Friday, November 27, 2020

The Royalty And The Commoner: On Why Isaac Had To Be The Only Son For The People Of The Book

Let us recap what we have learned previously.

The Bible says that when Abraham was 86 years old, he got a son whom he named Ishmael.  When he was 100 years old, he got a son whom he named Isaac.  Then the Bible says that God had commanded Abraham to slaughter his son.  This command appears in the book of Genesis, Chapter 22, verse 2. 

The problem is that this verse says “your only son, Isaac.”   If the Bible only says “your son, Isaac,” without mentioning the phrase “your only son,” then there will be no confusion.  We know it was Isaac. 

Likewise, if the Bible mentions “your only son” without saying Isaac, there will also be no problem.  Here we know it was Ishmael, because Ishmael was the only son Abraham had before Isaac was born.

But by calling “your only son, Isaac,” this has caused confusion.  The reason is because Isaac was not the only son.  He was the second son, the younger brother of Ishmael. 

So, how do People of the Book and their Bible commentators handle this obvious contradiction?

To understand their views, we may employ the following analogy.

Let’s say there were a king and a queen.  This royal couple had been married for so many years but were not blessed with any offspring.  The queen knew that the king really wanted to have a son to be an heir to his throne.  But she was barren and by then was already too old to bear a child.

This queen had a bondmaid, a slave girl.  One day, she told her husband the king to take the slave girl as his wife so that the king can still have a son to inherit his kingdom.  The king then married the slave girl and a son was born to him. 

About 14 years later, when the king was already 100 years old and the queen was 90 years old, the queen miraculously got pregnant and gave birth to the royal son.   Now the king had two sons: one royal, the other commoner.   Since the king at last had a royal son, it is only natural that his throne will be inherited by his royal son, not the son born to a commoner, irrespective whether the royal son is the younger one. 

In the above analogy, the king is Abraham, the queen is Sarah, the slave girl is Hagar, the commoner son is Ishmael and the royal son is Isaac. 

That, in short, is the position held by the People of the Book.  The phrase “your only son” does not refer to number.  It refers to status.  To them, only Isaac has the rightful claim to be the heir to Abraham, as Isaac was born to a “royal queen” while Ishmael was born to a commoner. 

As for their views about the position and the status of Ishmael, these may be divided into two categories: moderate and extreme views.

The first category considers Ishmael to be the legitimate son of Prophet Abraham.  Abraham also loved him dearly.  They consider Hagar to be Abraham’s legitimate wife, based on the book of Genesis, chapter 16, verses 1-4, which clearly says that Abraham took Hagar as his wife before sleeping with her.   But they rank the status of Ishmael to be much lower than Isaac, since Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, used to be a slave girl before Abraham took him as second wife. 

The second category, that is the extreme view, ranges from those who say that Ishmael was a bastard, to those who consider Ishmael as a persona non grata, a non-entity.  To them, at best Ishmael was nothing more than a son of a slave woman; at worst, Ishmael was an illegitimate child.  To them, Abraham never took Hagar to be his wife.  The term “wife” as per Genesis, chapter 16, verses 1-4, simply means that Abraham took her as his sexual partner.  To them, at best Hagar was nothing more than a surrogate mother.

The views in the second category were almost non-existent before the birth of Prophet Muhammad.   These extreme views gain popularity only after the birth of Islam.   The reason for extreme views gaining acceptance is not difficult to fathom.

As for the Jews, they have been waiting for the Seal of the Prophet which has been prophesied in their Holy Book.  When Muhammad declared himself to be that prophesied prophet, or the Last Brick in the House of Prophethood, this they cannot accept.  This is because they were hoping the Last Brick to be from the Jews.  But Muhammad was an Arab, the descendant of Ishmael.  The rivalry they feel about Islam has led the hardliners among them to start painting negative pictures about Ishmael.  They deride and ridicule Ishmael to discredit Islam.

As for the Christians, they consider Muhammad to be the impostor (pretender/con man) who copied some of the Biblical teachings but modified the rest to suit his purpose.   Furthermore, as Muhammad came from Ishmael while Jesus Christ came from Isaac, the rivalry they feel about Islam also led them to belittle Ishmael.

Why do People of the Book develop extreme views about Ishmael?  The answer is that this is their natural reaction to Muhammad and to Islam.  Prophet Muhammad, either through Quran or his hadith, has exposed the transgressions (excesses/wrong doings) of the Jews, as well as the heretic/deviant teachings of the Christians.  Naturally the Jews are not happy being called the people inclined to transgression, and the Christians are not happy being called the people who went astray.  It is for this reason that the most extreme among them react with the most extreme views.

In any case, the significance of the story of Isaac and Ishmael in the Biblical perspective is that it brings a new dimension in the story of Prophethood. This heir to the throne concept, or the royalty and the commoner narrative, is used by the People of the Book, especially the Jews, to justify their claim about themselves being the Chosen People. 

If we read history, from ancient to modern history, we would probably not encounter any nation or race whose history is as checkered and as turbulent as the history of the Jewish people.  The history of the Jewish people may be termed as the history of one conflict after another, since ancient to modern times.

The origin for all these tumultuous and troublesome conflicts can be traced to the story of Isaac and Ishmael, especially on their interpretation of the sacrifice story.  Believing that they are the Chosen People, the Jews look down on others.  As it is human nature to reciprocate kindness with kindness, or cruelty with cruelty, the non-Jews or the gentiles return the favor.  Throughout the history, therefore, we see that everywhere they go, the Jews are not well liked by others.

Most of us are aware of the term anti-Semitism, which is generally equated with anti-Jews.  During World War II, we heard of the story whereby millions of the Jews were sent to the concentration camps and millions of them died.  For many decades already, we are witnessing the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, with no apparent solution within sight.

Furthermore, if we read the seerah of our Prophet Muhammad SAW, we know that soon after our Prophet migrated to Madinah, he encountered one conflict after another with the Jewish communities who lived in Madinah and in Khaybar (north to Madinah).

Of course neither Isaac nor Ishmael had anything to do with this attitude.  Both were among the great prophets.  Ishmael and Isaac got along well with one another.  As they lived further apart from one another—Ishmael in Makkah and Isaac in Canaan (now Israel)—they met only occasionally.  But the Bible said that their relationship was cordial.  When their father Abraham died, both of them buried him in Hebron, a town where Abraham spent most of his old age. 

The story of the Jews started with Prophet Jacob.  He had a checkered life.  His life was filled with intrigues and turmoil.  As he was the ancestor of the Jews, it is interesting to observe how the Jewish history resembles his. 

These we shall cover in our subsequent installments, inshaAllah. 

On Why It Must Be Isaac, Not Ishmael, Who Was Sacrificed

In previous installment, we talk about Prophet Ishmael and the story of the sacrifice.  We mention that there is a controversy regarding the person to be sacrificed, whether it was Ishmael or Isaac.

The People of the Book (Ahli Kitab), that is the Jews and the Christians, say that it was Isaac who was sacrificed.  Their opinion is based on the Bible, the book of Genesis, Chapter 22, verse 2, that says:  Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

There is no disagreement among the Jews and the Christians on this matter.  All of them believe that the son to be sacrificed was Isaac.

The Islamic scholars, however, differ on the matter.  Most of them say that it was Ishmael, but a few suggest that it was Isaac.  Why Muslim scholars differ on the person to be sacrificed.

There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, because neither Quran nor authentic hadith makes specific mention about the name of the son to be sacrificed.  The Islamic scholars, therefore, suggest the name based on their understanding and their interpretation of the story.  As for the People of the Book, their Bible clearly states that it was Isaac.  So, there is no disagreement among them with regard to the person to be sacrificed.

Secondly and more importantly, to the Muslims, it does not really matter which son was to be sacrificed.  To the Muslims, the story to be highlighted is the great trial that Abraham and his son had to go through. 

Islam views the life on this earth as a test.  All people will have to undergo one test after another.  The greater the person is, the greater will be the test he will have to go through.  Prophets, being the people closest and most beloved of Allah, had to go through the hardest trials.  Abraham, being the greatest prophet, had to undergo the greatest test, to prove that he is worthy of the stature.

To the People of the Book, especially the Jews, however, the actual son to be sacrificed makes a lot of difference.  This is because they associate the sacrifice with the promise made by Allah to Prophet Abraham. 

Allah has promised Prophet Abraham to make his descendants the great nation, the chosen people.  Since the Jews were descended from the line of Isaac, and since the Jews believe that they are the Chosen People, and since the Promise is linked with the Sacrifice, the son to be sacrificed is therefore of paramount importance.  To them, if Ishmael was sacrificed instead of Isaac, then the Chosen People would not be the Jews, but the Arabs, because Arabs were descendants from the line of Ishmael.

Quran also mentions about the Promise that Allah gave to Abraham.  Allah has made Prophet Abraham to be the leader of believers.   Abraham then requested that his descendants be made the leaders as well.  On this request, Allah replied that His promise is not applicable to the wrongdoers.

Herein lies the difference between the People of the Book and the Muslims.  The People of the Book, especially the Jews, take the Promise along the racial line.  The Jews consider themselves the Chosen People simply because they were descended from Abraham through Isaac. 

The Muslims, meanwhile, take the Promise from the righteousness angle.  Only the righteous descendants of Abraham are covered in the Promise.  His descendants who are wrongdoers are not included. 

Because of this view, we can see that, although Islamic scholars differ on the son to be sacrificed, they do not fight against each other over these differences.  This is because they consider both Ishmael and Isaac are the worthy sons of Abraham, and that Allah’s Promise is not directly linked with the name of the son being sacrificed. 

This is the lesson we can draw from the controversy regarding the person to be sacrificed.  And this is the basic problem with the People of the Book, both the Jews as well as the Christians.

The Jews made a mistake when they turned the universal religion of their forefathers—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—into the religion of their tribe, the Bani Israel.  They link religion with race and made religion hereditary.  That is why it is difficult for them to accept Muhammad as the Last Prophet, since Muhammad SAW was not a Jew.

The Christians choose similar path as the Jews when they formulated their faith based on hereditary.  The Christians believe that the sin of the father is passed down to his descendants.  In other words, the children inherit the sin of their father.  This belief is known as Original Sin and it is the core of their faith.

They say, when Adam ate the fruit forbidden by Allah, he committed the sin.  Since Adam was the first man, and that was the first sin committed by him, it is therefore considered to be the Original Sin.

In a way, this is true.  It was the first sin committed by the first man.  But the problem is that they say this Original Sin is passed down to Adam’s Children and all his descendants.  And the Original Sin was so great that all his descendants, meaning all humankind, will have to go to Hell.

Later, God took a pity on the human plight and decided to erase this Original Sin, so that humankind can enter Heaven.  Unfortunately, the Original Sin is so great that it can only be redeemed by God sacrificing Himself.  But how can God sacrifice or kill himself?

If God sacrifices himself, who is going to be the God and rules the universe?  God is only one.  And, no one can kill God other than he himself.  But, if God commits suicide, there will be no God anymore.

According to the Christians, this delicate problem is resolved by God taking his own Word and put the Word into the womb of Mary.  After 9 months or so, the Word got out of Mary’s womb in the form of a male baby, and that male baby was called Jesus.

Since it was a human baby who came out of Mary’s womb, Jesus is therefore a human.  But since it was God’s Word that Mary conceived, not the normal human seed (or semen), Jesus is therefore a God.  To differentiate the God on earth and the God in Heaven, Jesus is called the Son and the God in Heaven is called the Father.

When the Son reached the age of about 33 years old, he was arrested and crucified.  He died for three days, but after that he came back to life and ascended to Heaven, sitting beside the Father.  And all the while, God is one, and one only.

Confusing as it may sound, if one believes in that, then he will be redeemed and will enter Paradise.  If he does not believe in that, then he goes to Hell.

The matter would not be so confusing if the Christians just take what the Old Testament say (Old Testament is the Jewish Bible which is also part of Christian Bible.  The other part of the Christian Bible is the New Testament).  In many passages of the Old Testament, it is clearly said that the sin of the father shall not be passed down to the son.  In other words, the children do not inherit the faults of their parent.

But the Christians ignore what the Old Testament says because the Original Sin is extremely important to their faith.  Without Original Sin, there will be no need for Jesus to die on the Cross, as there is no need for him to sacrifice himself to redeem mankind.  Without Original Sin, Jesus does not have to be a God.

To end, let’s relook at the book of Genesis, Chapter 22, verse 2.  “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

If we take the word “Isaac” out, then the passage will read: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Now, every one who studies the Bible would know that Ishmael was meant here, because he was the first son of Abraham, and the only son before Isaac was born.  Isaac was the second son of Abraham.  He was born when Ishmael, his half-brother, was 14 years old; Abraham, his father, was about 100 years old; and Sarah, his mother, was about 90 years old.

To be certain that it was Isaac, instead of Ishmael, was meant here, the word “Isaac” has to be there.  But by having the word “Isaac,” and yet calling him “the only son,” what happened to Ishmael?  Is he not considered the son of Abraham as well?  How could Isaac be the one and only son when he was actually the second son, and the first son was still alive when this event took place?  Or could it be that the word “Isaac” was not in the original revelation, but was inserted later?

We shall look at this matter in the next installment.


Prophet Abraham is special compared to other prophets because Islam derives the most from him.

From him, we learn the true meaning of tawhid and its opposite, syirk (or idol worship).  From him, we learn that religion is rational, intelligible to mind and practical.  And from him, we owe the rites of Hajj, one of the pillars of Islam.

But the story of hajj, or pilgrimage, has as much to do with Ishmael as it is with Abraham.  In our installment "Did Allah Command You To Leave Us Here?," we have learnt that, not long after Ishmael was born, both he and his mother were left at the desolate and barren place called Makkah.  His father Prophet Abraham left them there under the instruction of Allah.  A few days later, they ran out of food and water. 

When both of them became very hungry and thirsty, his mother Hagar set out looking for water.  She walked quickly from the mount of Marwah to the mount of Safa, back and forth seven times.  This quick walk is known as Sa’i.  This sa’i has become one of the rituals in the performance of Hajj (greater pilgrimage) or Umrah (lesser pilgrimage).

Then we hear nothing about Ishmael until he was big enough to help his parent in daily chores.  During this time, Abraham saw in the dream that he slaughters his son Ishmael.  As a prophet, Abraham knew that dream is just like a revelation.  He had no choice but to slaughter his son.  This episode also indicates that Abraham did not leave his second wife and his first born son without paying them a visit from time to time. 

Neither Quran nor hadith tell us how devastated Abraham must have felt with the vision in the dream, which he has to fulfill.   But we can safely say that the matter must have weighed him heavily.  He had been longing to have children.  When both of them were old, Sarah was kind enough to tell him to take her bondmaid, Hagar, to be his second wife.  Now that he had a son, Allah suddenly told him to slaughter his son.  Only his strong faith and his deep trust in Allah kept him calm and sober.

Quran mentions that Abraham told his son about the dream and asked him what he thought of it.  Ishmael replied: "O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, among those who endure patiently."  This shows the strength of Ishmael’s character, worthy to be the son of Abraham.  The son’s reply also appeased the father.  It released some of his heavy burden.

Hadith says that while Abraham and his son were walking to a place where the sacrifice was to be held, the Devil came to dissuade him from fulfilling the act.  Abraham threw stones at the Devil, chasing him away.  After throwing seven pieces of stones, the Devil disappeared.  But the Devil appeared again at difference location, and again Abraham stoned the Devil.  This happened three times and the Devil finally disappeared for good.

At last, Abraham laid down his son and when he was about to slit Ishmael’s throat with a very sharp knife, a call came from Allah saying, “O Abraham, you have fulfilled your dream.”  Meaning, it was only a test from Allah to see how far Abraham would obey Allah’s command, and that Abraham has fulfilled the unimaginably heavy trial.

Then Quran mentions that for fulfilling this great trial, Abraham was rewarded with great reward.  Most commentator says that the reward was the ram that appeared from the bush nearby, which Abraham captured and slaughtered it. 

After this event, Abraham received the good news that he will have a son with Sarah whom they named Isaac.   The Quran also mentions that he was given a grandson called Jacob, the son of Isaac.  The Bible meanwhile says that for fulfilling his great trials, Abraham was rewarded with many progenies (descendants) who became the bearers of the great message. 

Taking both Quran and Bible together, we understand that the great reward was not only the ram (male sheep), but Abraham was also rewarded with descendants who were appointed as the prophets of Allah. 

In any case, Abraham’s action of stoning the Devil, and the sacrifice he performed on his son, which was replaced with a ram (male sheep), have become parts of the rites in Hajj.  These rites are to commemorate the great trial that Abraham, his son Ishmael and his wife Hagar had to go through in fulfilling Allah’s commandment. 

The day of this great sacrifice has also become one of our two main festivals.  It is known as the Festival of Sacrifice (Eid al Adha), or what is known as Hari Raya Haji among Malays.  Some consider this festival greater than the other great festival known as Eid al Fitri, called Hari Raya Puasa by the Malays, which is celebrated after the fasting month of Ramadhan.

After this event of sacrifice, the only story about Ishmael in the Quran was when Allah commanded Abraham to build the House of Allah at Makkah.  The house, known as Kaabah, was built with the help of his son Ishmael. 

When the construction of Kaabah was completed, Allah commanded Abraham to make announcement to people to do pilgrimage (hajj) to this house.  At that time, Makkah was a barren desert.  So it was not exactly a place where people would come. 

Furthermore, when Abraham was told to make the announcement, there was hardly anybody lived there.  For that reason, it was said that Abraham wondered aloud.  He said: "O Lord, how can I convey this to people when my voice will not reach them.''

Allah then spoke to him, saying: "Call them and We will convey it.''   In other words, Allah was saying, “Your job is only to make the call.  It is my job is to make them come.”  So Abraham stood up on one of the high places around Kaabah and shouted, "O mankind! Your Lord has established a House so come on pilgrimage to it.''  

True to what Allah has promised, since then people have come to Makkah to pray and circumambulate (tawaf) the Kaabah, as well as to perform Hajj or Umrah.  And Hajj has become one of the pillars of Islam, whereby annually millions would come throughout the world.

Later, when Ishmael got married, he and his children lived in Makkah.  When the Children of Ishmael, known as Ishmaelite Arabs, grew bigger in number, some remained in Makkah while others spread throughout the Arabia.  They and other Arabs came annually to Makkah to do pilgrimage.   

But we do not hear much about what happened to them, until about 2,400 years after Kaabah was built.  This was the time when a baby boy named Muhammad was born in Makkah.   It was said that Muhammad was the 60th generation of Ishmael, who will become the seal of the prophets, or the last brick in the House of Prophethood.  And he was the only prophet that we know from the line of Ishmael.

The legacy of Abraham as the Father of Prophets lived on through the line of Isaac, the son of Sarah, not through Ishmael, the son of Hagar, until the birth of the last of all prophets.  There is also a controversy as to which son was sacrificed, whether it was Ishmael or Isaac, but we shall take this matter in our next installment.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

We Sent Two Messengers But They Rejected Both. Then We Reinforced Them With A Third.

In Surah Yaseen verses 13-14, Quran mentions about two prophets being sent with a mission to a certain city.  But these two prophets were rejected by the people in that city.  So Allah strengthened these two prophets with a third.

The above occurence is not a special case.  Multiple prophets being sent together is quite common in the story of prophethood.  Even among the 25 prophets that we have to know, there were many occasions whereby more than one prophets lived together in the same era.

Below is the list of 25 prophets and their placement in the list. 

1.       Adam

2.        Idris

3        Nuh

4        Hud

5        Saleh

6        Ibrahim

7        Lut

8        Ismail

9        Ishaq

10.     Yaakob

11.     Yusuf

12.     Ayyub

13.     Shuaib

14.     Musa

15.     Har┼źn

16.     DhulKifli

17.     Dawood

18.     Sulaiman

19.     Ilyas

20.     al-Yasa

21.     Yunus

22.     Zakariya

23.     Yahya

24.     'Isa

25.     Muhammad

Let’s analyze the above list. 

The Bible says that when Enoch (Nabi Idris) was born, Prophet Adam was still alive, although they were separated by a few generations.  Prophet Idris was born when Prophet Adam was 622 years old. 

We know that as long as Prophet Adam was still alive, and he being the father of all human beings at that time, there was no issue about people worshiping false gods.  This is because all of his children, grandchildren, etc., believed in the tawhid brought by him.  Why did Allah send Prophet Idris then?

Prophet Idris was sent to usher in a new era for mankind.  He came to teach people writing, reading, counting (arithmetic), taming horses and astronomy.  This tells us that prophets did not only teach tawhid, but practical knowledge for better living as well.  This might be a better explanation why Prophet Idris was sent.  It is unlikely that he was sent to strengthen Prophet Adam.

Whatever the case may be, it is clear that multiple prophets are sent simultaneously since the beginning, that is, since Prophet Adam was still alive.

After Prophet Idris, those prophets in the list, namely Noah, Hud and Shalih, did not live in the same era.  Starting with Prophet Abraham, however, we find that five prophets lived at the same time.  They are Abraham, Lot, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob.

Prophet Abraham (Nabi Ibrahim) is number six in the list.  The seventh prophet in the list is Prophet Lot.  He was the nephew of Prophet Abraham, and was slightly younger than Abraham, around 16 years according to Bible commentary.  He lived together with Prophet Abraham until he moved to the town of Sodom and Gomorrah.

After Lot came Prophet Ishmael, who is number eight in the list.  He was the first son of Abraham, through Prophet Abraham’s second wife, Hagar.  He was born when Abraham was around 86 years old. 

Then came Prophet Isaac (Nabi Ishak), number nine in the list.  He was the second son of Abraham, but from his first wife, Sarah.  He was born when Abraham was around 100 years old, and Sarah about 90 years old.   

We can say that the birth of Isaac is no less miraculous than the birth of Jesus.  While Jesus was born from a virgin mother, Isaac was born from a mother who was not only barren but already way pass her menopause stage.   That is why Sarah, the mother of Isaac, was as surprise as Mary, the mother of Jesus, when the news about her getting pregnant was relayed to her.  Sarah was surprised because she was barren and already way pass menopause; Mary was surprise because she was a virgin and no man has touched her.

After Isaac came Jacob (Nabi Yaakob), number ten in the list.  He was the son of Isaac, hence the grandson of Abraham.  He was born when Isaac was around 60 years old, and Abraham was around 160 years old.  Since Abraham lived for about 175 years, we know that Jacob was born 15 years before Abraham died.

The prophet who came after Jacob was Joseph (Nabi Yusuf).  He is number eleven in the list of 25 prophets.  He was the son of Prophet Jacob.  He was born when Jacob was around 86 years old.  Joseph had 10 older brothers and one younger brother as Prophet Jacob had twelve sons.  Joseph was the great grandson of Abraham, but when Joseph was born, Prophet Abraham had died already.  

Here we see that all those five prophets who came after Abraham, and included in the list of 25 prophets, are directly related to him.  Two of them were his sons (Ishmael and Isaac), one of them was his nephew (Lot), one of them was his  grandson (Jacob), the remaining one was his great grandson (Joseph). 

With regard to the prophets being sent together with Prophet Abraham, it is not so much to strengthen him, but rather to continue his mission especially after he died.   

Another great prophet surrounded with other prophets during his time was Moses (Nabi Musa), who is number 14 in the list.  Like many other prophets in the list, he was the descendant of Prophet Abraham, through Prophet Jacob.  Prophet Jacob is also known as Israel.  Hence, the people known as Israelites are his descendants.

When Prophet Moses was born, the Israelites or the Children of Israel lived in Egypt.  At that time, they were enslaved by the ruler of Egypt, known as Pharaoh.  Moses grew up in the Palace of Pharaoh, but was forced to flee Egypt later on when he had accidentally killed an Egyptian in a fight.    

Eventually Prophet Moses had to come back to Egypt when Allah commanded him to face Pharaoh.  His task was to invite  Pharaoh to tawhid, as well as to deliver the Israelites from the bondage of Pharaoh.   

As Moses was a run-away fugitive, and belonged to the nation enslaved by Pharaoh, it is natural that he was apprehensive to face the mighty Pharaoh.  Like King Nimrod during Prophet Abraham’s era, Pharaoh also considered himself a god and his subjects worshiped him.  Moses therefore asked Allah to send his older brother, Aaron, to strengthen him.  So Aaron (Prophet Harun), number 15 in the list, was also made a prophet to strengthen Moses.   

Allah also sent another prophet to strengthen Moses.  His name is Joshua (Nabi Yusha).  Joshua is considered a prophet although not listed in the list of 25 prophets.  Like the story in the the Surah Yaseen mentions above, Aaron and Joshua were made prophets to strengthen Prophet Moses.

Then there was Prophet David (Nabi Dawood/Daud), or more popularly known as King David in Biblical narrative, as he was the king of the Kingdom of Israel.  He is number 17 in the list. He has many sons, and one of them, named Solomon, was also a prophet.  Prophet or King Solomon (Nabi Sulaiman), number 18 in the list, continued the work and ruled the kingdom established by his father, making it great, powerful and respected.

After them we have Prophet Elijah (Nabi Ilyas), number 19 in the list.  He has a disciple known as Elisha (Nabi al-Yasa), who is also a prophet.  Prophet Elisha, number 20 in the list, was sent to strengthen Prophet Elijah, as well as to continue the mission after the death of Prophet Elijah.  Or, accoding to Bible, after Prophet Elijah was raised to heaven riding the Chariot of Fire.  

Finally, when Jesus (Nabi Isa) was born, there were already two prophets who lived  in the area.  The first was an old prophet named Zechariah (Nabi Zakaria), number 22 in the list.  The second was a boy about three years old who, like Jesus, would grow up and become a prophet.  The boy name was John.  As an adult, he was known as John the Baptist (Nabi Yahya), number 23 in the list.  He was the son of Prophet Zechariah. 

These two prophets are related to Jesus (Nabi Isa).  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the niece of Elizabeth.   As Elizabeth is the mother of John the Baptist, he is therefore a cousin to Mary.  This makes John the Baptist the cousin of Jesus as well; or more properly, the mother’s cousin.  And Prophet Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, is Jesus’ grand uncle in law.

Jesus, number 24 in the list, was not sent to strengthen Prophet Zechariah or John the Baptist.  Rather, both of these older prophets were sent to pave the way for Jesus, who was to carry greater mission. 

Prophet Muhammad, number 25 in the list and being the last prophet, was not strengthened by any prophet, but by his illustrious companions.  But, just as Prophet Zechariah and John the Baptist were sent to prepare the way for Jesus, we can say that all other prophets were sent to pave the way for the last brick in the House of Prophethood, the Seal of Prophet, Muhammad S.A.W.

The Way Of Abraham Is Rational And Based On Sound Reason

In the previous installment, we have seen that Islam owes its concept of tawhid and idolatry to Prophet Abraham.  In fact, Prophet Abraham is not only revered by Islam.  Judaism and Christianity revere as well.  All these major religions claim their origin to him.

All prophets brought similar message, but Prophet Abraham is more revered than others because he brought it in a more complete, rational and pure form.  For this, Allah singles him out as “hanifa.”  No other prophet either before or after him receives that honor. 

While all prophets brought similar message, each of them tends to have different focus and significance.  For instance, the significance of the story of Prophet Adam is mankind’s role as the khalifah on earth.  Through his story, we learn about mankind special characteristic as well as worst features, and we also learn that Iblis and the devils will always work to lead people astray so that mankind will also be condemned like them.

From Prophet Noah, we learn that the true savior is faith (iman).  Even the wife of Prophet Noah was drowned in the Great Flood because she disbelieved in Allah.  One of his sons was also drowned.  A few others who were not his direct family members were saved because they believed in him. 

We have not discussed other prophets such as Jonah and Job, but it is proper to mention a few words about them here.

The significance of the story about Prophet Jonah (Nabi Yunus) is that we have to remain consistent and persistence in our faith and struggle although we may not succeed in our task.  Prophet Jonah was greatly disappointed when no one listened to him after spreading the message for so long.  In disgust, he ran away, leaving his people behind.  Allah taught him a lesson by sending a whale or a great fish to swallow him.  In the belly of the great fish, he realized his error.  He repented and Allah saved him.

The significance of the story about Prophet Job (Nabi Ayub) is that he remained patient despite great afflictions.  He was a rich man.  Then he was afflicted with terrible disease.  Later, his house collapsed, killing all his children.  Next, he lost all his wealth. Finally, his wife left him when she could not take it anymore.  When he lost everything—his wealth, his children, his wife, his health—satan came whispering.  All satan wanted was for him to complain--how come Allah put him in such a terrible and pathetic state when he had done nothing wrong.  Yet, he remained true to his faith and accepted what Allah had put him into without slightest complaint.  Then Allah restored his health and his wealth, and his wife also came back to him after realizing her undutiful behavior.

As for Prophet Abraham, other than making clear the concept and practice of idolatry, his life also taught us that the religion sent by Allah is rational, and that it should be spread with sound and rational argument. 

By rational, we mean that it is easy to be digested by intellect, can be understood easily, can be proven, and the mind can accept it readily.  It is not based on superstition or mystical belief.  It is also not based on speculation or fanciful assumption. 

Prophet Abraham rejected idolatry ever since he was a boy.  As we learn earlier, his father was an idol maker.  He saw his father was making idols from stone or wood, then sold these idols to people, and people worship these idols.  To him, this act did not make sense at all.  When he asked why they worship these idols, he was told that these are the gods of their forefathers.  

The boy Abraham cannot accept that justification.  He knew that his father was in fact better than these idols.  After all, it was his father who made them.  At least his father can talk, can listen, can see and can defend himself should he get attacked.  The idols made by his father were just dumb stones that cannot talk, cannot listen, cannot see and cannot defend themselves.  

So, the boy Abraham concluded that these idols cannot be real God.  Then he started thinking and searching for the real God.  He looked for something that is worthy to be considered as God. 

He saw people taking their great king as god.  He thought that the king is more worthy to be a god than a stone made by his father.  But then he realized that the king also got sick and die.  And the king also ate and slept like him.  So he concluded that the real God cannot be like that. 

Then he observed that some people took the sun to be the god.  He thought the sun was great.  It lighted the whole world.  Without the sun, nothing can survive.  Then he thought the sun is more worthy to be a god than the stone made by his father, and more worthy than the king that people worshiped as god.  But soon he realized that the sun has the habit of appearing in the morning but disappearing in the evening.  He realized that the sun is working not on its own free will, but someone or something else is making it appears in the morning and disappear in the evening.  He concluded that the real God should not be like that.

This process went on and on.  At long last, he realized that the real God must be above everything that people take as gods.   As his father made those idols, there must also be the Creator that made every object that people worship.  He must be the one who created the trees and stones that people cut to make the idols.  He must be the one who made the sun rises in the morning and sets it down in the evening.  He must be the one who made the stars, the moon, the planets and everything in the sky, and the one who ensured that these celestial bodies do not crash into one another.  In short, the real God must be the Creator of the earth, the heaven, and everything in the whole universe. 

From this, we can see that his approach is rational and based on reason.  It was after long observation and deep soul searching that he realized that all the gods worshiped by people during his time were false gods.  It was probably by then that the revelation started to come to him, and he started to teach people about the real God.

Quran tells the story that, after preaching for many years but people still refused to listen, Prophet Abraham decided to teach them by practical example.  So, during a great festivity, he sneaked into a temple carrying an axe.  No one was in the temple as even the priests were attending the great festivity.

Once inside, he smashed all the idols with his axe, except the largest one.  He then put the axe in the hand of the largest idol that he did not smash.  Then he quietly went home as if nothing happened. 

There was great commotion when the priests discovered the idols were being smashed.  It was not long before people started to gather in front of the temple.  They thought the horrible deed must have been perpetrated by a young man named Abraham, as he had been against idol worshiping all along.

So they arrested and brought him to the large gathering in front of the temple.  Their idea was to force him to confess.  Instead of confessing, Prophet Abraham pointed to the largest idol and said: “Go and ask him. The axe is in his hand.” 

Angry, and unaware that it was a trap by Abraham, they said: “You know well that they cannot speak.”  And Abraham quickly replied: “Yet, you take them to be your gods, knowing full well they cannot speak, cannot see, cannot do any harm or any good, cannot benefit you, and cannot even defend themselves.”

Furious, they made a huge bonfire and threw him inside the inferno.  But Allah made the fire cool for him and he was saved. 

The news that a young man named Abraham was saved from raging fire had reached the great king named Nimrod.  He was the most powerful king at that time and controlled all the food supply.  Because of that, people worshiped him as god.  The king Nimrod summoned Abraham to come to his court. 

Abraham refused to recognize the king Nimrod as god, saying the real God gives and takes life.  Nimrod arrogantly replied: “I also give and take life.”  

To prove his claim, Nimrod pardoned a man who was already condemned with death sentence, and ordered an innocent man to be killed.  Then the king Nimrod said: “This man is already condemned with death sentence and about to be executed.  He is as good as dead, but I make him alive again.  And the other man has done nothing wrong, but I just took his life.  So I give and take life.”

The king Nimrod thought that he had won the debate, but Abraham then said: “My God raises the sun from the East and sets it at the West.  Now I challenge your majesty to make it rises from the West and sets it at the East.”

It is sufficient to say that the king Nimrod was angry because he cannot answer that challenge. 

Here, we briefly highlight a few episodes in the life of Prophet Abraham to serve as examples that the true religion is rational and based on sound reason.  The Western people define religion as a set of beliefs and rituals.  This definition is very narrow. Islam simply calls it “Deen,” which means a way of life.  Not only that the religion (Deen) sent by Allah is rational, but it is also comprehensive, because religion in Islam is a way of life, and it includes everything that has to do with our lives.    The deen of Islam (or Islamic religion) is not confined to matters of faith and ritual alone.

The way of life as intended by Allah did not come to fruition in the large scale during Prophet Abraham’s time, as he had only a few followers, and did not manage to establish a state.  Such way of life was accomplished by his descendants, first through the line of his son with Sarah, and finally through the line of his son with Hagar. 

From his son with Sarah, named Isaac, come a nation known as Israel, and from his son with Hagar, named Ishmael, come a nation known as Arab.  The nation of Israel carried the religion of Abraham which was later known as Judaism, then branched out into another religion known as Christianity; while the nation of Arab carried the final and complete religion of Abraham known as Islam.

It is no wonder, therefore, that Prophet Abraham is not only revered in Islam, but in Judaism and Christianity as well.  We can say that many of the bricks in the House of Prophethood were his descendants, with Prophet Muhammad being the last brick.  After all, Abraham is known as the Father of prophets.

Monday, October 5, 2020

In The Way Of Abraham The Hanifa, Idolatry Is Made Clear

During Prophet Adam, there was no issue about people worshiping false gods. Adam was the first man. The rest of the people during his time were all his children. He taught them about tawhid and they followed him. The problems he faced during his time was not about faith, but about behavior. For instance, his second son, Cain, had killed his first son, Abel, due to jealousy. Although Cain had done terrible crime, he still believed in Allah, the One God. It was his behavior which is bad.

Then came Prophet Idris. During his time, there was not much problem with the faith either. People during his time still worshiped the One true God. It was when Prophet Idris died that people started to take false gods beside Allah.

Next came Prophet Noah. During his time, people had already forgotten about the One true God or tawhid. All of them were involved in idol worship. Prophet Noah spent many hundreds years to convince the people to worship only Allah. But he was not very successful. As a result, Allah sent great flood and drowned all disbelievers.

Then the correct faith was restored, because only the believers in the big ship were saved from getting drowned in the Great Flood. When the children of Prophet Noah multiplied, they spread all over the world. Gradually people forgot about the tawhid and started to worship false gods again.

When Prophet Hud and Prophet Shalih were sent to their respective tribes, the people were already indulging in the worship of false gods. And, as we have learned from previous lesson, Allah destroyed all these disbelievers.

After that Prophet Abraham came, along with his nephew, Prophet Lot. Like the previous generations, the people during Prophet Abraham also worshiped false gods.

But there is one important difference between Prophet Abraham’s period and the period before him. By the time Prophet Abraham came, human beings have started to record things, including the events and people involved. For that reason, we have more knowledge about the time of Prophet Abraham as compared to those prophets who came before him.

Prophet Abraham’s story is not only available in the Bible and the Quran, but also in historical books. Therefore, we can say that the prophets who came before Prophet Abraham had lived during prehistoric time, that is, the period when no history is recorded. Abraham is the first prophet who lived in historic era.

Most scholars say that Prophet Abraham was born about 4,000 years ago. When he was born, people had already forgotten about tawhid. All of them were idol worshipers.

We do not know much about the nature of idol worshiping during the time of Noah, Hud or Shalih, except that they made statues from stones, woods, etc., and they worshiped these statues/idols.

By the time of Abraham, we know much more about the nature and characteristic of idol worshiping, because he had encountered not only with one type of idolatry (idol worship), but many kinds.

The first type of idolatry is similar to the people of Noah, Hud and Shalih. This is the type of idols made of stones, woods, etc., to represent gods, and they worship these idols.

The second type of idolatry is taking people as gods. Usually these people are their kings, and they worship these kings.

The third type of idolatry is taking celestial or heavenly bodies as gods. These celestial bodies may be moon, sun, stars or spirit. And they worship these celestial bodies.

From this, Islam says that idolatry or idol worshiping is not just about bowing down to idols, like what the Hindus are still doing until now. It is also not just about worshiping the stars, the sun, the moon or the spirit. It means, if we idolize, worship, or revere anything other than one true God, then all of these are idolatry or idol worshiping. They are the type of idolatry that come in different forms.

Therefore, if we revere or idolize people more than we should, then it is a form of idolatry forbidden in Islam. If we idolize money, power or wealth more than what is considered proper, this is also a form of idolatry. If we idolize a particular idea or ideology more than necessary, such as saying capitalism, communism, socialism etc are better than Islam, this is also a form of idolatry. Even if we say that Islam is no longer fashionable, or Islamic syariah (Islamic Law) is outdated and no longer relevant to the modern world, this is also a type of idolatry.

From the story of Prophet Abraham, the concept of tawhid is made clear. This is because we are informed about his encounter with various types of people who did not actually bow down to idols made of stones or woods. Yet, they were also considered as idolaters. He rejected all of them and continue with his upright way. The upright way is called “hanifa” in the Quran.

In Islam, the word used for idolatry is “syirk.” “Syirk” means associate. The people of Makkah before their conversion to Islam were called “musyrikin.” “Musyrikin” means people who associate something with something else. They believed in Allah, but they also have other gods that they consider as the associates or the companions of Allah. These associates are their idols that they worship along with Allah.

Idolatry comes from the word “idol.” Idol is an image, an object, or something that people revere, salute, or worship. It can be the spirit, the moon, the sun, the ancestors, the people, the wealth, the power or the idea. Those who worship all these things are idolaters.

Here we have to make the distinction between the manifest and hidden idolatry. Manifest means clear or obvious. Manifest idolatry means the nature of this idolatry is clear and obvious. Hidden means unclear or not obvious. The nature of hidden idolatry is more difficult to detect.

The manifest idolatry refers to those who either reject Allah as the true God, or clearly associate other gods with Allah. Example of manifest or clear idolatry are the people in Makkah before they became Muslims. The believed in Allah, but along with Him, they also worship other gods. Currently, we may say the Hindus are the example of this type. The Hindus believe in the Supreme God although they do not call this as Allah, but they have thousands of other gods along with this Supreme God.

Those who do not believe in Allah at all but worship the spirit, the sun or anything that they consider as their god is another example of manifest idolatry.

Then there are a group of people who do not believe in the existence of God at all. They are known as atheists, and their belief is called atheism. Islam categorizes them as idolaters although they claim that they do not believe in any god. This is because they take their own thinking as their god. Atheism is another example of manifest idolatry.

The hidden idolaters are more complex, because it is less clear. These would include those who revere money, wealth, power, position or other people beyond what is right and reasonable.

For example, those who seek money for the sake of money, regardless whether it is acquired in the right or wrong way, where his mind is all the time obsessed with making money, and consider nothing else is more important, is an example of hidden idolatry. The distinction here is not whether one is rich or poor, because the rich may earn money in the right way and spend it rightly. The poor who are crazy about money, do not care how they earn it, whether halal or haram, and love money for money sake, could also be hidden idolater.

Prophet Abraham’s life provided this understanding. Our faith has to be pure and upright (hanifa). Quran mentions the word “hanifa” 12 times. Of that, eight times the word hanifa is associated with Prophet Abraham. He is the only prophet that the Quran associates with the word hanifa. In fact, Prophet Muhammad was asked to follow the upright way of Prophet Abraham, as in the Quran 16:123: Then, we revealed to you, “follow the way of Ibrahim, the upright, and he was not among the idolaters.”

Prophet Muhammad, the last of the prophet, or the last brick in the House of Prophethood, emulated the upright way (hanifa) of Prophet Abraham. From both of them, we learn the true meaning of tawhid.