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The Prayer of Abraham (sws)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)
The Construction of the Centre of Oneness of God and the Prayer of Abraham (sws)

Abraham (sws) is the prophet of God whose iron determination, strength of character, willingness to sacrifice everything to uphold the oneness of God and significant practical efforts have made him an example for mankind. He was required to go through extraordinary trials to demonstrate his submission and faithfulness to the will of God. When he was successful in every respect, he was made the mentor and guide of all human beings on earth. Thousands of years later, all Jews, Christians and Muslims consider him to be their spiritual leader and hold him in high esteem. So many apostles and prophets have been born in his progeny that he has been given the title of the father of messengers.

According to researchers, Abraham’s ancestors came originally from Arabia, and had migrated to the rich lands around the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in the city of Babylon, now Iraq. This area became a centre of polytheism, idolatry and worship of stars gradually. Eventually those who had migrated from Arabia too became followers of this religion. According to known narratives, Abraham’s (sws) father, Āzar was a reputed man who belonged to a large idol house, but his son hated idol worship and fought against it throughout his life. God ordained Abraham (sws) as a prophet to bring his nation back to track. He preached to his father and his people, talking to them about the oneness of God and warning them that idol worship was rebellion against God, but instead of listening to him, his father ordered him to leave home. Abraham (sws) presented his message to his people, and used such creative arguments that everyone was speechless. He also invited the king of the times to accept his message, and gave such counter arguments to his points that he could not answer.1 However, except for his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot (sws), no one else heeded his message. When Abraham (sws) was deeply disappointed by the attitude of his people, he decided to take a huge risk by using a desperate measure as a last resort. One night when everyone was busy in revelries, celebrating some occasion, he went inside the central idol house, and except for the largest idol, smashed all the others. In the morning when the priests entered and saw what had happened to their gods, they were livid. Suspicion fell immediately on Abraham (sws) since he had been most vocal against idol worship. When he was questioned, he merely gestured towards the big idol and told the priests to ask it since it was intact and must have been watching the whole show. It could easily tell who the culprit was. Everyone then knew the facts. They said: “you are well aware that they cannot speak.” Here Abraham (sws) found his chance and started to make an impassioned speech in favour of oneness of God, and against polytheism. He argued that when idols were helpless in defending themselves and could not talk, how could they be of any use in harming or helping human beings? The real God is only one God who has power over everything. The people listening to him had no answer to this practical demonstration against polytheism, but they declared him to be worthy of the death penalty and sentenced him to die by fire. They lighted a fire, but God cooled it down,2 and Abraham (sws) was safe from it. He was then ordered by God to migrate from Babylon, and he left with his wife and nephew. The city he had left was doomed to severe punishment after his departure.



Leaving one’s dear and familiar homeland and starting the struggle for a new life in a new place for the sake of one’s faith is called hijrah (migration). It is a great trial. This is why when God’s subjects make such a huge sacrifice, He pays them special attention and creates new avenues for them. This is also what happened with Abraham (sws). He passed through several regions and reached the north of Arabia, selecting Canaan (present Israel) for his new country. God gave abundance to his resources and his livestock expanded. Soon he came to be considered among the wealthy people of the region. North Arabia was constituted of the states of Banu Qahtān, a tribe well known for its civility, generosity and welcoming behavior towards visitors. The place where Abraham (sws) settled was under the influence of the leader of Banū Jarham, called Abū Malik. He treated Abraham (sws) very well3 and made him his friend and to give stability to this friendship according to Arab tribal custom, gave his daughter, Hagar in marriage to Abraham (sws). Abraham (sws) remained childless for 85 years, until, finally, he dreamt of being blessed with a son of gentle bearing. The son was born to Hagar and was named Ishmael (sws). He was true in word and action, patient and an embodiment of his father’s qualities and soon became the focus of love and attention of his parents.

The Jews present Hagar to be Abraham’s (sws) first wife, Sarah’s Egyptian slave, on account of racial prejudice, but evidence negates this claim. While Abū Malik gave much worldly wealth to Abraham (sws), his esteem was such that he would say to him: “God is with you in everything that you do.” In such a situation, marrying him to his daughter is certainly credible. Hagar herself maintained her relationship with Banū Jurham throughout her life and married her son Ishmael (sws) and other children in the same tribe. This relationship became so strong that Banū Jurham came to Makkah and in later times took on its management. Had Hagar been an Egyptian woman, why would she have needed to remain in touch with Banū Jurham and further develop relationships?4


The Sacrifice of a Beloved Son

When Abraham’s (sws) son was old enough to work with him, the former was placed in a trial that has no parallel in human history. He was instructed to travel with Hagar and Ishmael (sws)  to the south. According to the Torah, this journey ended at Bayt-i Īl, where he made a place of sacrifice. Bayt-i Īl literally means “the house of God.” Signs indicate that, while travelling south, Abraham (sws) reached the valley of Bath~ā’ where Makkah is situated today. Both the House of God and the sacrificial place of Marwa are also there. Makkah was originally called Bakkah which meant “settlement” or “city” in the Babylonian language. It seems that after Abraham’s (sws) arrival in the valley, the people who settled there initially may have suggested the name Bakkah according to the language of their origin, and this changed over time. The Qur’ān uses this name for Makkah:

The first house that was set up for people is in Bakkah. It is the centre of blessings and guidance for all in this world. It contains clear signs, and the spot where Abraham (sws) had stood. (3: 96-97)

Abraham (sws) dreamt that he was sacrificing his son in the way of God. The determination and resolve that he possessed prevented him from interpreting his dream in other ways and he decided to sacrifice his son according to the apparently visible manner which he had seen in his dream. When he told his son about his intention, the latter was ready to subject himself to the will of God. Abraham (sws) took him to Marwa, laid him down and was about to slay him with a knife when he was ordered to stop and keep the knife aside. He was not meant to kill his son, it was only meant as a test of his faith. He was ordered to sacrifice an animal, and informed that this event would become a sacrificial ritual of great importance that would remain until the end of the world.

Complete faith in the oneness of God, repugnance of all forms of polytheism, overflowing desire to obey and submit to God and to offer no resistance to any sacrifice to whatever He wills became the identification of Abraham’s (sws) character. God accepted his act of supreme sacrifice, named it an Abrahamic Act, and presented his action as a practical demonstration of the Islamic way of life.

When Abraham (sws) was successful in the trial, he was blessed again, and was given the glad tidings of another son, Isaac (sws), from his first wife, Sarah, and a son, Jacob (sws)  from the generations of Isaac (sws). On hearing this, Abraham (sws) said spontaneously said: “May Ishmael live with your Graciousness.” God promised:

And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. (Genesis, 17:20)

In the Old Testament, God’s following promise has been stated after the event of the sacrifice:

I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. (Genesis, 22 16-18).

This promise is given in the Old Testament which is preceded by the statement of the sacrifice of Isaac (sws). Therefore Jews and Christians believe that this promise relates to Isaac (sws) and his progeny. This can in no way be validated because of the following reasons.

1. The son to be sacrificed is named “the only.” Isaac (sws) was at least 14 years younger than Ishmael (sws), hence he cannot be the only son. Where the Qur’ān mentions this event, it states the vision of the birth of the second son to be the reward of the intent to sacrifice the first and only son. Thus, the above promise is for Ishmael (sws) and his children.

2. The progeny of Isaac (sws) did not increase to the extent that the words seem to suggest. Today, those who claim to be children of Isaac (sws) are in millions, whereas the generations of Ishmael (sws) who first expanded to all corners of Arabia, and then to the whole world number in billions.

3. The progeny of Isaac (sws) have rarely obtained victory over their enemies. Their rule was established over a limited territory for a limited period of time. They have usually lived under other nations, and have been enslaved several times. In contrast, the progeny of Ishmael (sws) have always remained independent. Initially, they ruled in Arabia, and then were victorious over others and controlled entries to other countries.

4. God had made the children of Isaac (sws) as the source of blessings initially. But they began to think of this as their right and looked at other people with contempt. Consequently, the blessing that had been given to them in the form of divine guidance could not reach other nations and they kept it to themselves. When the progeny of Ishmael (sws) were given this responsibility, they not only obtained benefit for themselves, within a span of a hundred years, they had spread this message from India to China and to the people living in Spain and Portugal.

Hence the reference in the above extract is to Ishmael (sws), and God’s promise made to Abraham (sws) is also the same that was fulfilled with respect to his progeny. Including Isaac’s name in the Torah is the result of deliberate alteration from which the Torah has never been safe.5 Many ground realities also point to the same fact that this event happened to Ishmael (sws). For example, the biggest centre of sacrifice has always been Makkah, where Marwah is also situated. The connection between the House of God which Abraham (sws) had built, and which is in Makkah, and the children of Ishmael (sws) had never been broken. The system of prayers, i.e, hajj and ‘umrah, which Abraham (sws) had initiated has been in place without any break for thousands of years. The children of Isaac (sws) have no such sign preserved through which they could prove their connection with the great sacrifice or the construction of the House of God.


The Construction of the Centre of Oneness of God

The actual meaning of the dream that Abraham (sws) had seen, as it became clear later through divine revelations was for him to construct a structure built for praying to God in the valley of Bathā, and to give his son the responsibility to look after this Centre and keep it clean and useable for the pilgrims who came from far and wide to pay homage and pray to God. According to a narrative, an old prayer house had existed earlier, and Abraham (sws) was ordered to rebuild it, but no evidence can be found to support this. The use of the word Bakkah indicates that the valley had no inhabitants earlier and that settlements began only with the arrival of Abraham (sws) and he chose the word from the Babylonian language for its name. If no one had lived here previously, why would a prayer house have been built in a completely uninhabited area? The Qur’ān has called the House of God built by Abraham (sws) the Bayt al-Atīq (Ancient House). Similarly, the Quran uses the term ‘awwal bayt wudi‘a li al-nās (the first house to be assigned for people), and also calls it maqām-i Ibrāhīm (the place of Abraham). From this we can see that these words give pre-eminence and pre-existence to this House of God in comparison to the Bayt al-Maqdas which is situated in Jerusalem, built in the times of Solomon (sws) and given the status of the Qibla by the Jews. 


The Prayer of Abraham (sws)

In submission to God’s directive, Abraham (sws) and his son Ishmael (sws) began construction of the House of God. When doing so, both would recite this prayer:

Lord! And make both of us submissive to You; make of our descendents also a community that will submit to You and teach us our rites of worship and accept our repentance; Indeed, You alone are Forgiving and Merciful [to Your servants]. Lord! Send forth to them a messenger from amongst them who shall read out to them Your revelations, and shall instruct them in the law and in wisdom, and shall purify them. You alone are the Mighty, the Wise One. (2:128-130)

This great pair of father and son, whose every act was an enlightenment of the spirit of Islam for others, prays for their own submission and obedience to God first, because there is no limit to the levels of submission. Then they request for the good fortune of their progeny by praying for a nation to be raised that would follow their example in submitting to God, having complete faith in His oneness, acting on His instructions and obedient to His directives. Then they ask for a prophet to be born within this nation, one who would have His Book, who would teach and guide his nation towards the message of God, purify the people and cleanse their character. Since the two respected builders of the House of God had prayed for their progeny, this could not have been for those children of Abraham (sws) who were from the lineage of Isaac (sws). According to this prayer, this nation was to be comprised of the children of Ishmael, and the prophet, who was requested by Abraham (sws) and Ishmael (sws) was to be born among the progeny of Ishmael (sws).

The Responsibilities of Ishmael (sws)

When the Centre of Oneness in Makkah was completed, God accepted the first part of Abraham’s (sws) prayer and gave him instructions related to the form of worship. He was told that the House of God would be the centre and the Qiblah of all the children of Abraham (sws). They would come to this centre to worship that would entail the rituals of prayer, i‘tikāf, tawāf ka‘bah, hajj and sacrifice. The father and son were taught the procedures and rites to perform these rituals properly. The Qur’ān mentions this as follows:

And remember when We made the House of God a place of congregation and safe retreat and directed to make the spot where Abraham stood the place of worship; and enjoined upon Abraham and Ishmael to keep Our House immaculate for those who shall walk around it and stay in it for i‘tikāf and for those who kneel and bow down. (2:125)

And proclaim the pilgrimage among the people. They will come to you on foot and on the backs of lean camels from distant mountainous ways so that they are able to reach places of benefit and on a few appointed days invoke the name of God over their cattle which He has bestowed them. So eat of their flesh, and feed the deprived beggar. Then let the pilgrims cleanse themselves of their dirt and fulfil their vows, and circle the Ancient House. (22:27-29)

We see, therefore, that Ishmael’s (sws) responsibility involved the most important one of never allowing the House of God to become the centre of idol worship again. It was to gain status of the worship place of oneness of God, where people come to meditate and be close to God, communicate with Him and pray to Him in specifically identified ways. Hence Ishmael (sws) was to keep it clean for those who would circumambulate around the House of God and offer prayers. He would also invite people living in and around Makkah to come for hajj, and provide facilities to pilgrims who came during the days that were assigned for hajj and ‘umrah, train them on the proper procedures and establish the sacrificial rites. When these people had cleansed themselves of the dust from travel, conducted the circumambulation and completed the sacrifice, their hajj would have been completed. The verses also say that when hajj would be announced, people would throng to the centre and would not be concerned over the long distances involved.

These instructions prove in themselves that the progeny of Abraham (sws), whether those of Ishmael (sws) or of Isaac (sws) were the direct addressees, and not the other tribes of Arabia. Hence Israelites must also have been associated with this centre in some way in the beginning. They too must have offered the hajj, and must have made the pilgrimage to Makkah and offered the ritual of sacrifice here. Also, the House of God must also have been their Qiblah, the direction of their prayers. The statement given in Torah validates the above argument; “And Ishmael will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Genesis, 15-12:16). Since Abraham’s (sws) progeny had expanded to other parts of Arabia, the “living toward all his brothers” would only have been possible if his abode would be their Qiblah and they would have recognized it as such. Hence Israelites original Qiblah, must also have been the House of God in Makkah. This is also borne out by the tent of prayer of Israelites, and the details of the subsequent construction of Bayt al-Maqdis in Jerusalem. Discussing the form of the tent of prayer during Moses’ (sws) time and instructions related to the same, Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī writes:

“According to us, the purpose of this entire arrangement is to ensure that whoever comes to face God should face south, ie Makkah and the sacrificial place of Abraham (sws). This is further substantiated by the fact that the sacred place within the tent was in the southern direction and the altar was in the front towards the door. Anyone who wished to make the offering of sacrifice called the Most Sacred (quds-ul-aqdas) would stand towards the north of the altar so that he would face the direction of God. This meant that he would necessarily face the Ka‘bah next to which is Marwa, which is the first sacrificial place in the world, and where Ishmael (sws) stayed.”6

This research shows that the Qiblah, for the children of Isaac (sws) was the Ka‘bah in Makkah, and they also made sacrifices facing this direction. Later, when Solomon (sws) built the Bayt al-Maqdis, the direction of prayer was also the south. This means that just as the mosques that are built today face the Ka‘bah, the Bayt al-Maqdis was built similarly. However, during some later stage, the Jews converted the Bayt al-Maqdss itself into the Qiblah and broke off from the House of God in Makkah.

When Ishmael (sws) was settled in Makkah to look after the House of God, this area was absolutely unpopulated, devoid of resources for human consumption and dangerous. Abraham (sws) then prayed for it to be inhabited, graced with food and blessings and peace and harmony. His prayer is give in the Qur’ān thus:

O Lord! Make this a city of peace, and preserve me and my progeny from worshipping idols: Many a man have they led astray, O Lord! So he who follows me is truly of me; but as for him who disobeys me, surely You are forgiving and kind. I have settled some of my children, O Lord! in a barren valley near the Holy House so that, O our Lord! they may be constant in their devotion. So put in the hearts of men some kindness for them, and provide some fruits for them: they may be grateful. (14:35-37).

This prayer was answered and from that day to date, Makkah has been a centre of trade where every civic facility is available and people who live there raise their income through trade. The city obtained such a status of holiness and purity due to the Ka‘bah, and such was the dignity and greatness that the practices of hajj and ‘umrah created in the hearts of mankind, that the entire country would remain peaceful during the specific months. Pilgrims were thus able to travel without any fear and could conduct their business easily.

As far as the part of Abraham’s (sws) supplication related to sending a prophet from his progeny was concerned, its acceptance was postponed until centuries later.


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)









1. Qur’ān, 2:258.

2. Qur’ān, 37:83-100.

3. In chapter 20 of the Book of Genesis of the Old Testament, it is stated that Abū Malik was the king of Jarar, a place south of Canaan. When Abraham (sws) met him, he presented cows, goats, male and female slaves to him saying that the entire country is in front of him and his to stay where he will.

This chapter mentions the story of Abraham (sws) sending his wife Sarah to the harem of the king, with reference to Abū Malik, whereas the same story finds mention in chapter 12 with reference to the Egyptian Pharaoh. It is impossible that Sarah would have gone through a similar trial twice, and that the details of the trial would have been the same both times. Because Arabs consider Abū Malik to be the leader of the Jurham tribe, which was also the in-laws of Ishmael, it seems as if the story was created to revile the character of Abū Malik, and unnecessary confusion was created in Hagar’s parentage.  

4. Qāzī Sulaymān Mansūrpurī has explained the research of the Jewish Torah interpreter Rabbi Shilomo by saying that Hagar was the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter. He assigned Hagar the duty of being Sarah’s maid saying that to be serving Sarah is better than to be queen in another’s house. According to this researcher, Hagar was not a servant, but the king’s daughter.

Abū Malik is an Arabic name. His state is also in the south of Canaan in Arabia, whereas Egypt is to the west of Canaan. The author of the famous exegesis, Nizām al-Qur’ān, Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī has stated with reference to several inscriptions that the Egypt through which Abraham (sws) passed is neither a part of Arabia’s north or west, nor of Egypt. According to him, Hagar was Abū Malik’s daughter. (See: Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī, Nasab Nāmah Nabawī and ahl-Kitāb, Dehlī, Marakazī Maktabah Islamī, 1991).

5. A very comprehensive and conclusive book has been written on this topic by Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī (d. 1930), and translated by Amīn Ahsan Islāhī titled: “Who was Sacrificed?” (Publishers: Faran Foundation, Lahore)

6. Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī, Who Was Sacrificed?, 18.

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