Ibrahim and the Fire

Muslim belief picks up the story that Ibrahim (Abram) opposed the many gods worshipped in Ur in Mesopotamia (Iraq) from where he came. This is around 1800 BCE. Ibrahim's own father made carvings and statues that were the objects of worship. Ibrahim represents the move to monotheism. Ibrahim is said to have gone into the pagan temple and destroyed its carvings and statues. The story goes they wanted him punished with death by burning but the flames only burned through the ropes tied to Ibrahim. It was time to move on.

Abraham/ Ibrahim

Abram is the father of the Jews and the start of the Covenant when his name was changed to Abraham and circumcised (the Covenant was later made more detailed with Moses). Abram travelled away from polytheistic Mesopotamia and took his wife Sar'ai to Canaan. Sar'ai had no children and she suggested Ibrahim take a second wife, her maid Hagar. He married his Egyptian maid, Hagar (Hajar in Islam), who soon conceived, the knowledge of which caused Sar'ai jealousy, and Hagar, who fled but under command of an angel of God returned to her mistress, gave birth to a baby boy, Ishmael (Ismael in Islam), this when Abram was eighty-six.

With the Covenant Sar'ai became Sarah and did have a son Isaac. Muslims work the story that once Ismael was born Sarah became more and more jealous. She asked Ibrihim to take them away to a distant place so she would never have to see them again. Ibrihim felt that this was Godís will, and so Ibrihim, Hajar and young Ismael went on a camel until they arrived at an area of desert without people, water or food. He left them with a single water skin and a sack of dates, and returned to Sarah in Canaan.

Hajar believed her husband that this abandonment was the will of God. It only took some days for the water and food to run out. Hajar became unable to produce milk for her son and so left him lying in the sand and did not want to watch him die.

She climbed one hill to see if there might be any help, and then another nearby. In desperation she ran between these hills seven times. A voice was heard asking if she was looking for rain. She saw an angel standing next to Ismael. The angel pressed his heel into the sand and water gushed upwards.

Thus Hajar was able to fill her water skin and both survived. The angel added that Ismael and Ibrahim would build God's house in this place.

The Hills are Marwah and Safa, and the spring is known as Zamzam. They form part of the Hajj pilgrimage. Makkah grew up around the spring.

Note that in the Hebew Bible Ishmael was thirteen when circumcised and Abraham was then ninety nine. Sarah was a year younger, and was ninety nine when she had Isaac, who was circumcised when eight days old. In the Hebrew Bible it was after Isaac was born that Abraham sent Hagar away to wander in the wilderness of the Beer-sheba. She was given bread and a skin of water. The water ran out so Hagar lay Ishmael under a bush and left the distance of a bowshot to avoid seeing his death (Ishmael is arguably quite old for a boy to be left like a child). An angel of God called to Hagar and told her to hold him, for he will become a great nation. She then saw a well of water, filled the skin, and the boy drank, to grow up in the wilderness and become a sureshot with the bow. This was in the wilderness of Paran and his mother gave him an Egyptian wife. So this is where the Islamic story comes from.

According to Islam, years later from Hajar's and Ismael's abandonment, Ibrahim was travelling to Syria, when an angel appeared. The angel held the reins of a winged spirit horse, the Buraq (later ridden by Muhammad on the Night Journey). Ibrahim got on the horse and they went high up. The angel asked Ibrahim to select where the first Sacred House of God should be built. Ibrahim pointed to a small settlement based around a spring, not realising it was where he had left Hajar and Ismael.

Ibrahim was reunited with this wife and son. With Ismael, Ibrahim built the House of God (the One God). It fell into pagan abuse: Muhammad restored the Ka'bah to one God. An interesting question is why Ibrahim and Ismael would use the Black Stone positively if they were opposed to the paganism of stones and carvings in Ur. The Black Stone is meant as a symbol of one God.

It is important for Muslims that Ibrahim is directly linked to this House of God, though others may regard this whole tale as highly fanciful. Ibrahim is already mysterious enough and this extends a journey to his apparent history that is certainly not part of the Hebrew Bible (not that this is a measure of history).

The importance to Islam is that Ibrahim is a prophet. Prophets are God's messengers to other people. Muslims believe that messengers before the Qur'an have had their recitations corrupted and this is the importance of the religion of Islam: otherwise the essential message of Islam predates the religion of Islam itself. The Qur'an as revelation existed before the book known as the Qur'an.

Arguably the Islamic tale of Ibrahim and the Hebrew Bible tale of Abraham should not be conflated. However, Muslims deliberately follow all the prophets of the Bible including in the Christian New Testament. They also believe in holy books accompanying some prophets. Muhammad is therefore the last of the prophets: the Seal of the Prophets. The Qur'an is not corrupted but perfect in every word and punctuation mark in the original Arabic, so the community agrees. The measure of any Hebrew Bible story is therefore the Qur'an.

The Qur'an has it that God sent a messenger to every nation on earth and none was left without a prophet. Not all prophets have been named, but they all have given God's message of worshipping God, leading a good, honest and honourable life, and avoiding evil.

Prophets mentioned

Adam Adam
Idris Enoch
Nuh Noah
Ibrahim Abraham
Ismael Ishmael
Jshaq Issac
Lut Lot
Ya'qub Jacob
Yusef Joseph
Musa Moses
Harun Aaron
Dawud David
Suleiman Solomon
Ilias Elijah
Al-Yasa Elisha
Dhul-Kifl Ilyas
Ayub Job
Yunus Jonah
Zakariyya Zachariah
Yahya John
'Isa Jesus



Al-Gailani, N., Smith, C. (2002), The Islamic Year: Surahs, Stories and Celebrations, Stroud: Hawthorn Press, 2-5.


Adrian Worsfold