The Legacy of Abraham
By David Van Biema
In the article published in Time Magazine on the 30th of
December 2002, David Van Biema looks deeply into the story
of Abraham, as it is seen from different views such as Judaism,
Christianity and Islam through political and historical
reflections on current times.
Almost everybody knows the outline of Abraham’s story,
but until recently he probably has not received the credit
he deserves as a religious innovator. As biblical pioneer
of the idea that there is only one God, he is on a par with
Moses, St. Paul and Muhammad, responsible for a "complete
departure from everything that has gone before in the evolution
of culture and sensibility". In other words, he changed
A largely unknown fact among Jews, is the strong acceptance
of Abraham as a leader and a father. Christianity accepts
his Torah story as a part of the Old Testament and honours
him in Roman Catholic masses and in protestant children’s
songs. Praising him as their father and telling the story
of the sacrifice of his son Isaac as model for true believe
and dedication to the Lord. The church of the holy Sepulcher
in Jerusalem is arguably the most Christian place on earth
and it is believed that Jesus was crucified there. The mosaics
in the church portrays the image of Abraham about to slay
Isaac just next to an almost identical mosaic of Christ
sprawled on the Unction Stone.
But at times, Christianity had also used Abraham’s
image to look down at Jews. For example, Abraham started
the circumcision custom after a revelation of God, telling
him to bare the mark of belief on his body.
But neither Jews nor Christians know very much about Abraham’s
role in Islam, which acknowledges the Torah narrative but
with significant changes and additions. The Koran portrays
Abraham as the first man to make full surrender to Allah
each of the five repetitions of daily prayer ends with reference
to him. It also relates to Abraham building the Ka’aba,
the black cube that is Mecca’s central shrine. Infect,
those who cant make the journey to the annual pilgrims festival
in Mecca, offer a sacrifice of a goat or a lamb to commemorate
the same sacrifice Jews feature at the New Year. It is the
holiest single day in the Islamic calendar.
Only that the son of Abraham they refer to is not Isaac,
but Ishmael, who was given to him by Hagar, his slave, who
was later sent away with her son by the envious and childless
Sarah who only had Isaac later with the blessing of God.
Muslim scholars claim that it was Ishmael who was saved
from being sacrificed at the last minute and not Isaac.
And so, Abraham is the only biblical figure who enjoys unanimous
acclaim of all three faiths. This remarkable consensus makes
him an interfaith superstar and a special resource in these
times of anger and mistrust.
Naim Dangoor writes:
The idea of Monotheism was actually started not by Abraham
but by the historical Adam of the Garden of Eden (at Aden)
who started agriculture and is therefore the father of our
civilisation. Abraham’s role was that he revived the
idea of Monotheism that was falling into oblivion. Abraham
also tried to prove scientifically the existence of God
by noting the movements of some stars.
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