After Noah, Abraham was selected by God to be His Prophet. Abraham first preached in his own coutnry, now known as Iraq. Then he moved to Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Finally, he settled down in Arabia. In carrying on with his mission, he was assisted by other messengers appointed from his own family by God: Lot, his nephew, who lived in the midst of the people of Jordan, and Abraham’s two sons, the elder son Ishmael [or Ismail], and the younger Isaac [or Ishaq]. Isaac preached in Syria and Palestine. Ishmael assisted his father in Arabia and is credited with having helped him in building the Ka’aba, which is now the religious center of the Islamic world. Ishmael and Isaac founded two sects, the Ismailites and Israelites respectively. The tribe of Quraish, to which Muhammad belonged, is said to be Ismailite in origin, while the Jews and the Christians are said to be descendants of Jacob, whose other name was Israel, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. Hence Abraham is regarded as the father of all Semitic peoples; from him were born not only Jews and Christians but also the Muslims. He is the common bond who links them all. After him, God transferred the leadership to Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants are collectively described in the Quran as ‘the Children of Israel’.
As soon as Abraham received the commission from the Lord to propagate the Oneness of God and preach His worship among the people, he called upon the Lord to preserve the Ka’aba that he had built to eradicate the worship of idols, which had led many people astray. Abraham asked them, ‘What is it that you worship?’ They replied:
We worship the idols, as did our fathers. And in devotion to them we shall remain steadfast. [26: 72, 74]
Abraham asked them:
Do they hear you when you call them? Have they the power to do anything, either good or bad for you? [26:73]
He reminded them that there was only one God, the Lord of all creation, who controlled Life, death and resurrection. He told his own father, Azar, to desist from worshipping idols. He said he had learned from his own experience that God alone was worthy of worship. He was shown by God ‘the Kingdom of the heavens and the earth so that he might be convinced of the faith’ in his Creator. The Quran narrates;
When the night was dark, Abraham saw a star; he said to himself, ‘This must be the Lord.’ But soon the star set and his faith was shaken. Then he saw the moon rising in the sky. ‘This is the Lord,’ he said. However, when it waned, he lost faith in it. Likewise, when the sun rose, brighter than everything, he was convinced that it was the Lord. But the sun also set, and Abraham cried: ‘I set my face against all these. I repudiate every other kind of worship except the worship of God, Creator of all that is in the heavens and on the earth.’ [6:76-79]
The people jeered at Abraham and remonstrated with him, and even stoned him; they tried to frighten him into believing that their idols would destroy him and his God would not be able to save him. But Abraham responded:
Will you dispute with me about Allah who has guided me? I have no fear of the idols you woship. Unless my Lord wills nothing can happen. [6:90-81]
Turning to his father, Abraham asked what the images were to which he and his people were devoted .Azar replied that they worshipped what their fathers had worshipped. Abraham said: ‘Then assuredly, you and your fathers are clearly in error.’ Earlier, he had told Nimrod, the King of Iraq, not to forget that it was God who gave him the Kingdom and power and glory; but the King, in his arrogance, had denied it and had declared that he determined the life and death of his subjects. Abraham had then asked him: ‘Allah makes the sun rise from the east; can you make it rise from the west?’ The King had no answer. He sentenced Abraham to be burnt alive.
Abraham bore all the hardships but remained firm and steadfast in his loyalty to God. One day he broke all the idols in the Ka’aba, one by one, except the largest. As soon as the people heard of the destruction, they rushed to the temple and, seething with rage, cried:
Who has done this to our idols? This is, indeed, an outrage. [21:59]
They were told that young Abraham was the culprit. ‘Fetch him,’ they demanded. ‘And let everyone witness what we do do him.’ When Abrahm was brought before them, they asked him: ‘Who has done this to our idols?’ ‘Not I; it is that big idol over there. Why don’t you question him?’ They replied that idols did not speak. Abraham said:
Isn’t it strange that you should worship these idols which can neither speak nor do anything. They can neither help nor harm anyone. Shame on you and on your idol worship. How foolish of you to worship them. [21:60]
They were fashioned, he reminded them, by their own hands. He beseeched them to worship the One God who created and fashioned everything. They were so angered by his words that they decided to throw him into a pyre of blazing fire. They could not succeed, however, because God ‘made them bite the dust’.
Abraham prayed to the Lord to grant him an heir, who ‘will be numbered among the righteous’. So God gave him a gentle boy, Ishmael. But Abraham had pledged to God in a dream that if he had a son, he would offer him in sacrifice to the Lord. Abraham told his son of his dream and his pledge. ‘Then, Father, ‘ said Ishmael, ‘you should honor your commitment and surrender me to the will of God.’
So Abraham laid him down, and as he was about to slay him, he heard the Voice commanding him:
Enough, Abraham! You have kept your word with Us. You have already fulfilled the vision. [37:105]
The Lord had intended merely to test Abraham; He now declared that he had fulfilled his commitment:
We redeem Abraham’s son with a great sacrifice and We give Our benediction to him and bless him through generations to come and shower Our peace upon him. [37:107-109]
Thus God rewarded the righteous and His ‘believing servants’.
In Isaac, Abraham’s other and younger son, the Lord gave to the world ‘one of the best of prophets’. Among their descendants some did good deeds, but some who did bad, ‘were blatant evil-doers, who sinned against themselves’ . [37:110-113]
The Quran clarifies:
Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian. He was a hanif, a man of pure worhsip, he was not an idolator but a believer in One God; only those who follow him are entitled to claim relationship with him. Muhammad and his followers are nearer to him. Allah is the protector of all believers. [3:67-68]
Referring to the House of Mecca, ‘the place of sanctuary and serenity for the people’, Allah asked Muhammad to ‘make it your House of prayers’. Thus God’s covenant given to Abraham and Ishmael was fulfilled and the Ka’aba became for the believers ‘the pilgrim circuit’ for worship and for prostration. Abraham and Isaac had prayed to Allah to ‘send among our people after us a messenger of our own kin who recites to the people Your revelations, teaches them the Book and the wisdom it contains and purges them of all evil’ [2:129]. Allah admonishes:
Tell the people, O Muhammad! that to be rightly guided one need not be a Jew or a Christian. The righteous belong to the community of Abraham, who was pure in his worship of God. So were Ishmael, Jacob and the tribes, and Moses, Jesus and the rest. They are all Our messengers; We make no distinction between them. [2:135-136]
“Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” Qur’an 16:125