Shi'i Beliefs in the Bible
- :Thomas Mc-Elwain
Shi'i Beliefs in the Bible
The purpose of this lecture is to establish the fact that it is just as easy to prove Islam using a proof-text method of appeal to the Bible as it is to prove any of the forms of Christianity that use that method. It is not the intention to suggest that the proof-text method is sufficient or even valid. In a systematic review such as this, it is necessary to note all convolutions. The desire to show to what extent the Bible is the common property of Middle Eastern religions, at least on some level, leads to the necessity of approaching the text from a proof-text point of view as well as from more sophisticated methods.
Before approaching the specifics, a pilot project that seeks to establish whether basic Islamic issues are to be found in the Bible is in order. If they cannot be found, then it is of no use to take the trouble of further examination. The specific issues chosen for this task are those fundamentals known in Shi’ite Islam as the roots of faith. We have already examined the Sunnite pillars of faith in some detail. Rather that going into such detail at this point for the roots according to Shi’ite Islam, we shall merely make a brief mention of each one. However, some of them are amplified by related issues that appear important because of Christian doctrine.
These roots of faith are five. The first is the oneness of God. This is amplified here by texts relating to the belief that God does not incarnate, that there is no salvation in the son of man, and that God is changeless. The second root of faith is the justice of God. The third root of faith is prophethood. This has already been examined in general in the light of many texts above, but here the particular reference to Muhammad is mentioned. This will form the focus of latter discussion as well. The principle of divine guidance is the fourth root. This is amplified by a Biblical reference to the word Ali. The final principle of faith is the Day of Judgment, which has also been dealt with in detail above, but is here amplified by its relationship to the gospel or message of Jesus (as).
I have given a transliteration of the proof-texts underlining the significant portions. This is expecially necessary in the two or three cases in which I have radically disagreed with the commonly used translations.
There is only one God.
Psalms 86:10 (Hebrew) atta Elohim levaddekha. For you are great, and do wondrous things: you are God alone.
Isaiah 45:5 (Hebrew) ani YHWH we-en ‘odh zulathi en elohim: a-azerkha welo yedha’tani. I am the LORD, and there is no other, there is no God beside me: I girded you, though you have not known me.
That one God is just, and the only Saviour.
Isaiah 45:21 (Hebrew) Haggidhu wehaggishu af yiwwa’atzu yakhdaw: mi hishmia’ zoth miqqedhem me-az higgidhah halo ani YHWH we-en odh elohim mibbal’adhi el tzaddiq umoshia’ ayin zohathi. Tell it, and bring them near; indeed, let them take counsel together: who has declared this from ancient time? who has told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no other God beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.
God is not a man or the Son of man.
Numbers 23:19 (Hebrew) lo ish el wikhazzev uven adham weyithnetham: hahu amar welo ya’ase wedhibber welo yeqimenna. God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: has he said so, and shall he not do so? or has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Notice that according to the text God is not a human being, not "the son of man," not any "person" or "persons" at all, not one person nor three persons.
The Son of man cannot save you.
Psalms 146:3 (Hebrew) al tivtkhu vindhivim: beven adham she-en lo theshu’a. Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
God does not change.
pasa dosiv agayh kai pan dwrhma teleion anwyen estin katabainon apo tou patrov twn fwtwn par w ouk eni parallagh h trophv aposkiasma James 1:17 (Greek) pasa dosis agathe kai pan dorema teleion anothen estin katabainon apo tou patros ton foton par o ouk eni parallage e tropes aposkiasma. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
If God does not change, as this Bible passage and several others maintain, then God does not incarnate, since incarnation requires change. God does not change into anything, not even a man.
God reveals His message to humankind through His servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7 (Hebrew) ki lo ya’ase adhonay YHWH davar ki im gala sodho el ‘avdhaw hannevi-im. Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he will reveal his secret to his servants the prophets.
Many people will not believe the message of God through Muhammad (as).
Psalm 106:24 (Hebrew) wayyim-asu be-eretz Hamda: lo he-eminu lidhvaro. Indeed they despise the land of Muhammad, they do not believe his word.
The biased translator wishes to translate the name Muhammad, thus making "pleasant land" instead of "the land of Muhammad." But this is not possible, because the sentence goes on to say "his word." The possessive pronoun is masculine, showing Hamda to be a proper masculine name, rather than a feminine common noun as the ending might suggest. There are a number of such names in the Bible, feminine in form but masculine in meaning.
God made Abraham (as) a guide for all nations, in the following words spoken to him.
Genesis 12: 3 (Hebrew) wa-avarkha mevarakhekha umqallelkha a-or: wenivrekhu vekha kol mishpekhoth ha-adhama. And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Moses (as) prayed for a divinely appointed guide to come after him.
Numbers 27: 16 (Hebrew) Yifqodh YHWH Elohe harokhoth lekhol basar: ish ‘al ha’edha. asher yetze lifnehem wa-asher yavo lifnehem wa-asher yotzi-em wa-asher yevi-em: welo thiheye ‘adhath YHWH katz-tzon asher en lahem ro’e. Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17 Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.
The principle of a divinely appointed leader goes back earlier than Moses (as), but here we see Moses (as) praying on behalf of one such figure.
Moses (as) invoked the name of Ali (as) in speaking to the Pharaoh.
Exodus 8:5(9) (Hebrew) wayyomer Moshe lefar’o hithpa-er ‘Ali lemathay a’tir lekha wela’avadhekha ul’ammekha lehakhrith hatzfarde’immimmekha umibbattekha raq baye-or tish-sha-arna. And Moses said to Pharaoh, Glorify Ali: when shall I intreat for you, and for your servants, and for your people, to destroy the frogs from you and your houses, that they may remain in the river only?
The translation which says "Glory over me" simply does not make sense.
The people of Israel sang about Ali (as) as they walked in the wilderness.
Numbers 21:17 (Hebrew) az yashir yisra-el eth hash-shira hazzoth ‘Ali ve-er ‘enu lah. Then Israel sang this song, Ali (the Exalted one) is a well (of water); sing to it.
The translation that says "Rise up, O well" only fits a surealistic painting. In reality, wells do not fly.
David (as) prophesied the coming of Islam.
Psalms 29:11 YHWH ‘oz le’ammo yitten: YHWH yevarekh eth ‘ammo vash-shalom. The LORD will give strength to his people; the LORD will bless his people with Islam.
The word Islam is cognate with the Hebrew word for "peace." It is the proclamation of reconciliation and peace, not only between God and humankind, but between one nation and another, one family and another, one individual and another. It also reconciles the opposing "parts" into which humankind would divide the impartial God into the one true God without parts and without limitations. Islam, meaning peace, is peace in every possible sense.
God will forgive those who pray towards His house, according to the petition of Solomon (as).
1 Kings 8:30 (Hebrew) weshama’ta el tekhinnath ‘avdekha we’ammekha yisra-el asher yithfallu el hammaqom hazze: we-atta tishma’ el meqom shivtekha el hash-shamayim weshama’ta wesalakheta. And listen to the supplication of your servant, and of your people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear in heaven your dwelling place: and when you hear, forgive.
Forgiveness depends on the grace of the one true God alone, with nothing added, no sacrifice human or otherwise. It is offered to those who turn in prostration toward Him, repenting and asking forgiveness.
God will take vengeance on the wicked and reward His worshippers on the day of judgement, as He promised Moses (as).
Deuteronomy 32:41-43 (Hebrew) im shannothi beraq kharbi wethokhez bemishpot yadhi: ashiv naqam letzaray we limsan-ay ashallem. ashkir khitz-tzay middam wekharbi tokhal basar: middam khalal weshivya merosh par’oth oyev. harninu ghoyim ‘ammo ki dham ‘avadhaw yiqqom: wenaqam yashiv le’atzaw wekhifer adhamatho ‘ammo. 41 If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me. 42 I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy. 43 Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
Of nearly one hundred texts mentioning the Gospel, only one actually tells us what the message of the Gospel contains, the Gospel in a nutshell.
Revelation 14:6,7 kai eidon aggelon petomenon en mesouranhmati econta euaggelion aiwnion euaggelisai touv kayhmenouv epi thv ghv kai epi pan eynov kai fulhn kai glwssan kai laon. legwn en fwnh megalh fobhyhte ton yeon kai dote autw doxan oti hlyen h wra thv krisewv autou kai proskunhsate tw poihsanti ton ouranon kai thn ghn kai thn yalassan kai phgav udatwn. Revelation 14:6-7 (Greek) kai eidon angelon petomenon en mesuranemati ekhonta evangelion aionion evangelisai tus kathemenus epi tes ges kai epi pan ethnos kai fylen kai glossan kai laon: legon en fone megale fobithete ton theon kai dote avto doksan oti elthen e ora tes kriseos avtu kai proskynesate to poiesanti ton uranon kai ten gen kai ten thalassan kai pegas ydaton. And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
The Gospel in a nutshell is three commands: Fear God (that is, do as God commands instead of conforming to what the neighbor thinks), glorify God (that is, recognize God alone as the source of all good things and give thanks to Him), and pray to Him in prostration. The Gospel gives two explanations for these commands: everyone is going to be held accountable to God in the judgement, and God is deserving of worship and obedience because He is the Creator of all things.
Obviously it is necessary to go beyond a mere proof-text method. However, the experiment of proof-texting shows that Islam is clearly as capable of being established on the basis of proof texts as any tradition that has ever appealed to texts as evidence of its system of doctrine and practice.
Islam and Christianity have had a mottled history of confrontation. They are sister faiths having roots in Middle Eastern monotheism and still have a great deal in common. Yet they have been pitted against each other throughout the history of Islam since the appearance of the prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) in the beginning of the eighth century CE. The two faiths have been associated with opposing cultural, social and political systems for over fourteen hundred years, and yet Muslims and Christians have had enormous influences one on the other.
Although Islam can be more truthfully said to have been spread by the caravan than by the sword, neither faith has been a stranger to violence. Yet the word Islam comes from the same root as peace. Surely anyone claiming to be a Muslim who does not foster peace is making a false claim. Much has been made of violent acts in recent times, but it should be remembered that all of these are in the context of quarrels among wealthy oil families, both Western and Middle Eastern. At times they are able to agree, despite their differences of religion, and when they do not, religion is only a pretext. Christianity and Islam share a belief in a figure known to the former as antichrist and to the latter as dajjal. In Islamic belief, this figure has only one eye. Those who have only one eye, an eye for oil, and no eye for social justice, morality and ethics other than to appeal to them as a pretext for their own agenda, surely betray both Islam and Christianity.
The incident of the woman anointing the feet of Jesus (as) with fine perfume brings to mind a certain tradition often quoted by orientalists. It is said that the Prophet (as) once said that he had loved women, and that he had loved sweet odors, but that the solace of his soul had been prayer. It is my purpose to open a few of the perfume bottles of Islam from the Christian Scriptures themselves, so that the Christian can enjoy both the savour of Christ who accepted the sinful woman and her gift as well as the faith of the last of the prophets. At the same time, it should be remembered that Islam is not based on the Bible, but on the holy Qur’an and the traditions of the prophet and his family (as).
Tawheed or the Unity of God
"Say, He, God, is one (alone). God, the needless, He does not beget nor is He begotten, and there is none like Him, no not one." Qur’an 112. This text is used by millions of Muslims daily as a part of their prayers. It expresses the first and foremost principle of Islam, the unity and uniqueness of God. In this matter, Islam contrasts with Christianity, which acknowledges a trinity, or one god in three persons.
We find the Christian Scriptures wholly agreeing with this basic Islamic principle of faith. In Deuteronomy 32:39 we find God Himself speaking "See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me." In his prayer Nehemiah (9:6) confessed "Thou, even thou, art Lord alone, thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee." Jesus agrees that this is the first principle of faith when he says in Mark 12:29 "The first of all the commandments is Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord." St. Paul, apostle beloved of Christians says in 1 Corinthians 8:6 "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things."
The Justice of God
The second great principle of Islamic faith is the assurance that God is not arbitrary, but essentially just. The justice of God is expressed in Qur’an 3:17 "God (Himself) witnesses that there is no god but He, and (so do) the angels and those possessed of knowledge, standing firm for justice, (there is) no god but He, the Mighty the Wise." The same great attribute is mentioned many times in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 32:4 we read "He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgement: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he."
Muslims understand that God’s justice is essential and intrinsic. Justice is not a separable attribute, nor even a part of God, but God’s very being. The unity of God implies to the Muslim that God has no limits nor parts. Having no limits, there is no limit to God’s perception and knowledge. Having no parts, God must be impartial. The unity of God implies His intrinsic justice. He has all knowledge of every situation, and being impartial, He is perfectly just.
The third great principle of Islamic faith is apostleship. This is expressed in the holy Qur’an 10:47. "And for every people (was sent) an apostle; and when came their apostle, the matter between them was decided with equity and they shall not (in the least) be done (any) injustice." This text of the Qur’an notes that the justice of God requires Him to reveal His will to all humankind. Therefore He has sent prophets to all nations. Islam requires belief in all true prophets, both the prophet mentioned in the Bible and those mentioned in the Qur’an. Muhammad (as) is the last of the prophets sent by God. Thus Qur’an 33:40 says "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but an Apostle of God and the last of the prophets: And God is of all things ever the Knower."
In the Christian Scriptures we find the same principles. In Amos 3:7 it says "Surely the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." The question arises whether or not Muhammad (as) is mentioned in the Bible. Many texts might be applied to him, but several mention him by name. One of the most important of these is Psalm 106:24, which says "They despise the land of Muhammad (Hebrew Hamda), they believe not his word." This is a Biblical prophecy indicating that when Muhammad (as) should come, many would find an excuse not to believe in him because of his country of origin. Indeed, we find this to be the case.
The fourth great principle of Islamic faith is divine guidance. It is also a logical deduction from the principle of the unity of God. The unity of God implies His justice. God’s justice implies verbal revelation of His will, otherwise He would be unjust in holding people accountable for their actions. But verbal revelation, the word of the prophets, implies further guidance, guidance in action, guidance in flesh and blood. A good illustration of this is an assembly kit. When you buy something that needs to be assembled, there is always a printed instruction manual. Most of us have experienced how confusing such manuals can be. If there is someone who has done it before to show us how, we find the task much easier. The divine guide is one appointed by God to show us how to implement the revealed will of God.
In any practical situation, there are matters about which we might have questions that recourse to the Scriptures is insufficient. Even after reading the Bible and the Qur’an, we are unsure what to do. The role of the divine guide is to show us what to do. The Arabic word for the divine guide is Imam, although this is often used merely to refer to a simple leader of prayer. The word leader in referring to the divine guide is much more than that, however. The holy Qur’an mentions that God made Abraham (as) not only a prophet, but a leader or Imam for humankind, in Qur’an 2:125 "And remember when his Lord tried Abraham with certain words then he fulfilled them: He said, Truly I make you an Imam for humankind…"
The principle of divine guidance runs like a golden thread throughout the Christian Scriptures as well. The necessity of divine guidance is expressed very neatly in the story of Philip in Acts 8:30-31 "Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?" The statement of the Ethiopian shows clearly that the writings of the prophets are not enough. There must also be a divine guide to implement them in practice.
The leadership of Abraham (as) continued through his descendants, finally coming to the holy Prophet Muhammad (as), who passed it on to his cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn abi Taleb (as). This was done publicly after the event of the Prophet’s (as) last pilgrimage to Mecca. The greater portion of the Muslims at the time were witnesses to the fact. At that time Ali (as) was appointed, and the appointment has gone down to eleven of his descendants, the last of which is believed to be still living and ruling. The Bible also shows a number of series of twelve leaders, such as the twelve patriarchal reigns in Genesis, the twelve sons of Ishmael, the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve judges of Israel, the twelve righteous kings of Judah, and the twelve disciples of Christ (as).
The Day of Judgement
The differences between the Islamic and Christian concepts of the Day of Judgement are difficult to find, and hardly to be understood by any but the specialist, so close are the two faiths in this regard. This is the final great principle of Islamic faith, and it is mentioned in many passages of the holy Qur’an, such as 99:6-8 "On that day people will come out (from their graves) in (scattered) groups, to be shown their own deeds. Then he who has done an atom-weight of good shall see it. And he who has done an atom-weight of evil shall see it." Jesus makes the same point in Matthew 12:36 "But I say unto you, That ever idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgement."
Thus there are five great principles of Islam. The unity of God implies His justice. The justice of God implies the necessity of revelation. Revelation implies someone to implement it. Finally, human beings are held responsible for how they relate to the revelation of God’s will. Besides the five great principles of Islamic faith there are many practices that logically proceed from them, as well as being expressed in revelation. Ten of these are traditionally considered to be basic. These are daily prayer in prostration, fasting during the month of Ramadhan, pilgrimage to the house of God in Mecca, charity taken from one’s assets, charity taken from one’s profits, jihad or endeavour in the way of God, enjoining good, opposing evil, respect for godly people, and avoidance of wicked people.
Prayer in Prostration
Muslims are known particularly for their daily prayer in prostration. Therefore the holy Qur’an (6:163) states "Say: Truly my prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death, (are all only) for God, the Lord of the worlds." Actually Islamic prayer is better described in the Bible than in the Qur’an. Every time and gesture of Islamic prayer in prostration is mentioned in the Bible. Nearly every common phrase of the prayer is to be found in the Psalms of David. It is one of the incongruities of reality that Muslims follow the Bible so closely in their prayer, while Christians and Jews have developed extra-Biblical practices of prayer. Yet the latter claim to base their practice on the Bible, whereas Muslims do not. Muslims base their practice on the Qur’an and tradition. If anything can be said about humankind, it is that we are irrational.
The example of Jesus praying in prostration is mentioned in Matthew 26:39 "And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed." Prayer as specific times in the day is also mentioned in the Bible, Psalm 32:6 "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found." Also Psalm 69:13 "But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time." The cry "Allahu akbar" is mentioned as belonging to prayer in Psalm 35:27; 18:5,6; 30:8; 34:3; and 55:16. Standing, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating are all gestures of prayer in the Psalms. Prayer towards the house of God is commended in Psalm 5:7 "But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy; and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple."
Islamic prayer brings the individual into paradise itself. When I began dialogue with Muslims, one of the first things I was told was "If you only knew how sweet is prayer in prostration, you would fight us to get it." That is entirely true.
In Qur’an 2:183 it says "O you who believe! Fasting has been ordained to you as it was ordained to those before you so that you might guard yourself (against evil)." Interestingly enough, fasting is not mentioned in the books of Moses (as) except for the forty day fast of Moses (as) himself. A similar fast was performed by Jesus (as) upon receiving the Gospel, and by Muhammad (as) as well. Yet we know that fasting in the ninth lunar month, the month of Ramadhan, was practiced from early times, as the Qur’an indicates. Evidence of this is in Jeremiah 36:9 "And it came to pass in the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, in the ninth month, that they proclaimed a fast before the Lord to all the people in Jerusalem, and to all the people that came from the cities of Judah unto Jerusalem." We know that this was a common religious practice from the fact that this king was not a righteous one. He did not proclaim anything good unless it was an established practice.
The reason for fasting is to help us to guard ourselves against evil. That is, it fosters doing the right thing. It makes us stop to reevaluate our lives and redetermine to act in ethical, moral, and just ways.
It is incumbent on every Muslim to go to the house of God in Mecca at least once in a lifetime if possible. It says in the Qur’an (22:27) "And proclaim to the people the Pilgrimage! They will come to you on foot and on lean camel, coming from every remote (high) way."
Pilgrimage to Jerusalem is mentioned often in the Gospel in relation to Jesus (as). But Jesus (as) prophesies in John 4:21 that the time will come "when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." Muslims believe that the Pilgrimage to Mecca refers back to the experience of Abraham, who rebuilt the house of God there, making it a holy place down to our days as well. At the beginning of his ministry, Muhammad (as) continued the direction of prayer towards Jerusalem. It was only later that the prophecy of Jesus (as) was fulfilled, and Mecca rather than Mount Gerazim or Jerusalem, became the proper place of pilgrimage and the right direction of prayer.
Charity is enjoined on Muslims in the holy Qur’an 2:43 "Establish the prayer and give away the poor-rate and bow down (praying)." In the sermon on the mount Jesus (as) begins Matthew six with four verses enjoining charity. Charity has always been a primary Christian duty, and in this the two faiths of Islam and Christianity are very much agreed. In some sense we can take Matthew six as a summary of the teaching of Jesus (as). In Matthew five Jesus merely establishes his adherence to the law. In Matthew seven he describes the day of judgement. The meat of this sandwich is Matthew six, and the first principle of Matthew six is alms in charity. It is interesting to note that the rest of the chapter deals with prayer in prostration, fasting, and, in the last half, probably with pilgrimage.
There are four kinds of holy war in Islam: striving with the self, striving with one’s wealth, striving with knowledge, and striving with the sword. These may well be in order of importance, the last being the least. Therefore the Qur’an (9:41) says "Go forth (with) light and heavy equipment and strive in the way of God with your property and your selves, this is better for you, if you knew (it)."
Thus the principle of Islam is to struggle or strive, first of all with oneself to maintain right, then with one’s wealth, intellectual capacity, and arms. Islam is not a pacifist religion, but military action is carefully circumscribed. Unfortunately most of the military action down through history has not been justifiable on Islamic principles. War to enhance territory and wealth is not justifiable, and this is the general situation. "Jehad should be exclusively in the way of the Lord and never for any territorial ambition." (Introduction to the Holy Qur’an, S. V. Mir Ahmed Ali, page 123a).
Recent research suggests that Jesus (as) was not the sweet and effeminate saviour that many believe him to be, but a Zealot, establishing himself as the divinely appointed leader in the face of the Roman occupation. Whether or not that be the case, Christianity was spread throughout Europe by the sword and later throughout the world through colonial occupation. The greatest holocaust, insofar as the numbers of victims is concerned, was not the Jews in Europe in the 1940s, but the Indians in Mexico, of whom more than twice as many died in only half the time, during the first few years of Christian conquest, many of them being baptized against their will before being killed.
Islam is the faith of peace, and Muslims should invite Christians to join them in walking the middle line, not declining war when it is necessary to defend peace and justice, but fearlessly condemning the terrorism, violence, and oppression that is so visible in the present world as a result of politico-economic conflict.
Enjoining the good and opposing evil
This practice of Islam is expressed in the holy Qur’an 3:109 "You are the best group that has been brought forth for mankind: you enjoin goodness and you forbid evil, and you believe in God; and if the people of the Book had (also) believed (similarly) it had surely been better for them; of them (only some) are believers and most of them are perverse."
The same principle is reiterated in Psalm 45:7 "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." It is said that all are responsible to foster good and oppose evil to the best of their ability, if not by actions, then by words, and if not by words, then by thoughts. According to Islam good is whatever is in accordance with revealed divine law, and evil is anything that opposes it.
Respect for the godly and avoidance of the wicked
This Islamic principle is mentioned in the holy Qur’an 42:23 "That is of which God gives the glad tidings to His servants who believe and do good deeds; Say: I demand not of you any recompense for it (the toils of apostleship) but the love of (my) relatives, and whosoever earns good, We increase for him good therein, truly God is Oft-Forgiving the most Grateful (One)." Attachment to the godly refers to two groups: firstly to the worthy descendants of the Prophet (as) and specifically the divinely appointed guides, and secondly to those who earn good, or by their behaviour show their attachment to the will of God.
The same principle is found in the Bible as well, for example, in Malachi 3:18 "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." The idea is to put a distinction between those who do right and those who do not. This is the basic criterion of distinguishing between people, and it implies that other criteria are wrong. Thus we should not distinguish between people on the basis of their wealth, race, appearance, or mental or physical capacity. We should respect people uniquely for the degree to which they show evidence of adherence to divine law and foster it. Attraction to celebrities is thus un-Islamic.
Down through the centuries Islam has been taught with the fingers of the hand, to make things simple and easy to remember. There are five basic principles and ten basic practices. These constitute the basics of Islam, but there are many other matters of grave importance, such as the many practices of purity, modesty, and justice. But these are all implicit in the one great principle that God is one.
1. Definitions and Goals
The study to follow is based on the story of the family of Abraham (as) as described in the Biblical passage of Genesis 12-22. It is an uncritical contemplation of the Massoretic text of the Genesis story in the Bible as it stands in the Hebrew. The question I pose is not how the original narrator understood the matter of the family. Rather, I pose the question of how a historically significant text, one attached to several great religious traditions over more than a thousand years, can be understood in the light of the family values of one of those traditions. This purpose would be gainsaid by appealing to historical criticism, since it is the text as it stands, rather than its sources, which is of relevance to the questions posed. Systematic investigation can be applied within those parameters, and that is the purpose of the following essay.
After presenting the problem, the methodology will be simply to approach the texts using the word family to see what narrations and actions impinge on its use in the text of Genesis. To that extent analysis cannot differ from one observer to another. I have divided this into two parts. The first is a general overview of the use of the word family in the whole body of the Hebrew Bible. The second is a more specific investigation of each passage in the story of Abraham in which the basic social elements of the family are prominent. I shall go beyond this, however, to point out similarities and parallels with Islamic values. From a scholarly point of view such parallels are either fortuitous, or merely reflect the fact that Islam shares to some extent a common geographical and cultural ethos with the Genesis record.
The family is the central subject of the two positive commands in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:1-17). The Sabbath commandment limits the authority of the parents on children, on workers, and on domestic animals. The following commandment requires children to honour their parents. These two commands, according to the Decalogue, comprise the whole positive duty of humankind. The importance of the family is thus not only central but vital.
The very first command of the Bible is in Genesis 1:28 "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." The command to reproduce according to this passage is half of the duty of humankind, the other half being to have dominion. The family is the centre of human responsibility before God.
The word generally translated family in Hebrew is mishpekhah, but occurs for the first time in Genesis 8:19, where it is translated "kinds." "Every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark."
The translator is obviously ill at ease with the word family as applied to animals. However, this is the first and defining occurrence of the word in the Scriptural canon. The context gives two distinct connotations of the word. The first relates to the pair of unclean animals taken into the ark, and the second relates to the group of seven clean animals taken into the ark at the beginning of the flood. These two groups have potentially changed during the time in the ark, and these changes have turned them into "families." The first change relates clearly to both groups, and this is reproduction. Both groups have become families through reproduction, and the addition of offspring is a binding and defining feature of the family. The second group, that of seven clean animals, adds another feature besides descent in defining the family. This is the feature of flocking, or cooperative life. These two features overlap and define the family as a group of relatives who live in proximity and are mutually dependent on each other for a livelihood.
The use made of the word mishpekhah in Jeremiah 15:3, where it is translated "kinds," is a single and unusual case. There even the sword is in a particular kind or family.
The next occurrence of the word mishpekhah is in Genesis 10:5, and is even more illuminating as a defining text."From these were parceled out the areas of the peoples in their lands, each according to his language; according to their families in their peoples." This is the first text where the word family is applied to human beings. The context defines the political and social geography of the whole world. The implied concept of family thus pretends to be universal and normative. The text is most interesting in its implications. It makes a common language the defining feature for ethnic groups. These ethnic groups have defined areas of residence. Finally, the ethnic group consists of smaller units, which are called families. These families are logically defined by Genesis 8 as biologically related people living in proximity and dependent on one another for their livelihood.
What is outstanding here is that no other social or political groupings are acknowledged in the whole world. There are only ethnic groups defined, not by political features, but by residence and language. There is no implication of further cooperation within the ethnic group as a whole. The real social, political, and economic unit is the extended family. This textual intent could be either descriptive or proscriptive, but the context of Genesis 10 would imply very strongly that it is proscriptive. It remains to be seen how and to what extent this may be modified.
The other texts which affirm this concept of the family are Genesis 10:18, et al. 24:38, et al. 36:40; Exodus 6:14, et al. Numbers 1:2, et al. 3:15, et al. 4:2, et al. 11:10; 26:5, et al. 27:1, et al. 33:54; 36:1; Deuteronomy 29:18(17); Joshua 6:23; 7:17; 13:15, et al. 15:1, et al. 16:5, et al. 17:2; 18:11, et al. 19:1, et al. 21:4, et al. Judges 1:25; 9:1; 1Samuel 9:21; 10:21; 18:18; 20:6, 29; 2Samuel 14:7; 16:5; Jeremiah 1:15; 2:4; 3:14; Amos 3:2; Nahum 3:4; Zechariah 12:12, et al. 14:7; Psalm 22:27(28); 96:7; Job 31:34; 32:2; Ruth 2:1, et al. Nehemiah 4:13(7); Esther 9:28; 1Chronicles 2:53, et al. 4:2, et al. 5:7; 5:19(4) et al 7:5; 16:28.
Since the family has such an important defining role in Scripture, it is therefore of prime importance to take note of divine guidance in regard to the family. Much of revelation deals with one or another aspect of the family, so that it is impossible to deal with all of it in one study. Nevertheless, the main features become apparent as we contemplate the life of one individual who has been for thousands of years the model of virtue for all people. The Biblical prophet says in Isaiah 51:2 "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." We are always justified in beginning with the example of Abraham (as), for God says in Qur’an 2:124 "And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain Commands, which he fulfilled: He said: "I will make thee an Imam to the Nations." He pleaded: "And also (Imams) from my offspring!" He answered: "But My Promise is not within the reach of evildoers." And further in Qur’an 2:130 "And who turns away from the religion of Abraham but such as debase their souls with folly? Him We chose and rendered pure in this world: And he will be in the Hereafter in the ranks of the Righteous."
I have therefore chosen to examine some salient features of the main passages relating to the family of Abraham (as) as the story appears in Genesis 12 to 22. I take the passages in order of appearance, and attempt to investigate them systematically. Beyond that, however, I have addressed the text with certain questions in mind, which are reflected in the various sections of the study below. For the purposes of this study, I have accepted the Biblical text as it reads in the Massoretic Hebrew version without reference to textual criticism.
2. A blessing for all families of the earth
Genesis12:1 "Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
This text establishes the principles of true faith, but beyond this it also establishes the family as the basic social unit of existence. It does not recognise political entities as such, but only the authority of the divinely appointed ruler in Abraham (as) on one hand, and all the families of the earth on the other. The act of blessing Abraham (as), and consequently his divinely appointed descendants serving as prophets and guides, implies the duty of submission to their authority. All families are thus directly under the authority of Abraham (as) or his duly commissioned successor to authority.
The social implications of this passage are enormous. The authority and submission reigning between all families and the divinely appointed ruler ignores to extinction all other attempts to control society. It undercuts the validity of all forms of government. It opposes all seemingly natural social forces with a particular institutional control. Finally, it raises the family as the only visible institution with divine approval, an institution placed directly under the control of Abraham (as) and his successors. This great fact in practice means that care must be taken to walk the narrow line between the social, political, economic and religious forces which would annihilate the family by usurping the proper bases of sovereignty.
3. Taqiyya: preserving the family from the evils of society
Genesis 12:10 "And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee."
Preserving the right relationship between the family and divine authority sometimes requires careful planning in how to relate to human authorities. The story of Abraham (as) instructing his wife to engage in taqiyya or dissembling is the model of reference for such situations. It logically implies a number of things. It is necessary to foresee the areas of conflict between divine law and human institutions. It is furthermore necessary to form strategies for avoiding such conflict insofar as possible. Such strategies must place adherence to divine law above openness to usurping authorities. The result may be taqiyya, that is, dissembling the truth before officials when it is necessary to do so to avoid compromising divine law.
Such a scenario is of course an extreme case. In most situations strategies can and must be formed which permit an open relationship to non-Islamic government and society on one hand, while providing for a family life within the parameters of divine law on the other.
4. Compromise: preserving peace within the family
Genesis13:8 "And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. 9 Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left."
The experience of Abraham (as) reported here notes that he was willing to suffer financial loss or at least compromise his potential for profit in order to keep peace within the family. The story indicates that he gave Lot (as) the first choice for pasturage, and was left with the least fertile areas.
The relevance of this matter goes far beyond the quality of family life as such to a well-defined socio-economic policy. The logical implication of this episode in the life of Abraham (as) is that profits must be insinuated into the family context. The family as the basic social unit is also the basic economic unit. Business which is divorced from the family situation does not have a valid basis, and the concept of a professional life which ignores the ramifications of the extended family is a non-scriptural idea. The purpose of attaining wealth must be the maintenance and enhancing of the family and its welfare, not the enhancement of a personal career. As we compare this to the economic trends in recent decades, it appears that the acquisition of wealth has largely been deflected from the family to broader social and political arenas on one hand, and to personal and individualistic goals on the other. This tendency is highly questionable in principle, and in practice appears to have weakened the role of the family. It has also created an artificial problem of such magnitude that many are unable to see any alternative structures, and this is the problem of the individual and society. A return to a Scriptural notion of the family as the central element of society would not merely give answers to such issues, but annihilate the very perceptional cadre which has produced them.
The family is made up not only of parents and small children, but of a wider lineage of adults. The modern trend towards ignoring these ties in business and professional life has clearly resulted in the breakdown of both the wider family and the relations between parents and dependent children. The purpose of this breakdown, if it is a purposeful phenomenon, is to facilitate invalid controls, both governmental and industrial, within society. The result of the implementation of such invalid controls exacerbates the tension between individual and society and thus creates a vicious circle.
A correction of this breakdown of the family will often entail compromise of the potential for profit. Only a clear understanding of this can facilitate its implementation. Although there will immediately arise on the part of the Westerner the criticism that nepotism is unjust, the principle remains. A brother or cousin is a preferable business partner than a stranger. This strengthens the family and weakens illicit forces.
This is perhaps one of the Scriptural, Islamic values most neglected by Muslim immigrants in the West. Despite the fact that the rush to earn is often accompanied by a very real economic support of the extended family remaining in the home country, there is evidence that individualistic professional values acquired in the West are eroding both the awareness of the Islamic principles involved and the will to incorporate the extending family in one’s economy. This is only natural, since it is an unbalanced situation which places the economic burden on one or a limited number of individuals. The immigrant situation is intrinsically harmful to the family, and unless conscious measures are taken to counteract this evil, it will eventually result in the loss of other spiritual values.
5. Reproduction: a central reason for living in families
Genesis 16:1 Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
The fundamental concern of Abraham (as) as he appears in the Genesis story is his desire to have children. This overrides all other interests. His interest is not informed by a personal idiosyncrasy, but by the divine will itself. It is thus normative. Taking the Abrahamic example, we should be more interested in making heirs than we are in providing inheritance. Another clear contrast with the values of the present world we live in arises here. The family is the only existing regenerative source of society. The importance of propagation in the mind of both Abraham (as) and his wife is such that they are willing to compromise the peace of the family in order to accomplish it. Polygamy in the Bible is first noted in an unrighteous society (Genesis 4:23). The first model of marriage is monogamous (Genesis 2:23,24). Nor is there a command in Genesis to engage in polygamy. However, the polygamy of Abraham (as) is not stated to be outside the divine will, and it never required repentance or atonement. It resulted in the divinely willed birth of Ishmael (as), although it also resulted in a disruption of family peace.
Polygamy was practised by many of the righteous examples of the Bible, and although it is the object of limiting legislation, it was never forbidden. The holy Qur’an limits the number of wives to four, but under very severe restrictions. In view of all of the circumstances, there is no evidence that we are justified in suggesting that Abraham (as) made a mistake in taking a second wife. The birth of Ishmael (as) is clearly planned and desired by both God and Abraham (as), to say nothing of Abraham’s first wife, Sarah, as reported in Genesis.
The lesson to be learned from this is not freely to engage in polygamy, but to realise to what extent reproduction is important to human society. We have only to refer to the text in Genesis 1 quoted above to remind ourselves that reproduction is half of the whole positive duty of humankind.
The question of polygamy is one of the most burning issues in the dialogue between Islam and Christianity. It must be kept foremost in mind that the Bible and the Qur’an are in clear agreement on this matter. The ideal is monogamous marriage, but polygamy within certain constraints is not forbidden, and serves some very pragmatic needs. Christianity in forbidding polygamy outright and absolutely, besides going beyond the Scriptural limits, has not been able to produce an example of a society where the ideal of monogamous marriage is thereby maintained in all its glory. On the contrary, Christian societies have always been characterised by sexual excesses and social scandal. In Islamic societies a reluctant loosening of the constraint of absolute monogamy may have raised the status of women to some extent from the horrors of prostitution, but unfortunately other social and economic factors have often in practice mitigated the gains. Had Islam spread among less patriarchal peoples, its ideals might have shown more successful examples in this matter.
From a purely logical point of view, given the command of Genesis 1, every normal, healthy individual should have the right if not the obligation to marry and reproduce. In a society where there is a specific percentage of more women than men, there should be an equal percentage of occurrences of polygamy. However, where this is the case, the preponderance of additional women generally occurs at a higher age. Correspondingly, to be logical, the second wife should be noticeably older rather than younger. This might not always serve the purpose of propagation, but it would serve the purpose of women’s right to marry. Having said that, it is necessary to note that according to the Biblical narrative polygamy in the case of Abraham was only tolerated as long as Sarah, the first wife, tolerated it. Social issues aside, the choice devolves on those involved, not on outsiders. Even under legal pressure to accept a polygamous relationship, the Bible recognizes the right of the individual to refuse it, as in the case of the other redeemer of Ruth (Ruth 4:6). Personal interests, specifically the desire to maintain a monogamous family, may thus override polygamy even in the limited cases in which polygamy in the levirate is prescribed by the Torah. Much could be said about the issue from the individual and psychological point of view, and the evils of polygamy are obvious to everyone.
But in terms of society as a whole, the institution of polygamy is one of two alternatives. Either polygamy must be accepted to a limited extent, or the institution of celibate monasticism. If all men married, the need for polygamy would be greatly reduced, if only by the fact that fewer women would be available. The present Western standard of a growing singles society is completely unacceptable if for only one reason. Social and political control of a society of singles is easier than that of families. Those who have children naturally engage themselves in influencing society in favour of their children’s safety and well-being. Those who do not have children are oftentimes more inert in opposing oppression in the areas relating to education and the development of children. While singles may be very active, even more active than married people, in some social issues, their attention is more immediate, and the long-term direction of social development, which depends on children, is neglected. The tendency in the West is toward inhuman totalitarianism hidden beneath a plethora of immediate issues in crises.
One of the best ways of reversing that would be a social movement toward marital commitment and the founding of families, even in some situations including polygamy.
6. Circumcision: defining social boundaries
Genesis 17:9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
At the time of the coming of the Gospel, Judaism was split on the question of whether a convert or proselyte was required to be circumcised. This same question continued to split the community of the followers of Jesus (as). The writings of St. Paul reflect that local situation in many vehement expressions condemning the circumcision of adult proselytes. The question of the circumcision of male children, however, is never discussed in the New Testament epistles. The practice of the circumcision of children remains valid and normative from its institution in the family of Abraham (as) down to the present day.
Circumcision was given to Abraham (as) as a sign of his faithfulness in obedience to God. It was to be an identifying mark through succeeding generations. The mark of circumcision identified families into which marriage was possible or appropriate. It continues to a large extent to inform modern society in the same way. Male circumcision is one of the primary means parents have for the continued protection of their daughters. Circumcision acts as a guardian in two ways. First of all it has an effect on health and hygiene, both of the husband and wife. It is thus one of the most important factors in family life. Furthermore, it represents the likelihood that one’s daughter who has become a wife will be dealt with in terms of divine law rather than in terms of economic or social competition, where the average status of women declines, if only because of their biologically determined handicaps to engage in such competition for survival, that is, the normal conditions of pregnancy and breast-feeding as well as the average physical strength of women being less than that of men. Circumcision becomes a sign of women’s rights under divine law, and thus has a very direct social significance. Circumcision of males defines their family as a participant in society. Failure to circumcise male children puts the family outside the pale of regulated society into the state in which lawless competition determines all behaviour. This is basically the situation resulting from Christian rejection of circumcision and its underlying principles.
An implication of circumcision as the defining feature of social boundaries is the suppression of the importance of other boundary-defining devices. Circumcision implies the extension of social boundaries over racial, national, and sectarian limits, and creates the umma or people of God. It aids the family in its confrontation with usurping social and governmental agencies by creating a social grouping which ignores their hegemony.
7. Hospitality: the family meeting society
Genesis 18:2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
Qur’an 11:69 There came Our Messengers to Abraham with glad tidings. They said, "Peace!" He answered, "Peace!" and hastened to entertain them with a roasted calf.
In the ideal society, where the family is the unit of religion and government, temporary isolation from the extended family, because of travel or for other reasons, can create situations of crisis in security. Non-scriptural forms of government and business, with their peace-keeping forces and hostelries, can blind one to the divinely established extended social role of the family. The family is the centre of hospitality, and hospitality is a sacred duty for the preservation of peace and security. The breakdown of this practice is one of the foremost sources of the excuse to engage in non-scriptural governmental and business activities. Therefore the sacredness of hospitality cannot be underestimated.
The example of Abraham (as) was to feed and refresh travellers whom he did not know. Such hospitality in this example is an activity in which the whole family shared. The provision of the necessities of life falls on the family. But when one is separated from one’s family, that provision must fall on other families. The only alternative is to provide other institutions, and these have proved to be not only non-scriptural, but to have by and large a detrimental effect on spiritual values. The loss of extended hospitality is related to a consequent need for accommodation and food from institutions other than the family. To the extent that these institutions are divorced from the family, they foster isolation, unfavourable forms of entertainment, and eventually prostitution, intoxication, and other excesses. At a certain point these excesses are perceived as a problem in Western societies, but the root of the evil is never understood, and for this reason the solutions are never effective. The trend can be effectively reversed by simply reinstating the Scriptural value of hospitality as a central characteristic of the family.
8. Divine Guidance: confronting convention with obedience to God
Genesis 22:1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. 2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
Qur’an 37:101 So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear. 102 Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: Thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practicing Patience and Constancy!"
103 So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), 104 We called out to him, "O Abraham! 105 "Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" --Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. 106 For this was obviously a trial-- 107 And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: 108 And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times: 109 "Peace and salutation to Abraham!"
The story of Abraham (as) sacrificing his eldest son has provided material for conflict between the religious traditions, one side claiming that Isaac (as) was the son named and the other side claiming that Ishmael (as) was the son of promise. Such controversy overlooks the cultural context of the event as well as its implications. In order to see the social implications of this event, it is necessary to review its cultural and religious milieu. The sacrifice of children was widespread in ancient times and especially prevalent in Canaanite religion. The substitutionary sacrifice of children in a rite of passage or initiatory ritual has been just as widely spread. The Biblical text is permeated with the typical phrases of such an initiatory ritual. It is clear that Abraham (as) performed this rite for each of the first-born sons of his wives, for both Ishmael (as) and Isaac (as). What is of particular importance is the fact that Abraham (as) performed this rite while living among people who actually killed their own children in sacrifice to Canaanite gods. He showed his faith in being willing to flaunt social and religious convention.
The sacrifice of children was considered absolutely essential to the well-being of society in that part of the Middle East at that time. By failing to kill his first-born children, Abraham (as) opened himself to violent criticism. His performance of a substitutionary rite probably did little to allay that, although the rumour that the sacrifice was prevented by divine intervention may have reduced the danger. But to the extent that their flaunting of convention became known, the family of Abraham (as) may have been exposed to outright danger from an enraged populace. The social ramifications of Abraham’s faithfulness to divine law when it ran contrary to popular custom are deep and significant.
The sacrifice of Abraham (as), both in the case of Isaac (as) and that of Ishmael (as), has far-reaching implications. Conformity to social conventions which are contrary to divine law is a great temptation. It is easy to pretend that such conformity is necessary for the preservation of peace. In the light of Abraham’s (as) actions, it would appear that such contentions are mere excuses for the desire to be like the ungodly. The Abrahamic example informs us first of all that obedience to divine law is of more importance than conformity in the name of peace. It is the only means of preserving the family in the face of a challenging society. It is the only means of redeeming that challenging society and bringing a sane influence to bear upon it.
The rite itself, however, raises other questions. The substitutionary, redemptive rite for the first-born son of every woman does not have universal application. It is already given a different configuration in the Mosaic ritual. It has been replaced in Islam with a commemorative rite during the pilgrimage. This is an example of the shift in practice which has taken place over the ages. All prophets have been given the same faith and message, and to a great degree the same practices. But there is and has always been an area in which practice varies. These variations can be seen in the writings of the prophets, but they are most prominent in the application of divine law made by the divinely appointed guides. As people are faced with the details of a particular situation, the application of divine law may vary as it meets the practicalities of that situation.
Apparently in the time and place of Abraham (as), the redemptive rite served the purpose best. In our own day, the commemorative rite is for our best good, and has therefore been prescribed
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