“Abraham was indeed a model, devoutly obedient to Allah, (and) true in Faith, and he joined not gods with Allah: he showed his gratitude for the favours of Allah, who chose him, and guided him to a Straight Way.” [Qur’an 16:120-121]
Prophet Ibrahim is the spiritual father of the believers, and was born into a family of idol-makers who would sell them in the marketplaces and worship them. He was the son of Tarakh who was 75 years old when he was born. [Hafiz ibn Kathir’s al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya, Vol. 1, page 139; Tafsir Tabari Vol. 7, page 158]
At the time, Arabia was full of people who would bow down before idols and seek the fulfillment of their desires from them; they worshipped the stars, the sun and moon, as well as wooden and stone idols, with the belief that these idols possessed great power. They were embroiled in corrupt, foolish ways and had turned away from the true message of the Oneness of Allah, that Power is His alone.
Prophet Ibrahim tried to make his people see the foolishness of their ways, explaining to them and to his father, “How is it that you worship these idols which you made with your own hands? They are neither capable of benefitting you, nor are they capable of causing you harm.” But the people replied, “This has been the tradition of our forefathers, and we have seen them worship these idols in this way.”
“When he said to his father and his people, ‘What are these statues to which you are devoted?’ They said, ‘We found our fathers worshippers of them.’ He said, ‘You were certainly, you and your fathers, in manifest error.’” [Qur’an 21:52-54]
But the people refused to listen to his call and they were stubborn in their ways.
Prophet Ibrahim Teaches a Lesson
There came a day when all the people had left the village, leaving Prophet Ibrahim behind. He went into their temple, and one by one, he demolished all the idols except the biggest one which he spared.
“He said, ‘Nay, your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, He Who created them, and I am a witness to this Truth And by Allah, I have a plan for your idols – after you go away and turn your backs.’ So he broke them to pieces, all but the biggest of them, that they might turn (and address themselves) to it.” [Qur’an 21:56-58]
When the people returned, they saw the state of their idols and were horrified. Furious, they cried, “Who has disrespected our idols like this; it must be the work of an extremely cruel person!” They came to the conclusion that it was the work of Prophet Ibrahim, and so they summoned him and said, “O Ibrahim, was it you who destroyed all our idols?”
“They said, ‘Who has done this to our gods? He must indeed be some man of impiety!’ They said, ‘We heard a youth talk of them: He is called Abraham.’ They said, ‘Then bring him before the eyes of the people, that they may bear witness.’ They said, ‘Are you the one who did this with our gods, O Abraham?’”[Qur’an 21:59-62]
According to his own plan, Prophet Ibrahim then instructed them to ask the biggest idol which he had left intact in the temple. The people were infuriated at this, as it was a clear demonstration of the powerless nature of their idols whom they so greatly revered. These statues could not defend themselves let alone those who worshipped them. The people knew that Prophet Ibrahim was correct in saying that their beliefs were flawed.
Here Prophet Ibrahim questioned them, “Why do you worship, instead of Allah, one that neither benefits you nor harms you?”
“He said, ‘Do you then worship, besides Allah, things that can neither be of any good to you nor do you harm?’” [Qur’an 21:66]
The Incident of the Fire
The furious villagers decided to seek vengeance upon Prophet Ibrahim, and also wished to defend their idols from his wisdom. They decided to set him ablaze, and gathered together a huge amount of firewood which was then set alight. Prophet Ibrahim was thrown into it to burn. By the Grace of Allah! The fire became cool, and it harmed him not at all. Prophet Ibrahim was saved from the agonizing torment which the wrongdoers tried to subject him to, for Almighty Allah protects the Truth and those who live by it.
“They said, ‘Burn him and protect your gods, if you do anything at all!’ We said, ‘O Fire! Be cool, and a means of safety for Abraham!’” [Qur’an 21:69-70]
“And the answer of Abraham’s people was not but that they said, ‘Kill him or burn him,’ but Allah saved him from the fire. Indeed in that are signs for a people who believe.” [Qur’an 29:24]
The people were viciously stubborn and they refused to admit the Truth, even though it was clear to them. Prophet Ibrahim now accepted that they would never believe his words or heed his preaching of Truth.
“And Abraham said, ‘You have only taken, other than Allah , idols as a bond of affection among you in worldly life. Then on the Day of Resurrection you will deny one another and curse one another, and your refuge will be the Fire, and you will not have any helpers.’”[Qur’an 29:25]
Thereafter, he migrated to another land, which is now known as Palestine, to spread the Message of Allah. The Prophet Lut, or Lot, who was also alive during this time, believed in his Message and migrated with him for the sake of Allah. It is reported that Prophet Lut was his nephew.
“And Lot believed him. Abraham said, ‘Indeed, I will emigrate to [the service of] my Lord. Indeed, He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.’”[Qur’an 29:26]
By this time, Prophet Ibrahim had become very old in age. Almighty Allah then blessed him with two righteous and steadfast sons; the eldest being Prophet Ishma’il or Ishmael from his wife Lady Hajra, and the younger son being Prophet Is’haaq or Isaac from his wife Lady Sara.
Then, to Prophet Is’haaq was born a son named Jacob i.e Prophet Yaqub, and to him was born his son Joseph i.e. Prophet Yusuf. In this way, the descendants of Prophet Ibrahim were all blessed, chosen and greatly favoured by Allah. And from this noble line of ancestry was born the best of all Prophets, the final Messenger of Allah, Sayyidina Muhammad – may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and upon all the Prophets of the past.
“And We gave to him (Abraham) Isaac and Jacob and placed upon his descendants Prophethood and Scripture. And We gave him his reward in this world, and indeed, he is in the Hereafter among the righteous.” [Qur’an 29:27]
The Story of Zam Zam
Eventually, Prophet Ibrahim went to Makkah with Lady Hajra and her baby son Ishma’il (at this point, Prophet Is’haaq had not yet been born). He left both mother and child in a barren valley with only some dates and a leather bag of water. Upon this, Lady Hajra implored him saying, “O Ibrahim, are we to be left alone in this valley with no water, food or companions?” He did not respond, perhaps due to the emotional weight of leaving his beloved ones in the wilderness. She then asked, “Did the Lord command you to do this?” At this, he replied, “Yes,” and so she responded, steadfast in faith, “Then He will not neglect us.”
After some time, the water ran out and baby Ishma’il began to cry, as he was exhausted and thirsty. Lady Hajra was saddened by her child’s state of distress, so she began to search for water. She left her baby on the hill of Marwa, and ran to the nearest hill, Safa, hoping water would be discovered somewhere. She would stand on the peak of the hill, looking over the land for some form of help; either water or company that might assist her. Like this, she ran seven times back and forth between the two hills, exhausted but to no avail.
Eventually the Angel Jibra’il descended and struck the ground, causing pure water to gush forth. Another version says that the baby Ishma’il struck the ground with his foot and water began to spring out from the ground. In this way, Almighty Allah blessed her and her child and delivered her from distress.
This water is today known as Zam Zam meaning “stop, stop”, named after Lady Hajra’s command as she tried to stop the continuous flow of water.
The miracle of Zam Zam doesn’t stop there: it flows even to this day and will do so until the end of time. It remains uncontaminated, pure and is rich with great benefits for the believer, as reported in many Ahadith. Sayyidina Jabir ibn Abdullah narrates that the Beloved Prophet said, “The water of Zam Zam is for whatever it is drunk for.” [Ibn Majah]
Prophet Ibrahim’s Sacrifice: Eid al-Adha
Eventually the time came when Prophet Ibrahim was tested regarding his love and submission to Allah in comparison to his love for his son Ishma’il. That same Ishma’il who was born to him after years of his wish for fatherhood, that same Ishma’il who came as an answer to his prayers – and the prayers of Lady Sara, who had given her maid Lady Hajra to him as a wife because she herself was barren.
A night came upon Prophet Ibrahim when in a dream, he saw himself slaughtering his son Ishma’il. Being a Prophet of Allah, his dreams held extreme weight and importance, and it is a fact that the dreams of the Prophets are true.
Soon after, he called his son Ishma’il who had now become older and mature, and he informed him of what he had seen. After realizing what Almighty Allah had asked of his father, the young Prophet Ishma’il faithfully replied, “O my father, obey the command given to you by Almighty Allah. You will, God-willing, find me steadfast.” Prophet Ibrahim was to sacrifice his child.
“He said, ‘O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.’ He said, ‘O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.’” [Qur’an 37:102]
So Prophet Ibrahim prepared to carry out Allah’s Order. Every step he took towards fulfilling the Command, the accursed Shaytan would interrupt his thoughts, telling him that the dream was meaningless but Prophet Ibrahim, recognizing these whispers of evil, continued on his quest. It is reported that he threw seven stones at Shaytan at this time, and it is this act which is emulated in the Haj rituals where the Devil is stoned at Jamaraat.
Prophet Ishma’il lay still, ready to fulfil his Lord’s Command with his life. He looked upon the face of his beloved father, waiting to be sacrificed for Allah’s Pleasure. Prophet Ibrahim then took the next step of the sacrifice and raised the knife upon his dear child. Truly, Allah is the Most Compassionate! Immediately, an Angel was sent down by Him from the heavens, to protect Prophet Ishma’il, and a ram was sacrificed in his place. Then it was said to Prophet Ibrahim, “No doubt, you have materialized your dream. There is no need to sacrifice your son.”
“And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead (for sacrifice), We called to him, ‘O Abraham, You have fulfilled the vision.’ Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good. Indeed, this was the clear trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.” [Qur’an 37:103-107]
Birth of Prophet Is’haaq
After this display of utter and complete submission to Allah, Prophet Ibrahim was graced with good news: the birth of Prophet Is’haaq from Lady Sara, his first wife, who had been barren due to old age. This was a blessing and a miracle from Almighty Allah.
The Qur’an explains how the news reached Lady Sara, and she laughed in wonder and delight at the news:
“And his wife was standing there, and she laughed: But when We gave her glad tidings of Isaac, and after him Jacob. She said: ‘Alas for me! Shall I bear a child seeing as I am an old woman and this my husband here is an old man? That would indeed be a wonderful thing!’ They said: ‘Do you wonder at God’s Decree? The Grace of God and His blessings on you, O you people of the house! For He is indeed worthy of all praise, full of Glory.’” [Qur’an 11:71-73]
Reconstruction of the Holy Ka’bah
The House of Allah, the Holy Ka’bah was first built by Prophet Adam. It was later reconstructed by Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ishma’il.
“And We covenanted with Abraham and Ishmael, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round (Tawaf), or use it as a retreat, or bow or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).”[Qur’an 2:125]
Maqam-e-Ibrahim is the marble-like stepping stone which Prophet Ibrahim used when he was raising the walls of the Holy Ka’bah, and his blessed footprints are visible on it to this day. It stands enshrined in a golden case next to the Holy Ka’bah, and is taken as a place of prayer.
“And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer.” [Qur’an 2:125]
Burial Place for the Father of the Believers
It is reported that Prophet Ibrahim lived for 175 years. When he passed away, he was buried in Hebron, twenty miles south-west of Jerusalem.