Abraham and the Idols

The Qur'an claims "To thee we sent a scripture in truth, confirming the scripture which came before it and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah has revealed..." (Sura 5:51) However it may come as a surprise to discover that many stories in the Qur'an which appear to be historical facts do not come from any scriptures held as divine by the Jews and Christians but from legends and myths circulating in Arabia before the time of Muhammad.

The Jewish Legend in the Qur'an

In Jewish religious literature, called the Midrash, there are stories made up by the Rabbis to illustrate the dangers of polytheism and other evils of pagan belief. One such theme is illustrated by the story of Abraham breaking the idols of his father and then being saved from the fire into which he would have been thrown for having committed this act.

A former Chief Rabbi has written:

"The fight against idolatry begun by the Prophets (Biblical Prophets) was continued by the Pharisees. Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, they taught, started on his career as an idol wrecker. In legends, parables and discourses, they showed forth the folly and futility of idol worship..."
(Former Chief Rabbi J H Hertz from the "Book of Jewish Thoughts" Published by the office of the Chief Rabbi London 1942)

It will no doubt come as a shock for some to discover that the Qur'an which claims to be "divine revelation" contains one such Jewish legend and presents it as being an historical fact concerning the life of Abraham. However this story is a well known illustration invented by Rabbi Hiyya in the 2nd century CE; it is recorded in the Midrash Rabbah Genesis and all authorities agree that it was never mean't to be considered historical.

The story in the Qur'an

A comparison of the stories reveals unique similarities in the Qur'an and the Midrash which appear nowhere else in Biblical or other ancient literature.

The Qur'anic account of Abraham and the idols commences in Sura 6:74 where Abraham is quoted as saying "Takest thou idols for gods?" and this theme is then expanded in Sura 21:51-71. It is exactly the same theme of the Midrashic legend where Abraham takes issue over the idols of his father.

The shared themes in the Midrashic account

The Midrashic account is given here and the Qur'anic equivalent can be found in the ayats in the brackets.

  1. Abraham's father accused of being an idolater: "Terah (Abraham's father) was a manufacturer of idols" ie. He was an idolater. (52)
  2. "He once went away somewhere and left Abraham..." (57)
  3. Abraham breaks all the idols except the biggest: "So he took a stick, broke them, (the idols) and put the the stick in the hand of the largest." (58)
  4. "When his father returned he demanded, 'What have you done to them?'" (59) (In the Qur'anic account this demand is made by his father and the people.)
  5. Abraham claims: "Thereupon the largest arose, took the stick, and broke them." (63)
  6. Abraham is seized and delivered up for judgement: "Thereupon he seized him and delivered him to Nimrod." (68) The Qur'an does not mention by name who was to punish Abraham.
  7. Abraham is saved from the fire: "When Abram descended into the fiery furnace and was saved..." (69)

All the above points are unique both to the Qur'anic and mythical midrashic accounts. They do not appear in the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians.


From Rabbinical accounts we know that these legends and myths were used widely to teach people the dangers of idolatry.

There is no doubt that Muhammad heard of these stories from the many discussions he had with Jews and, having mistaken them as stories from the Scriptures of the Jews, he retold them claiming that they were historical fact given to him by divine revelation.

Evidence, from Qur'anic sources, of Muhammad having heard these stories from the Jews and then retelling them as being divinely revealed can be seen on the internet at: http://answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/borrow.htm and other articles in the section Sources of the Qur'an.

The facts speak for themselves. This story which appears in the Qur'an bears testimony that the Qur'an is not "divine revelation" but a collection of stories from many sources and put together by Muhammad and his companions.

The intelligent reader must ask the question: Did the Qur'an come from God? or was it compiled from many different sources including Jewish and Christian fiction and not only the Torah and Injeel?

Contact the author.

For detailed quotations from the Muslim sources and a comparison with the Midrash, see Tisdall, The Original Sources of the Qur'an.
Further discussion: A Muslim response and the answer by the author.

Sources of the Qur'an
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