Abraham was born into that atmosphere, into a typical family of that ancient time. The head of the family was not even an ordinary idolater but was one who rejected Allah and who used to make the idols with his own hands. Some traditions claimed that Abraham’s father died before his birth and he was raised by an uncle whom Abraham called father. Other traditions said that his father was alive and was named Azer.
وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا إِبْرَاهِيمَ رُشْدَهُ مِن قَبْلُ وَكُنَّا بِهِ عَالِمِينَ
“And verily, We gave Ibrahim his guidance before, and We were about him Well-Knowing.” (Surah Al-Anbiya` 21:51)
The glorious Quran mentions Ibrahim 73 times and tells a dozen of his different stories and encounters with various people, over and over again. The Quran pays a glowing tribute to his wisdom, bravery, love of God and dedication to the progress of humanity. The book of Genesis in the Old Testament gives a detailed biography of Ibrahim and commentators of the Quran have freely used these to embellish the Quranic narrative.
إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَا هَٰذِهِ التَّمَاثِيلُ الَّتِي أَنتُمْ لَهَا عَاكِفُونَ
“‘When he said to his father and his people, “What (are) these [the] statues which you to it (are) devoted?” (Surah Al-Anbya 21:52)
The curtains are drawn on the first category of the people, those who were worshipping celestial bodies. the next situation reveals the second group, those who were practising idolatry. Allah gave Abraham the reasoning he needed the first time and every time he argued with his people. Almighty Allah declared:
وَتِلْكَ حُجَّتُنَا آتَيْنَاهَا إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ نَرْفَعُ دَرَجَاتٍ مَّن نَّشَاءُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ حَكِيمٌ عَلِيمٌ
“And this (is) Our argument, We gave it (to) Ibrahim against his people. We raise (by) degrees whom We will. Indeed, your Lord (is) All-Wise, All-Knowing.” (Surah Al-An’am 6:83)
His legacy is preaching boldly the belief in one God (Tawhid), and his shunning of the idols of the pagans and challenging them to reflect and think about who they worship and above all his willingness to sacrifice his most prized beloved son for the love of God. Here we retell this wonderful story. Abraham made clear to them, first that the celestial bodies are unworthy of worship and second that they are among the signs of Allah. Almighty Allah commanded:
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ اللَّيْلُ وَالنَّهَارُ وَالشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ لَا تَسْجُدُوا لِلشَّمْسِ وَلَا لِلْقَمَرِ وَاسْجُدُوا لِلَّهِ الَّذِي خَلَقَهُنَّ إِن كُنتُمْ إِيَّاهُ تَعْبُدُونَ
“And of His Signs (are) the night and the day and the sun and the moon. (Do) not prostrate to the sun and not to the moon, but prostrate to Allah the One Who created them, if you, Him alone, worship.” (Surah Fussilat 41:37)
Ibrahim was born nearly 4000 years ago in what is now Iraq. It was known as the Chaldean Empire, where he grew up in ‘Ur’ near the present-day city of Mosul. The city was a famous centre for the worship of stars, the moon, the sun and they believed that these celestial bodies had an enormous influence on human destiny. Also, they worshipped idols made of wood, stone or any other material they could lay their hands on.
قَالَ لَقَدْ كُنتُمْ أَنتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُمْ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ
“He said, “Verily, you are [you] and your forefathers (were) in an error manifest.” (Surah Al-Anbiya` 21:54 )
These became the household gods, and their worship was regarded as an essential part of daily life and would lead to better health and good fortunes in family life and the city’s running. Despite the rejection by his family of Ibrahim’s message of Tawhid he continued to be caring and respectful towards his family.
From his youth, Ibrahim wholeheartedly believed in one God and rejected the worship of these idols the Quran talks about how he challenged his father, family, and people around him and even debated with Emperor Nimrod. The glorious Quran tells the story as follows
“O Prophet have you not thought about the man who disputed with Ibrahim about his Lord, because God had given him the power to rule? When Ibrahim said, it is my Lord, who gives life and death, he said I too give life and death. So Ibrahim said God brings the Sun from the East: so bring it from the West. The disbeliever was dumbfounded: God does not guide those who do evil” (Baqara; 258)
He denounced their polytheism and attempts to associate idols with the Almighty Lord. The Quran shows Ibrahim’s passion for God and his shunning of the idols when it narrates the story of Ibrahim smashing the idols. Ibrahim said
“How can you worship what can neither benefit nor harm you, instead of Allah? Shame on you and on the things you worship instead of God. Have you no sense? They said, burn him and avenge your gods if you are going to do the right thing” (Anbiya; 66-8).
Of course, this action provoked intense opposition from the idolaters, and the authorities decided to punish him by burning Ibrahim in a bonfire. The Quran tells us how the fire became a bed of roses for Ibrahim,
“but we said a fire, be cool and safe for Ibrahim” (Anbiya;69).
This was regarded as one of his great miracles and proof of his truthfulness and the falsehood of idol worship. However, this did not convince the idolaters, for a moment.
Finally, it appears that Ibrahim became frustrated and despaired at the stubbornness of his family and community so with his wife and few possessions and the loyal nephew Lut he decided to migrate from Ur. He went North West passing through Syria to Canine and later in Egypt, Ibrahim travelled widely and lived almost a nomadic life and later on visited Makkah. He aimed to please his Lord and to spread the message of the oneness of God.
وَهُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ اللَّيْلَ وَالنَّهَارَ وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ كُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ
“And He (is) the One Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon; each in an orbit floating.” (Surah Al-Anbya 21:33).
Ibrahim continued his teaching, preaching and lifelong Jihad for the divine cause, by now he was an old man and had no children. So he begged God to bless him with a child This was one of the most difficult tasks and assignment that Ibrahim had to fulfil and he came out of it with flying colours, success, leapt and kissed his feet, glory crowned him with a halo whose radiance will last till the day of judgment.
خُلِقَ الْإِنسَانُ مِنْ عَجَلٍ سَأُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِي فَلَا تَسْتَعْجِلُونِ
“Is created the man of haste. I will show you My Signs so (do) not ask Me to hasten.” (Surah Al-Anbya 21:37)
When Ibrahim had the dream that God told him to sacrifice, the next day he sacrificed one hundred goats, he had the same dream during the second night so he sacrificed one hundred camels the second day. However, the dream came back to him on the third night. This time Ibrahim said O Lord! I have been sacrificing for two days. The voice said, “my dear friend, sacrifice your beloved Ismael!” Ismael was only 13 or 14 years old, a teenager, enjoying the prime of his life, however when the time came, he presented himself for the sacrifice. It is narrated that Satan did everything to dissuade both Ismael and his mother Hajrah to resist.
وَزَكَرِيَّا وَيَحْيَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ وَإِلْيَاسَ كُلٌّ مِّنَ الصَّالِحِينَ
“And Zakariya and Yahya and Isa and Ilyas – all (were) of the righteous.” (Surah Al-An’am 6:85)
Being people of faith and piety they immediately understood his trickery and pelted Satan with stones and told him to be on his way, for they too were in love with their Lord and were willing to make any sacrifice like Ibrahim. Coming from the household of Ibrahim they knew that sacrifice meant; giving up things that are valuable for something that is even more important values and more.
وَهَٰذَا ذِكْرٌ مُّبَارَكٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ أَفَأَنتُمْ لَهُ مُنكِرُونَ
“And this (is) a Reminder blessed, which We (have) revealed. Then are you of it rejecters?” (Surah Al-Anbya 21:50)
The next thing we see in this story is Ibrahim sharpening the knife and tying the hands and the legs of his beautiful teenage son and preparing to make that great sacrifice. However, when he had laid him on his face on the ground ready to be slaughtered the Lord said to him stop! This is all I wanted to see and to show the world how much you love me and for my pleasure, you are willing to make every kind of sacrifice.
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَمْ يَلْبِسُوا إِيمَانَهُم بِظُلْمٍ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمُ الْأَمْنُ وَهُم مُّهْتَدُونَ
“Those who believed and (did) not mix their belief with wrong, those, for them, (is) the security and they (are) rightly guided.” (Surah Al-An’am 6:82)
It is not unusual for God to abrogate, change a previous order and replace it with another, the sending of a ram from heaven as a ransom for Ismael is an example of how Allah applies this principle of abrogation. Sometimes this is the only way to get across a powerful message. What was the wisdom in consulting Ismael? Imam Razi suggests that Ibrahim did so to reveal the extent of the patience of his beloved son in divine obedience and to allow him to be an active participant in the sacrifice and thereby receive the divine grace and reward.
وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ
“And not it is granted except (to) those who (are) patient and not it is granted except (to the) owner (of) fortune great.” (Surah Fussilat 41:33)
Ismael’s reply, “you will indeed find me amongst the patient God willing.” Showed his complete reliance, and trust in God and the desire to get divine blessing and support in his willingness to be sacrificed. According to the commentators when Ibrahim had laid Ismael on the ground ready to be slaughtered a call from the Mountain drew his attention saying “O Ibrahim you have fulfilled the dream”, this was indeed a big trial and test to show the genuineness of Ibrahim’s faith and as a result, God gave a ram from paradise as a ransom for his genuineness and sincerity.
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ فَإِن يَكْفُرْ بِهَا هَٰؤُلَاءِ فَقَدْ وَكَّلْنَا بِهَا قَوْمًا لَّيْسُوا بِهَا بِكَافِرِينَ
“Those – (are) ones whom We gave them the Book and the judgment and the Prophethood. But if disbelieve in it these, then indeed, We have entrusted it (to) a people who are not therein disbelievers.” (Surah Al-An’am 6:89)
Imaam Razi gives a moving account of how Ibrahim and Ismael spend the last few moments before the momentous event, Ibrahim said to his beloved son, my darling and beloved son, you are under the divine command, then kissed him tied his limbs and both of them began to cry as he laid on the ground and Ibrahim with the sharp knife in his hand over the soft throat of Ismael heard the divine command “O Ibrahim you have fulfilled the dream”.
After this Ibrahim and his patient son Ismael began to build the Kaaba, wherever he went he built a house of God, the mosque and alter, the Quran specifically talks about his building of the Kaaba in Makkah,
لَا الشَّمْسُ يَنبَغِي لَهَا أَن تُدْرِكَ الْقَمَرَ وَلَا اللَّيْلُ سَابِقُ النَّهَارِ وَكُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ
“Not the sun is permitted for it – that it overtakes the moon, and not the night (can) outstrip the day, but all in an orbit they are floating.” (Surah Ya-Sin 36:40).
He settled his nephew Lut in the valley of Jordan in the town of Sodom, he was his protégé and a prophet of God. His task was to preach the message of the oneness of God to this town that was sunk in all kinds of wickedness and vices. As is the custom and the habit of these people they refused to listen to him and obey him. Not only that but continued in their obnoxious habits of sodomy. As a consequence God punished them severely, however, Ibrahim had requested God to save Lut and his followers.
قُلْنَا يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ
“O fire! Be you coolness and safety for Abraham.” (Surah Al-Anbya 21:69)
God Almighty is very appreciative of the work of his servants and this is repeatedly seen in history, in the form of God-honoring his faithful servants both with accolades, titles and promising them an everlasting legacy. How can someone as illustrious and dedicated to God not be honoured, the Quran says
“Ibrahim was truly an example: devoutly obedient to God and true in faith. He was not an idolater, he was thankful for the blessings of God, which shows him and guided him to a straight path. We gave him blessings in this world and he is among the righteous in the hereafter. Then we reveal to you O Muhammad follow the creed of Ibrahim a man of pure faith was no idolater.“ (Nahl: 120-23)
Moral lessons from the sacrifice of Ibrahim
The momentous sacrifice or at least the willingness of father and son to carry out the sacrifice has many lessons. Here are four lessons that I have gleaned.
1. Diversity & pluralism
This is to acknowledge the fact that all humans are different in their language, culture and ethnicity yet all equal, share their brotherhood and sisterhood in humanity. They are all children of Adam & Eve. Therefore, they are equal. Ibrahim is the father of Jews, father of Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David & Suleiman, Jewish prophets that Muslims have to believe “We make no distinction between them” (Quran).
We have to live together in harmony with people of other faiths, cultures, and ethnicities. When our beloved prophet 9Peace be upon him) arrived in Madina, he found that there were Jews, Pagans and Muslims. He made a legal agreement known as Sahifat ul Madina – the constitution of Madina. In this he wrote “We the Jews, Pagans and Muslims will live together as one community”. Last month I visited Bosnia with a group of Muslims and Christians I saw how Muslims in the past honoured the prophetic tradition.
We went to the Serb Orthodox Church and the priest pointed to a plaque at the entrance saying the Muslim ruler Sultan Mehmet donated for building this church. When we went to the Roman Catholic seminary they showed us a five-hundred-year-old letter that gave the Roman Catholics freedom to teach and preach in Bosnia.
2. Nurturing and developing good qualities in our children
The old father Ibrahim after telling his dream asked his teenage son Ismael “What do you think?” Seeking his opinion, making him part of the decision. The instant and a wise response were “O my dear Father! Do as you have been commanded you will find me patient”. Ismael had been trained and educated by Ibrahim who was described by the Quran as “Gentle, a role model of purity and goodness”. In the free society that we live in today, this is something we all cherish – however, there is a need for learning self-restraint, self-control and to develop a sense of responsibility.
To withstand difficulties and to endeavour to achieve great works at risk to oneself – it’s reflected in our behaviour when we become self-reliant, have a sense of responsibility and feel free to achieve our ambitions. The opposite of courage is cowardice: being afraid of taking necessary risks, scared of being injured, hearing loss. Courage is the ability to face danger and fear. It is the opposite of cowardice.
Qadi ‘Iyad says, “The Prophet was often to be found in dangerous situations. He went more than once into difficult places from which the valiant and heroic had fled. He was firm and did not leave. He advanced and did not retreat nor waver” (Al-Shifa).
Ibn Umar said, “I never saw anyone more courageous, intrepid, generous or pleasing than the Messenger of Allah” (Al-Darimi).
During the battle of Badr, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was in the thick of the fight and his valour was evident. Similarly, in the battle of Hunayn when the Muslim soldiers were scattered and were fleeing, the Prophet (peace be upon him) galloped on his mule towards the enemy and summoned the Muslims to fight.
فَآمَنَ لَهُ لُوطٌ وَقَالَ إِنِّي مُهَاجِرٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّي إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
“And believed [in] him Lut, and he said, “Indeed I (am) emigrating to my Lord. Indeed, He [He] (is) the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.” (Surah Al-‘Ankabut 29:26)
One night there was a lot of commotion outside Madina. People were frightened and came out of their homes. Some men mounted their horses and went to investigate. They were surprised to meet the Prophet (peace be upon him) coming back. He explained to them that it was Abu Talha’s horse that had gone on a rampage.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اصْبِرُوا وَصَابِرُوا وَرَابِطُوا وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
“O you who believe[d]! Be steadfast and [be] patient and [be] constant and consciously revere Allah so that you may (be) successful.” (Surah Al-Imran: 3:200)
His courage and boldness cannot be underestimated as he stood against the arrogant, ignorant and proud Makkans. He did not make a single compromise on his principles. He challenged the ‘idolators’, he stood up against the oppressors and stood by the oppressed.
This is to bear difficulties, to have patience means to remain calm and composed in times of difficulty. This moral virtue manifests in different ways: waiting for one’s turn, getting up early in the morning for prayer, walking to the mosque, fasting and avoiding worldly pleasures, and so on. Below, we will read how the best of Allah’s creation nurtured patience in his disciples. The Quran makes dozens of references to patience, for example:
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ
“And surely We will test you with something of [the] fear and [the] hunger and loss of [the] wealth and [the] lives and [the] fruits, but give good news (to) the patient ones.” (Surah Al-Baqara: 2:155).
The Messenger (peace be upon him) once said, “The affairs of a believer are most strange: they are all good. This is only for the believer. In good times he is grateful to Allah and in difficult times he is patient” (Muslim).
Anas reports that the Messenger (peace be upon him) passed by a woman who was crying near a grave. The Messenger (peace be upon him) told her, “fear Allah and be patient.” She retorted, “Be off, for you have not been affected like me”. She did not recognize him (peace be upon him). Someone told her that he was the Messenger of Allah, so she went to the Messenger’s apartment to apologize. She said, “I did not recognize you.” He told her that “Patience is when you are first struck by affliction”(Muslim).
Anas reported that I heard the Messenger (peace be upon him) say that Allah says “When I test my servant by taking from him his beloved and he is patient, I will reward both of them with Paradise” (Muslim).
Ibn Masud (RA) said, “I visited the Messenger (peace be upon him) when he was ill with fever. I said, ‘You have a high fever.’ He said, ‘Yes, my fever is equal to two men’s fever.’ I said, ‘Then will you get double the reward?’ He said, ‘Yes, when a believer is injured or pricked by a thorn, he is rewarded, his sins are erased and they fall off him like the leaves fall off a tree” (Bukhari).
Abu Huraira (RA) said, “When Allah wants good for someone, He afflicts him with difficulties” (Bukhari).
Abu Huraira (RA) said, “The Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “the strong one is not a good wrestler, but one who can control his anger” (Bukhari).