By Haroon Moghul
15 October 2013
On this-worldly standards, Abraham is an indisputably tragic figure. For example, for youthfully refusing idolatry, his people kindled an awesome fire and tossed him in. When forty days later the flames died and Abraham stood unharmed—awkward really for all involved—his people expelled him. He lived nearly all of his long life as a nomad, many decades, without progeny or fixed abode.
Worse still, when at last he had a son, someone finally to call his own (having, of course, no family), God asked him to take that son's life. Twice! First God said leave Ishmael in the desert with Hagar, then, when Abraham returned years later, overjoyed to find his son and wife alive against all odds, God commanded: “Offer your son as a sacrifice to me.” Your father was willing to burn you alive, God seems to be saying, but in opposition to me. Can you show the same loyalty?
We’ve all been rejected. We’ve all lost out. We’ve all been humiliated. We’ve all wondered: “Why not me?”
There have been times in my life when the worship of God sowed but faithlessness. (You read that right.) If after all you have your heart set on a thing and it only recedes from you, you start to fear talking to Him. “What if I ask,” I pondered, “and because I don’t receive, I become angry?” So furious that my knees become stiff, prostration becomes impossible.
Rather than realise: Maybe that wasn’t good for me. Perhaps God says no because we aren’t deserving. Or aren’t ready. Or, and this is hard for us moderns, because others are more deserving. (Or more in need of the test or the blessing.) We don’t know. But neither did Abraham, all that matters is he kept on going. Though the command to sacrifice his own son is shocking. After all, what kind of God would ask this of a faithful servant who had already suffered so much? And yet, what kind of father would accept? And what kind of son!
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” they say. Except that’s what always happens to messengers of God. Jesus was nearly crucified. Muhammad’s people tried to slaughter him and his community. Abraham’s family consented to his immolation. The Egyptians enslaved the Children of Israel. Hell, Satan had it out for Adam within minutes of his existential debut.
Messengers are messengers because they keep on. They inspire us in our darkest moments. They remind us of His Love and Mercy. For in that outrageous command, God healed Abraham.
Unlike Abraham’s father, God would not allow the penalty to be carried out. At the last moment, He replaced a willing Ishmael with an animal. I am, God seems to be saying, a far better guardian than the father that spurned you. Do not think you have ever been alone, Abraham. Not that Abraham didn’t know that.
Abraham Is Called The Friend Of God In Islam
Certainly God knew what Abraham would do too. Maybe He wanted Abraham to know how deep his love for God ran. How much it was in his blood. Enough to make him give of his own blood. And Ishmael’s too—Godliness in the genes. From Abraham come so many of the Prophets, Moses to Jesus to Muhammad.
And Those Who Follow Them
God gave him half the planet, Jewish, Christian and Muslim. As demographics go, this proportion increases daily. We, his children, his family, rival the stars. And every day we meditate on or mumble through words whose significance we should reconsider. “God bless Muhammad and the Family of Muhammad, as you blessed Abraham and the Family of Abraham.”
Family As Community, As Loyalty, As Decency And Dignity
This week, the world’s Muslims will celebrate Eid al-Adha. Honouring Abraham. Yet religion is not about anniversaries or histories, but being. Not past. Present. And promise—a better future. In that spirit, I would say, invite someone to celebrate this Eid with you. Someone new to town, without family, in pain, recently converted—what I mean is: someone who needs someone. We’ve all been there, and what’s the value of our worship if we forget the very people whose hearts are broken for God on a day about a man so spurned?
And if you are that person, heartbroken? If you feel plunged in darkness, in the world around or your heart within, hold on: All this shall pass. Though God’s plan unfolds on God’s time, can anyone say it did not happen? For an Abraham once rejected is forgotten; the Abraham who remains is the one whose name is celebrated in places he couldn’t have known existed. That is the promise of God, as is this: “There shall be on them neither fear, nor grief.”
Hold fast, then, just a little bit longer.
Eid Mubarak. May only good come to you.
Haroon Moghul is the Fellow in Muslim Politics and Societies at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. He is a graduate student at Columbia University, a widely-recognised speaker on Islamic thought and Muslim history, and the author of The Order of Light (Penguin 2006). Haroon's writings have been featured on Foreign Policy, Boston Review, Salon, Tikkun, Religion Dispatches, Al-Jazeera, Today's Zaman and Dawn. He is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and serves as an expert guide to the Muslim heritage of Spain, Turkey, and Bosnia.