Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was born over four thousand years ago in Uur, a city situated in the south east of Iraq/Arabian peninsula with an estimated population of well over a quarter of a million people. Modern archaeological findings report that Uur was a thriving city ruled by king Nimrod. There were pagan cults and a variety of deities associated with sun, moon, stars and many other phenomena that were worshipped by the people at the time. Nimrod was also worshipped as one of many deities by his people under his strict religio-political and economic system and this is not something new. Every empire builder of the past and more so of today has always used brute force to coerce people to prostrate in front of him. Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) found himself in the midst of “Shirk” (polytheism). So much so, that his own father Aazer used to worship statues that he made with his own hands and also to sell them to others. It was a good thriving business.
Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was granted the office of Prophet hood in his young age through God’s Mercy. His mission was to turn his people from idol worship to God’s worship alone. He started his mission by talking to his own father who was outraged and threatened to throw him out of his home. From his father’s point of view, Ibrahim should have towed the line. “You are either with us or against us!” as the age old saying of brute rulers of the past and present goes. If you think seriously, the new and the old human agendas, perceptions etc are not that much different despite a distance of several thousand years. Prophet Ibrahim presented an open challenge to change the status quo and to replace it with God’s Will and Guidance. The socio-political and religio-economic leaders and their well-established institutions came out in full force to silence this new revolutionary voice as they were fearful of losing their grip on power. Every prophet in every age has been opposed, even killed, by the ruling classes of his time. The opposition to Prophet Ibrahim’s revolutionary Message got worse throughout the land and eventually the ruling authorities decided to burn him alive both as an example to others and in order to safeguard their own interests and apparently to secure the public law and order. The blazing fire, by a divine miracle, did not even touch the Prophet. It went out or turned into bed of flowers according to some traditions. The Bible, surprisingly, does not even mention this part of Prophet Ibrahim’s life but Talmud, the Jewish holy book, does go into some details of Prophet Ibrahim’s earlier life.
God commanded Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) to leave his homeland with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot (pbut) for the land of Palestine where he continued to spread the Message of God for the rest of his life. When he said farewell to his homeland, he prayed to God to grant him a righteous son (Surah 37 Assafaat: verse 100). The fulfilment of this prayer was deferred by God for many years till a time when he took another wife named Hajirah who gave birth to a son named Ishmael (peace be upon him) when Ibrahim was 86 years old (according to Genesis 16:16). The son was a reward granted to Ibrahim by God for his long patience and perseverance. However, there still remained one final act to test Ibrahim’s steadfastness and resolve on the Path of God.
Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was commanded by God in his dream to sacrifice his first born son Ishmael (peace be upon him) who was about 12 or 13 years old at the time. Dream of a Prophet is much more than a mere dream. Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) talked with his son about this unsettling dream. It is amazing to observe the resolve of his son who said, “O, father, do what your Lord has commanded you to do. You will, by the Will of God, find me among the most patient ones”. (Assafaat 37: verse 102). Ibrahim was grateful to God that his prayers for a “righteous son” were truly answered by God. And now he was ready to sacrifice his first born as God had commanded.
It is almost impossible to imagine the depth of Ibrahim’s love and obedience to his God. Nothing could stand between him and his God – not even his only son who could have been a pillar of support for ageing Ibrahim. At the last moment, God intervened and said, “ O, Ibrahim, Stop! I do not want the life of your son. It was a test of your love and obedience to Me. You have obeyed my commandment even when it was given to you in your dream. Now here is a ram, offer it for sacrifice in place of your son”. It was such a momentous and an unprecedented event and God appreciated it so much that it became an integral part of Islamic Hajj for ever and ever.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from the life of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him).
1 The first lesson is “abstaining from Shirk” ie polytheism or joining partners with Almighty God. Shirk divides and Tawhid or the Oneness of God unites mankind. Prophet Ibrahim feared none except his God. He let no fear enter into his heart. Today, we are living in an environment of different fears. We fear the “governments of big brother”, we have a fear of being sacked from our job or lose our business, we fear to lose our social place or standing in the society, we fear individual or state terrorism, we fear the criticism of our friends, families or even our own grown-up children if we remind them of their religious obligations to God. In our hearts, all kinds of fears reside except the fear of God. The reality is that no “other” fear can dare to live in a heart where God’s reverential fear lives. This is the heart that becomes so fearless that it fears none except God and as a result becomes a heart which is the most fearsome, the most brave, the most free and the most kind. This was the heart of Prophet Ibrahim.
We are Muslims by faith but the day we understand the deeper meaning of Prophet Ibrahim’s symbolic sacrifice and bring it to the forefront of our conscious mind, our thought process will change and we will become free from all the worldly fears.
The second lesson is that God does not put us through trials and tribulations in this world to hurt or grieve us but rather to test us in our resolve, steadfastness and trust in Him in order to raise us up to the higher moral and spiritual levels.
Lesson number three is that when we are in difficulties God shows us a way out of them provided one is patient and has trust in Him.
Lesson number four is that God has no need of our wealth and other valuable possessions. In reality, everything belongs to Him in the first place. However, He wants us to spend “His wealth given to us as a trust by Him” willingly, on His Path and for His good pleasure leading to a higher reward for us in the Hereafter.
The final lesson is stupendous. Ibrahim (peace be upon him) is revered equally by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Ibrahim and his household have been guiding mankind for ever and ever without people being aware of it. His two sons Ishmael and Issac were prophets, his grandson Jacob was a prophet, his great grandson Joseph was a prophet and then they were followed by hundreds of prophets from Ibrahim’s household including Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, John the baptist, Jesus and finally Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Seal of all the prophets (peace be upon them all). This is the reward that God has granted to Prophet Ibrahim in perpetuity. Can there be a better reward than this?