Over four thousand years ago when humanity stooped to crude idolatry and moral degeneration became embedded with material progress there came a man of vision and towering personality who redirected mankind towards their role of vicegerency on earth. He was Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic). His obedience to Allah through free will, indomitable character such as patience and courage, an uncompromising commitment to upholding the Oneness of God and unparalleled sacrifice for his mission rewarded him with a covenant from God that his seeds would inherit the land.

 And when his Lord tried Ibrahim by His commandments and the later fulfilled them, He said : “behold I shall make thee a leader of men.” Ibrahim asked: “And of my offspring as well?” (Allah) answered: “My covenant does not embrace the evil doers. (Al-Qur’an 2:124)

 

Abraham travelled across theMiddle Eastwith the pristine message of monotheism. His travels are recorded in the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an. He is universally revered as a unifying figure by the adherents of these three monotheistic religions. Allah honoured him with a profound honour by describing him as a ‘nation’:

 Truly Abraham was a nation, devoutly obedient to Allah. Naturally inclining towards the true faith, he was not amongst the idolaters. He was abundantly thankful for the blessings Allah bestowed upon him. He chose him, and guided him to Straight Path. (Al-Qur’an 16:120-121)

 

Ever since Abraham challenged idolatry in his early youth, human history has been directly influenced by his legacy. As a father of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – he set the course of our destiny.

Abraham, the shaper and maker of history, was born in a Mesopotamian city of Urin present day Iraq. His family belonged to the ruling class, the vested interest, and he could have easily absorbed himself in the traditional easy-going life and enjoyed himself. But he was different. From childhood he was inclined towards contemplation and inquisitiveness. He was not used to taking things for granted; he was always inspired to rationalise his arguments in order to re-discover his Lord.

 Then when he beheld the sun rising, he said: “This is my Lord. This is the greatest of all.” Then, when it went down, he said: “O my people! Most certainly I am quit of those whom you associate with Allah in His Divinity. Behold, I have turned my face in exclusive devotion to the One Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am certainly not one of those who associate others with Allah in His Divinity. (Al-Qur’an 6:78-78)

 

His vision for the Oneness of God and ingenuity at striking at the heart of idolatry by breaking all the idols, while leaving the biggest one, shattered the arrogance of the rulers. But they were conceited people and with their haughtiness they could only respond to this ‘threat’ by passing a severe punishment on him. He was thrown into a blazing fire. That was young Abraham’s first test in which he showed extraordinary courage and trust in God. The fire refused to burn Abraham by God’s will and he came out unscathed. Abraham could not stay in his own homeland and decided to leaveIraqwith only a few of his family members.

At an old age Abraham was blessed with a lovely son, Ishmael* (Ismail in Arabic). His love for Ishmael was irresistible. So God wanted to test him; the divine plan was strange indeed. Abraham was asked by God to leave his beloved wife, Hajar, and the little son in a barren land, Makkah. Who then could imagine that 3000 years later Makkah would become the centre of a new world, the heart of a divine civilisation? The test on Hajar was no less severe. As the food and water left behind by Abraham were running short Hajar’s suckling baby was not getting enough milk from her. Her agony turned into fear, as there was no human habitation nearby. Out of sheer desperation she was running between two hills, Safa and Marwa, expecting to see some one who could help her and the little baby who was on the verge of dying. Suddenly, to her ecstatic joy, she found water gushing forth from near the baby’s feet. An oasis was created in the middle of the barren desert where people started settling by her permission. Such was the divine plan to make Makkah the centre of God’s revelation later on.

But Abraham’s test was not over yet. As Ishmael was happily growing with the mother Abraham was visiting them occasionally. Abraham’s love for his son knew no bounds. God wanted to test him once again by asking Abraham to slaughter his own son. It was an extraordinary test; but the father and the son took this as a divine will. They were just about to perform this act when God let an animal to be slaughtered instead.

 But as soon as the two had surrendered themselves to the will of Allah and Ibrahim laid him down on his face, We called out to him: O Ibrahim, thou hast already fulfilled that dream vision.” (Al-Qur’an 37:103-105)

 

It was a heavenly mercy on humanity. Abraham was elevated as God’s friend (khalil). Thus came the rituals of Hajj commemorating Abraham’s and his family’s sacrifice and accomplishment in the tests from God.

The rituals of Hajj, decreed on every able Muslim, are directly linked with the wilful surrender of three noble souls on earth to God – Abraham, Hajar and Ishmael. The legacy and spirit of human self-surrender to God are embedded this fifth pillar of Islam. Abraham surrendered to God wholeheartedly. He was a thorough Muslim and as such God made him the father of the Muslim nation.

 … Keep the faith of your father Ibrahim. Allah named you Muslims earlier and even in this Book, that the Messenger may be a witness over you and that you may be witnesses over all mankind… (Al-Qur’an 22:78)

 

Abraham had a clear mission in life; he deployed his elder son Ishmael in Hijaz, younger son Isaac in Palestineand nephew Lot in Jordan. These are the historic lands which had always been the cradle of human civilisation. After around 3,000 years mankind saw Abraham’s prayer coming true through Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), a descendant of Ishmael, who rekindled and revitalised the original message of Islam to its peak.

 Our Lord! Raise up in the midst of our offspring a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Your verses, and instruct them in the Book and in Wisdom, and purify their lives. Verily, You are the Most Mighty, the Most Wise. (Al-Qur’an 2:129)

 

Abraham remained a visionary and missionary all through his life. He witnessed the ignominy and sufferings of fellow human beings by others and by the enslavement to their own desires and man-made idols. He challenged the status quo and remained at the forefront of struggles by dedicating his whole life. He succeeded in bringing people to their real destiny, i.e., as God’s emissary on earth. He started this alone, but this multiplied manifold over the millennia by God’s grace.

Abraham was chosen to lead humanity in its dark period. His legacy as a Prophet and a great leader is a living memory to mankind. What is it that we can learn from his life in the midst of another dark phase of human history today when our world is under the spell of crude materialism? The Qur’an refers to some of these virtues for us to emulate.

1. To have open mind and use one’s critical autonomy

The Qur’an mentions his search for truth when he was observing the appearance and departure of heavenly bodies – the stars, the moon and the big sun – and after using his critical autonomy, came to a rationalistic conclusion that these heavenly bodies were subjected to the all-pervasive power of God (Al-Qur’an 6:78). The Qur’an mentions another story when he pleaded with God to provide him with ease of mind about His omnipotence so that he could discharge his Prophetic mission with full conviction. God asked him to carry out an experiment with a living; dismantling its body and scattering into four mountains. When the bird got assembled and was brought to life by God’s will, he prostrated to Him in veneration.

Abraham’s power of logical argument crushed the myth that religion has little to do with rationality. When he encountered an arrogant and non-believing king about the domain of his power, Abraham used a powerful argument that dumbfounded the king, as the Qur’an mentions

 ‘But surely Allah causes the sun to rise from the east; now you cause it to rise from the west’. Thereupon the denier of the Truth was confounded. (Al-Qur’an2:258)

 

2. To have strong character and determination

 Abraham’s unbending personality in pursuing his mission was legendary. He displayed his strength of character in his youth when he was thrown into fire for bringing humiliation to pagan idols. His indomitable courage in the face of being burnt alive is a lesson for righteous people. He only left his land when he realised that his stay inIraqwould be of no further use. His unwavering determination in the midst of all the challenges of life is an inspiration for all those who are passionate to serve human beings for justice and humanity.

3. To keep parental responsibility alive

 Abraham was fully aware of his responsibility to the family. He left his dearest wife and son in the arid sands of Makkah by divine will; but he visited them then and looked after them every now and then. He did not abdicate his fatherly responsibility even when Ishmael grew old and got married. The advice he gave to Ishmael to divorce a wife or keep another by using a metaphor is a reminder of a fathers’ responsibility towards his sons. (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 4.583, narrated by Ibn Abbas)

4. To have complete reliance or tawakkul on God

 Abraham’s reliance on Allah is epic in human history. He was unnerved in all the tests and tribulations that came upon him. He was like a traveller climbing up to the peak of spiritual height, and the higher he was going the more severe his test became, until he reached the peak. The serenity he displayed during his readiness to slaughter his dearest son has been preserved by God as part of rituals of Hajj for the rest of humanity till the end of the world. His was a sacrifice that knew no bounds.

*Muslims say ‘alaihis salam’ (upon him be peace) after coming across a Prophet’s name