THE PROPHET IBRAHIM'S LIFE

Ibrahim was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to Allah's (Which is Islam), and he joined not gods with Allah. Without doubt, among men, the nearest of kin to Ibrahim, are those who follow him, as are also this Prophet and those who believe: And Allah is the Protector of those who have faith. (Surah Aal-e Imran: 67-68)

The prophet Ibrahim is often referred to in the Qur'an and is distinguished by Allah as an example to people. He conveyed the message of Allah to his people who worshipped idols and he warned them so that they might fear Allah. His people did not listen to his warnings but, on the contrary, opposed him. When the oppression of his people increased, Ibrahim had to move elsewhere with his wife, the prophet Lut and possibly a few other people who went with them.

Ibrahim was descended from Nuh. The Qur'an states also that he followed the Way of Nuh.

Peace and salutation to Nuh among the nations! Thus indeed do we reward those who do right. For he was one of our believing Servants. Then the rest we overwhelmed in the Flood. Verily among those who followed his Way was Ibrahim. (Surat as-Saaffat: 79-83)

At the time of the prophet Ibrahim, many people living on the Mesopotamian plains, and in Middle and East Anatolia were worshipping the heavens and the stars. Their most important god was "Sin", the moon-god. It was personified as a human with a long beard, wearing a dress carrying a moon on it in the shape of a crescent. In addition, these people made embossed pictures and sculptures of these gods and worshipped them. This was quite a widespread belief system which found appropriate soil for itself in the Near East and thus maintained its existence for a long time. People living in that region continued to worship these gods until around 600 AD. As a consequence of this belief, some constructions known as "'ziggurats"' which were used both as observatories and temples, were built in the region stretching from Mesopotamia to the interior of Anatolia and here some gods, primarily the moon-god "'Sin"', were worshipped.1

This way of belief, only discovered in archaeological excavations today, is to be found mentioned in the Qur'an. As mentioned in the Qur'an, Ibrahim rejected the worship of these deities and turned only to Allah, the one true God. In the Qur'an, Ibrahim's conduct is recounted as follows;

Lo! Ibrahim said to his father Azar: "Takest thou idols for gods? For I see thee and thy people in manifest error."

So also did We show Ibrahim the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might (with understanding) have certitude.
When the night covered him over, He saw a star: He said: "This is my Lord." But when it set, He said: "I love not those that set."

When he saw the moon rising in splendour, he said: "This is my Lord." But when the moon set, He said: "unless my Lord guide me, I shall surely be among those who go astray."

When he saw the sun rising in splendour, he said: "This is my Lord; this is the greatest (of all)." But when the sun set, he said: "O my people! I am indeed free from your (guilt) of giving partners to Allah.

For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah." (Surat al-Anaam: 74-79)

In the Qur'an, the birthplace of Ibrahim and where he lived are not told in detail. But it is indicated that Ibrahim and Lut lived close to each other and were contemporaries, by the fact that the angels sent to the people of Lut came to Ibrahim, and announced to his wife the good news of a child, before going on to Lut.

An important issue about Ibrahim in the Qur'an, not mentioned in the Old Testament, is the construction of the Ka'bah. In the Qur'an, we are told that the Ka'bah was constructed by Ibrahim and his son Isma'il. Today, the only thing known by historians about the past of the Ka'bah is that it is accepted to have been a sacred place since very old times. The placing of idols in the Ka'bah during the Age of Ignorance prior to the prophet Muhammad, is a consequence of the degeneration and distortion of the divine religion once revealed to Ibrahim.

At the time of the prophet Ibrahim, polytheistic religions were prevalent in the Mesopotamian region. The moon-god, "Sin", was one of the most important deities. People made statues of those gods and worshipped them. On the left Sins statues are seen. The crescent figure can be clearly seen on the statue's chest.
The ziggurats, which were used both as temples and astronomical observatories, were constructions made with the most advanced techniques of the age. The stars, the moon and the sun were the primary objects of worship, and therefore, the sky had great importance. Left and below are the important ziggurats of Mesopotamia.

Ibrahim According to the Old Testament

The Old Testament is probably the most detailed source on Ibrahim, even though much of what it relates may be unreliable. According to its account, Ibrahim was born around 1900 BC in the city of Ur, one of the most important cities of the time, which was located in the southeast of the Mesopotamia plains. When he was first born, Ibrahim was not named ''Abraham'', but ''Abram''. His name was changed by God - Jehovah (YHWH) afterwards.

One day, the god of the Old Testament, Jehovah, asked Abram to set out on a journey leaving his country and people, to go to an indefinite country and start a new community there. Abram, at the age of 75, listened to this call and set out on the road with his barren wife Sarai - who will later be known as ''Sarah'' which means princess - and his brother's son, Lut. While heading for the Chosen Land, they stayed at Harran for a while, and then continued on their journey. When they arrived in the land of Canaan promised to them by Jehovah, they were told that this place was specifically chosen for them and granted to them. When Abram turned ninety-nine years old, he made a covenant with Jehovah and his name was changed to Abraham. He died when he was one hundred and seventy-five years old and was buried in the cave of Machpelah close to the city of Hebron (el-Khalil) in the West Bank, today under occupation by Israel. This land bought by Ibrahim for a certain sum of money, was his and his family's first property in the Promised Land.

Ibrahim's Place of Birth According to the Old Testament

Where Ibrahim was born has always been an issue of debate. While Christians and Jews say that Ibrahim was born in South Mesopotamia, the prevalent thought in the Islamic world is that his place of birth is around Urfa-Harran. Some new finds show that the Jewish and Christian thesis does not reflect the truth completely.

Jews and Christians depend on the Old Testament for their assertion, because in it, Ibrahim is said to have been born in the city of Ur in South Mesopotamia. After Ibrahim was born and brought up in that city, he is said to have set out on the way to Egypt and to have reached Egypt at the end of a long journey in which he passed through the Harran region of Turkey.

However, a recently found manuscript of the Old Testament generated serious doubts about the validity of this information. In this Greek manuscript from the 3rd century BC, which is accepted to be the oldest copy of the Old Testament yet found, "Ur" is never mentioned. Today, many Old Testament researchers say that the word of "Ur" is inaccurate or a subsequent addition. This implies that Ibrahim was not born in the city of Ur, and may never have been to the Mesopotamian region in his life.

Besides, the names of some locations, and the regions they imply, change by time. In our day, the Mesopotamia plains generally refer to the south banks of the Iraqi land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Yet two millennia before our day, Mesopotamia implied a region more northernly, even reaching as far as Harran, and stretching into presentday Turkish lands. Therefore, even if we accept that the expression "Mesopotamian plain" in the Old Testament is right, it would be misleading to think that the Mesopotamia of two millennia earlier and the Mesopotamia of today are exactly the same places.

Even if there are serious doubts and disagreements on the city of Ur being Ibrahim's birthplace, there is a common agreement on the fact that Harran and its environs region was the place where Ibrahim lived. Moreover, a short research made in the Old Testament itself yields some information supporting the view that Ibrahim's place of birth was Harran. For instance, in the Old Testament, the region of Harran is designated as the "Aram region" (Genesis, 11:31 and 28:10). It is stated that those who came from Ibrahim's family are "sons of an Arami" (Deuteronomy, 26:5). The identification of Ibrahim as an Arami shows that he led his life in this region.

In the Islamic sources, there is a strong evidence that Ibrahim's place of birth is Harran and Urfa. In Urfa, which is called the "city of Prophets", there are many stories and legends about Ibrahim.

Why was the Old Testament Altered?

The Old Testament and the Qur'an seem almost to describe two different prophets called Abraham and Ibrahim. In the Qur'an, Ibrahim is sent to an idolatrous people as a messenger. His people worship the heavens, stars, the moon and various idols. He struggles against his people, tries to get them turn away from their superstitious beliefs, and inevitably stirs up the enmity of his whole community including his father.

Actually, none of these are mentioned in the Old Testament. The throwing of Ibrahim into the fire, his breaking his community's idols are not mentioned in the Old Testament. Ibrahim is in general depicted as the ancestor of the Jews in the Old Testament. It is evident that this view in the Old Testament was taken by the chiefs of the Jewish community seeking to bring the concept of "'race"' to the foreground. The Jews believe that they are a people eternally chosen by God and rendered superior. They deliberately and willingly altered their Divine Book and made additions and deletions in accordance with this belief. This is why Ibrahim is merely depicted as the ancestor of the Jews in the Old Testament.

Christians who believe in the Old Testament, think that Ibrahim is the ancestor of the Jews, but with only one difference: according to Christians, Ibrahim is not a Jew but a Christian. The Christians, who did not heed the concept of race as much as Jews, took this stand and it is one of the causes of disagreement and struggle between the two religions. Allah brings the following explanation of these arguments in the Qur'an:

Ye People of the Book! Why dispute ye about Ibrahim, when the Law and the Gospel Were not revealed Till after him? Have ye no understanding?
Ah! Ye are those who fell to disputing (Even) in matters of which ye had some knowledge! but why dispute ye in matters of which ye have no knowledge? It is Allah Who knows, and ye who know not!

Ibrahim was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to Allah's (Which is Islam), and he joined not gods with Allah.

Without doubt, among men, the nearest of kin to Ibrahim, are those who follow him, as are also this Prophet and those who believe: And Allah is the Protector of those who have faith. (Surah Aal-e-Imran: 65-68)

In the Qur'an, very differently from what is written in the old Testament, Ibrahim is a person who warned his people so that they might fear Allah and who struggled against them for this end. Starting from his youth, he warned his people, who worshipped idols, to give up this practice. His people reacted to Ibrahim by attempting to kill him. Having escaped from the wickedness of his people, Ibrahim finally emigrated.

 

NOTES

1. Everett C. Blake, Anna G. Edmonds, Biblical Sites in Turkey, Istanbul: Redhouse Press, 1977, p. 13.

 

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