Waleed Ahmad, UK
In recent times there has been a growing interest in genealogy and ancestry. Websites such as ‘Find My Past’ or ‘Ancestry’ have emerged and there are TV programmes like ‘Who do You think You Are?’ where celebrities search for the identities of their ancestors. Clearly then, without help, most of us are unable to identify who our forefathers were, let alone know what they did.
Thus to find ourselves remembering a personality who existed thousands of years ago is indeed rare. To remember him with admiration, along much of the world’s population, is unique.
In contrast, the followers of the three major religions of the world – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – can proudly claim to share a common spiritual ancestor – the Prophet Abraham (as), deeply respected and admired as the patriarch.
Abraham (as) commands a pivotal position in Islam. He is the father of prophets. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) traces his descent from him; the Holy Qur’an declared him to be the first Muslim and he is an example to be followed by others.
Abraham (as) features in three prominent practices in the lives of Muslims. The first relates to their daily acts of worship. When praying, Muslims face the Ka’bah, a structure in Makkah, as a sign of their unity in worship. This structure, according to Muslim belief, was re-built by Abraham (as) and his son Ishmael (as) and was the first house constructed for the worship of Allah.
The second Muslim practice to which Abraham (as) is linked with is that of the Hajj or the pilgrimage to the sacred house – the Ka’bah. Muslims are duty-bound – circumstances permitting – to visit this site on the appropriate days, at least once in their lifetime. This pilgrimage which nowadays is performed by millions of Muslims every year, was initiated under divine command by Abraham (as).
Another Islamic practice derived from the piety of Abraham (as) is that of Eid-ul-Adha, which commemorates man’s absolute obedience to God. Four thousand years ago, Abraham (as) in compliance with a dream which he interpreted to be the will of God, was ready to sacrifice his only son. Just as he was about to perform the act, God stopped him announcing that he had fulfilled the dream.
Abraham’s (as) willingness to sacrifice his only son in compliance with what he believed to be the wishes of the Almighty demonstrated clearly that true contentment is found through one’s submission to the will of God. It is this condition where one is in total harmony with one’s Creator, that is the essence of Islam and is the meaning of submission to the will of God. It is this state that can lead to everlasting peace.
Like many, Abraham was a parent – not an ordinary father but rather a father par excellence.His sons were prophets. His grandchildren and the progeny that followed were replete with prophets. In Islam prophets are considered to be individuals whose moral conduct and spiritual excellences have developed to such an extent that they are enabled to enjoy direct communion with the Almighty.
The fact that Abraham (as) achieved this high moral status is a reflection on not only his piety and obedience to God, but also on the piety and obedience that he inculcated in his progeny. Indeed, the high status and special favour of God accorded to Abraham (as) is clear from the fact that the name Abraham (as) and his progeny are remembered several times a day when the durood prayer is recited where worshippers seek blessings for the Holy Prophet (sa) and for Abraham (as) and his progeny. Abraham’s (as) father was among those who opposed him. He was an idol worshipper and despite this difference of opinion in such a fundamental matter, Abraham (as) bore towards him no personal animosity. He forgave him and the Qur’an tells us that he was even moved to pray to God to also forgive him. Herein lies a lesson for us. In family relationships – especially between parents and children – there may come a time where we may disagree, but such disagreements should never be allowed to descend into animosity for our parents, no matter how important the issue. For Abraham (as) the unity of God was fundamental, but he did not allow this to come in the way of paying due regard to his parent as a father.
The Qur’an describes Abraham (as) as a virtuous human being one who was hospitable, kind, generous and extremely honest and truthful. But his most distinguishing feature was his abiding belief in One God. He argued against polytheism by pointing that the sun, the moon or stars could not be bearers of divinity because of their transitory nature, appearing during the day and disappearing at night and vice versa. The people he grew up with were idols worshippers believing that objects they had fashioned out of stone had power and the capacity to resolve all their problems. Abraham (as) wanted to demolish such misconceptions.
The Qur’an relates that Abraham (as) went into the town’s sanctuary and broke all the idols except the chief idol, which he had left intact. When the people found their idols destroyed, they suspected it was Abraham (as). His response to this accusation was quite simple. Why not ask the chief idol, who was still intact? How could something, he argued, who could not even speak be expected to answer the call of its worshippers or be considered a divine being?
Through this act, Abraham (as) had drawn out the obvious truth. The chief idol could not even move, let alone inflict the destruction that had taken place. It could not protect its fellow idols from harm. How, therefore, could this idol offer any kind of protection to others or be considered an object worthy of worship?
Inevitably Abraham (as) was persecuted for his views. He was ostracised and even put into a fire but he was protected by God throughout. He bore all opposition with patience and fortitude.
Abraham (as) was not at all vengeful against his enemies. The Holy Qur’an tells us that he prayed for them so that they may see the error of their ways.
This teaching of compassion towards one’s enemies was also practised by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa). He, like Abraham (as), suffered severe persecution at the hands of his enemies. History records of how he was abused, pelted with stones, lost his loved ones – murdered at the hands of his enemies – turned out of his home and then attacked in his place of refuge. Yet when circumstances took a dramatic change and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) found his enemies at his mercy, like the great prophet Abraham (as), he bore towards them no enmity, sought no revenge or retribution but instead forgave them all. This is the greatest act of clemency ever witnessed by humanity.
About the Author: Waleed Ahmad holds a Masters degree in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Roehampton in the UK and is currently librarian of the Aftab Khan Library in the Baitul Futuh Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Western Europe. He also previously served as President of Majlis Ansarullah UK (auxiliary organisation of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for men above forty years of age.)