Abraham is one of those personalities about whom we will always have new things to discover. I think we have not yet been able to understand the greatness of this man in the Qur’an. The Prophet Abraham has a unique and central position in the Qur’an. He was chosen by God as a role model, as a standard for all mankind. In chapter 2, verse 124 we learn that Abraham is chosen by God as an Imam, that God tried and tested Abraham in all possible ways and that then God told him that now He was appointing him as a leader for all mankind. “And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham was tried by his Lord with commands and he fulfilled them. [God] said, “Indeed, I will make you a leader for the people.” [Abraham] said, “And of my descendants?” [God] said, “My covenant does not include the wrongdoers.” Qur’an 2:124 We should not regard him only as a leader for that era; from that time onwards, human beings have studied and followed him.. This is similar to the way in which the Qur’an in 3:96 introduces the Ka’aba as “the very first house ever built for humanity”. Abraham reached a point at which God was pleased. In the same way that this house was a house for all human beings for all time, Abraham is a leader for all mankind. Abraham is a point of reference. He is so important that he is accepted by all then and now. When we read the Qur’an we realise that at the time of the revelation of the Qur’an, Jews, Christians and Muslims all had great respect for Abraham. He was a source of authority and everyone wanted to justify their particular position by referring to him. It can be argued from the Qur’an that Abraham was the founder of Islam. Thus the Prophet Muhammad(s) reinstated the religion of Abraham whose core message was submission to God. The Qur’an says: “When His Lord said to him, ‘Submit’ he said: ‘I submit to the Lord of all the worlds.’ Abraham enjoined this upon his children……saying, ‘My children! God has chosen for you this religion (submission to the truth) do not die unless you are submissive to God. “(2:131 & 132) ‘Muslim’ signifies the person who bows in obedience to God, who acknowledges God alone as their Sovereign, Lord and Master and the only object of worship, devotion and service, who unreservedly surrenders themselves to God and who undertakes to live their life in accordance with the guidance that has come down from God. Islam is the appellation which characterises the abovementioned belief and outlook which constitutes the core and kernel of the religion of all the prophets who have appeared from time to time amongst different peoples since the very beginning of human life on earth. In Abraham’s life, we find something that can inspire all human generations regarding how to be submissive to God and at the same time how to treat people with care, mercy and love and how to be like a father for everyone while remaining totally devoted to God. Abraham was a man of deep thought. Faith should be accompanied with this kind of deep thought rather than close mindedness. He thought carefully about how people worshipped stars and the sun or the moon. However the Qur’an tells us that he was not satisfied with conventional knowledge; he was a man of aspirations. Abraham asked God, “Please show me the kingdom of earth” and “Please show me how You revive the dead.” Allamah Tabatabai said Abraham wanted to know how God revives the dead and not just how the dead are revived which showed the height of insight. Abraham was a hospitable man. According to Jewish literature, the house of Abraham had no walls! This might mean that there was no barrier between him and people who wanted to meet him. Islamic sources indicate that he was a person who always loved guests and if he had no guests he used to go outside to find people with whom he could share what God had given him. There is a story whereby once Abraham went out to find people whom he could invite to his house. On returning home he was surprised to find a young man in his house or coming out of his house. Abraham asked him with whose permission he had entered the house and he said with the permission of the Lord of the house. Abraham then realised this must be a person to whom God Himself had given permission. That angel then told Abraham; God has chosen someone as his friend and I have come here to tell this person the good news. Abraham never thought it was him. Such humbleness is the sign of a religious person. Abraham then said: “Who is the one who has been chosen as a friend by my Lord so I can serve him till I die?” The angel said: “Actually it is you!”. Abraham asked: “Why?” The angel then mentioned some of his good qualities saying: “You have never asked anyone other than God for help, but you never said no to people when they asked you for help.” When Abraham was thrown into a fire the Angel Gabriel went to offer to help him and Abraham replied: “From you, no.” which meant: My Lord knows my situation and there is no need to ask you for help. Another story goes that there was a time of starvation and Abraham had no food at home to provide for his family and people so he decided to go to his friend in Egypt to take some flour from him. However when he arrived there he could not find anything and returned with nothing. For a man like Abraham this was very embarrassing so just before reaching his town he filled his bags with soil and then went home and slept. When he got up he smelt fresh bread so he asked his wife where she obtained the flour for it. She replied that she made the bread with the flour his Egyptian friend had given them. Abraham then said, “Indeed it is from my Friend, but He is not Egyptian.”
Originally Published on Issue 33, March 2016
Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years.
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