Friday, November 27, 2009

Abraham: father of all nations, a goodly model

There is for you an excellent example (to follow) in Abraham and those with him..[Qur'an 60:4]

'Eid Ul-Ad-haa, Imams and orators worldwide undoubtedly mentioned the story of the sacrifice, as given in scripture, wherein Abraham was ready to take the life of his son in response to a vision interpreted to have been from God. Another theme usually explored is when he left his son and Hagar [Hajar] in the desert to fend for themselves. This particular narrative has it that during the process of searching for water for her infant son, Hagar ran bath and forth seven times, and at the end, almost in a miracle fashion, the well appears. Indeed, Muslims re enact this event during the Hajj [Pilgrimage] at the Safa and Marwa trails [which has now been included in the complex of the Masjid Al-Haraam], the well itself still giving water, known as ZamZam water.[Ft.1]

Yet, there is something to be said of other aspects of the life of Abraham, who is called in the scripture of the Jews and the Christians "father of all nations" [ Genesis 17:5].

Origins of Abraham

Called Ibrahim in Arabic, tradition has it that he was born in Southern Iraq, although there does exist other places, in Northern Iraq, Turkey and even Sicily. Regardless of where he was born, eventually he found his ways to such diverse places as Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia. Sites in all those places, not the least of which is the Ka'bah at Makkah, are associated with him.

Is there a lesson in these sites?

The Qur'an tells us a very interesting observation, one which should be associated with Abraham, but also with seekers of truth and guidance in all times, places and among all peoples.

"Have they not traveled in the land so that their hearts will come to understand, or that their ears will come to hear?"[ Qur'an 22:46]

Travel is very important, for the sake of religious or spiritual knowledge. This is something that seems to have been universally recognized, when we notice adherents of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, going forth from country to country to study with respected spiritual figures. Reading books, or even studying at a local university, are all wonderful acts, acts which can produce blessings and appropriate information, but nothing can beat leaving the comforts of one's home and family for the sake of attaining knowledge.

The journey itself is a learning experience, be it meeting interesting people at airports, or having some time in isolation while in transit to deeply contemplate the pressing concerns of the body, soul and mind.

Whatever one thinks of Abraham, the towering figure in the three monotheistic traditions, this aspect of his existence cannot be denied. This is, of course, especially true for the Muslim, the reader of the Qur'an.

This author has done, and continues to, much traveling, and the above mentioned Quranic verse is very true. Many times we cannot process the information or insight someone gives us [or that we read in a book, magazine or website] until we have the same, or a similar experience, or a set of experiences.

So, on this occasion of 'Eid ul-Ad-haa[ft.2], let us try to emulate the goodly model present in Ibrahim ['Alayhis salaam]. Attain whatever knowledge we can from our scholars, books and websites. But always be prepared to learn something from one's one experiences, or the experiences of other people. There is much insight to be gained from travels of this nature.

Role of the Qur'an

The word Qur'an itself means a reading, a recital. It has the sense of "something put together piece by piece, part by part." This is a very appropriate name, as it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad [Sall-Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] slowly, over a period of twenty-three years.

The Qur'an serves many roles, but for the sake of this article, we want to emphasis that it serves as a guide to make its reader a bit more sophisticated, well-rounded, knowledgeable. It is an undeniable fact that it can be speaking of theology for several verses, and then turn to a completely different subject such as war or marriage.

Those with broad knowledge in various fields, who have lived and traveled in many places, learning languages and cultures alien to their native backround, can appreciate such a guide as the Qur'an.

In issues not addressed in the Qur'an, God allows us to figure it out on our own, we can access some guidance or precedent in the reliable sources about the Prophet Muhammad [the last Prophet, and universal messenger], we can access guidance [or perhaps assistance is a better word] from our collectives experiences present in our culture, our personal reading of the situation [as well as our reading of the goal of religion] to ascertain the proper way to proceed.

In any case, all of that comes from having a broad experience, an open mind, open ears and open heart.

The Qur'an is very suitable for our guidance because we, like the last book of Allah itself, have been put together piece by piece, part by part. We are born as babies and absorb everything while growing up. Our parents and societies give us the foundation and much assistance, but there are times when we will have to learn lessons on our own, because our own mistakes will teach us how to act in the future. Our own actions will be suitable to serve as precedent, and each time that occurs, as far as the Qur'an goes, we can come to appreciate, nay, understand, texts better. It will grow in meaning for us.


[1] This author has examined in great detail the Qur'anic presentation of Abraham's story of the sacrifice in the work The Languuge of Revelation [pg. 237 "Abraham"]. To obtain, go to

[2] The significance of the 'Eid-Ul Ad-haa occasion has been addressed in a lecture and Q & A session called "The story and sacrifice", available for free at