One of the prophets given the most attention in the Quran
is the prophet Abraham. The Quran tells of him and his unwavering belief in
God, first calling him to reject his people and their idolatry, and later to
prove true to various tests which God places before him.
In Islam, Abraham is seen as a strict monotheist who
calls his people to the worship of God alone. For this belief, he bears great
hardships, even disassociating himself with his family and people through
migration to various lands. He is one who fulfills various commandments of God
though which he is tested, proving true to each one.
Due to this strength of faith, the Quran attributes the
one and only true religion to be the “Path of Abraham”, even though prophets before
him, such as Noah, called to the same faith. Because of his tireless act of
obedience to God, He gave him the special title of “Khaleel”, or beloved
servant, not given to any other Prophet before. Due to the excellence of
Abraham, God made prophets from his progeny, from them Ishmael Isaac, Jacob (Israel) and Moses, guiding people to the truth.
The lofty status of Abraham is one shared by Judaism,
Christianity and Islam alike. The Jews see him to be epitome of virtue as he
fulfilled all the commandments although before they were revealed, and was the
first to come to the realization of the One True God. He is seen as the father
of the chosen race, the father of prophets due to which God started his series
of revelations. In Christianity, he is seen as the father of all believers
(Romans 4:11) and his trust in God and sacrifice is taken as a model for later
saints (Hebrews 11).
As Abraham is given such importance, it is worthy that
one study his life and investigate those aspects which raised him to the level which
God gave him.
Although the Quran and the Sunnah do not given the
details of the whole life of Abraham, they do mention certain facts worthy of
note. As with other Quranic and biblical figures, the Quran and Sunnah detail aspects
of their lives as a clarification of some misguided beliefs of previous
revealed religions, or those aspects which contain certain mottos and morals
worthy of note and emphasis.
In the Quran, the only name given to Abraham is
“Ibraheem” and “Ibrahaam”, all sharing the original root, b-r-h-m. Although in
the Bible Abraham is known as Abram at first, and then God is said to change
his name to Abraham, the Quran has kept silent on this subject, neither
affirming nor negating it. Modern Judeo-Christian scholars do doubt, however, in
story of the changing of his names and their respective meanings, calling it
“popular world play”. Assyriologists suggest that the Hebrew letter Hê (h) in
the Minnean dialect is written in stead of a long ‘a’ (ā), and that the
difference between Abraham and Abram is merely dialectical.
The same can be said for the names Sarai and Sarah, as their meanings are also
Abraham is estimated to have been born 2,166 years
before Jesus in or around the Mesopotamian
city of Ur, 200 miles
southeast of present-day Baghdad. His father
was ‘Aazar’, ‘Terah’ or ‘Terakh’ in the Bible, an idol worshipper, who was from
the descendants of Shem, the son of Noah. Some scholars of exegesis suggest that
he may have been called Azar after an idol he was devoted to.
He is likely to have been Akkadian, a Semitic people from the Arabian Peninsula
who settled in Mesopotamia sometime in the third millennium BCE.
It seems as if Azar migrated along with some of his
relatives to the city of Haran in the early childhood of Abraham before the
confrontation with his people, although some Judeo-Christian traditions
tell it to be later in his life after he is rejected in his native city. In
the Bible, Haran, one of the brothers of Abraham is said to have died in Ur, “in the land of his nativity” (Genesis 11:28), but he was much older than Abraham, as
his other brother Nahor takes Haran’s daughter as a wife (Genesis 11:29). The
bible also makes no mention of the migration of Abraham to Haran, rather the
first command to migrate is that out of Haran, as if they had settled there
before (Genesis 12:1-5). If we take the first command to mean the emigration
from Ur to Canaan, there seems to be no reason that Abraham would dwell with
his family in Haran, leaving his father there and proceeding to Canaan thereafter, not to mention its geographical improbability [See map].
The Quran does mention the migration of Abraham, but it
does so after Abraham disassociates himself from his father and tribesmen due
to their disbelief. If he had been in Ur at that time, it seems unlikely that
his father would go with him to Haran after disbelieving and torturing him
along with his townspeople. As to why they chose to migrate, archaeological
evidence suggests that Ur was a great city which saw its rise and fall within
the lifetime of Abraham, so they may
have been forced to leave due to environmental hardships. They may have chosen
Haran due to it sharing the same religion as Ur.
The Religion of Mesopotamia
Archeological discoveries from the time of Abraham paint
a vivid picture of the religious life of Mesopotamia. Its inhabitants were polytheists
who believed in a pantheon, in which each god had a sphere of influence. The
large temple dedicated to the Akkadian
moon god, Sin, was the main centre of Ur. Haran also had the moon as the
central godhead. This temple was believed to be the physical home of God. The
chief god of the temple was a wooden idol with additional idols, or ‘gods’, to
The Great Ziggurat of Ur, the temple of moon god Nanna, also
known as Sin. Shot in 2004, the photograph is courtesy of Lasse Jensen.
Knowledge of God
Although Judeo-Christian scholars have differed as to
when Abraham came to know God, at the age of three, ten, or forty-eight,
the Quran is silent in mentioning the exact age at which Abraham received his
first revelation. It seems it was, however, when he was young in age, as the
Quran calls him a young man when his people try to execute him for rejecting
their idols, and Abraham himself said to have knowledge not available to his
father when he called him to worship God alone before his call spread to his
people (19:43). The Quran is clear, however, in saying that he was one of the
prophets to whom a scripture was revealed:
“Verily! This is in the former Scriptures. The Scriptures of
Abraham and Moses.” (Quran 87:18-19)