Verses from Surah Al-Anbiya’ (51 – 62)

[51] We had certainly granted Ibrahim his rectitude earlier,66 for We were of him well-knowing.67


66. “Min-qabl” of the text has been understood by Mujahid, Qatadah and others as referring to Ibrahim’s youth. That is, he was given at a very young age. An alternative meaning is, “We gave Ibrahim his rectitude before Musa” (Tabari, Razi, Qurtubi and others).

Asad comments, “The possessive pronoun ‘his’ affixed to the noun rushd (which, in this context, has the meaning of ‘consciousness of what is right’) emphasizes the highly personal, intellectual quality of Abraham’s progressive realization of God’s almightiness and uniqueness (cf. 6: 74-79); while the expression min qabl – rendered by me as ‘long before [the time of Moses]’ – stresses, once again, the element of continuity in man’s religious insight and experience.”

67. That is, Allah knew Ibrahim’s (moral and spiritual) condition to declare him a Messenger and His Friend. In Mawdudi’s words: “(The words) signify that God’s favor was not arbitrary. He knew well what kind of man Abraham was and so He lavished His favors on him in consideration of that merit.”

[52] When he said to his father and his people, ‘What are these idols unto which you are cleaving?’68


68. Majid comments: “Images and idols are looked upon by the idolaters not only as visible symbols and representation of some higher beings but as tenements or veritable ‘bodies’ of their gods and fraught with divinity.”

Thanwi clears a misconception: “Sheikh Shaheed Dehlavi (perhaps Sheikh Isma`il: Au.) has cited this verse to criticize the practice or efforts at ‘Sheikh-imagery’ recommended by certain extreme-going Sufis. (It is to imagine, on the part of a novice, the presence of the Sheikh before himself; and in a few extreme cases, even during prayers: Au.). However, if that happens without volition, and is not cloven to, then it is similar to other passing thoughts that could be forgiven.”

[53] They said, ‘We found our forefathers worshipping them.’

[54] He said, ‘Surely, you and your forefathers have been in clear error.’69


69. In simple words Ibrahim pointed out to an error which pagans of all times fail to see: a practice does not become valid if previous generations adopted it, and, secondly, as Razi put it, the acceptance by a large number of people does not convert a false idea into a true one.

[55] They asked, ‘Have you brought us the truth, or are you of those in jest?’70


70. “Abraham looked at life with a serious eye, and his people took it light-heartedly. He was devoted to Truth, and they cared more for ancestral custom. In the conflict he seemed to be in their power. But he was fearless, and he triumphed by Allah’s Grace” (Yusuf Ali).

[56] He replied, ‘Rather, your Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth – He who originated them. And I am to you of those who bear witness.71


71. What he meant to say is that it was not an idle statement that he was making, but rather, he could offer sufficient proofs (Razi).

[57] And, by Allah, I will surely plan against your idols after you have turned and gone away.’72


72. Qatadah said, “I believe Ibrahim said the words, ‘I will plan against your idols after you have turned and gone away,’ actually after they had turned and gone away.” Some reports suggest a keeper who had delayed departure heard the words from him (Ibn Jarir).

Yusuf Ali has another opinion: “He wants to convince them the powerlessness of their idols. But he does not do it underhand. He tells them that he is going to do something when once they are gone and their backs are turned to the idols, – as much as to say that the idols are dependent on their care and attention. Apparently the people are amused and want to see what he does. So they leave him to his own devices.

[58] So he rendered them to pieces,73 except the largest among them,74 that they may return to him.75


73. Before leaving for their religious festival outside the town, the pagans had left food items in the hands of the idols hoping to receive blessing by the time they returned. So Ibrahim said, sarcastically, as they left (37: 91), “Why do you not eat?” Then he added (37: 92), “What is the matter with you? Why do not you talk?” and (37: 93) “.. began to strike them with his right hand.” Done with them, he hung the axe by the neck of the chief idol (Ibn Jarir).

74. The words “kabirul  lahum” has also the indication of “the most important among them” as Ibn `Abbas understood it (Ibn Jarir).

75. Tabari understands the pronoun in “ilay-hi” as alluding to Ibrahim meaning, “hopefully they would return to him and to his message.” Others however, such as Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir and others see the possibility that the allusion is to the chief idol. That is, they might return to him and realize that idols have no power over anything.

Yusuf Ali again, “He was enacting a scene, to make the people ashamed of worshipping senseless stocks and stones. He left the biggest idol untouched and broke the others to pieces, as if a fight had taken place between the idols, and the biggest had smashed the others. Would they turn to the surviving idol and ask him how it all happened?”

[59] They exclaimed, ‘Who has done this to our gods? Surely, he is of the wrongdoers.’

[60] They said, ‘We heard a youth mention them (contemptuously). He is called Ibrahim.’

[61] They said, ‘Bring him before the people’s eyes so that they may bear witness.’76


76. Yusuf Ali provides the missing links that some people have difficulty inserting: “Different groups of people are speaking. Those who were not present at Abraham’s speech in verse 57 ask, ‘who has done this?’ Those who were, at once name him, whereupon a formal council of the people was held, and Abraham was arraigned.

(Although convinced of his crime) they did not wish to punish Ibrahim without due trial held in public (Ibn Jarir).

(To be continued)

[62] They asked, ‘Are you the one who did this with our gods, O Ibrahim?’