Ibrahim: The Father of Prophets
No study of the life of the Final Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, can ever be complete, nor properly understood, without a look at the influence of his greatest ancestor: Ibrahim. A man whose life and teachings have affected billions throughout history. A man who prophets look up to with pride, and gratitude for being from his progeny.
Ibrahim was always imbued with prophetic insight. Even as a child he was able to show his people the folly of worshipping statues which could not hear, speak, nor defend themselves – let alone anyone – else from harm.
He was shown signs of the perfection and power of Allah, Most High, that the majority of humanity will never be privy to; “In is such a tremendous way did We show Ibrahim the inestimable kingdom of the heavens and Earth!” (6:75). He was a man who not only had the highest degree of faith and certainty, but someone who was who received the greatest honour available to a human being: direct communication with the Creator through revelation.
We live in times where almost everyone, to some degree, has been exposed to frameworks and paradigms that are not in line with the understanding and worldview Allah teaches us through revelation. Sometimes, due to personal trauma, or the witnessing of injustice or cultural misrepresentations of Islam, people ask questions which are entirely misplaced.
Had Islam been understood on its own merits, and from an unbiased perspective, external paradigms would not be able to influence people’s understandings of individuals and events Islam holds significant. No…not just significant – but sacred!
Ibrahim was created to be a messenger of God. This entails that all his actions which were carried out due to revealed instructions were done so based on revelation from a truly wise and omniscient being. They were far beyond the scrutiny of these aforementioned paradigms.
The Barren Valley
An example of such misplaced judgements is the criticism of Ibrahim and Sara for him taking Hajar and her infant Ismaʿil from what is modern-day Hebron to a remote, barren valley that would come to be the location of the most frequented site of pilgrimage on the planet: present-day Mecca. That very pilgrimage is a commemoration of this event.
We know that Sara found it difficult emotionally when Hajar gave birth. Can you blame her? Was she not human? Did she not have feelings? Did she not spend decades of her life longing for children? Is this not a basic human desire that both men and women alike have? Did she not want to give birth to an heir to her loving husband who faithfully supported her for decades?
Or is it the case that people who are looked up to due to their closeness to Allah slowly become robots devoid of emotion? Do they shed their humanity, and behave as beings unattached to themselves or the world around them? Of course not!
She had a normal emotional response, and out of love and concern for her Ibrahim was commanded to take mother and son to Mecca. It would be interesting to see how one of her critics would fare in the same situation. In the Islamic narrative there is no indication whatsoever of any sort of mistreatment of Hajar from Sara.
Fulfilment – Not Deriliction – Of Duty
When Ibrahim left Hajar in the desolate valley, she turned to him and said, “O Ibrahim, where are going after leaving us in this valley in which there is nothing – human or otherwise?” She repeated the statement and he did not look back at her. Eventually she asked, “Did Allah command you to do this?” “Yes!” he replied. “Okay; He won’t ever let us perish!” she confidently said. (Bukhari).
Looking at this event with the proper context shows us that Ibrahim was obeying the instructions of Allah, who clearly had a wise plan for all those involved. Ibrahim’s actions were exemplary. His not turning to respond to Hajar speaks volumes about his greatness. He was conflicted between the love he felt for Allah and his duty to Him, and the love he felt for Hajar and the son he had been blessed with by Allah in his eighties.
Had he turned around and spoke to her, he might have been overwhelmed by his emotions, and struggled to fulfil the divine command. After all, the primary allegiance of believer – let alone a prophet – is to Allah. We are Allah’s and He owns us: “Indeed Allah has purchased from the believers their very lives and properties in exchange for the Garden.” (9:111).
The same struggle is apparent a decade later when he is commanded to sacrifice the same son. Ismaʿil asked his his father to lay him face down lest his emotion at the sight of Ismaʿil be a hindrance to fulfilling the divine command.
The Tests Of Ibrahim
The tests Ibrahim faced were beyond what most of humanity could bear. His devotion and duty to the Creator who made him and gave him all he had were his primary concern. All others in His life were a gift from Allah, and consequently, they were an impetus to further devotion to Allah.
His test was to leave his dependents in a place which would usually claim the lives of people – trusting their fate to the caring hand of Allah. His test was to show that he would place his loyalty to his Maker above all else – even if it meant sacrificing his dear son, at the time when he would feel his loss the most.
Hajar and Ismaʿil were never meant to perish there. The knife was never meant to cut. He, however, had to hear and obey. His test was to suffer the separation from them, and to take the means to sacrificing his child.
Yet, his success in those trials – despite the obstacles he faced – is testament to his greatness in his service of Allah. “Indeed Ibrahim was [as good as] an entire nation, utterly devoted to Allah, inclining away [from falsehood], and he certainly was not an idolater. Grateful – even for the least of blessings! [Allah] chose him and guided him to a truly magnificent, straight way.” (16:120-121).
Wrongdoing exists. No one denies this. Islam provides all the tools to establish justice in this word, and leaves its enforcement to us. Life is a test, after all! Those with the best conduct will attain greater, everlasting rewards than those will lesser conduct.
For a man to run away from his dependants, leaving them stranded, needy, and prey to societal harms is wrong. There may be many tragic cases of this, but let’s not project the wrongdoing of this scenario onto the prophet Ibrahim.
Seeing things though the filter of ‘feminism’ and decrying the ‘patriarchal’ undertones of the narrative of Ibrahim is clearly missing the mark. We should not conflate one of the greatest manifestations of the human potential to attain greatness through selfless service to Allah with this selfish dereliction of duty present in our societies.
To see things as they are, we must distinguish the between facts, but after peeling away the alien paradigms imperceptibly imposed on us through a lifetime of exposure to irreligious frameworks. Otherwise, all that will occur is the projection of our cultural baggage onto people, laws, and a religion, which are actually an antidote for the state we are in.
Seeing the narrative of Ibrahim through the vase scope of divine revelation, its wisdom, and its great purpose and benefit for all leads to seeing the greatness within the great. Looking at it through our own myopic cultural baggage, however, only leads us to seeing wrongs which are not actually there.