Prophet Ibrahim Observations for Today’s World
Prophet Ibrahim has been honoured as the father of our religion, Islam. Since, the other two major religions, Judaism and Christianity, were also derived from his progenies, he is considered the forefather of all these religions. In the holy Quran, Allah SWT has described many of his glorious deeds and the tests and trials he has successfully passed through. Among other things, prophet Ibrahim’s dialogue with his father has been described in great detail in the Quran. There are very important lessons imbued there for the Muslims today.
The following are some observations on Prophet Ibrahim’s dialogue with his polytheistic father. The dialogue is featured in Surah Maryam (Quran 19:41-48). Brief references to it are also made in Surah al-An’am:74, Surah al-Tawbah:114, and Surah al-Mumtahanah:4. The father’s name was Azar (al-An’am, 74) or Tarih.
Rationality versus Irrationality
While conversing with his father, Ibrahim resorts to logic and reason. The father did not believe in One God, so invoking Heaven and the revelation was of no use. The father’s intelligence was Ibrahim’s best chance. The revelation and reason do not contradict, nor challenge, each other. Rather, they complement one another in enlightening and guiding man to the fulfillment of his honorable earthly purpose.
Ibrahim knew that there is nothing more sensible and more consistent than the truth, while at the same time, there is nothing more illogical and inconsistent than falsehood. The truth, presented by the revelation and guarded by reason, is irresistible. Falsehood, which not only defies logic but also the natural order of things, stands no chance against such force. It does not even come close. That is an obvious reality for whoever has eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts (intelligence) to understand: “Could there be any doubt about the existence of God who has created the heavens and the earth?” (Quran 14:10).
Ibrahim thus says to his father that it is incomprehensible that he took idols as gods, which could not hear, nor see, nor bring a benefit. Ibrahim as a prophet and a man of truth – yet his son – was right there with him calling him to see, comprehend and embrace the truth, and to follow a way that was sensible, even, and straight. Ibrahim also asked him to reject crookedness, deceit, and blind following, for they were the sources of all evil. The father needed urgent help and a sense of direction. Ibrahim was there for him. Almighty God was there for both of them.
Ibrahim wanted his father to be free and make free and reasonable choices. Indeed, if a person’s senses are liberated and enlightened, in no way could he ever worship dead matter in lieu of the Most Gracious God, nor could he follow his own or somebody else’s fancies instead of the heavenly guidance revealed by the Creator of the universe.
Kindness Versus Antagonism
In the course of his dialogue with his father, Ibrahim displays the utmost kindness and care. He does so because, firstly, he was naturally “a forbearing, compassionate and tender-hearted person” (Quran 11:75); secondly, as a devout son, he was dutiful to his father and wished him well under all circumstances; and thirdly, as a prophet and a caller to the right path, he invited his father to the truth’s ways wisely and with beautiful preaching, arguing with him in ways that were best and most courteous.
Ibrahim uses four times the idiom “yaabati”, which means “O my father”. The idiom is the most loving and affectionate way by which a son can address his father. It is a sign of maximum respect, compassion, and love.
Moreover, when Ibrahim refers to the two most distressing scenarios to which his father was getting ever close: worshipping Satan by following in his footsteps (Quran 19:44), and being afflicted by a chastisement from God (Quran 19:45), Ibrahim refers to God as Most Gracious (al-Rahman). He does so because he wants to embed in his father’s heart a sense of optimism and hope, for God (al-Rahman) showers all of His creation with endless mercy and blessings without discrepancy.
With al-Rahman, every sincere repentance is appreciated and welcomed, every sinner can return, every wrong can be fixed, and every aspiration can be fulfilled. The presence of al-Rahman and a life with Him negates every sense of hopelessness, anxiety, sorrow, and dejection. Al-Rahman invites and heals lost souls.
Freedom and Guidance
The dialogue between Ibrahim and his father encapsulates the essence of the concepts of freedom and guidance in Islam. It does so remarkably in just a few words. At one point, Ibrahim tells his father: “Follow me, I will guide you to a right path” (Quran 19:43).
In Islam, guidance is in the Hand of God. He guides whomever He wills and leads astray whomever He wills. Muslims regularly pray to God to guide them to the right path.
At the same time, however, the Qur’an on more than one occasion explicitly affirms that man has free will and so, chooses to believe and be guided, and chooses to disbelieve and not to be guided. On the Day of Judgment, people will be rewarded and punished solely based on what they have done freely and willingly in this world.
This means that God as the Absolute Creator and Master of the universe knows everything and acts wisely and justly. Nothing escapes His infinite knowledge, will, and power. Accordingly, He knows what man freely chooses and willingly does. He thus guides only those who want and deserve to be guided and leads astray only those who want and deserve to be sent astray.
Man chooses what to do, while God accepts, endorses, facilitates, and rewards for the choices made and deeds performed. Man’s life is a subtle blend and interplay of personal freedom and divine providence. As a sign of His unbounded Sovereignty, God reiterates that although free, man is subjected to His Will and Authority. If He so wills, God can always overrule man’s freedom, choices, and intended actions. He does what He wants, while man does what he relatively wants within a prescribed scope, as well as a framework, of selections and prospects.
The Importance of the Revealed Knowledge
Ibrahim furthermore says to his father: “O my father, indeed there has come to me of knowledge that which has not come to you” (Quran 19:43).
Here Ibrahim clearly distinguishes between conventional and revealed knowledge. His father possessed (some of) the former and he possessed (some of) the latter. Ibrahim’s message is that conventional forms of knowledge (contemporarily expressed as intuition, empiricism, and rationalism) are provisionally valid. However, they are neither complete nor absolute.
Topping the hierarchy of sources and types of knowledge is the revelation. It aims to enlighten, guide and optimise the other forms of knowledge. It is both absolute and infallible. It is everything conventional knowledge is not.
Conventional knowledge needs the revealed knowledge for its inspiration, direction, guardianship, and authentication. The revealed knowledge, on the other hand, needs conventional knowledge for its proper contextualization, procedural operation and implementation.
It is owing to this that in Ibrahim’s entire discourse, worship, knowledge, and guidance are rendered inseparable (Quran 19:42-3). They are triplets.
Ibrahim also says that knowledge “has come” both to him and his father. It means that no knowledge can be acquired, or learned, in the ontological sense of the word. All knowledge belongs to God who alone is Omniscient. Accordingly, all knowledge originates only from Him, as angels had declared in the context of the creation of Adam: “We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, You alone are All-knowing and All-wise” (Quran 2:32).
The Truth and Blind Following
One of the main lessons that can be extracted from Ibrahim’s dialogue with his father is that the purpose of man’s life is to seek, find, embrace, actualize, and live the truth. Everything else is secondary and should be subjected to the interests of the former. For example, a person learns, works, plays, builds a career, etc., but he should not get engrossed in those pursuits for their own sake, nor because they are ends in themselves. Rather, he should undertake them for the sake of accomplishing his ultimate existential purpose, seeing them as sheer means for achieving higher and more consequential ends.
In doing so, a person should be ready to sacrifice whatever it takes, including his comfort zone, personal preferences, society, culture, and even family. Nothing should be held bigger and more important than Almighty God and His truth. While doing so, moreover, a person’s best allies will be the revelation, sound reason, broad-mindedness, a clear conscience, determination, and persistence. His worst enemies will be blind following, deadening formalism, myopia, troubled conscience, irrationality, heedlessness, and prejudice.
While Ibrahim epitomised all the positive traits and energy, his father was the polar opposite. Hence, Ibrahim became an everlasting exemplar for posterity as to how to live and succeed. His father became an example, too, but with regard to how not to live and how not to fail.
It is no surprise that the Qur’an testifies that God took Ibrahim as an intimate friend (Quran 4: 125) and that he was “an ummah (nation, leader and role model), obedient unto God, a man of pure faith and no idolater” (Quran 16:120).
The father is designated as “an enemy to Allah” (Quran 9:114). He never changed, as a result of which Ibrahim, in the end, disowned him.