Abraham in the Qur'an and the Bible


1. "And Allah Took Ibrahim for a Friend".

In the last chapter we analysed the Biblical method of approaching people of another culture or religion and saw that the correct way to do this is to find common ground between us and lead from there to the message of the Gospel. In this second major part of this book, in the following three chapters, we shall give a selection of practical examples to show how this method can be put into effect.

One of the great figureheads of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is the patriarch Abraham, named in the Qur'an Ibrahim. It is quite remarkable to see how much each of these faiths has in common with the other two in respect of this great prophet, not only regarding some of the narratives of his life, but also in its assessment of his relationship with God and the character of his faith. In this section we shall see that all three believe that he was "the Friend of God" and that he was made a leader for all mankind and, in the next section, we shall see further how each looks upon him as an example of a true believer. By thereafter examining the implications of these points of agreement and contact we shall discover an outstanding way of reaching Muslims with the Gospel.

Let us begin with the title "the Friend of God". In the Jewish Scriptures, known to Christians as the Old Testament, it is plainly taught that God called Abraham this friend. The designation appears twice and it is found in the following two verses:

It is important to note in the latter verse that God himself is recorded as calling Abraham his friend and that the title came not as a result of any human belief that he should be so regarded but through God's own express declaration to this effect. When we turn to the New Testament, the Christian Scriptures, we find the same title being applied to the patriarch in the following text:

It will probably come as a surprise to many Christians to discover that the Muslim Scripture, the Qur'an, expressly calls Abraham the friend of God as well. As with the New Testament the title occurs in only one verse in the entire book, yet it is just as clearly stated and emphasised:

The word for a friend in this verse is khaliilaan and, in consequence thereof, the deliberate title given to Abraham in Islam is Khalilullah, the Friend of God. Moses is called Kalimatullah (the Word of God), David Khalifatullah (the Representative of God), Jesus Ruhullah (the Spirit of God), and Muhammad is named Rasulullah (the Messenger of God). Other similar titles are given to the other prophets. Because of the description given to Abraham in Surah 4.125, that God took him for a khalil, a friend, he is thus called Khalilullah in Islam. Here we have our first point of contact with Islam regarding the person of Abraham. The next thing to do is to examine the implication of the title - why was Abraham called the Friend of God and what relationship between them is implied in the description?

A Muslim translator of the Qur'an gives a fine definition of the meaning of the title. He says:

It is quite clear that Abraham's relationship with God was not based on his own good works or self-righteousness. The title "Friend of God" obviously implies that there was a deep personal relationship between him and God and one based on mutual trust and affection. A very important verse in the Bible tells us what happened after God had promised to Abraham that he was to have a son in his old age and that through this son he would have descendants as many as the stars of heaven. We read:

Abraham had righteousness reckoned to him, not because of any deeds done by him in righteousness, but because of his complete faith and trust in God. Because of his unswerving loyalty, God took him as his friend, implying that he was prepared to confide intimately in him. Abraham's willingness to trust God made God willing to trust him as well and it was on this basis of mutual confidence that the relationship of friendship was built. Clearly it came through Abraham's faith and not his works. It was through this perception that the Apostle Paul was able to define the character of true faith.

Another Christian writer points out that Abraham's way was a way of friendship and loving submission to God rather than a mere submission due to fear of punishment or hope of reward under the law (Abdul-Haqq, Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim, p. 111). The friendship between him and God was clearly based not on any merits attaching to the prophet but chiefly on his implicit trust in the merits of God, namely his faithfulness to his own promises. The title Friend of God, therefore, is a title which tells us as much about Abraham's God as about Abraham himself (Scale, Qur'an and Bible, p. 119).

It is important to discuss the whole meaning of this title with Muslims as it helps to prepare the ground for what is to follow and sets the theme of the whole subject of Abraham's faith and how it leads ultimately to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The character of his whole relationship with the one and only God, based not on works of righteousness but on trust and faith, shows why Abraham became the Friend of God and has great implications for further discussion between Christians and Muslims on the nature of true faith and the true religion.

The monotheism of Abraham, for example, was not a matter of formal confession and theological reflection alone. It was, for him, a living experience of the living God. Having received the privilege of an intimate faith contact with God, Abraham did not have to be content merely with a repetition of a given formula of the unity of God. He lived by faith, day by day, in the living God and walked with Him. (Abdul-Haqq, Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim, p. 147).

2. Abraham the Father of all True Believers.

The second point of agreement between Judaism, Christianity and Islam on the person of Abraham is their joint recognition of him as the father of all the true people of God. In the Jewish Scriptures we find that God promised Abraham that he would make a great nation of his offspring:

In another passage we find that God also said, "I have made you the father of a multitude of nations" (Genesis 17.5). As the nation of Israel was descended from Abraham through his son Isaac and as God had specifically promised that he would fulfil his promise and covenant through the line of Isaac (Genesis 17.19), the Jews looked on themselves as the people of God and upon Abraham as the first true Israelite, the first real Jew and the father of their nation.

"We have Abraham as our father", was their confidence before God (Luke 3.8). "We are descendants of Abraham", they boasted before Jesus (John 8.33) and, when challenged about their relationship with God, they boldly exclaimed, "Abraham is our father" (John 8.39).

In the Christian Scriptures we find it taught that the true offspring of Abraham are not his physical descendants, those who are "as many as the dust of the earth" and just like it, but rather those who share his faith, who are as many "as the stars of the sky" and who share Abraham's intimate relationship with the God who lives in celestial glory.

We have seen that Abraham was accepted by God, not because of any merit in himself, but because of his faith in God's faithfulness. He is therefore the father of the faithful, all true believers who share his faith, not only from among the people of Israel, but also from the Gentiles, all "those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all" (Romans 4.16). Therefore, just as the Jews regarded Abraham as the first real Jew, so we believe he was really a Christian at heart because he had that faith of which all true Christians are made, not a self-righteous piety obtained through works and devotional exercises, but a God-given righteousness which comes only by faith in God's own faithfulness and righteousness.

In Islam, too, Abraham is marked out as a leader of all true believers. In the Qur'an God is recorded as saying to the patriarch:

He is described as imaamaan, "a leader", and his leadership is extended linnaasi - "to all men". As in Christianity, therefore, so in Islam Abraham is looked upon as the head and example of all true believers. In his commentary Yusuf Ali states that the meaning of Imam in this verse is a "leader in religion" and a "model, pattern, example" (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an, p. 52).

In practice, however (as we shall see), whereas Christians mark Abraham out for his implicit faith in God's faithfulness and regard this alone as his ground of justification before God, in Islam it is his belief in the oneness of God and his submission to the will of God that credit him. Both themes are found in many passages in the Qur'an but the following verse includes them both and perhaps best defines Islam's reason for looking on him as a leader for mankind:

Thus in Islam Abraham is regarded, not as a Jew or a Christian, but as a Muslim and in the following verse, which likewise identifies his monotheism and submission to God as the hallmarks of his greatness before God, this distinction is plainly stated:

He was not Yahuudiyyaun, "a Jew", nor Nasraaniyyaan, "a Christian", but rather Haniifaam-Muslimaan, "an upright" man and a submitter, namely, a Muslim. Whereas Christianity looks on him as a man justified purely by his faith and takes that faith to be a trust in the faithfulness of God, Islam gives him credit for a true faith that is seen to be principally a submission to the will of God and that without any partners being associated with him.

It is useful to not only note our common ground here - Our joint belief in Abraham as the father and leader of all true believers - but also our differences and the grounds on which Christians and Muslims claim him as their own. They have vital implications as well for what is to follow in the next section where we shall examine the whole nature and character of Abraham's faith as a further prelude to the subject of reaching Muslims with the Gospel against the background of beliefs we have in common with them respecting this great prophet of God.

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