In Islam, Abraham is also called the Friend of God, Khalilu 'llah and his name, Ibrahim, occurs 69 times in the Qur'an, making him the second most-occuring name of prophets in the Qur'an after Moses. He was supposed to be one of the six prophets in Islam to whom God delivered special laws. He was said to be given twenty portions (suhifah) of scripture.
The father of Abraham in the Qur'an is Azar, in contrast to Terah in the Bible (Genesis 11:25-26) and the Midrash. In fact, ibn Hisham gave the name as Tarih, sufficiently close to the Bible's. Thus, this name is known to Muslims. It is a curious question on what basis and for what reasons is his name called Azar in the Qur'an? It is not clear if there is any etymological connection between these two names. However, according to Tisdall on the authority of the historian Eusebius, the Syrian name had a similar sound to Azar. Perhaps, that is how Muhammad came to know of this name during one of his merchantile expeditions to Syria.
Abraham's original name was Abram
Some background and insights in the importance and use of Abraham in the Qur'an can be found in the article, The Significance of Abraham.
"... there is no historical evidence for the assertion that Abraham or Ishmael was ever in Mecca, and if there had been such a tradition it would have to be explained how all memory of the Old Semitic name Ishmael (which was not in its true Arabian form in Arabian inscriptions and written correctly with an initial consonant Y) came to be lost. The form in the Quran is taken either from Greek or Syriac sources." (Alfred Guillaume, Islam, Penguin Books Inc., Baltimore, 1956, pages 61-62)
Further problems regarding this belief are discussed in the article Ishmael is not the Father of Muhammad.
This verses indicate that that Abraham claimed the star and the moon was his Lord. However, when these set (ie. go down and is seen no more), Abraham gave them up. In other words, Abraham was unaware that these were not his Lord and he claimed them to be so, until he felt that they couldn't be his Lord anymore.
Muhamamd used this to supplant that claim of superiority by the Jews and Christians surrounding him. Unfortunately for Muhammad, this also means that he is not an Arab, especially when Ishmael, his son, was supposed to be the ancestor of the Arabs, which the Muslims also show to be untrue (see Ishmael and Arabs).
Muslims have used these verses to show that Abraham was a Hebrew. Indeed this is true. However, the only descendents of his who were called Hebrew are the Israelites, and their language Hebrew. Arabs do not claim to be Hebrews.
The story is scattered over various passages in the Qur'an as noted. Tisdall quotes Muslim authorities:
Azar, Abraham's father used to construct idols, and hand them over to his son to sell Abraham would go about crying, "Who will buy that which will hurt and not benefit him?" Then when God Almighty commanded him to call his people to the Divine unity, his father refused the call, and so did his people. Thus the matter spread abroad till it reached Nimrod, son of Cush, king over the country ... who took Father Abraham, and cast him into a fierce fire; but the fire grew cool and pleasant unto Abraham, who came out of it after some days. And thereupon his people believed in him. (W. St. Clair-Tisdall, Sources of Islam, pp. 16-17, quoting Abdul Feda, Ancient History from the Mukhtasar fi Akhbar il Bashar)
Again, in the Araish al Majalis we read: Before this, when Abraham one night came up out of his cave and saw the stars before the moon arose, he said: This is my Preserver (Surah 6:76-79). And when the night overshadowed him, he saw a star, and said, This is my Lord; and when it set, he said, I love not those that set. And when he saw the moon rising, he said, This is my Lord; but when it set, he said, Verily if my Lord direct me not, I shall be of those that go astray. And when he saw the sun rising, he said, This is my Lord; this is the greatest. But when it set, he said, O my people! Verily I am clear of that which ye associate together with God. Verily I direct my face unto him who hath created the heavens and the earth. I am orthodox, and not one of the idolators.
They say that Abraham's father used to make idol images and give them to Abraham to sell. So Abraham taking them about would cry: "These will neither hurt nor help him that buys," so that no one bought from him. And when it was not sold, he took an image to the stream, and striking its head, would say, Drink, my poor one! in derision, for his people and the heathen around him to hear. So when his people objected, he said, Ah! do ye dispute with me concerning God, and verily God hath directed me. ... And this is our argument wherewith we furnished Abraham for his people. We raise the dignity of whom we wish, for thy Lord is wise and knowing. (Surah 6:80-85) And so in the end Abraham overcame his people by such arguments. Then he called his father Azar to the true faith, and said: O my father, wherefore dost thou worship that which neither hears nor sees, nor yet doth profit thee in any way, and so on to the end of the story. (Surah 19:42) But his father refused that to which Abraham called him; whereupon Abraham cried aloud to his people that he was free from what they worshipped, and thus made known his faith to them. He said, What think ye? That which ye worship, and your forefathers also, are mine enemies, excepting only the Lord of the worlds. (Surah 26:75-77) They said, Whom then dost thou worship? He answered, "The Lord of all worlds." "Dost thou mean Nimrod?" "Nay, but he that created me and guideth me," and so on. The thing then spread abroad among the people, till it reached the ears of the tyrant Nimrod, who sent for him, and said: "O Abraham! Dost thou hold him to be thy god that hath sent thee; dost thou call to his worship and speak of his power to those that worship other than him? Who is he?" A. "My Lord, he that giveth life, and giveth death. (Surah 2:258) N. "I give life, and cause to die." A. "How dost thou make alive, and cause to die?" N. "I take two men who at my hands deserve death, one I kill, who thus dies; the other I forgive, who thus is made alive." Whereupon Abraham answered, "Verily God bringeth the sun from the East, now do thou bring him from the West." (Surah 2:258) Thereupon Nimrod was confounded, and returned him no reply. The people then went away to celebrate their Eed, and Abraham, taking the opportunity, broke all the idols but the biggest, and then the story proceeds as follows: When they had prepared food, they set it before their gods and said, "When the time comes we shall return, and the gods having blessed the meat we shall eat thereof." So when Abraham looked upon the gods, and what was set before them, he said derisively. "Ah! ye are not eating"; and when no answer came, "What aileth you, that ye do not speak?" and he turned upon them and smote them with his right hand. (Surah 37:91-93) And he kept striking them with a hatchet in his hand, until there remained none but the biggest of them, and upon its neck he hung the axe. (Here the text is quoted: He broke them all in pieces except the biggest, that they might lay the blame on it. (Surah 21:58)) Now when the people returned from their Eed to the house of their gods, and saw it in such a state, they said, Who hast done this to our gods? Verily he is a wicked one. They answered, We heard a young man speaking of them; They call him Abraham. He it is, we think, who hath done it. When this reached the tyrant Nimrod and his chief men, They said, Bring him before the eyes of the people; perhaps they will bear witness that he hath done this thing. And they were afraid to seize him without evidence. So they brought him and said: Hast thou done this unto our gods, O Abraham? He answered, Nay but that big one hath done it; he was angry that ye worshipped along with him these little idols, and he, so much bigger than all; and he brake the whole of them in pieces. Now ask them if they can speak. When he had said this, they turned their backs, and said (among themselves), "Verily it is ye that are the transgressors. We have never seen him but telling us that we transgress, having those little idols and this great one." So they broke the heads of them all, and were amazed that they neither spake nor made any opposition. Then they said (to Abraham), Certainly thou knowest that they speak not. Thus when the affair with Abraham was ended, he said to them: Ah! do ye indeed worship, besides God, that which cannot profit you at all, nor can it injure you. Fie on you, and on that which ye worship besides God! Ah, do ye not understand?
When thus overthrown and unable to make any answer, they called out, Burn him, and avenge your gods if ye do it. Abdallah tells us that the man who cried thus was a Kurd called Zeinun; and the Lord caused the earth to open under him, and there he lies buried till the day of Judgment. When Nimrod and his people were thus gathered together to burn Abraham, they imprisoned him in a house, and built for him a great pile, as we read in Surah Saffat: They said, Build a pile for him and cast him into the glowing fire. Then they gathered together quantities of wood and stuff to burn; and so, by the grace of God, Abraham came out of the fire safe and sound, with the words on his lips, God is sufficient for me (Surah 39:38); and He is the best Supporter (Surah 3:173). For the Lord said, O Fire! be thou cool and pleasant unto Abraham. (W. St. Clair-Tisdall, Sources of Islam, pp. 17-21)
Contrast this with the words of the Bible:
"I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans". (Genesis 15:7)Ur was a place archaelogy has proved existed, while "Or" means fire. Ur was a highly developed civilization in the Fertile Crescent, within modern day Iraq.
Interestingly, the story in the Qur'an was also mentioned in Jewish traditions:
Terah used to make images. Going out one day, he told his son Abraham to sell them. When a man came to buy, Abraham asked him how old he was. Fifty or sixty years, he replied. Strange, said the other, that a man sixty years of age should worship things hardly a few days old! On hearing which the man, ashamed, passed on. Then a woman carrying in her hand a cup of wheaten flour said, Place this before the idols. On which, Abraham, getting up, took his staff in his hand, and having broken the idols with it, placed the staff in the hand of the biggest. His father coming up, cried, "Who hath done all this?" Abraham said, "What can be concealed from thee? A woman carrying a cup of wheaten flour asked me to place it before the gods; I took and placed it before them; one said, I will eat it first, and another, I will eat first. Then the big one took the staff, and broke them all in pieces." His father: "Why do you tell such a foolish tale to me? Do these know anything?" He answered, "Does thine ear hear what thy mouths speaks?" On this his father seized and made him over to Nimrod, who bade him worship Fire. Abraham: "Rather worship Water that putteth out Fire." N. "Then worship Water." A. "Rather worship that which bringeth Water." N. "Then worship the Cloud." A. "In such case, let us worship Wind that drives away the Cloud." N. "Then worship Wind." A. "Rather let us worship Man that standeth against the wind." On this Nimrod closed:- "If thou arguest with me about things which I am unable to worship other than Fire, into it I will cast thee; then, let the God thou worshippest deliver thee there from." So Abraham went down into the flames, and remained there safe and unhurt. (W. St. Clair-Tisdall, Sources of Islam, pp. 21-22, quoting the Midrash Rabbah)This story, however, was woven around a mistake by a Jewish scribe:
The origin of the whole story will be found in Genesis 15:7: I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees. Now Ur in Babylonish means a "city" as In Ur-Shalim (Jerusalem), "the City of Peace." And the Chaldaean Ur1 was the residence of Abraham. This name Ur closely resembles in speech another word, Or signifying light or fire. And so ages after, a Jewish Commentator2. Ignorant of. Babylonish, when translating the Scripture into Chaldean, put the above verse from Genesis, as follows: Im the Lord that delivered thee out of the Chaldean fiery oven. The Same Ignorant writer has also the following comment on Genesis 11:27: "Now this happened at the time when Nimrod cast Abraham into the oven of fire, because he would not worship the idols, that leave was withheld from the fire to hurt him - a strange confusion of words, - Ur the city, for Or light and fire. It is as if a Persian seeing notice of the departure of the English post, should put in his diary that an Englishman had lost his skin, - not knowing that the same word for skin in Persian means the Post in English. No wonder then that an ignorant Jew should have mistaken a word like this, and made it the foundation whereon to build the grand tale of Abraham's fiery Oven. But it is somewhat difficult to understand how a Prophet like Mohammed could have given credence to such a fable, and entered it in a revelation held to have come down from heaven. And yet the evidence of it all is complete, as quoted above from the Jewish writer. Apart from this we know from Genesis that Nimrod lived not in the days of Abraham but ages before his birth. The name indeed is not in the Coran, though freely given in the Moslem Commentaries and Tradition. As if a historian should tell us that Alexander the Great cast Nadir Shah into the fire, not knowing the ages that elapsed between the two, or that Nadir never was so thrown. (W. St. Clair-Tisdall, The Sources of Islam, pp. 23-24).The medieval "Gospel of Barnabas" also has this:
"And where did God say this, save because the father of Abraham was an image-maker, who made and worshipped false gods? Whence there was enmity between them, insomuch that the father wished to burn his son." (Barnabas 26)The presence of the story leads one to question the sources of the Qur'an; how a folklore woven around a mistake could end up as being true in the Qur'an.
For further discussion of the story, see the article Abraham and the Idols.
Narrated Abu Huraira:The third occasion mentioned in this hadith is the apocryphal story of Abraham breaking the idols and then lying about it when confronted. More details here. This is not mentioned in the Bible.
Abraham did not tell a lie except on three occasion. Twice for the Sake of Allah when he said, "I am sick," and he said, "(I have not done this but) the big idol has done it." The (third was) that while Abraham and Sarah (his wife) were going (on a journey) they passed by (the territory of) a tyrant. Someone said to the tyrant, "This man (i.e. Abraham) is accompanied by a very charming lady." So, he sent for Abraham and asked him about Sarah saying, "Who is this lady?" Abraham said, "She is my sister." Abraham went to Sarah and said, "O Sarah! There are no believers on the surface of the earth except you and I. This man asked me about you and I have told him that you are my sister, so don't contradict my statement." The tyrant then called Sarah and when she went to him, he tried to take hold of her with his hand, but (his hand got stiff and) he was confounded. He asked Sarah. "Pray to Allah for me, and I shall not harm you." So Sarah asked Allah to cure him and he got cured. He tried to take hold of her for the second time, but (his hand got as stiff as or stiffer than before and) was more confounded. He again requested Sarah, "Pray to Allah for me, and I will not harm you." Sarah asked Allah again and he became alright. He then called one of his guards (who had brought her) and said, "You have not brought me a human being but have brought me a devil." The tyrant then gave Hajar as a girl-servant to Sarah. Sarah came back (to Abraham) while he was praying. Abraham, gesturing with his hand, asked, "What has happened?" She replied, "Allah has spoiled the evil plot of the infidel (or immoral person) and gave me Hajar for service." (Abu Huraira then addressed his listeners saying, "That (Hajar) was your mother, O Bani Ma-is-Sama (i.e. the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, Hajar's son)." (Sahih Bukhari 4.578, also Sahih Bukhari 4.577 and Sahih Bukhari 7.21)
The last occasion was mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 20 with some differences [we will not discuss the differences here]. The hadith was unable to name the "tyrant", but the Bible says that it was the king of Gerar, Abimelech. Interestingly, Isaac committed the same mistake (like father, like son?) with regards his wife Rebecca before Abimelech, King of the Philistines (Genesis 26:1-31).
The Muslim argument that prophets are sinless falls flat on these two examples. It is an oft-heard Muslim argument that lying for God's sake is not a sin (cf: the first two occassion mentioned in the hadith). The argument also that prophets do not sin after being called to be prophets is also not true, since Isaac was already a prophet according to Islam when he was born. (as-Saffat 37:112). .
Muslims believe that this book is lost and there is now no trace of it.
The Talmud also says that Abraham wrote books, but the Bible contains no such statement.
Go Back to Main Index