Because of Eid’l Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, a lot of us have started reviewing the life of Prophet Ibrahim (alayhi salaam [as]/peace be upon him) and that test of faith given to him by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (swt) [glorified and exalted is He] when he was asked to sacrifice his own son, Prophet Ismail (as). However, instead of just reflecting on that specific test, why not see some lessons on family relations imparted to us through the lives of Ibrahim (as) and his family?
Have you realized that Allah swt allowed Ibrahim (as) to be tested as a son only to be tested again as a father? Ibrahim (as) believed in the oneness of Allah swt and rejected the idols being worshipped during his time. He attempted to invite his father and his people to leave idol worship but was repeatedly rejected. His father, who happened to be one of the main carvers of the idols being worshipped that time, threatened to stone him should he persist in calling people to change their ways. We all know that eventually Ibrahim (as) was thrown into the fire by his people but was saved by Allah swt. He left his community upon realizing it was futile to call them to the truth, yet he still prayed for his parents.
Pondering on this, we find some beautiful advice on how to treat our parents, Alhamdulillah. Let’s ask ourselves: How patient are we with our parents when they err? Have we truly exerted the best efforts to invite them to change their wrong ways? How forgiving are we of their mistakes and shortcomings? Can we find it in our hearts to pray for them, remembering how they took care of us and how patient they were with our own lapses? It’s also interesting to note that at times, distance is indeed needed to make healing easier, or to make relationships better, and to protect our faith once we’ve done our part yet we do not see any positive change.
Years passed, and Ibrahim (as) was tested as a family man himself: first, when Allah swt asked him to leave his wife Hajar and their baby Ismail in a valley of Makkah without provision or shelter; and second, when Allah swt asked him to sacrifice Ismail who was now a young man. In both cases, Ibrahim (as) remained faithful and backed this strong faith with beautiful actions. In the first test, submitting to his Lord and knowing that there is nothing he can do to protect his wife and son but to pray, he gave such a beautiful supplication:
“Our Lord, I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline toward them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful.”
Noble Qur’an, Ibrahim (14):37
Dissecting the above supplication, we are reminded of what should be our goals not just for ourselves but for our loved ones—i.e, to become servants of The Almighty who never forget to worship Him. We are also shown here the huge responsibility upon the shoulders of fathers—to not just provide for the basic needs but to ensure the safety and security of the family. Given that Ibrahim cannot be physically with them, what does he do? He does not give a general prayer asking Allah swt to protect them. Rather, he prays for the people whom his descendants will meet and with whom they will live as one community—that Allah allows good relations to be established among them and that they be given provision so they might become grateful to their Lord. Imagine that, subhanAllah. It’s something any man would want for his family—that no harm (of any and all forms) touches his loved ones. We know we can do our best to protect them at our own homes, but what about outside, right? It shows that we should not forget to pray for our communities; after all, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child. If you are (or are going to be) a family man, you may want to ponder on these things. Additionally, answer these questions: What are our goals for our family? How serious are we in fulfilling our family responsibilities? Do we ensure that they are protected from harm (of any and all forms)? Ibrahim (as) was called by Allah swt to leave his family as a test; what about us? If we are thinking of leaving to work far from them, how do we ensure that we can nurture and protect ties? Or, if we are thinking of leaving the relationship (or have already done so), why? Can we say it was Allah swt Who instructed us to do so? Is it really Him or a weakness of our own evil-commanding self (nafs)? what happened to the goals? what happened to the responsibilities? what will happen to our families?
Hajar also stands out here. She could’ve cursed Ibrahim (as) for leaving them without support. But, when she asked him if it was the command of Allah and he affirmed it, she submits. She neither questions nor argues; she holds on to faith. Again, faith is backed up by action here. She climbs back and forth to the hills of Safa and Marwa under the heat of the son not just once or twice or thrice, but seven times in search for help or sustenance for her baby. And assistance indeed was sent by Allah swt.
Hajar’s story teaches us so many things. It reminds us that love for our children should be grounded on faith and love for The Most Loving. She loved Ismail, yes, but she trusted and loved Allah swt more, hence, was able to bear being left with her precious baby in the valley of Makkah without provision from Ibrahim (as). It also shows the support a wife can give to her husband should he be assigned far away. It can even be a reassurance to widows or single mothers that Allah swt always has the best of plans laid out for each of us. Ibrahim (as) may have been far away, but Allah swt gave Hajar and Ismail (as) provision and allowed a good community to be built where they were. Some questions to ask ourselves as mothers and/or wives: Do we love our children for the sake of Allah swt? How do we show support for our husbands while they are away? How patient and faithful are we when there seems to be nothing left for us and our children?
In the second test, it is worth noting that although it already became clear to Ibrahim (as) that he indeed was being ordered by Allah swt to sacrifice his own son, he consulted his son about this and did not simply leave Ismail clueless up to the last second:
“And, when he (his son) was old enough to work with him, he said, “Oh, my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I (must) sacrifice you, so see what you think.” He said, “Oh, my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the patient ones.” Noble Qur’an, As-Saffat (37):102
We must assess our relationship with our children: do we allow and encourage them to participate in family discussions? More importantly, do we consult them and consider their views especially on issues that will directly affect them? We are also reminded how critical it is to raise faithful and steadfast children, so we can be confident that, in shaa Allah, they will make the right decisions and will be faithfully patient to accept whatever befalls them. This was truly a hard test for Ibrahim (as). Imagine not having a child for so long and when you finally have one, you are then asked to give him up. SubhanAllah. Yet, he and his son submitted; and for that, they were rewarded tremendously.
There is also so much to learn from how Ismail (as) handled this test. He, along with his parents, remained steadfast no matter how much Shaytaan tried to prevent them from performing the sacrifice. In some narrations, Ismail (as) even asked Ibrahim (as) to tie his hands and feet to avoid the possibility of him resisting when he is about to be sacrificed. Remember, too, what he said,
“You will find me, if Allah wills, of the patient ones.”
That reflects confidence and courage fuelled by faith. In shaa Allah (If Allah wills), he said. He was not simply being confident that he had what it takes to patiently submit. There is this consciousness of the One Who bestows patience. And, asking his father to tie him up reflects not just steadfastness but also excellence and an important part of trust in Allah—doing our part to the best of our ability.
Ponder some more, shall we? Perhaps, there are times in our lives when we feel like an Ismail—the one being sacrificed; the one being let go; the one being ‘abandoned’. We must admit, that’s not easy to accept. That hurts a lot! After all, we all want to love and be loved. Psychology will tell us that’s going to take a lot of denial, a lot of anger, a lot of bargaining, and even depression…but yes, there is acceptance. But you know what makes acceptance sound even more beautiful? Submission to His will, with such beautiful patience. This is the kind of definition of acceptance we all need. How are we handling being let go? How are we handling pain or anger? How are we ‘tying ourselves up’ so we can remain steadfast to Him when Shaytaan tries to persuade us to go astray? Think of that, Ismail asked to be tied so he won’t waver. It’s a reminder that while others might hurt us, it will still be our decision to hang on to faith or to let go. When feeling down, for example, what are your coping strategies and who are those you allow to be your support group? Do they bring you closer to Allah swt or not?
While her story may not often be a point of reflection during Eid, Sara’s also provides us timeless lessons. Sara, the first wife of Ibrahim (as), joined him when he decided to leave their community after it became clear that his people will not accept his invitation to leave idol worship. As a couple, they were tested when they came to a land of tyrants. They had to pretend to be siblings to save themselves. She was brought to the king and he tried three times to stretch his hand towards her. Every time he tried, however, his hands became tied up (always tighter than the previous attempt) and were only released upon his request that Sara supplicates to her Lord to release the king with the condition that he will not harm her. He finally gave up his desire for her and turned them away from his land while giving Hajar to Sara as a gift (see Sahih Muslim 2371 for exact hadith). As a couple, they were also tested with the lack of children for many years. As a wife, she was tested when Ibrahim (as) was destined to take Hajar as his second wife and they had a child, Ismail. Sara was tested again in old age when they were informed that she was also to have her own child, Ishaq (Isaac).
Sara’s story also shows us what it means to love someone for the sake of Allah swt. She was there when their community humiliated Ibrahim (as) and decided to throw him into the fire. She stayed with him even if it meant migrating and starting from scratch. She stayed faithful to him even when she could’ve lived a life of material pleasure with a king. Although yes, narrations inform us that she did experience jealousy that is natural for any woman when she couldn’t have a child of her own while Hajar already gave birth to one, the fact that she eventually had a child of her own with Ibrahim (as) years after tells us that she remained with him and submitted to the will of Allah swt. Her story makes us ask ourselves: What is our ultimate goal in marriage? Will the lack of children affect our relationships? How do we show support to our spouses when they are experiencing challenges? How strong is our faith to resist worldly temptations? How forgiving and steadfast are we in marriage? (Note: this last question is raised as a general point of reflection and is not meant in any way to instruct Muslim women to simply and silently accept should a husband decide to take a second, third or fourth wife. There are no longer prophets among us and it is extremely difficult to reach their level of piety, hence, Islamic rules have been established and were made very clear about treating every person, especially in marriage, with justice and mercy. Issues related to polygamy are complex, and require a separate discussion.)
So many lessons and so many questions to ponder on. May we continue to learn about the lives of our prophets, and try our very best to apply the lessons we gain from their lives always for the sake of Allah swt. May we commit these supplications of Ibrahim (as) to memory and include it in our daily conversation with The Almighty:
“Oh, my Lord! Make me one who performs salah (prayer), and also from my descendants. Our Lord, and accept my supplication.
Our Lord, forgive me and my parents and the believers on the Day when the reckoning will be established.”
Noble Qur’an, Ibrahim (14):40-41