The prophet Mohammed’s use of Abrahamic legacy in his calling

Sunday 24 April 202211:44 am
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كيف استعان نبي الإسلام بالإرث الإبراهيمي في دعوته؟

In the year 622 CE, Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca, his birthplace in the ancient country of Hejaz, to Yathrib (later known as Medina) to start a more controversial page with the Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity.

Before that, he had worked on formulating and presenting the Abrahamic legacy and heritage in a way that goes in line with his new call to the Arabs who were followers of ancient religions and those who follow monotheistic religions, inviting them to follow his call (Da'wah) to Islam as the genuine and original extension of Abraham’s faith.

Islamic biographies and interpretation (tafsir) books recount how the Prophet remained faithful to the term “Millat Ibrahim” (“the religion of Abraham”) until the very final years of his life, especially since he named his son — who was born after he had passed the age of sixty — “Ibrahim”, after “the forefather of the prophets”.

Throughout his life, he sought to establish an Islamic version of the image of Abraham, removing him from Jewish contexts. According to Spanish orientalist Miguel Cruz Hernandez in his book, “The History of Thought in the Islamic World”, the Abrahamic form that Islamic heritage took, put an end to the earlier family-based reading of the heritage of Abraham — a reading that considered Jews as its sole legitimate and spiritual heirs.

Formulating the Abrahamic legacy

In Mecca, Muhammad crafted a clear vision to employ the idea of “We are the sons of Abraham”, taking advantage of the fact that the Quraishis believed in their belonging to their grandfather Abraham and that they would associate some of the rituals they upheld in connection with the Kaaba to him. For their part, the Jews, or “the People of the Book”, told the stories and news of Abraham and claimed the exclusiveness of his lineage.

Most of the surahs that were revealed in Mecca mentioned Abraham. According to Hernandez, the name ‘Abraham’ was the most mentioned in the Quran after ‘Allah’, and it’s difficult to assume that Muhammad invented the Abrahamic Meccan heritage and legacy. Thus, it is “an ancient heritage and may represent the heritage related to the foundation of the holy place”.

The image of Abraham had been formed from several features, including the fact that he was the great-grandfather (of religion), that he abstained from idol-worship, and that he endured harm from his people. These characteristics are compatible with the life of the Meccan Prophet, and this is the image that will take on a new form when the confrontation with the Jewish tribes in Yathrib intensifies.

In his interpretation of the Quran, “Mafatih al-Ghayb” (‘Keys to the Unseen’) — also known as “al-Tafsir al-Kabir” (‘Grand Commentary’) — Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606 AH /1209 AD) talks about the Quranic verse of “The religion of your father, Abraham”. He says: “Note that what is meant by it is to bring attention to the notion that these duties and laws are that of Abraham, and the Arabs loved Abraham peace be upon him, because they were his descendants, so bringing attention to that was the reason for them becoming much more driven to accept this religion.”

The Prophet not only declared his adherence to Abraham, he was akin to the “great grandfather” in many aspects. In a hadith he is quoted to have said: “I am the son of the two slaughters,” meaning his father Abdullah and his grandfather Ismail, as was conveyed by Safiur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri in “Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum” (‘The Sealed Nectar’).

According to the Quran’s narration in ‘Surat Al-An’am’, Ibrahim rejected his father’s statues and idols, and left to contemplate the universe, searching for his Creator in the images of the sun and the moon. In the books detailing the Prophet’s life, we see Muhammad leaving the statues and idols of his people and taking refuge in a cave in Mount Hira, east of Mecca. In his book “Muhammad, Khatam of the Messengers”, Shawqi Daif describes this event as “a strange experience for a Quraishi isolated in a cave in the mountains of Mecca”. He also says, “Muhammad was contemplating the universe in the Cave of Hira, (he) wanted to breach the veils between realms to know the secrets of the universe and the secrets of the lives of people around him, as well as what led his people to their idolatry beliefs.”

Historic events threaten the legacy of Abraham

During the Mecca period, Muhammad had many stories about Abraham as a prophet, and one of the five Arch-Prophets (Ulul'azm) in Islam... He had his eldest son Ishmael (Ismail) — to whom Arabs are linked back to in origin — with his Egyptian wife, Hajar. And from his wife Sarah, he had his son Isaac, who, in turn had Jacob — who is associated with the tribes from which Jewish homes were formed. And so, Abraham became the great-grandfather of both Arabs and Jews.

Some researchers support the opinion that the stories of the Abraham family were a ploy to bring Jews and Arabs closer, which is what Taha Hussein talked about in his book “On Pre-Islamic Poetry”.

The Abrahamic form that Islamic heritage took, put an end to the earlier family-based reading of the heritage of Abraham — a reading that considered Jews as its sole legitimate and spiritual heirs

In his book “The Prophet Ibrahim and the Unknown History”, Sayyid al-Qemany believes that the lack of historical evidence on the true identity of Prophet Abraham allowed the Jews and the Arabs to tell plenty of news about him. He goes on to convey the opinion of German researcher Wilhelm Rudolf who views the Quran’s favoring of Abraham as a way to create a sort of affinity in the hearts of the Jews of Yathrib regarding the rising Islamic power.

In his book “Symbol and Collective Consciousness... Studies in the Sociology of Religions”, Ashraf Mansour points out that Abraham’s family stories and accounts lack evidence to support them. He says, “The first thing that draws attention in the history of Jewish and Arab tribes of their origin — which traces back to the story of the most ancient ‘holy family’, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the descendant tribes — is that it was not mentioned in any of the historical records of the peoples of the Middle East.”

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian

Following the Hijrah (Prophet’s migration), the Jews began to appear in a more intellectual and dialectical confrontation with Islam, asking the Prophet questions about their predecessors. Then the story of Abraham entered the stage of determining his religious affiliation: Was he a Jew or a Christian? Or was he a Hanafi whose existence preceded the revelation of the Hebrew Torah and the Christian Gospels according to the Islamic narrative?

Prophet Muhammad emerged as a natural link in the chain of prophets that were descended from Abraham, and in turn, adopted the most prominent biblical stories with a few changes in addition to being alone during a few instances. He continued to raise the phrase “Millat Ibrahim”, a term that filtered through to the Arabs from the Jews who were inhabiting the Arabian Peninsula before Islam, according to Israel Wolfensohn in his book “History of the Jews in the Land of Arabia”.

Al-Tabari (d. 310 AH) in his interpretation of “Jami’ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an” narrates the reason for the revelation of some verses. The story tells how the Prophet approached a group of Jews in a ‘beth midrash’ (religious school - Torah study hall), and Naim bin Amro and al-Harith bin Zayd said to him: “Which religion do you follow, Muhammad?” He said: “The religion of Abraham.” They told him: “Abraham was a Jew”. The Prophet then asked to use the Torah to prove this claim, but they refused, and thus came the Quranic verse: “{Do you not consider, [O Muhammad], those who were given a portion of the Scripture? They are invited to the Scripture of Allah that it should arbitrate between them; then a party of them turns away, and they are refusing}” (Al Imran: 23).

The Quranic verses lean towards viewing Abraham as a Hanafi Muslim in nature, while emphasizing the rejection of being a Jew, a Christian, or one of the polytheists. Therefore, the first and foremost people with a right to the great grandfather, his sole heir, are represented in Prophet Muhammad and his Muslim followers, according to what came in Surat Al Imran (65-68).

The covenant of Abraham and the commandment of Jacob

The Old Testament tells the story of the covenant (promise) that God made with Abram (Abraham) and asked him to perform the ritual of male circumcision in compliance and as a symbol of the covenant, promising protection and land to Abraham and his descendants, as long as they follow the path of God (Genesis, chapter 17). In ‘Surat Al-Baqarah’, the Quran draws up the first of the surahs that, according to some researchers, suggest the notion of ​​the covenant. In the surah, Allah says to Abraham, “I will certainly make you an imam (leader) for the people” (Al-Baqarah: 124), while Abraham asks God to send to his Muslim offspring “a messenger from among them who will recite to them Your verses” (Al-Baqarah: 129).

Abraham’s image formed from several features; he was the great-grandfather (of religion), refused idol worship, and endured harm from his people - conforming to the Prophet’s Mecca life. This image will take on a new form during confrontation with Yathrib’s Jewish tribes

The Quran also speaks of the command Jacob gave his sons and asks them to be buried next to Abraham (Genesis, chapter 49), while his command in the Quran comes as follows: {“Or were you witnesses when death approached Ya‘qūb (Jacob), when he said to his sons, ‘What will you worship after me (my passing)?’ They said, ‘We will worship your God and the God of your fathers, Ibrāhīm (Abraham) and Ismā‘īl (Ishmael) and IsHāq (Isaac) - one God. And we are Muslims [in submission] to Him”} (Al-Baqarah 133). The commandment, according to the Islamic narrative, speaks of the commitment of ‘Banu Israel’ (the Children of Israel) before Jacob to follow the God of the ancient forefathers — Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, and Jacob — and from here Muhammad demanded that they fulfill this commitment.

The situation with the Jews worsens

The relationship between Jews and Muslims quickly deteriorated, and did not last any longer in its previously harmonious form. The debate between the two groups continued to intensify until it reached the point of becoming “the hardest and most insidious battle of controversy that took place between Muhammad and Mecca,” according to Muhammad Husayn Haykal’s description in his book “The Life of Muhammad”.

The Muslims clashed with the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir in the second and fourth years of Hijrah. The biography books detailing the Prophet’s life recount that the Jews allied themselves with the polytheists in the fifth year of Hijrah in the Battle of the Trench (also known as the Battle of Khandaq). It seems that what angered the Prophet was not the betrayal of Banu Qurayza by suddenly allying themselves with the Meccans, but the occurrence of an exciting story that took place during the inter-peace consultations.

In the narrative, Muhammad Husayn Haykal reports that Quraysh asked the Jews: “O Jews, you are the people of the First Book and the people of knowledge. Tell us about the differences between us and Muhammad. Is our religion better or that of Muhammad? Are we more guided or is Muhammad?” The Jews replied, “Nay, your religion is better than his, and you are closer to the truth than him.”

The Quran refuted this behavior by revealing the words: {“Have you ‘O Prophet’ not seen those who were given a portion of the Scriptures yet believe in idols and false gods and reassure the disbelievers that they are better guided than the believers?}” (An-Nisa: 51).

In turn, Israel Wolfensohn considered the Jews’ behavior a “grave mistake because it goes against the teachings of the Torah and its aversion to idol worship.”

It may seem that Muhammad grew angry with their attitude because he felt that what he presented regarding his relationship with the “ancient forefathers” did not have much effectiveness.

Ending the presence of Jews in the Arabian peninsula

From the second year of Hijrah, the crisis escalated between Muslims and Jews. They clashed with Banu Qaynuqa after the Battle of Badr, besieged Banu Nadir after the Battle of Uhud, and eliminated Banu Qurayzah after the Battle of the Trench. They then reconciled with the Meccans in the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, and went back to clashing with the Jews in the seventh year of Hijrah, defeating them in the Battle of Khaybar and Ghazwah of Wadi al Qura.

After the Jews were evacuated from Medina, and their part in the battles of Khaybar and Wadi al Qura was reduced, these battles of controversy came to an end. In his book “Mirʼāt al-Islām” (‘The Mirror of Islam’), Taha Hussein says: “After leaving Medina and the conquests of Khaybar and Wadi al Qura, the debate between the Prophet and the Jews eased, and their mention in the Quran lessened because there was no need for it”.

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