Essay No.07 in a series of essays on Community For more info contact: [email protected]
Prophet Abraham (PBUH): our spiritual father [i] Sep 2005
Prophet Ibrahim epitomizes moral excellence and goodness of act for every believer regardless of the culture and era
PROPHET ABRAHAM (PBUH)[ii] lived approximately four thousand years ago during the Bronze Age in Middle East[iii]. He spoke the Syriac language and lived in a culture very different from where we live today. At that time the total population of the world was probably less than the population of a modern metropolis. From archeological evidence it appears that the society was divided into chiefdoms based around a largely agricultural economy. Humans used simple tools and lived a life close to the nature. It was a world without the technology, knowledge and complex social & political structures of modern era.
The Religious scene must also have been very different at that time. The numerous sects of the three monotheistic religions i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam did not exist, nor the ceaseless friction among them.
Thus, we can say that the social, political and religious background of Prophet Abraham was completely different from our times. With this perspective, the following passage of Quran is startling:
And who turns away from the faith[iv] of Abraham except he who befools himself? [v]
This passage raises many questions. How can the faith of a person who lived in a completely different time and era be relevant to us? How can the modern man, with all the knowledge gathered over four thousand years, be considered a fool if he turns away from faith of Abraham? What is the relation of his faith to the numerous sects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of whom claim to be spiritual heirs of Prophet Abraham?
The purpose of this essay is to examine a) what was the faith of Prophet Abraham (PBUH) b) how is it different from the sectarian religions?, and c) what is its relevance to our community?
What was the faith of Prophet Abraham (PBUH)?
According to Quran, Prophet Abraham’s faith provides a framework of principles acceptable to God[vi]. Quran says that there are two basic principles of his faith, uprightness[vii] and not associating any falsehood to God[viii]. Quran claims that these principles are universal and to be so they must be timeless and for all humankind, living in all the different cultures and times. Therefore, Quran has clearly elaborated these principles so that every person can understand and follow them. And they do not become the exclusive domain of only the educated, the scholars or the religious specialists[ix].
What is uprightness?
According to Quran, Uprightness is moral excellence and goodness of act, which comes from the values of Quran[x]. An individual or a community has to strive to attain it. It is like a path that is steep[xi]. Quran says the best person is one, who surrenders to God, who is a good-doer and follows the faith of Abraham the Upright[xii]
There are numerous passages in Quran on uprightness. If we put them together a character begins to appear. An upright person:
· Acts equitably [5:8] · Acts with justice [7:29] · Is right in testimony [65:2] · Follows the commands of God and pays the poor their due [98:5]
What is associating falsehood to God?
Quran says Abraham was a leader who was obedient to God and an upright person who did not associate falsehood with God[xiii].
A lie or falsehood is a conjecture - a statement, opinion, or conclusion based on guesswork[xiv]. According to Quran, a lie or falsehood is associating anything with God for which God has given no authority in Quran and saying things about God of which we have no knowledge[xv].
To fulfill this condition of Prophet Abraham’s faith we must be extremely careful when we associate any idea, concept, belief or attitude with God. If we do not have the adequate knowledge we would be lying and breaking the fundamental principle of the faith of Prophet Abraham.
How is it different from the sectarian religions?
Quran says that religion, to God, is only the religion of Prophet Abraham i.e. submission. But those who were given scriptures divided into sects out of mutual rivalry, friction and jealousy, after knowledge had come to them[xvi]. God has clearly instructed the believers to have no concern with those who divide into sects[xvii]
We believe the difference between the principles of Prophet Abraham’s faith and that of the sects is that of vision. The faith of Prophet Abraham is based on values, it is universal and it does not carry with it any cultural baggage. Therefore, to follow the faith of Abraham a person must be free from sectarian prejudices.
The vision of Prophet Abraham is neither exclusionary nor parochial. It does not revolve around personalities & petty issues. The dividing line between what is the truth from God and a conjecture is very clear. On the other hand every sect has its set of beliefs, attitudes, concepts and ideas, which is radically different from the other. What is matter of fundamental belief for one sect may be a superstition for the other.
What is the relation of his faith to a Muslim community?
All the prophets followed the same faith[xviii]. They were given the same religion and associated laws. The values of Quran are values of Prophet Abraham (PBUH). Therefore, the foundation of our community is the values practiced and taught by Prophet Abraham and we follow the faith and religion of Prophet Abraham (PBUH).
The challenge for our community is not in understanding these principles, but in reflecting them in our individual and collective personalities and following them throughout our lives.
Our community respects the differences of opinion and diversity. If members of our community keep the focus on their vision based, on values of Prophet Abraham, we believe, they will never divide into sects.
Prophet Abraham (PBUH) is the spiritual father of all the believers. God commanded him to follow the principles of uprightness and not associating falsehood with God and made it the model for the mankind forever. We embrace these ideals in our community and commit ourselves to follow them individually and collectively.
Notes and References --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[i] Quran 22:78 “And strive hard in God’s cause as you ought to strive. …. it is the religion of you father Ibrahim….”
[ii] Peace be upon him
[iii] In this period people learned to mix tin with copper to make bronze, which could be cast in different shapes. The bronze age in near east lasted from 3300 BC to 1200 BC.
[iv] The word millat (مله) is used in at least 15 different places in Quran . Most of these in are used with the mention of Prophet Abraham (PBUH) e.g. millat of Ibrahim. 2:130,135; 3:95 ; 4:125 ; 6:161;12: 37,38 ; 16:,123 ; 22:78; In these verses God is exhorting believers to follow the “millat” of Abraham. The word “millat” can be translated to “the way” or “faith”. We use faith - a set of beliefs or principles - in all our essays.
[v] Quran 2:130
[vi] Quran 3:19 “Truly, religion with God is submission……..”
[vii] Hanifa “One who scorns the false creeds surrounding him and professes the true religion” Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic
[viii] Quran 3.67 “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian but he was (an) upright (man), a Muslim, and he was not one of those who associated falsehood with God.”
3.95 “Say: God has spoken the truth, therefore follow the faith of Abraham, the upright one; and he was not one of those who associated falsehood with God.”
4.125 “And who has a better religion than he who submits himself entirely to God? And he is the doer of good (to others) and follows the faith of Abraham, the upright one, and God took Abraham as a friend.”
6.161 “Say: Surely, (as for) me, my Lord has guided me to the right path; (to) a most right religion, the faith of Abraham the upright one, and he was not one of those who associated falsehood with God.”
16.120 “Surely Abraham was an exemplar, obedient to God, upright, and he was not one of those who associated falsehood with God.”
16.123 “Then We revealed to you: Follow the faith of Abraham, the upright one, and he was not one of those who associated falsehood with God.”
[ix] Please refer to the essay “10. Rituals: our social bonds”
[x] Please refer to the essay “No. 9. Values: our foundation”
[xi] Quran 90:11 “But he has made no effort to pass on the path that is steep” …….
[xii] Quran 4:125
[xiii] Quran 16:120 “Verily, Ibrahim was a leader……”
[xiv] Quran 6:116 “And if you obey most of those on earth, they will mislead you far away from God’s Path. They follow nothing but conjectures and they do nothing but lie.
[xv] Quran 7:33 “Say the things that my lord has indeed forbidden are… associating anything with God for which God has given no authority and saying things about God of which you have no knowledge.
[xvi] Quran 3:19; 30:32; 42:13, 14; 43:65; 45:17
[xvii] Quran 6:159 “Verily, those who divide their religion into sects, you have no concern with them………”