The Quran claims that there is some kind of beautiful or excellent example for me in Ibrahim and “those with him” [note its not therefore Ibrahim as an individual that is exemplary but an attitude that is common between him and those ‘with him’]. This attitude is described in verse 4. Is this verse telling the truth? Does what it tells me is an excellent example, indeed an excellent example for me? Any claim made by a book that claims to be a truthful and beneficial revelation from the creator of the universe must be checked to confirm its truth and its benefit. Any approach to revelation that abandons such a confirmation turns away from the search for truth without trying to find it and hence turns away from the truth. It gives up on truth before trying to find it by claiming, without trying, that one cannot be sure about the truth of all of revelation’s claims. I turn away from such despaired deniers of truth and peddlers of identities and dogmas.
Ibrahim and those with him declare themselves free from “you all” – and who are these people or what is important about them? What is freedom from these people mean? The verse continues as says that they declare themselves from all “that you worship other than God.”
I come to my life and ask: are there people that I am a part of, some “qawm” or group or community that I feel i am not free to renounce or leave? And is it the case that in remaining tied to this group, what I am honoring is what they honor and worship. Is it not that I feel forced to honor and love and extol things and ideas and names/abstractions and qualities (everything other than the One who is alone glorified and loved and honorable) in order to be accepted and welcomed and loved by others around me? It is the case for me. My heart is burdened with concerns about my ties to others. These ties to others then tie me to that which they worship and value, regardless of whether what they value is really worthy of being valued and praised. Is it not freedom and an excellent thing that I be free, like Abraham, from others by freeing myself of what they value and honor and trust other than God, the One true source and possessor of all goodness and all that is valuable? And so in general, there is an excellent hatred possible (yes, there is such a thing! to hate and detest what is oppressive and detestable is excellent in my view) between me and the falsely honored “deities” that people honor. To be freed from such false objects of worship is to no longer fear losing one’s ties with such a falsely constituted “community of worshipers of other than God” in my head. One such falsely honored object these days is “religion”. The worshipers of religion welcome other worshipers of religion and are enemies of those who free themselves of such a false idol and instead only honor God, not any religion or history or any historical figure, a prophet or otherwise. God alone, period! Such is Abraham’s attitude and I do find it an excellent attitude for me. It does not forbid anger and hatred of what is oppressive. It presents it as salutary. And then immediately claims that this anger with false deities and their devotees is grounded in compassion. How so?
Abraham is presented as saying to his father, “I seek your wellbeing/forgiveness but this is only in the hands of God, not in my hands! If i take it in my hands or give it to the hands of other, false gods, then neither can I nor they can do any good for you. For instance, you want health and life? It is found with the source of Life and Health, God. If you seek from or other beings, you won’t get it! You will lose it! So my anger with those who honor false gods (including you, my father) is because I want us all to be turned to God and see that all we have is coming from him and we are returning to Him. We shall find life and beauty and health with Him as we are finding it from Him here and now. And so yes, there is enmity between you and me except that it is on account of my realization that your good is in the hands of the One alone and you are depriving yourself of all good, including life and existence, by thinking you are getting these benefits from other than Him. Even I, your son, cannot do you any good and cannot even want good for you on my own. I do so with the compassion of God, in the name of the compassionate One. What seems to be my anger towards your honoring of false deities is His compassion for you. Look at the matter in that way.
And hence in verse 5 Abraham is made to ask God to not make him (and those with him) a trial for the deniers. The point is not for Abraham to be some kind of counter-cultural hero, going against tradition and being a revolutionary or a reformist. Abraham invokes the might of God – all is from Him and under His command – and the wisdom of God – it is with His wisdom that we can see that created beings are not the source of life and benefit and it is their maker, God, who is providing everything to us and is the only One worthy of praise and honor and glorification. Nothing else. No one has any share in this honor and praise. Abraham is presented as asking God to forgive. The Abrahamic attitude presented as an excellent and exemplary attitude is one that can recognize that all power and might and all wisdom – the praise and honoring of might and wisdom – is only for my Lord, creator, sustainer, my God and for no one else. Only those with such an attitude are my friends for together in such a community, there is no one praised and honored except God. One is free from seeking honor from others and free from others’ demands for being given honor and praise. All find togetherness in their shared honoring and praise of their source and all are turned to Him and take in His name whatever they take from each other. The love that comes from God in verse 7 is the love that comes from acting in the name of the Loving one, not from appreciating for the others’ honoring of my god and my honoring of their God. It is God, the Loving One, whose love is now shared so that each one is experiencing the Loving One as they love.
Those who wish to take God out of the picture as the One, the Loving One, the wise one, the Mighty One, to whom all love and praise is due from humans – they are, as if, killing me and destroying my peace. They want to force me into a life of subservience to false gods and oppressive community relations and expectations. They present good, wise and mighty things in their own name or in the name of abstractions (culture, tradition, nature, nationality, race, humanity, history etc) other than God. Verses 8 and 9 tell me that to allow myself to be oppressed in this way and to try to find acceptance and love from such people is to really oppress myself. My soul is such that its home and its life is with its source, God. It loves to receive from it, to be turned to it and to take and give in His name. To turn to other, created beings who are not the source of their qualities, i turn to false sources and I stand to lose. I try to please and benefit things which have no reality. I fear things which have no reality. I try to benefit from things which cannot give me life and happiness – they have no wisdom or might of their own.
The Quran claims that I am, existentially, turned away from those who sever my ties with the source of life and the Wise maker. That i (as a soul) would find myself at odds with and in conflict with those who turn me away from a place of total and eternal provision to temporary and limited provision. I find this to be true. And so I say yes to these verses. What Abraham and those with him show is indeed an excellent example for me. It is something I want to imitate. May my God allow me be Abrahamic in deciding who i am with and who i am at odds with.