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Did Abraham (sws) Smash the Idols?
Moiz Amjad


In one of his articles1, Mr Jochen Katz has pointed out a contradiction in the various narratives of the Qur’ān regarding some of the incidents in the life of Abraham (sws). Mr Katz writes:

The accounts of Abraham in 19:41-49, 6:74-83 differ quite a bit from 21:51-59. While in Sūrah 21 Abraham confronts his people strongly, and even destroys the idols, in Sūrah 9 Abraham shuts up after his father threatens him to stone him for speaking out against the idols. And he seems not only to become silent, but even to leave the area (‘turning away from them all’).

Let us first take a look at the relevant verses of  Sūrahs 19, 6 and 21 respectively to understand Mr Katz’s objection:

And mention Abraham in the Book. He was indeed a saintly man and a prophet. When he said to his father: ‘Why do you worship a thing that can neither hear [your calls] nor see [your condition] and cannot help you in anything. My dear father things that were unknown to you have come to my knowledge; therefore follow me that I may guide you to the even path. My dear father, do not worship Satan, for Satan has rebelled against the Merciful [Creator]. My dear father, I fear that a punishment from the Merciful may inflict you and you may become a partner of Satan’. He replied: ‘How dare you renounce my gods, Abraham? If you desist not, I shall stone you [to death]. Leave my house this instant and go away from me’. ‘Peace be with you’, said Abraham. ‘I shall pray to my Lord to forgive you; indeed He has always been gracious to me. I shall leave you and what you call upon besides God. I shall call upon my Lord and may my prayers to my Lord not be in vain.’ (19:41-9)

And when Abraham said to his father, Azar: ‘Do you really take these idols to be gods? You and all your people are indeed in clear error’. Thus we used to show Abraham the [secrets of the] kingdom of the heavens and the earth, so that he become a firm believer. Then, [one day], when night drew its shadow over him, he saw a star. ‘That’, he said, ‘is my God’. But when it faded in the morning light, he said: ‘I will not worship gods that fade.’ When he beheld the rising moon, he said: ‘That is my God’. But when it set, he said: ‘If my Lord does not guide me, I shall surely go astray’. Then when he beheld the sun shining, he said: ‘That must be my God: it is the largest.’ But when it set, he said to his people: ‘I disown your idols. I will turn my face to Him who has created the heavens and the earth, and will live a righteous life. I am no idolater’. His people argued him. He said: ‘Will you argue with me about God who has given me guidance? I do not fear your idols, unless my Lord so willed. My Lord has knowledge of all things. Will you not be warned? And how should I fear your idols when you yourselves are not afraid of serving idols not sanctioned by God? Which of us is more deserving of salvation? Tell me, if you know the truth. Those that have faith and do not taint their faith with wrongdoing shall surely earn salvation, for they follow the right path’. Such was the argument with which We furnished Abraham against his people. We raise whom We will to an exalted rank. Your Lord is wise and all-knowing. (6:74-83)

And We had bestowed guidance on Abraham before this for We were well-aware of him. When he said to his father and his people: ‘What are these images to which you are so devoted?’ They replied: ‘They are the gods that our fathers worshipped’. He said: ‘Then you and your fathers have, indeed, been in clear error’. They said: ‘Have you got something worth listening to, or are you just playing [with our beliefs]?’ He answered: ‘[These are not true gods]; your Lord, on the contrary, is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, Who created them. And I openly bear witness to this. By Allah, I will, indeed plan against your idols, after you turn your backs [upon them].’ Thus he broke them all into pieces, except their supreme god, so that they may [be able to] turn to him [for help]. [When they saw their gods broken in pieces] They said: ‘Who did this to our gods; he is indeed a transgressor’. (21:51-9)

It is these three sets of verses on the basis of which Mr Katz has pointed out the contradiction that according to the last set of verses ‘Abraham confronts his people and even destroys the idols’, while according to the first two sets of verses, Abraham goes into silence after he is threatened by his father and subsequently leaves the area.

The reader should note that besides the last set of verses, the two former sets of verses do not mention the incident of the breaking of the idols. Mr Katz is actually construing the silence or the non-reference of the two former verses to the particular incident as a negation of the incident. However, unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. I really do not think this particular objection raised by Mr Katz needs to be taken seriously till Mr Katz provides at least a reasonable basis of construing the silence of the Qur’ān in the two former sets of verses, with reference to the particular incident as a negation. The non-provision of such a ‘reasonable basis’, would raise more questions about the interpreting mind rather than the literature. The Muslim mind, in the mean time, is satisfied interpreting the three sets of verses to highlight three separate incidents in Abraham (sws) life.

At the end of his article Mr. Katz writes:

Furthermore Sūrah 6 differs from the other two in the respect that Abraham does initially also worship the creation instead of the creator and only later realizes his mistake [sin] of worshiping that which is not God..

I have already given my answer to this comment in one of my previous responses to a criticism by Mr. Katz, titled: Did Abraham (sws) Smash the Idols?2

Courtesy: Understanding Islam (






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