Even after 40 centuries, the message and the character of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) remains exemplary for millions of people. A proponent of monotheism, he declared the Oneness of Almighty God at a time when the whole world was submerged into darkness of polytheism. In this backdrop, he heralded his determination to turn his face to the Almighty God, the One Who is the Creator of the universe.
Born in Babylon (modern Iraq) some 2000 BC, Ibrahim traveled through Syria, Egypt, Hijaz and Palestine, where he died and is buried at a place which is known after his name as Al-Khaleel. He made the entire Middle East areas as his area of operation for his mission, and assigned his nephew Lot to Sodom; his son Isaac to Palestine and planted his elder son Ismail at Hijaz. He is ancestor of most of the Prophets referred to in Old Testament, New Testament and the Holy Qur’an. He holds the highest position in world history with no parallel to him. Here we analyze his life and mission in light of the Holy Qur’an.
Ibrahim: God’s friend
Almighty God chose him as His friend (Khaleel). The people of his time in Syria would worship stars (thurayya). He is said to have been invited to select a star for his own worship. But after examining the sun and the moon, he rejected the idea and turned his face towards Allah the Creator of the heavens and the earth: “When the night covered him over, he saw a star: he said: ‘This is my Lord.’ But when it set, he said: ‘I love not those that set.’ When he saw the moon rising in splendor, he said: ‘This is my Lord.’ But when the moon set, he said: ‘Unless my Lord guides me, I shall surely be among those who go astray.’ When he saw the sun rising in splendor, he said: ‘This is my Lord; this is the greatest (of all).’ But when the sun set, he said: ‘O my people! I am indeed free from your (guilt) of giving partners to Allah. ‘For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth and never shall I give partners to Allah’.”
Ibrahim the iconoclast
In Iraq, King Nimrud then was powerful and a tyrant. The people were generally idolatrous and had many temples. Ibrahim was astonished to see people assigning their aspirations to idols of stones. One day when they were out of town for a festival, he entered the temple and hammered the stone-idols, mutilating their faces except the big one on which he placed the axe. When the people returned and saw their deities smashed and mutilated, they became angry. Although they felt ashamed of worshipping the idols that could not save themselves, they however decided to kill Ibrahim.
“So he broke them to pieces (all) but the biggest of them, that they might turn (and address themselves) to it. They said, ‘Who has done this to our gods? He must indeed be some man of impiety!’ They said, ‘We heard a youth talk of them: he is called Ibrahim.’ They said, ‘Then bring him before the eyes of the people, that they may bear witness.’ They said, ‘Art thou the one that did this with our gods, O Ibrahim?’ He said: ‘Nay, this was done by, this is their biggest one! Ask them, if they can speak intelligently!’ So they turned to themselves and said, ‘Surely ye are the ones in the wrong!’ Then were they confounded with shame: (they said) ‘Thou knowest full well that these (idols) do not speak!’ (Ibrahim) said, ‘Do ye then worship, besides Allah, things that can neither be of any good to you nor do you harm? ‘Fie upon you, and upon the things that ye worship besides Allah! Have ye no sense’?” (21:57-67)
“So naught was the answer of (Ibrahim’s) people. Except that they said: ‘Slay him or burn him.’ But Allah did save him from the Fire. Verily in this are Signs for people who believe.” (29:23)
Argument with the king
When caught and brought before the king, Ibrahim declared the power of his Lord in the open court: “Hast thou not turned thy vision to one who disputed with Ibrahim about his Lord, because Allah had granted him power? Ibrahim said: ‘My Lord is He Who giveth life and death.’ He said: ‘I give life and death.’ Said Ibrahim: ‘But it is Allah that causeth the sun to rise from the East do thou then cause it to rise from the West?’ Thus was he confounded who (in arrogance) rejected Faith. Nor doth Allah give guidance to a people unjust.” (2: 258)
Ibrahim left his father and the fatherland, and migrated to Egypt with his wife Sarah and he returned triumphant to Palestine with many gifts from the Egyptian king including a maid named Hajrah. Since Sarah was barren, Ibrahim married Hajrah who gave birth to a baby boy at his old age of 95. A jealous Sarah pressed her husband to take Hajrah away from her. On the Divine Guidance, Ibrahim took Hajrah and the new born Ismail to a distant place (present day Makkah) in Hijaz. Ibrahim left his beloved wife and infant son in the barren valley with no greenery, water or human inhabitation and prayed for the prosperity and security of his offspring in this barren valley.
Moments of trial
When the little amount of dates and water left by Ibrahim was over within few days, she felt thirsty and her infant son Ismail was crying to death. She ran madly between the two nearby hillocks of Safa and Marwah looking for water. She ran seven times. The hills and hillocks echoed with her cries. This was an ordeal, a great ordeal of God. She cried again and again but called none except Him. God showered His mercy upon her and a forceful spring of sweet water gushed out near Ismail’s feet. She called it Zamzam and it is flowing at the same place for the last 4,000 years. Almighty Allah declared Safa and Marwah as His signs and ordained the pilgrims to run seven times between them like His devoted lady, Hajrah: “Behold! Safa and Marwa are among the Symbols of Allah. So if those who visit the House in the Season or at other times, should compass them round, it is no sin in them. And if any one obeyeth his own impulse to Good, be sure that Allah is He Who recogniseth and knoweth.” (2:158)
The great triumph
Ibrahim returned a few years later to find his infant Ismail an energetic boy. He was tested again. He saw in a dream that he was offering his son Ismail as a sacrifice to his Lord. Ismail was his only son at this ripe age. Having decided however to win His pleasure, Ibrahim told the son of his dream. Being son of a great soul, Ismail immediately agreed, for this he said was ordained by God. Ibrahim took him to Mina (near Makkah) and as he laid Ismail to slaughter him, his Lord awarded him with great pleasure and ransomed Ismail with a goat sacrifice. This is the practice which is followed by all Muslims throughout the world as Eid Al-Adha or the festival of sacrifice.
The great assembly of Haj
Haj was started by Prophet Ibrahim. It is the perfect replica of the incidents and occasions of the life of Prophet Ibrahim and his family. Here we mention the main rites of Haj and their relationship with this noble family.
I. Construction of Holy Kaaba: Almighty Allah bestowed great favor on Prophet Ibrahim and Ismail to build the Holy Kaaba at Makkah Mukarramah, which is the focal point of the true faith in the world. Muslims turn their faces towards it in prayer, five times a day from every corner of the earth. Even their dead are buried facing the Holy Kaaba.
II. Performing Tawaf: Later Almighty Allah told him to call the people to perform Haj and Tawaf.
III. Saie of Safa and Marwah: Every pilgrim is obliged to run between the two hillocks.
IV. Zamzam: This is the water, which gushed out as a gift to infant Ismail. Pilgrims drink it and take it with them as holy water to the four corners of the world.
V. Rami Jamraat: When Prophet Ibrahim was taking his son, Ismail for a sacrifice in Mina the Iblees tried the seduce the family three times and they threw dust and pebbles upon him. The pilgrims follow the same practice and throw pebbles upon Iblees seven times each in three days of Haj.
VI. Animal sacrifice: This is in commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim’s decision to sacrifice his son Ismail and God’s Mercy upon him to ransom it by a sheep. The pilgrims in Mina and other Muslims celebrate the Great Win by sacrificing sheep, goat, cow and camels throughout the world. About two million animals in Mina and many millions abroad are slaughtered within three days whose meat is distributed to the poor. This is the largest free food distribution program of the world on the ‘Eid Al Adha’ annually.
VII. Maqam-i-Ibrahim: This is the place of a stone, marked with the foot print of Prophet Ibrahim where he was standing while raising the walls of Holy Kaaba. Every pilgrim offers prayer at this blessed place in every Tawaf.
VIII. Hijr Ismail: This place marked with Prophet Ismail’s name is now a part of the holy Kaaba and pilgrims offer prayer at this place.
The above rites of Haj are directly connected with the noble family of Prophet Ibrahim. Although Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) initiated Haj, there is however no Haj rite connected with his life. It is the commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim and his submission to the will of Almighty Allah.
Islam is the religion of Prophet Ibrahim. This is mainstream of Divine guidance including all prophets of Torah and the Bible. Judaism and Christianity are the offshoots of that one thread of divinity.