Abraham's Father in the Quran
Pic shows Assyrian lion-hunting artifact placed in the British Museum. (This essay is the first part of a series of essays on Abraham that will be published later)
Prelude - Abraham
“Verily Abraham was a nation in himself, devout for Allah, inclined and not was he an idolater.” (16:120)
This statement defines two things, the character of Abraham, inclined towards a greater subjective ideal, and the characteristics of a nation, defined by adherence to such subjective ideals. In history, we see that people have associated themselves with larger-than-life ideas to explain the world they encounter around them, but often they do this by attaching supernatural abilities to material substances. Abraham, however had a different inclination, he was abhorred of associating any attribute to a thing without reason.
Abraham’s anathema with the idols urged him to worship the truly great things like the Sun and the Moon, but they too could not satiate his appetite for reason. Finally finding resort in the One, the Only, the Good, Abraham set himself as beholder of the highest standard of a subjective ideal.
Allah recognizes a people, not with the measure of their prosperity, nor upon their military might, or the land they occupy, or with their technological advancements – Allah identifies people with their beliefs, their worldviews, the ultimate conclusion of all their experience and knowledge – so Allah identifies Abraham as a nation, even when he is a single man.
Such was Abraham’s standing in the eyes of the Creator and Controller of the universe. Belief, humility and an extremely soft heart – these were the treasure of Abraham that the Lord cherished – sublime treasures that separated Abraham from his people and his father.
Who was Abraham
According to Jewish scripture, Abraham, son of Terah was the eighth generation descendent of Eber (Hud), who had descended through Shem from Noah.
When the Ark landed on mount Jodi, in the Ararat ranges, the dwellers of the boat made their abode in the plains beneath the hills, in the land of Armenia. It was in these people that after some time, when they had grown into societies, Hud had emerged, as a prophet of God. And from the progeny of Hud was born Abraham. By the time of Abraham’s birth, inhabitations had spread down to Mesopotamia and sideways along the two shores of the Mediterranean.
As it had happened, out of the three sons of Noah, the descendants of Shem had proven to be most staunch, powerful and resourceful. They had pushed the Japath people up north into the icy lower Europe and the Hamatic people had been made to flee downwards into the southern coastline of Arabia, while the middle, Fertile Crescent was occupied by them, the Shem people.
But the pushing down of the Hams could not have happened before Abraham, as Nimrod, the king in Abraham’s time was a Hamatic. So the pushing down of the Ham could have happened only after the demise of Nimrod, which took place after Abraham’s departure from this land. So before Abraham, Hud had come to these mix people in Armenia and Abraham had come to them in Ur, the then capital city of power, under the seat of king Nimrod.
The Quran does not mention Nimrod by his name, but it does mention Abraham’s father ‘Aazar’ by name. This is a cause of suspense in itself because unlike with most prophets, accustomed to challenge the most powerful entities of the society, Abraham encounters his father more then he encounters the god-king. Perhaps it should be verified that Aazar himself was a man of power and ministry in the court of Nimrod.
The first time Abraham encountered Nimrod, was when he was brought to the court as a criminal who had smashed their idols. At that time, society had probably grown quiet populous, everyone did not know everyone else by the face. When the people found that their idols had been smashed, they asked each other who had done this, someone said that there is a lad by the name Abraham who had done (21:60) – which means he was not much well-known to his people at that time. Nimrod acted haughty at that time:
“did you not see the one who argued with Abraham in his Lord, upon that Allah had given him kingdom, when Abraham said ‘my Lord is! Who gives life and makes dead’, said ‘I give birth and make die’, ‘then verily Allah brings the sun from the east, then bring it thou from the west’, baffled was the one covered (in conceit), and Allah does not guide a transgressing people.” (2:258)
The origin of the word Nimrod, however is in the Bible, which mentions him as ‘the mighty hunter before God’ and ruler of the towns of Babel, Uruk, Akkad and Calneh in the land of Shinar (Mesopotamia). He was the son of Cush, the grandson of Ham and the great-grandson of Noah as stated in the Genesis, in the Table of Nations.
Nimrod’s role as the constructer of the Tower of Babel is not mentioned in the Bible, but found in the writings of Falavius Josephus (ce.37-100) and in several Jewish writings, the bible also omits Abraham’s encounter with Nimrod.
As to who Nimrod really was in history, is still an ambiguity, but a matter of keen interest to many historians. By comparing archeological and hieroglyphic findings, historians have placed him in several different eras and matched him with several kings – some place him as early as being an ancestor of Eber (Hud), others place him a few generations before Abraham but these are all hypothesis and there has been no certainty in the matter.
Azzar, Abraham’s father
The clue given by the Quran is in the name of Abraham’s father, ‘Aazar’. The Quran mentioned Aazar in the ayah 6:74, it says: 'And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said to his father Azar, "Do you take idols as deities? Indeed, I see you and your people to be in manifest error'.
The literal meanings of the word Aazar (alif-zay-ra) are; to surround; encompass; cover; strengthen; aid. Possibly Aazar was not just a priest, involved in the sculpture business, but the chief-priest; one who had a special position in the court of Nimrod. And what could be as special as a, surrounding, covering and strengthening position then the ‘Cup-Bearer’. The other clues come in the following ayahs:
“and Abraham prayed for his father’s forgiveness only because of a promise promised to him, but when it became clear to him that he was an enemy of Allah, he disowned from him, surely Abraham was a soft-hearted, forbearing.” (9-114)
“My Lord, forgive me and my parents, and the believers, on the day when the reckoning takes place.” (14:41)
Abraham had left his father’s land with the promise that he would keep praying to his God for his father’s forgiveness, the context of the ayah 14:41 shows that he even prayed for him when he was constructing the Holy Kaaba, several years after his departure from Babel, Ur. This was also much later than the events of the birth of his sons; and the settling of Ishmael in the barren land of Mecca. how was it that only after so many years did Abraham receive the news of his father being an enemy of God!
Abraham knew this from the beginning that Aazar was an ‘idolater’, so when the Quran mentions that Abraham stopped praying for his father once he was confirmed that his father was an ‘enemy of Allah’, surely the Quran is telling us that Abraham got a news much larger than his being an idolater, after so many years. Was there a news of some major event that had come to Abraham; in that age of little communication and travel? News of such an extraordinary event that was strong enough to convince Abraham that his father was unforgivable in the sight of Allah, for otherwise Abraham was soft-hearted and forbearing.
So is it possible to associate Aazar with a major historical event, is it possible to make a logical comparison of Aazar with a rather historically significant figure of a time closer and more probable to the time of Abraham. The hypothesis is that Aazar may be the actual name of Saragon, whom historian estimate to have ruled between 2270-2215 BC. Saragon was the cup-bearer of the king Ur Zababa, king of Kish or possibly Lugal Zage of Uruk, both of whom could be the same person: Nimrod – as both the names seem to be appellations not real names.
Historical linguists recognize how, with the passage of time and with the sharing of words between different cultures, words and especially names shift from their original sound, but even so, the base-words or the louder part of the word ‘remains’ and often hints to what the original word may have been. Saragon might have been A-Sar-agon or Aa-Zar-agon or Aazar. And the mighty empire of Aasyria, Aa-Syria, or AaZaria, united under Saragon might have taken its name from the very man Aazar.
So the hypothesis is that Aazar was the cup-bearer of Nimrod, his most favored and one most influential upon him; maintaining at the same time his priestly-hood, which again was a major tool of control over the community; a position to be highly priced by the king.
When Abraham revolted against the idols, his father was triply offended! One: for his son leaving his religion, two: for fear of the destruction of a system he was so comfortably placed in and three: that this could jeopardize his hidden ambition to over-possess the king or even become the next king himself. So not only does he curse Abraham for his act of smashing down the idols, but confronts him to public persecution, furthermore takes him to the court of Nimrod complaining against him. These are indicators that Aazar was unlike usual men who would put the life and well-being of their sons over their own; it rather seems that he was harboring ambitions of such magnitude for which a son would not be a high price to be paid.
Even the decision of having Abraham burn in the fiery furnace did not melt his heart; he acted as a mere spectator. And as Abraham came out safe and unharmed out of the fire, Aazar did not embrace him in thankfulness or give heed to the possibility that his son was a man of truth and divine blessing, instead he simply said,
‘…leave me for times to come.’ (19:46)
Sometime after Abraham’s departed from the land of Nimrod, Aazar (Saragon) eventually got a chance to kill Nimrod, and accede to the throne. Saragon was the founder of a new dynasty, the Akkadian Dynasty; he conquered the whole of Mesopotamia and associated his power with the idol-gods of Anu and Enlil. He remained aggressive at his southern and northern frontiers and established trade through the Arabian Sea. Hieroglyphics associated with Saragon, saying, ‘ the black-headed peoples I ruled, I governed.’, also point to the fact that Saragon had subjugated the black Hamatic people by killing their king and probably they never rose to power again in Mesopotamia and were gradually pushed downwards.
So when the news of his father’s victories came to Abraham and he could see that his father was now the upholder and commander of the very system of idolatry that was the root of all evil, he became sure that there were no chances that his father would return to the one true God and thereof he refrained from asking forgiveness for him.
Abraham’s father had won the short-lived fame and glory of this life, today it is hard to recognize him, on the other hand Allah promised Abraham, ‘words truthful, exalted’ (19:50), till eternity.