مَا كَانَ اِبۡرٰهِيۡمُ يَهُوۡدِيًّا وَّلَا نَصۡرَانِيًّا وَّ لٰكِنۡ كَانَ حَنِيۡفًا مُّسۡلِمًا ؕ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الۡمُشۡرِكِيۡنَ
“Ibrahim was neither Jewish nor Christian; rather he was constantly turning away (from seeing things as sources of their own existence while surrendering/submitting (all things to the One source) and he was not amongst those who see things as sources of their existence and sources of the benefits and beauties they display.”
I don’t know who Ibrahim was. The verse claims he wasn’t this or that. It uses labels which, in any language, are labels to say what it (ibrahim) is not. Here I am told that the choice i have in understanding Ibrahim is not related to who he was but hat he did or did not do. A certain attitude is contrasted with a certain other attitude. To read this verse and not notice that it is doing away with the labels is to miss its most central and devastating truth. It is tragic to me that people have found in this verse some sort of clue about a group of people that can be labelled “hanifs.” Those reading the verse as text rather than a revelation whose truth they should be able to confirm (or whose falsity they should discern) are free to go down such a path. its not for me.
To be Abrahamic is to be engaged in turning away from apparent sources of good and of existence and to refuse to see things as self-produced self-indicative. It is to turn away from things as praiseworthy and instead turn to God as the One to whom one submits all that exists. Let me give an example.
The feeling of being thirsty, for instance, is submitted to Him if I am to do as Ibrahim did – i see my thirst as Him calling me to seek sustenance (water but not just tha – the realization of His eternal sustainership is the real meaning of bodily sustenance) that He has provided. His water and His making me satiated with water reveal His generosity and provision, not that of the water (if i am Ibrahim-like in my relation to my thirst and water). It is not any longer, for instance, a fact about my species, in revelation’s view, that I need water and that there is water in the world. It is not the point that I am someone who gets thirsty. I turn away from this view of existence (my thirst tells me about me and water tells me about itself as a source of sustenance) and submit my thirst, water and the relation between my thirsty and water to the One doing all of it (making me thirsty, makin water, making water quench the thirst). If I see Him acting – which I only do if I don’t see things acting themselves – then I see His command being fulfilled in what exists. This surrender of existence to Him takes me to Him – i find Him my Lord, as Ibrahim would.
is it not my penchant to see things as the sources of the goods they carry to me? is it not that I think I am thirsty (not that I am being made thirsty by another?) and so on. If so, i find it a useful reminder and truthful guidance that such “sources”, once they are sources in addition to whatever else I may claim also exists (God or whatever), make it impossible for me to see the Source in my life – caring for me, listening, aware of me, seeing me.
At any rate, if I read this verse and conclude that Ibrahim was not this or that label but rather a “Muslim” or a “Hanif” (another label), I fail to receive what is being revealed to me here and to my great loss!