One of the prophets given the most attention in the Quran is Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him).
The Quran tells of him and his unwavering belief in God; first calling him to reject his people and their idolatry, and later to prove true to various tests which God places before him.
In Islam, Abraham is seen as a strict monotheist who calls his people to the worship of God alone. For this belief, he bears great hardships, even disassociating himself with his family and people through migration to various lands. He is one who fulfills various commandments of God though which he is tested, proving true to each one.
Due to this strength of faith, the Quran attributes the one and only true religion to be the “Path of Abraham”, even though prophets before him, such as Noah, called to the same faith.
Because of his tireless act of obedience to God, He gave him the special title of “Khaleel” (beloved servant); a title not given to any other prophet before. Due to the excellence of Abraham, God made prophets from his progeny, from them Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob (Israel) and Moses, guiding people to the truth.
In the Quran, Abraham is given the only name “Ibrahim” although in the Bible Abraham, all sharing the original root, b-r-h-m, is known as Abram at first; and then God is said to change his name to Abraham, but the Quran mentioned nothing about it.
Abraham is estimated to have been born 2,166 years before Jesus in or around the Mesopotamian city of Ur, 200 miles southeast of present-day Baghdad.
His father was ‘Aazar’, ‘Terah’ or ‘Terakh’ in the Bible, an idol worshiper, who was from the descendants of Shem, the son of Noah. He is likely to have been Akkadian, a Semitic people from the Arabian Peninsula who settled in Mesopotamia sometime in the third millennium BC.
Archeological discoveries from the time of Abraham paint a vivid picture of the religious life of Mesopotamia; its inhabitants were polytheists who believed in a pantheon, in which each god had a sphere of influence. The large temple dedicated to the Akkadian moon god, Sin, was the main center of Ur.
This temple was believed to be the physical home of God, the chief god of the temple was a wooden idol with additional idols, or ‘gods’, to serve him.
Prophet Abraham was one of the prophets to whom a scripture was revealed:
Verily! This is in the former Scriptures, The Scriptures of Abraham and Moses. (87:18-9)
Like those around him, Abraham’s father Azar was an idol worshiper. Biblical tradition tells of him actually being a sculptor of them, hence Abraham’s first call was directed to him. He addressed him with clear logic and sense, understood by a young man like himself as well as the wise:
And mention in the Book (the Quran) Abraham, indeed he was a man of truth, a Prophet. When he said to his father: “O my father! Why do you worship that which hears not, sees not and cannot avail you in anything? O my father! Verily! There has come to me of knowledge that which came not unto you. So follow me. I will guide you to a Straight Path. (19:41-3)
Rejection was his father’s reply, an obvious one by any person challenged by another much younger than them, a challenge made against years of tradition and norm.
Call to God
After incessant attempts in calling his father to leave the worship of false idols, Abraham turned to his people seeking to warn others, addressing them with the same simple logic:
And recite to them the story of Abraham. When he said to his father and his people: “What do you worship?” They said: “We worship idols, and to them we are ever devoted.”
He said: “Do they hear you, when you call (on them)? Or do they benefit you or do they harm (you)?” They said: “Nay, but we found our fathers doing so… (26:69-81)
In furthering his call that the only deity which deserved worship was God he struck an example for his people to ponder; the stars, a creation truly incomprehensible to humans at time, seen as something greater than humanity, and many times having various powers attributed to them. But in the setting of the stars Abraham saw their inability to appear as they desired, but rather only at night:
When the night grew dark upon him, he beheld a star, and said, ‘This is my Lord!’ But when it set, he said: ‘I love not things that set.’ (6: 76)
He then struck the example of something even greater:
And when he saw the moon rising up, he exclaimed: “This is my Lord.’ But when it set, he said: ‘Unless my Lord guides me, I surely shall become one of the folk who are astray.’ (6: 77)
Then as his culminating example, he put forth another one:
And when he saw the sun rising, he cried: ‘This is my Lord! This is greater!’ But when the sun set, he said, ‘O my people! Surely I am free from that which you associate with God. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth, away from idolatry, and I am not of those who associate others with God.’ (6: 78)
Abraham proved to them that the Lord of the worlds was not to be found in the creations that their idols represented, but was, rather, the entity who created them and everything which they could see and perceive; that the Lord does not necessarily need to be seen in order to be worshiped. He is an All-Able Lord, not bound by limitations as the creations found in this world are. The message was simple:
Worship God, and keep your duty to Him; that is better for you if you did but know. You worship instead of God only idols, and you only invent a lie. Lo! Those whom you worship instead of God own no provision for you. So seek your provision from God, and worship Him, and give thanks to Him, (for) to Him you will be brought back. (29: 16-19)
He openly questioned their adherence to mere traditions of their forefathers:
He said: ‘Verily you and your fathers were in plain error.’ (21: 54)
Abraham’s path was to be filled with pain, hardship, trial, opposition, and heartache; his father and people rejected his message; his call fell on deaf ears; they would not reason. Instead, he was challenged and mocked:
They said: ‘Bring you to us the truth, or are you some jester?’ (21: 55)
In this stage in his life, Abraham, a young man with a prospective future, opposes his own family and nation in order to propagate a message of true monotheism, belief in the one true God; he rejected all other false deities, whether they be stars and other celestial or earthly creations, or depictions of gods in the form of idols.
He was rejected, outcast and punished for this belief, but he stood firm against all evil, ready to face even more in the future:
And (remember) when his (Abraham’s) Lord tried Abraham with (various) commandments, to which he proved true… (2: 124)