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Stories from the Quran: Biblical Figures Reimagined

The Story of Abraham in the Bible and the Quran

Stories in the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach us about the awesome power of God. From them we can learn lessons applicable in any era; human traits have remained the same over several millennia.

Abraham in the Bible

Prophet Abraham is a biblical figure that all three great monotheistic religions hold in high esteem; they are collectively Abrahamic faiths.

Abraham in the Biblical narrative is promised by God that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky; and in the 21st century more than three billion people cite Abraham as a patriarch of their religion.

However the biblical narrative of Abraham is distinctly different from what we understand from the Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad.

In much the same way as the early Christians, Prophet Muhammad and his followers did not believe they were starting a new religion.

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They believed that God had revealed sacred texts before the Quran but they had been corrupted; and Prophet Muhammad, like Jesus before him, was to lead the people back to pure monotheism.

It was only after the Christians and Jews failed to accept Prophet Muhammad’s teaching that they began to view themselves as having the superior faith.

However they maintained strong familial connections with Judaism and Christianity; and the Quran adds new depth to the biblical stories.

The story of Abraham features extensively in the Quran. He is the friend of God; he is a hanif (follower of unadulterated monotheism); and his first son, Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, is the son with whom God tested Abraham.

…And God did take Abraham as an intimate friend (Quran 4:125)
Ibrahim was neither a Jew nor a (Christian), but he was a hanif (one inclining toward truth), a Muslim (submitting to God). And he was not of the polytheists. (Quran 3:67-68)
Then, when the son reached the age of serious work with him, he said: “O my son! I have seen in a vision that I offer you in sacrifice… (Quran 37:102)

His Mission

The story of Abraham is mentioned in several chapters of Quran and Chapter fourteen is named after him. However, we first meet Abraham in chapter 2 and we begin to understand his journey to faith in chapter 6.

It is here that Prophet Abraham questions the polytheistic nature of the worship he sees around him. From the beginning we understand that Abraham was aware of the extraordinary power of God and innately understood that stone and wooden idols had no power what so ever.

After questioning the validity of worshiping celestial bodies, Abraham finds himself compelled to destroy the idols in his village. He implores his father to change his ways; but he finds himself at the mercy of an angry crowd intent on burning him in a fire.

At this point God demonstrates His power and makes the fire cool. Abraham emerging unscathed must have been a compelling and humbling sight.

His Test

Abraham leaves the home of his childhood and youth. He has two wives, Sarah and Hajar and is well into his old age and childless.

Although Hajar is Abraham’s second wife she is the first to bear him a son, Ishmael. When Ishmael is old enough to work with his father, Abraham sees in a dream that he sacrifices his beloved son. He discusses this with Ishmael and both agree that he must follow the commandments of God.

We all know the outcome of the extreme test Abraham is faced with, although in Jewish and Christian versions the son is Isaac. God stops the sacrifice and tells Abraham it was a test of his devotion.

God had no need for the sacrifice of a child nor does He need the animal sacrifices Muslims perform in commemoration of this act. He is free of needs, another difference between the Biblical and the Islamic Abraham.

Christian thought often espouses that God needs Abraham, a human partner [1]. Abraham in Biblical texts is arguing with God, being bullied by his wife, singular, Hajar is not his wife, and casting his son, Ishmael out into the barren desert. Jewish texts often define Abraham as defiant. In Quran nothing could be further from the truth.

Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad tell us that God is not in need of anything or anyone. Any interaction He has with people is for their benefit only.

Humans need God, without Him we are alone and vulnerable but God on the other hand does not need human beings.

God is the Most High, and the Most Powerful. If not a single human worshiped God, it would not diminish His glory in any way, and if all of humankind worshiped Him, it would not increase His glory in any way. Whatever we do does not benefit or affect God.

Story of Abraham in the Quran

The Islamic Abraham is completely devoted to God. He does not question His commandments; he has two wives who have equal status, and he does not banish his eldest son.

Abraham leaves Hajar and Ishmael in the valley that will one day be known as Makkah at the command of God and assures their wellbeing.

He implores God to keep environs of Makkah secure and asks that his descendants be kept free from the sin of worshiping idols. In such a deserted place Hajar and her child badly needed the help of God, and her submission to the will of God was also extraordinary.

Our Lord! I have settled some of my offspring in a valley barren from any cultivation, by you Sacred House, our Lord, so they may establish the prayer. So make the hearts of people yearn towards them, and provide them with all types of fruits that they may be grateful. (Quran 14:37)

Many of the Hajj (pilgrimage) rites are in commemoration of the struggle Hajar and her son had to endure at that time. The Bible also contains a number of short passages [2] describing the struggle of Hajar; it tells us that God promised Ishmael would father a nation and have twelve sons, the Bible calls princes. Both the sons of Abraham founded nations.

Say, We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us; and in what has been sent down to Abraham and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob and their offspring; and what has been revealed to Moses and Jesus and to all the prophets of our Lord. We make no distinction between them and we submit to Him and obey. (Quran 3:84)

Many of the Prophets of God are descended directly from Abraham including Jesus from Isaac’s line of descent and Muhammad from Ishmael’s line.

Ishmael and Isaac were not rivals, Abraham and all of his family were believers. Both the Jews and Christians were recipients of a genuine revelation however they were unfaithful to the Abrahamic legacy and their infidelity bought about the final revelation, the Quran.

And according to Jesuit father Edward T Oakes not only did the Quran both transcend and replace the Torah and Gospel; it commanded nothing less than a return to the ‘religion of Abraham’. [3]

Verily among humankind those who have the best claim to Abraham are those who followed him and then followed this Prophet (Muhammad), and those who have believed that God is the Protector and Helper of the believers. (3:68).

(From Discovering Islam’s archive)


[1] Bruce Feiler “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths.” 2002

[2] To be found in Genesis 16 -25

[3] The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition by Edward T. Oakes (2004)

About Aisha Stacey
Aisha Stacey is the mother of three adult children. She embraced Islam in 2002 and spent the next five years in Doha, Qatar studying Islam and working at the Fanar Cultural Centre. In 2006 Aisha returned to university for a second time and completed at Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Certificate in Writing. Aisha is also a published writer in both internet and print media and in 2009 -10 she was the Queensland editor at a national Australian Islamic newspaper ~ Crescent Times.