclaimed that: "Lo! I have turned my face in exclusive loyalty toward Him (Allah)..." (Quran, 6:79), he indeed meant that. Nothing could stand between him and his Lord.

Being the followers of Abraham, Muslims are instructed to fashion their lives in the mold of Abraham and remain prepared to face any challenge posed by the adversaries of the truth:"Follow the way of Abraham, as one by nature upright..." (Quran, 16:123) Like any other tenet of Islam, it is not humanly possible to fully comprehend the divine wisdom behind sacrifice. Our knowledge is limited to our times, and even that is subject to constant revisions. Nevertheless, the history of nations amply reveals that dedication to purpose and sacrifice for the cause is key to living with honor and dignity by any people. There is nothing for a Muslim more honorable than to strive in the cause of Islam and endure inevitable harsh realities. Again, commands Allah: "And strive for Allah with your utmost. He has chosen you for His service... Therefore, be steadfast in the religion of your father Abraham..." (Quran, 22:781) In Islam, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander or an apathetic attitude. Pious people cannot accept to live in a filthy environment. To the extent possible, a Muslim must resist anti-social and immoral activities in the interest of common good.

Thus, the difficult tests that Abraham had to go through are numerous and beyond comprehension. Ever since he confessed the Sovereignty of Allah, his whole life was a continuous sacrifice in its cause. He sacrificed everything, valued in life, and endured every danger conceivable in the way of the Truth. It is only when he had passed those trials and proved himself capable of performing the great responsibility of guidance, he was exalted to the extraordinary position of the moral leader of humanity.

Prophet Muhammad followed the footsteps of Prophet Abraham. He was the direct descendant of Abraham through his son Ishmael. Prophet Muhammad was sent to complete the religion of Abraham.

Source: Dr. M. Riaz Khan, Univ. of Massachusetts, Lowell.