The Majestic Quran mentions Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ seventy-three times and tells a dozen stories about him and his encounters with various people. 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 this to elaborate the Quranic narrative. His legacy is preaching boldly the belief in one God, Tawhid and shunning the idols of the pagans and challenging them to reflect and think about who they worship. He sacrificed everything for the love of Allah: particularly his willingness to sacrifice his cherished son. Here I retell this wonderful story since the rites of Hajj are enactments of his wonderful life.
Prophet Ibrahim lived some 4,000 years ago in what is nowadays 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, moon, sun and they believed that these celestial bodies had an enormous influence on human destiny. In addition, they worshipped idols made of wood, stone or any other material they could lay their hands on. These became the household gods and their worship was regarded as an essential part of daily life and lead to better health and good fortunes in family life and the city’s running. Ibrahim’s family rejected his message of Tawhid but he continued to be respectful towards them.
The Story of Ibrahim – A summary from the Quran:
- The Quran introduces Ibrahim (Baqarah: 129-134, Nahl: 120-23)
- He debates with his uncle and his people (Anbiya: 50-56)
- He challenges his people’s beliefs (Anaam: 75-84)
- He debates with Nimrod (Baqarah: 258)
- He is condemned and thrown in the fire (Anbiya: 57-70)
- He asks Allah to give him certainty about the resurrection (Baqarah: 260)
- The angels visit Ibrahim (Hud: 69-76)
- Building the Kaaba, prayer for a special Messenger (Baqarah: 124-129)
- His prayer for righteous off-spring (Ibrahim: 35-41)
- He prepares to sacrifice Ismael (Safaat: 99-112)
Ibrahim debates with the emperor
Ibrahim was a sincere believer, he wholeheartedly believed in one God and rejected the worship of idols. The Quran talks about him challenging his father, family and folks, even his debate with the Emperor Nimrod: “Have you not considered the one who Allah made King when he argued with Ibrahim about his Lord? Ibrahim said to him: “It is my Lord Who gives life and death”. He replied: “I too give life and death”. Ibrahim replied: “Allah brings the Sun from the East, so why not bring it from the West, if you can?” The disbeliever was speechless, Allah does not guide the wicked people” (Baqarah; 258). He denounced their idolatry the attempts to associate idols with the Almighty Lord.
The Quran shows Ibrahim’s passion for Allah and his shunning of the idols, how he smashed them: “Ibrahim quipped, “So, why do you worship beside Allah something unable to benefit or harm you? A disgrace for you and what you worship beside Allah; why don’t you understand?” They shouted angrily: “Burn him and help your gods if you are going to do something” (Anbiya: 66-68). Of course, this action provoked intense opposition from the idolaters and the authorities decided to punish him by casting him in a bonfire. But Allah saved him, “We ordered: Fire, be cool and comforting for Ibrahim” (Anbiya: 69). This was his great miracle and proof of his truthfulness, but alas the idolaters didn’t see it as such.
Ibrahim became frustrated with the stubbornness of his family and community so with his wife and loyal nephew Prophet Lut, he decided to migrate from Ur. He went North West passing through Syria to Canaan, present-day Palestine and later to Egypt. Ibrahim travelled widely and lived almost a nomadic life and later visited Makkah. His aim was to please his Lord and to spread the message of the oneness of Allah. The Quran describes his commitment, dedication and love of God in these glowing words “Remember when Ibrahim was put to all kinds of tests by His Lord, he achieved them. His Lord said: “I will make you a leader of humanity”, so he asked: “And what about my children?” Allah said: “My pledge will not benefit the evildoers amongst them” (Baqarah: 124).
The sacrifice of Ismael
Ibrahim continued his teaching, preaching and lifelong Jihad for the Divine cause, by now he was an old man with no children, so he begged God to bless him with a child. “He said, I’m going to my Lord, He will guide me; Lord, give me a pious son. So We gave good news of a son with strong character. When he was old enough to work with him, one day he told him: “My son, I saw in a dream I’m sacrificing you; tell me what you think?” He replied, “Father, do as you were told; you’ll find me patient, Allah willing.” When both submitted and Ibrahim laid him face down, We called out: “Ibrahim you have fulfilled the dream. This is how We reward the righteous.” It was a clear test of faith. We saved Ismael in exchange for a slaughtered ram, and left his tribute among future generations. Peace be on Ibrahim. That’s how We reward the righteous, he was Our faithful servant. We later gave him good news of Ishaq, a righteous Prophet” (Saffat: 99-112). The word ‘devotion’ implies a total commitment to someone – giving them your time and attention, enjoying their company, seeking to please them and making them a priority in your life. That should be the goal of your daily devotions. But don’t do so just for yourself or to get something but do it to develop relationship, nearness and love. The Prophet Ibrahim more than anything in life wanted a son and Allah blessed him with Ismael.
Ibrahim tries to fulfil his dream
One night, Ibrahim had a dream: God told him to sacrifice, the next day he sacrificed a hundred goats, he had the same dream the second night, so he sacrificed 100 camels the second day, however, on the third night he had the same dream. This time Ibrahim said, 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. Ibrahim decided to disclose and reveal his dream to his son, so he told him the dream and asked for his opinion. What was the wisdom in consulting Ismael? Imam Razi suggests that Ibrahim did so in order to reveal the extent of the patience of his beloved son in Divine obedience and in order to give him the opportunity to be an active participant in the sacrifice and thereby receive the Divine grace and reward. Ismael’s reply, “you’ll find me patient, Allah willing.” This showed his complete reliance and trust in God and the desire to get Divine blessings and support in his willingness to be a sacrifice.
Satan tries to dissuade Ibrahim from making the sacrifice
It is narrated that Satan did everything to dissuade the three of them, Ibrahim, Ismael and his mother Hajarah to resist, it is said that one by one he went to them, telling them that this was an unimaginable act and they mustn’t do it. As people of faith and piety, they understood his trickery and pelted the 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. The household of Ibrahim knew well what sacrifice meant; giving up things, which are valuable for something that is even more important and valuable. Ibrahim’s mantra was “My prayers, my sacrifices, my life, my death; are for Allah, Lord of all the realms” (Al Anam:162).
Ibrahim makes a hasty preparation for this great sacrifice. Once everything was ready, Father and son looked at each other and cried, was this wailing of sadness or tears of joy? Imam Razi gives a moving account of how Ibrahim and Ismael spent the last few moments before this historic event, Ibrahim said, my darling and beloved son, you are under the Divine command, then kissed him and laid him on the ground ready to be slaughtered, a call from the Mountain drew his attention saying, “Ibrahim, you have fulfilled the dream” this was indeed a big trial to show the genuineness of Ibrahim’s faith and as a result, God gave a ram from paradise, a ransom for his sincerity.
It’s 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. The purpose of the test is to reveal the truth, the truth of sincerity and love of God that Ibrahim and his family had for God was now revealed to the whole world. Sometimes this is the only way to get across such a powerful message.
The building of the Kaaba
After this historic event and the greatest sacrifice in the annals of human history, Ibrahim and Ismael set about to build the Kaaba. Wherever he went he built a house of God, the mosque. The Quran talks about the building of the Kaaba in Makkah, “Remember when Ibrahim and Ismael were raising the foundations of The House, they prayed: “Our Lord, accept this from us. You are the Listener, the Knower. Our Lord, keep us committed to You and make our children a community that submits to You, and teach us our rites, and be relenting towards us: indeed. You accept repentance, the Kind. Our Lord, send them a messenger from their people, who will teach your signs, the Book, the wisdom, and purify them. You are the Almighty, the Wise” (Baqarah: 127-130).
He settled his nephew Lut in the valley of Jordan in the town of Sodom, he was his apprentice and also a Prophet of God. His task was to preach the message of oneness of God to this town and that town was sunk in wickedness and vices. As is the habit of people they refused to listen to him. They continued in their obnoxious habits of sodomy. Therefore, God punished them severely.
God Almighty is appreciative of the work of his servants and this is repeatedly seen in history in the form of God honouring 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 an exemplary leader, obedient to Allah, pure in faith and didn’t associate anything with Allah. He was thankful for His gifts, so Allah selected him and guided him on the straight path. We gave him the best in the world, and in the Hereafter, he will be among the righteous. We revealed to you: “Follow Ibrahim’s religion, the pure in faith, who wasn’t an idolater” (Nahl: 120-123).
Moral lessons from the life of Ibrahim
The historic sacrifice, the willingness of father and son to carry out the sacrifice has many lessons. Here are four lessons that I have gleaned:
- Diversity and pluralism – Love all humanity
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 and Soloman, all Jewish prophets. Muslims must believe “We make no distinction between them.” So, we must live together in harmony with people of other faiths, cultures and ethnicities. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) arrived in Madinah, he made an agreement known as Sahifat-ul-Madina (the constitution of Madinah), in this, he wrote, “We the Jews, Pagans and Muslims will live together as one community.”
- 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 the wise response was “My Dear Father! Do as you have been commanded you will find me patient, God willing”. He had been trained and educated by Ibrahim the “a role model of purity and goodness”.
Courage is the ability to face danger and fear. It is the opposite of cowardice. To bear difficulties and to try 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. His courage and boldness cannot be underestimated as he stood against the arrogant, ignorant and proud Chaldeans. He did not make a single compromise and challenged the idolaters, he stood up against the oppressors.
This is to bear hardships, 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. The Quran makes dozens of references to patience. The Messenger once said, “The affairs of a believer are strangest: 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).