By Ayah Chehade
While born thousands of years ago, Abraham’s time was not so different than ours. In complete confusion and chaos, the common people found themselves immersed in worship of all the wrong things while others found themselves immersed in profiting off this worship. In a consumerist world much like our own, people offered their food and jewels at the feet of inanimate beings in hopes of grace and abundance.
You see, Abraham’s people were not godless but they were heedless in the gods they attributed power to: idols of wood, stone, even dates. They prayed, but they directed their prayers to intercessors. They worshiped, but they used their worship as social and political leverage instead of a means to promote love and justice in society and politics. Ultimately, they lost sight of what being a servant of God actually looks like. While they worshiped regularly, their worship was misdirected.
Yet, amid all this, there was no questioning of the system through which they existed. People bought and bartered their gods in the form of statues and gold that fancy businessmen offered them from distant lands without considering the implications on their spiritual selves.
Lost, they could not see outside of the storm.
They could not imagine a truth simpler, more sensible, more perfect.
Except for one man: Abraham.
Through God’s guidance, Abraham found his heart in the eye of the storm around him. And in that calm, his heart guided him to the truth and the courage to uphold that truth.
Abraham began his journey with an intuition. He heeded the internal unrest that told him something was not right. In all the clamor, it took the moments of night and quiet for him to reach within. While others searched for God in their congested cities and noisy marketplaces, Abraham searched for God in his patient, consistent, and thoughtful gazes at the moon, sun, and stars — constant signs created by the One.
As God says, “So also did We show Abraham the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might (with understanding) have certitude (Surat Al-An’am, 6:75).
When the night covered him over, He saw a star: He said: "This is my Lord." But when it set, He said: "I love not those that set" (Surat Al-An’am, 6:76).
When he saw the moon rising in splendor, he said: "This is my Lord." But when the moon set, He said: "unless my Lord guide me, I shall surely be among those who go astray" (Surat Al-An’am, 6:77).
When he saw the sun rising in splendor, he said: "This is my Lord; this is the greatest (of all)." But when the sun set, he said: "O my people! I am indeed free from your (guilt) of giving partners to Allah (Surat Al-An’am, 6:78).
"For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, toward Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah" (Surat Al-An’am, 6:79).
The lesson here: Often we search for the truth within ourselves in places and people where the mirror is foggy. Look for God in the purity of silence and solitude. Face your thoughts and feelings. Heed the gifts God placed around you so that you may see Him.
Upon Abraham’s discovery of God as One, he fearlessly began to challenge his people. Wisely implying the statues’ inevitable destruction, he brought to account the people’s foolish belief that the idols they created had legitimate power. Calling upon his father to respectfully leave his idol-worship, he proved that the pursuit of truth does not dismiss but rather reinforces the importance of great character. And finally, in a culmination of his acts of rebellion, he was placed in the center of a fire and after making a sincere prayer to God, he was protected. These actions were ones of complete surrender.
As the Quran states, “Behold! his Lord said to him: "Bow (thy will to Me):" He said: "I bow (my will) to the Lord and Cherisher of the Universe" (Surat Al-Baqara, 2:131).
Upon understanding the truth, Abraham readily directed all his pursuits at fearlessly honoring this truth. Indeed, facing rejection from his own people, risking his family ties, and ultimately jeopardizing his own life were not easy undertakings. The stakes were high, but nearness to his Lord was priceless. It is in this surrender that He acknowledged all power belonged to God. His community, his father, even the physical, flammable flesh that encased his soul were all a result of this power — losing them was not a concern because they were never his to begin with.
The lesson here: To give up power is not to disempower oneself but to absolve oneself of any illusionary power, which is all power other than His highest and only true power. Here, one finds empowerment through reliance on nothing but Him.
We know of Abraham’s sacrifice to God on the hill — when he held up a knife to his son’s neck and nearly sacrificed him in utter obedience to God. Our beloved Prophet Abraham, nicknamed the friend of God, who had prayed nights at a time for a son, was now faced with the task of giving him up. Yet, looking back, we know of God’s reward for Prophet Abraham's sacrifice.
Truly, the secret of sacrifice is that it always produces reward, if not in this life, in the next. There is nothing you give up except that you find it with God. When you give up something for God, know: this is a temporary sacrifice but a long-term investment with an unfair yield in profit, for that which you are giving up to God was first loaned to you by God.
And here we come to Abraham’s wife Hajar, who by the commandment of God, with a newborn child in her arms, was left in the desert of Bakkah, a desolate valley with a name that literally translates to “that which destroys.”
Here, I challenge you to tell me: what can one sacrifice when one seemingly has nothing? For Hajar truly had little. Helpless, alone, weak, vulnerable, with a child who relies completely on her care, in a place without water, shade or civilization, she was the subject of a scene that looked to be a hopeless void. And yet, here lies Hajar’s sacrifice: her forfeiting the privilege of calling her situation “empty.”
Where no water could be seen, Hajar still attempted to run from hill to hill. Fueled by a ferociously protective instinct to protect her child and complete trust that God would provide a way, she chased mirages in hopes that one would be real. She did not despair, or blame her husband for abandoning her, or resort to an angry entitlement to comfort, or question God’s divine plan. Instead, she accepted and did what she could with the little she had, even if her ritualistic seeking of water seemed impossible.
”And whoever fears Allah — He will make for him a way out and will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah — then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent” (Surat Al-Talaq, 65:2-3).
She looked to what she had rather than what she didn’t: the ability to walk, her sight, her mind — and she used these blessings to scavenge for survival.
In her deep wisdom and faith, Hajar, may the blessings of God be upon her, knew that where divine intervention was needed, human effort was necessary. For God appreciates the effort of even the most fragile being and rewards it with acceptance and generosity.
And the evidence is in the story. Out from under the gentle kick of Ismail’s infant foot erupted a spring of the world’s purest water.
This water continues to flow today, symbolizing God’s infinite blessings and rewards to those who trust Him. And as a result of Hajar’s momentary sacrifice, the brutal valley of Bakkah became the Mother of Cities: Mecca. And upon her death, she was laid to rest in the vicinity of this Ancient House. Two mountains were named in her honor, and since the pronouncement of Hajj, millions of Muslims have walked in her footsteps.
We may have faced moments of hopelessness where it felt like this. Either in our personal life or in this climate of humanitarian and environmental oppression. But we must remember that the greatest power lies in knowing we have none. We have only our faith and our deeds. And the results are up to God.
The lesson here: “The abyss” has always been an illusion — a product of our limited human depth perception. We see darkness and emptiness only because our mortal sight cannot absorb the light. But it is there. Even when hope seems impossible, even when going through the motions seems crazy, God sees your effort and He will not abandon you. Know that darkness can hide within it providence. What appears to be an abyss may be an opening unseen.
In seeking, Abraham found guidance. In surrendering, he found a reliance on God through the complete forfeit of power. And in sacrifice, Abraham and his family were gifted a different kind of power, one that can only be felt, ironically, in moments of absolute helplessness.
This Eid, I entreat you to reflect on these three ideas: seek, surrender, and sacrifice. Seek in prayer and reflection. Surrender to God’s power and plan. Sacrifice from that which He has given in order to reap rewards greater than you have seen. And ask yourself, how does Prophet Abraham’s story inspire you?
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