The Fifth Pillar of Islam

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by Hazrat Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi Saheb R.A

Life-Story of Hazrat Ibrahim as Related in Quran

Hazrat Ibrahim was born in a leading family of priests at Urwa (now included in Iraq). Image-carving was the occupation of his ancestors who were also the keepers of the biggest temple in the town. His family was attached to that place of worship both spiritually and professionally and when faith gets mixed up with occupation and religious sentiment with economic self-interest the situation invariably becomes very complex and delicate. In this atmosphere of gloom and rigidity there was little to encourage the growth of true love and devotion to God or move the people to rebel against the absurdity of polytheistic tenets and idolatrous practices. But with Hazrat Ibrahim whom God had chosen for Apostleship and the resuscitation of humanity it was different.

“And We, verily, gave Ibrahim of old his proper course, and We were Aware of him.” (-xxi: 51)

Hazrat Ibrahim launches his crusade against ignorance from a stage where even most powerful revolutionary movements, generally, fail to make a headway. It was the stage of family, of the home in which a man is born and brought up and to which he is bound in loyalty and affection by innumerable ties. Now, all those things happen that have bean related so eloquently in the Qur’aan.  These include the breaking of the idols by him, the consternation of the priests of the temple and their unbounded anger and revengefulness, the lighting up of a huge fire for this young and deep-hearted rebel, the cooling down of the fire and its turning into a source of peace and safety for him, and, finally, his forceful forceful speech before the tyrant and straightforward replies to questions put to him in his Court.

Hazrat Ibrahim’s refusal to submit to the moral and spiritual perversion and depravity of his age evokes such a fearful response in the people of his town that they all turn against him. He is excluded from social fellowship and persecuted by the rulers. But this oppressive and spiteful treatment makes no impression upon him. He remains supremely unmoved as if it was just what he was looking forward to. Cheerfully and without rancour, he migrates from his birth-place because is not the real wealth, the wealth of faith, still in his possession, intact and undivided? He travels alone, without a friend or helper.  Everywhere, on the way he meets the same type of people, the same prevalence of ignorance, idolatry, corruption and sensuality upon which he had turned his back. On arrival in Egypt, he is confronted with a grave situation but succeeds in leaving that country safely with his wife on whom its ruler had an evil eye.  Ultimately, he reaches Syria where he decides to stay for its climate is agreeable, Here, again, he takes up the mission of preaching the Oneness of God and denouncing idolatry with the same singleness of purpose.

Hazrat Ibrahim takes a liking for Syria. It abounds in natural scenery, its soil is fertile and its peonle are prosperous. But, soon, he is bidden to go to another land which is just the opposite of it in richness and fertility. But he has no choice in the matter. He has no rights, only duties. He is but to obey, not to reason why. He has no preference for any country. The whole world is his home-land and the entire mankind his family. He is commanded to migrate from Syria with his wife, Hajir, and infant son.

Hazrat Ibrahim comes to a valley which is devoid of vegetation and surrounded on all sides by rugged mountains. Its climate is severe and it is also entirely uninhabited. There is no one in it who can be a source of solace or comfort. He is told to leave his helpless wife and child there and move away solely on the strength of faith in God and in compliance with his Commend. He is required to do so in such a state that he is totally resigned to the Divine Will and there is not a trace of fear or hesitation in his heart, nor a shadow of doubt regarding the promise of his Lord. On the contrary, he is to act in defiance of all the dictates of reason and experience, and yet to remain steadfast, firm and unflinching, giving the fullest proof of reliance upon God and disregard of material means and resources when he is assailed with doubt or fear grips his heart.

After Hazrat Ibrahim has departed all those things happen, in the natural course, that were dreaded. The child becomes restless with thirst, and so does the mother. But where was water to be found in that dry, unoccupied land? There was not a drop of it in the whole valley. Overcome with anxiety and with the intensity of mother’s love, Hazrat Hajir begins to run frantically between the two hills (of Safa and Marwa) in search of water and in the hope of meeting a caravan that may be passing that way. When she approaches the other hill she is suddenly seized with fear about the safety of her child? Is it alive or has something happened to it? She hurries back to the child and assures herself that it was well. Then she again runs towards that hill, hoping against hope that she will come upon a traveller or find a source of water up there. She is worried and apprehensive. At the same time, she is calm and serene. She is a Prophet’s wife and a Prophet’s mother but she does not believe in the futility of effort.  She does not regard anything and the seeking of material means to be contrary to the spirit of faith and reliance on God. She is disturbed but not dejected. She has the utmost trust in God but there is no room in it for inaction. The world has never seen such a spectacle before. The Providence, at last, is stirred and a spring bursts forth as if from nowhere. This is the blessed, overflowing fountain of Zam Zam which neither dries up nor dwindles. It is sufficient for the whole of mankind and for all generations to come. The world has been drinking at it and will continue to do so till the end of time. There is propitiousness in it as well as health and a reward.

The Almighty has made the spontaneous act of a pious, believing lady a deliberate observance and prescribed it as a religious duty for everyone including kings and potentates, thinkers and scholars. Unless they perform the Sa’ee between the hills of Safa and Marwa their Hajj will remain incomplete.  The two points are, in fact, the destination of all devout souls and Sa’ee offers the aptest illustration of the viewpoint of a believer which combines both reason and emotion and faith and feeling. A believer makes a full use of his intellectual powers in his worldly needs but, sometimes, also gives a free rein to the emotional urges whose roots are deeper and stronger than those of thought. He lives in a world which is full of temptations. But like the pilgrim doing the Sa’ee between Safa and Marwa he passes quickly through it without being distracted. His heart is set on his destination. To him life is like the few turns he takes between the two hills in obedience to the Command of his Lord and in emulation of the example set by the pious precursors. His faith does not come in the way of critical study and investigation and his Sa’ee (exertion) offers no hindrance to trustfulness and reliance on God. It is an event whose worth and significance can be summed up in just two words: love and obedience.

The child (Ismail) grows up and attains the age when a father is drawn most lovingly to his offspring. He goes out with his father, runs with him and keeps him company in many ways. The loving and affectionate father is very fond of his son. And, herein lie the seeds of crisis for his heart is a pure and noble heart which is reserved exclusively for the love of the Divine One. It is not anybody’s heart but of the Friend of Allah. Love can put up with anything but a co-sharer. It cannot suffer a rival. When such is the case with human love what would Divine love be like? This is the position when inspiration comes to Hazrat Ibrahim that he should offer the sacrifice of his son. The dreams of the Prophets are in the nature of Divine revelations. Hence, when the suggestion is conveyed to him again and again, he knows in his heart that it is the Will of God which shall be done. He asks his son for without his consent the deed cannot be performed. The son remains steadfast. He gives a glittering proof of self-surrender. It could, of course, not be otherwise for was he himself not a Prophet, and the son and grandson of a Prophet?

“(Ibrahim) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice thee. So look, what thinkest thou ? He said: O my father! Do that which thou art commanded. Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast.” (-xxxvii: 102)

There, now, takes place a miraculous event that cannot be explained by any known natural law. Hazrat Ibrahim comes out with his beloved son. He is going to sacrifice the son at the Command of God, and the son, too, is accompanying him willingly. The goal before them is the same. It is compliance with the Command of Allah and total resignation to His Will. In the way they are met by the Devil who is always eager to deceive man and to deprive him of goodness and rectitude. He tries to dissuade them from carrying out their intention by presenting before them the alternative of the defiance of God in a most alluring manner and by playing upon their natural weakness for life. But they do not listen to him and get ready for the supreme act of submission. The moment, finally, comes which is enough to afflict with agony not only men but even the Jinns and angels.

Hazrat Ibrahim lays his son on the ground, places the knife on his throat and proceeds to cut it. But the Will of God intervenes because what was intended was not the slaying of Hazrat Ismail but of the love that had come in the way of the love of Allah and begun to compete with it. That love had been killed with the placing of the knife on Hazrat Ismail’s throat. Hazrat Ismail was born to live and to prosper and to raise up a lineage which was also to include the Last of the Prophets. How could he be put to death before the fulfillment of his mission? God, therefore, sent down a ram, as a ransom for him, from the Heaven so that it may be slaughtered in his place and made it a religious ceremony to be observed by all the followers of Hazrat Ibrahim and their descendants. During the ‘sacrificial days’ of the Hajj they revive the memory of the ‘sublime sacrifice’ and make an offering of their wealth to God bv spending it in His way.

“Then, when they both had surrendered to Allah, and he (Hazrat Ibrahim) had flung him (Hazrat Ismail) down on his face, We called unto him; O Ibrahim! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision. Lo! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! That verily was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim. And We left for him among the later folk (The Salutation): Peace be unto Ibrahim. (-xxxvii : 103-109)

The incident which took place between Hazrat Ibrahim and the Satan has also been immortalised by God and it has been decreed by Him that pebbles should be thrown where the Satan stood in Hazrat Ibrahim’s way and tried to dissuade him from carrying out the Divine Command. He has raised it to a ritual which has to be performed during the most auspicious days of the Hajj pilgrimage. The object is to produce a feeling of revulsion against the Satan and to make it serve as an expression of defiance and resistance against him. The pilgrim draws a good deal of joy and inspiration from it provided that he is sound of faith and his understanding is correct and there is present in him a genuine desire to submit to the Divine Will. In re-enacting this part of the episode he feels that he is engaged in a solemn struggle against the forces of evil in which the defeat of the Satan is certain.

Years roll by on this event, the child has grown into a young man and the mantle of Apostleship has fallen upon him. The call of Hazrat Ibrahim has, also, borne fruit and spread widely. It was now in need of a strong base which could lend support to the Divine faith and sustain it. There were innumerable temples and plates in the world where the Devil and the sensual appetites were freely worshipped. But, on God’s good earth there was, till then, not a place dedicated solely to His worship. Thus, now that the faith had taken root and the foundations of were Ummat-i-Muslima were securely laid Hazrat Ibrahim was commanded to build the House of God which was to be the refuge of all mankind.  Father and son together construct the sacred edifice which, though very simple and ordinary to lack at, is full of grandeur and solidity from the point of view of its object. They both carry stones and raise its walls.

“And (the time also is worth remmbering) when Ibrahim and Ismail were raising the foundations of the House, (Ibrahim) prayed: Our Lord! Accept from us this Duty; Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower. Our Lord! And make us submissive unto Thee, and if our seed a nation submissive unto Thee, and show us our ways of worship, and relent toward us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Relenting, the Merciful.” (-ii: 127-8)

The House was raised on the foundation of matchless faith and single-minded devotion. The Almighty God bestowed His choicest acceptance upon it and endued it with permanence. He endowed it with inner as well as outward elegance, made it Qibla-gah of the world and caused for it a unique and undying attraction in the hearts. It draws people from all parts of the world like a magnet. They flock to it with rare enthusiasm and reverence and make an offering of their heart and soult to it. It is free from external adornment and artificial decorations and it is situated at a place which is removed from the broad stream of life and the din and clang of civilization. Yet there is something about it which is overwhelming, irresistible.

When the house was ready, a voice came from the great beyond. It spoke:

“And proclaim unto mankind the pilgrimage. They will come unto Thee on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine. That they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days over the beast of cattle that He hath bestowed upon them. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor and the destitute. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor and the destitute. Then let them make and end of their unkemptness and pay their vows and go around the ancient House.” (-xxii:27-29)

At the time of Hazrat Ibrahim the world was a slave to the operation of the law of cause and effect and people had begun to place an excessive reliance on material aids and resources. It was imagined that causes were absolute and independent in themselves, and a new kind of fetishism had come up side by side with traditional idolatry. The life of Hazrat Ibrahim was a revolt against these very ‘image carvers’ and ‘idol worshippers’. It was a call to pure Monotheism, to unqualified belief in the Power of God with all its immensity and boundlessness. It was a declaration of truth that He alone was the Creator of all things, the Prime mover, the causer of causes, the real Lord and Master, who, when He pleased, separated the causes from their origins and altered the properties of things. He took away from a thing what was peculiar to it and brought forth from it an effect that was supposed to be dissimilar. He made us of whatever He liked and in whatever way He pleased.

“The people had prepared a fire for Hazrat Ibrahim and they cried, ‘Burn him and stand by your Gods, if ye will be doing anything.” (-xxi:68)

But Hazrat Ibrahim knew that the fire was subservient to the Will of Allah. To burn was not an absolute characteristic of it which could not be taken away but only a relative attribute that had been placed in it by God as a trust. Its control and operation lay wholly in His hands who could transform it into a flower-bed in the twinkling of an eye. With this faith and conviction Hazrat Ibrahim jumped into the fire and it turned out to be exactly as he had expected.

“We said: O fire, be coolness and peace for Ibrahim. And they wished to set a snare for him, but We made them the greater losers.” (-xxi69-79)

Life was commonly believed to be dependent upon water, field and orchards. People used to be on the look out for regions to make their home that were suitable for themselves as well as for their gods, where there was an abundant supply of water, the soil was rich and facilities for trade and industry were easily obtainable. But Hazrat Ibrahim acted differently. In utter disregard of the biddings of intellect and experience, he chose for his small family of a wife and son a dry and barren valley where not a blade of grass grew and which was also completely cut off from the outside world and separated from the areas of prosperity. On arriving there he prayed to Allah to enlarge the provision of his posterity, to incline the hearts of men towards them and to provide them with all kinds of fruit without any apparent means.

“Our Lord! Lo! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near upto Thy Holy House, Our Lord! that they may establish proper worship; so incline some hearts of men that they may yarn toward them, and provide Thou them with fruits in order that they may be thankful.” (xiv : 37)

The prayer was granted by Allah, and in what a magnificent manner! Both peace and sustenance were assured to his succeeding generations and the valley of Mecca was made the home of fruits and His other bounties.

“Have We not established for them a sure sanctuary, Whereunto the produce of all kind is brought (in trade), a provision from Our Presence? But most of them know not.” (-xxviii: 57)

“So let them worship the Lord of this House (of Ka’bah) Who hath fed them against hunger.” (-cvi : 34)

Hazrat Ibrahim had abandoned his family at a place where not a drop of water was to be found but Allah caused a spring to gush forth from the parched, stony land. Water began to gush, from the sand, all by itself, and, even to this day, it has been going on like that, without an interruption. People drink it and take it home in barrels. He had left his wife and son in a desolate and uninhabited valley but soon it began to hum with people drawn from every nook and corner of the world.

Hazrat Ibrahim’s life was a challenge to the exaggerated materialism and blind submission to the law of cause and effect of his age, and an affirmation of faith in the 0mnipotence and All­powerfulness of God and it is the unchanging Practice of the Lord that He makes means and resources subordinate to faith and produce results from them as are outside the range of human understanding.