The Friend of Allah
As generations passed, Islam slowly disappeared from the hearts and minds of the people, until a time came when people stopped talking about Allah altogether. In ancient Babylon (now modern day Iraq), people continued to worship idols, and in ancient Damascus, the peculiar practice of star worshipping was born. These were the only two types of worship at this time, and monotheism to Allah no longer existed.
The sunnah of Allah works in incredible ways. A boy was born right into the thick of the idolatrous practices, into the household of an idol maker, in order to lead his people back to Allah. He was Ibrahim AS (Abraham), the second of the greatest five messengers (Ulul Azm) after Nuh AS. His life is rich in detail, from his boyhood to his death.
Many of his legacies live on until today. Ibrahim AS holds the great honour of being the forefather of all the Prophets and Messengers that were born after him – Musa AS, Isa AS, Muhammad SAW and many more. All Muslims repeat the blessings upon him and his family during every prayer, and when they perform hajj and umrah, their call of "Laibak Allahumma Labaik" resonates the invitation that he cried across the empty Arabian dunes millenia ago. The annual celebration of Eid Adha is to commemorate a momentous sacrifice that he performed to Allah. Until today, no man or woman can perform hajj or umrah without imitating the footsteps of his wife, Hagar.
How Ibrahim AS discovered Allah
We have already mentioned that Ibrahim AS was the sole Muslim on earth at the time. This begs the question of how it was that he came into the fold of Islam when he neither inherited the knowledge from his parents nor learnt it from the people around him. How he could make the distinction between truth and falsehood with no one to guide him?
The answer is simple. He was sincere in seeking Allah, and for his sincerity and effort, Allah gave him guidance.
From his youth, Ibrahim AS was a seeker of divine knowledge. He knew with certainty that the practice of idolatry was nonsensical, yet, what was the alternative? In order to find the answer, Ibrahim AS used the faculties that Allah had given him, contemplating at the wonders of heaven and earth. He spent days and nights, observing creation and pondering which celestial being was worthy of worship.
It is a sunnah of Allah that all Prophets and Messengers spend some time in isolation and meditation prior to their prophethood in order to spiritually prepare themselves for the task ahead. Ibrahim AS was no different. In his heart, he knew that there was a higher being which had dominion over living things, but who was this being and how was its divinity manifested? His community was too deep rooted in idolatry to point him towards the right direction, hence he had to find the conclusion through his own spiritual exploration.
At night, he observed a star twinkling in the darkness, and thought "This is my Lord." (6:76) Yet, when the star set, he realised that divinity could not be a temporary state of existence, so he concluded: I do not love the ones which set. (6:76). He then observed the full moon – it was brighter and more beautiful than the stars - and thought: "This is my Lord."(6:77) Yet, when the moon set, he realised again that his conclusion was flawed, for the moon also set and did not have the capability of staying in the sky eternally. He said "Unless my Lord guides me, I shall be among those who go astray." (6:77) This sentence is so powerful, for he realised that divine guidance is not dictated by intellect alone, but is based on the enlightenment that the Creator chose to endow upon His worshippers. Abandoning the moon as his deity, Ibrahim AS then observed the rising of the sun, being the brightest of all celestial bodies, and concluded: "This is my Lord, this is greatest." However, this conclusion also crumbled, for the sun disappeared when night overshadowed the day.
When the sun set, he realised with certainty that none of the objects in the sky were worthy of worship, for they only appeared for a finite period. The stars would be subsumed by the presence of the sun in the morning, and the sun had to make way for the moon at night. None overpowered the other.
Realisation then dawned upon Ibrahim AS that the one worthy of worship were not these heavenly objects, but rather, the One who created the sun, the moon, the stars, and indeed, all the heavens and the earth. For it can only be the Creator who is everlasting and eternal, a superior being which created and had dominion over all these celestial bodies and who engineered the appearance of the stars, moon and the sun at fixed times. This Creator therefore, was irrefutably superior to any of His creations in the heavens and earth, and was the one deserving of worship. With this, he realised who Allah was and he said: “O my people! Surely I am free of that which you associate with God.” (6:78)
The Qur'an in Surah Al An'am verses 76-79 relate Ibrahim's AS thought process in finding his Lord, setting out his methodical reasoning until Allah guided him to his final conclusion that there can only be one deity to govern all of creation.
Worshipping their own creation
The community in which Ibrahim AS lived was ruled by King Namrud (Nimrod), one of the greatest tyrants in mankind, who imagined himself to be god.
The da'wah of Ibrahim AS started with his father. Ibrahim AS found it astonishing that his father would carve statues and worship his own creation, and also sell these objects at the market for others to worship. These man-made creations were clearly unable to generate any divine protection or benefit to those who worshipped them, yet the whole community, despite their apparent intellect, was curiously immersed in this practice. As with the previous generations, they had succumbed to the traps of Shaitan and were repeatedly and habitually associating partners with Allah.
He said to his father, "O my father, why do you worship that which does not hear and does not see and will not benefit you at all?" (19:42)
He continued, concerned about his father's obvious wrongdoing: "O my father, do not worship Satan. Indeed Satan has ever been, to the Most Merciful, disobedient. O my father, indeed I fear that there will touch you a punishment from the Most Merciful so you would be to Satan a companion [in Hellfire]." (19:44-19:45)
When one turns to Islam it creates divided loyalties, and in the case of Ibrahim AS it was no different. By many accounts, when Ibrahim AS first broached this matter with his father, he was still a boy. Yet, when the truth of a matter is apparent, one with integrity speaks up for the truth, regardless of the personal consequences.
As with others who are too deeply immersed in their wrongdoing, his father reacted with aggression that exposed his ignorance and arrogance: [His father] said, "Have you no desire for my gods, O Abraham? If you do not desist, I will surely stone you, so avoid me a prolonged time." [19:47]
This was not a normal case of a son speaking out against his father for everyday matters such as the curfew or driving the car. The root of the matter lay much deeper, it was about the salvation of his father’s soul, a situation that demanded serious attention. Instead of taking heed of Ibrahim’s AS words however, his father reacted with threatening behaviour.
There is a certain dignified and gentle conduct observed by all Prophets and Messengers, and Ibrahim AS responded to these unpleasant threats with words of peace to his father. Being tender hearted, he said “Peace be upon you. I will pray to my Lord to forgive you, indeed, He is to me the most gracious.” (19:47). He continued trying to persuade his father, but without success.