Abraham, Our Father

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The Qur’an states that God revealed Islam as the religion of the Muslims, the religion of "your father Ibrahim (or Abraham)." (Qur’an 22:78)

Abraham was not only the patriarch of Muslims, however. He is also father to the Egyptians, through his wife Hagar; to the Arabs, through Hagar’s son Ishmael and his descendant Mohamed; to the Christians, through Jesus, who descended from his other son, Isaac; and to the Jews, through Moses, also a descendant of Isaac.

In addition to fatherhood through lineage, Abraham represents for Muslims a spiritual fatherhood as well; through God’s Guidance, Muslims come to know, love and worship the One God, just as Abraham himself did.

The story of Abraham is narrated in the Old Testament in Genesis, chapters 12 through 26. It is also narrated in the Qur’an in several places, including chapter 14 which is titled "Ibrahim" after him.

And it is the Qur’an, not the Old Testament, which makes the essence of Abraham’s faith and religion crystal clear. "The narrative of Genesis does not furnish adequate information for an exact description of patriarchal religion," notes Prof. Flanders, Jr. and his co- authors in their book, "Introduction to the Old Testament."

In Genesis 18:25, Abraham asks, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" which gives apparent proof that Abraham was a monotheist, according to John Bagot Glubb in his book, "Peace in the Holy Land." Glubb continues: "But much evidence goes to prove that he did not believe in only one God. We are thus obliged to presume that the passage was inserted by an editor, perhaps twelve hundred years later, when belief in monotheism was spreading…We do not know who were the gods of Abraham, but several centuries after his death Yahweh came to be recognized as the God of Israel."

The Old Testament also discredits Ishmael, the first son of Abraham, for no fault of his own except perhaps that his mother was an Egyptian slave.

After Abraham’s wife, Sarah, later gave birth to Isaac, the Genesis account informs us that Abraham allowed Sarah to expel Hagar and Ishmael from their household. "Wherefore she said unto Abraham, cast out this bond-woman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac." (Gen 21:10) And Genesis states further that God agreed with Sarah. (Gen 21:12)

From this point on, the Old Testament is completely silent on what happened to Ishmael. Did he grow up to believe and preach the religion of his father? And if so, where?

Now the Old Testament does record that Abraham traveled widely in regions that are known today as Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. But there is no report of Abraham ever journeying to Arabia to spread his new monotheistic faith, or reuniting with Ishmael in Mecca to build a house of worship called the Kaa’ba.

Could it be that the Old Testament writers intentionally omitted any account of Abraham’s ministry in Arabia with his son Ishmael? The geography of the area and the Bedouin lifestyle both suggest that a good preacher who lived for 175 years (according to the OT) must have covered the busy north-south Arabian trade route passing through Mecca.

But this omission is perhaps not surprising, for the Old Testament mentions only very few Arab prophets, including Job. In the Book of Job, a monotheistic discussion never even mentions Israel.

Regarding the divine promises made to Abraham, Glubb comments: "Scholars agree that the Abrahamic promises were not written down for some nine hundred years. At that time, the Davidic kingdom did aspire to rule all Palestine. The possibility, therefore, arises that the editors who compiled our version of Genesis may have attributed their own ambition to old Abraham, the donkey bedouin."

In the Old Testament, we are left knowing that although Yahweh, the God of Israel, promised the cast-out Hagar that her son would be father to a great nation (the Muslims) (Genesis 16:7-14; 21:8-14), Ishmael was crudely described as "a wild ass of a man." (Genesis 16:12).

Bible commentators Jamieson, et al, in "Commentary, Critical and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments," make things worse by saying that the typecasting of Ishmael expresses "how the wildness of Ishmael and his descendants resembles that of the wild ass [and is] descriptive of the rude, turbulent, and plundering character of the Arabs."

Flanders also asserts that "the true heir to [Abraham’s] covenant was not Ishmael, but Isaac," yet gives no clear reason. And so we are left with a confusingly incomplete picture of the role of both sons.

Does it not seem out of character for God, the Perfect One, to discriminate between two equally good sons?

Why was the monotheistic covenant of Abraham apparently not inherited by both Ishmael and Isaac? A dual inheritance would certainly seem like the most fair and right thing to do, but the Old Testament has little clarity on the issue.

The Qur’an, on the other hand, makes it clear that Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac were all good men in the eyes of God. They worshiped their One God as Lord of All, and they preached the same religion, which was that of Noah before them, and of Moses, Jesus and Mohamed after them.

Moreover, the Qur’an tells us how Abraham preached to his own father, family and tribe (2: 258, 6:74, 19: 42- 48, 21:51-72), describing him as a man of truth and also a Prophet (19:41); also that God blessed him with two pious sons, Ishmael and Isaac (21:72), and that he praised God especially for blessing him with two good sons in his old age. (14:39-41)

The Qur’an tells us as well that Abraham had a pure heart (37:84) and God took him as His friend (4:125); that he and his son Ishmael built a house of worship in Mecca (2:125-132); that he was not a Jew (a follower of the Torah of Moses), nor a Christian (a follower of the Gospel of Jesus); nor that he ever recognized any god but the One and was thus a perfect monotheistic Muslim (3:65 – 68) believing in God and in the Hereafter. (2:260)

In contrast to the Old Testament, the Qur’an narrates that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael before he had Isaac (37:102 – 113). Abraham also prayed that God would later send a prophet (Mohamed) to Arabia (2:129-131) and that He would bless Mecca (14:35-38). The Qur’an further records that he had total trust in God (6:79-83), that he was visited by Angels (51:24-34 and 11:69-76), and that he was a beloved role model for all nations. (14:120)

"[O Muslims] Say "We believe in God and what has been revealed to us through the Qur’an; and we believe in what has been revealed to Ibrahim (Abraham), Isma’el (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Ya’qob (Jacob), and the tribes; and we believe in the Books given to Musa (Moses) and ‘Isa (Jesus) and in what has been revealed to the Prophets from their Lord, we do not make any distinction of superiority among any of them and we are submissive only to God." 2:136

This is why Muslims love Abraham and both his sons, Ishmael and Isaac, as much they love Mohamed, Jesus, Moses, Noah and all other Messengers and Prophets sent by God — they indeed do not differentiate among them. (2:285)

And Muslims believe that people can achieve salvation only through faith and good deeds; there are no favors or special deals in place of true merit. Even the descendants of an Egyptian slave woman called Hagar, and an old Bedouin Prophet and Messenger called Abraham proved worthy of divine love. How beautiful! How just!

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