Monday, 3 August 2009

Did Abraham Commit “Shirk” (Idolatry), by claiming that Stars, the Moon and the Sun were his Lord?

”Yes, according to the Qur’an, and this is the only sin that Allah will not pardon”

The moon rising, he said, 'This is my Lord.' But when it set he said, 'If my Lord does not guide me I shall surely be of the people gone astray.' When he (Abraham) saw the sun rising, he said, 'This is my Lord; this is greater!' But when it set he said, 'O my people, surely I am quit of that you associate. I have turned my face to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, a man of pure faith; I am not of the idolaters.” S. 6:74-82

This story is presented to the reader as a
historical narrative. There are, however, serious problems with this account. It conflicts with common sense and also contains a theological problem. The credibility of this story depends on the "surprise factor", i.e. that Abraham is actually surprised by the fact that the star, the moon and the sun are setting. Does that make sense? What is the probability that this is true?

The Qur’anic story in 6:74-82 presumes that Abraham had never before in his life seen a star, the moon or the sun. Only then could he become so impressed as to worship them immediately at their appearance, and then be surprised and dismayed at their setting after their rising.

Does the Qur’an teach that Abraham was exceedingly stupid? Or do Muslims want to assume that Abraham was kept by his father in a dark dungeon so that he had never seen the sun, moon and stars in his life, until the time when he objected to the idols of his father?

This story is not credible, period. In other words: The Qur’an is not credible. The Qur’an is not a credible source of historical information. But if we cannot trust the Qur’an when it reports historical events, how can we believe the Qur’an when it claims to proclaim the truth about God? There is yet another scientific and common sense reason why it could not have happened this way.

Granted, there is a certain logic behind the sequence of (1) star, (2) moon, and (3) sun:
these 3 are sorted according to the increasing brightness of their appearance on the sky. However, even under the already impossible assumption that Abraham had not seen either one of these before, this is not the sequence in which he could have encountered them. Stars are only visible at night. Thus, Abraham saw that star rise on the night sky. However, the moon outshines every star. Just step outside at night and take a look the next time the sky is clear. If brightness is the argument, how could Abraham have chosen a little twinkling star as his Lord when the moon was shining so much larger and so much brighter? It does not make sense. Some may reply: "But there are nights when we do not see the moon!" That is correct, but in that case, what celestial body is Abraham going to see after the star has set? If it is a night where the moon is not visible, then Abraham would first have seen the sun during the next day before he could encounter the moon in one of the following nights. The sequence in the Qur’an simply does not work.

As mentioned above, besides the clash with common sense, this story also poses
a theological problem. It is well known that idolatry, worshiping someone or something as god which is not the true God, is considered the worst sin in Islam, some passages in the Qur’an even stating that it is the only sin that will not be forgiven. Again:

When night outspread over him he saw a star and said, 'This is my Lord.' But when it set he said, 'I love not the setters.' 77When he saw the moon rising, he said, 'This is my Lord.' But when it set he said, 'If my Lord does not guide me I shall surely be of the people gone astray.' 78When he saw the sun rising, he said, 'This is my Lord; this is greater!' 6:74-79.

There are basically 2 possibilities to interpret this. Either, the events in verses 76-79 (are thought to have) happened some time
after Allah had been "showing Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and earth, that he might be of those having sure faith" (v. 75), or they are part of this process of "showing Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and earth", i.e. 6:76-79 give some details of the process that is mentioned as a summary statement in 6:75.

The first interpretation means that Abraham lapsed into idolatry after he had already received revelation from Allah. Even worse, he had been given that revelation for the express purpose that he may have "sure faith". Nevertheless he moved on to commit repeated acts of idolatry by declaring various celestial bodies to be his Lord. For a more detailed discussion of this interpretation, see the article
Abraham's Monotheism.’an/Contra/abrahams_idolatry.html.

second interpretation is even worse. It means that it was Allah himself who pushed Abraham into idolatry in order to lead him to true and sure faith in the end. After Abraham had already rejected idolatry (6:74), and the normal appearance of a star, the moon or the sun would hardly have caused Abraham to call any of them "my Lord", A must have caused them to appear to him in some extraordinary, amazing, super-natural way. They must have looked very different than usual and so overwhelmingly radiant and powerful that Abraham was led to view them as deities.

Whatever happened exactly, if verses 76-79 are part of Allah's act of showing Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, then it is Allah who is the direct cause of Abraham's repeated idolatry. In other words,
during his process of revelation Allah first misled Abraham about the truth, before he finally guided him right. Allah used some kind of deception. Allah is, yet again, a deceiver. Allah mixes revelation with deception. That should be troubling for anyone who believes in Islam.

The Qur’an denies the assertion that Abraham was an idolater, or one who worshiped something other than Allah:

he was no idolater.' 2:135;

certainly he was never of the idolaters. 3:67 and

This is my Lord; this is greater (hatha akbaru)!' But when it set he said, 'O my people, surely I am quit of that you associate. I have turned my face to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, a man of pure faith; I am not of the idolaters.” 6:74-82

, Muhammad turned Abraham into a mushrik, or one who worships created things as God, which is the sin that Allah will never forgive even if it happens to be a prophet who commits it:

Thus did we show Ibrahim (Abraham) the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he be one of those who have Faith with certainty. 6:75.

The Qur’an states how Allah rewarded Abraham by giving him righteous progeny (cf. Abraham's prayer in S.
14:39-40). In Surah 6, we find the "list of descendants":

First observation: The sequence of names is rather strange, erratically jumping back and forth on the timeline. Verse 84 mentions first Isaac and Jacob, Abraham's immediate descendants (his son and grandson). Then comes a parenthetical remark, "and Noah We guided before", referring to Abraham's most famous ancestor. After that, the list of Abraham's famous progeny continues, but without any apparent system. The correct chronological sequence, together with a very rough estimates of their date of birth, would be this:

Ishmael and Isaac (1900 BC), Jacob (1800), Joseph (1700), Aaron and Moses (1500 BC), David (1040), Solomon (1000 BC), Elias and Elisha (850), Jonah (800 BC), Zachariah (70 BC), John and Jesus (0 AD).

Some of the dates are debated (e.g. whether Moses was rather around 1300 instead of 1500), but
their relative sequence is not in question. (Muslims may raise the objection that the names are sorted in topical groups, groups of prophets that have something in common. That is why there is a comment after each group. However, even within those groups, their sequence is wrong. To put David before Moses is wrong. To put Elias after Jesus is wrong, and Lot and Ishmael are much older than Elisha and Jonah as well.).

Without question,
the given list is seriously confused, but confusion is not yet error since the Qur’an does not claim that this list is supposed to be chronological. However, apart from the issue of chronology, there are two problematic entries in this list which we left out of the re-ordered list of names with dates.

Job is usually not considered a descendant of Abraham. However, we do not have enough information about him to conclude that this is definitely an error. Still, the Qur’an simply includes him among Abraham's descendants without any positive evidence. The other name is
Lot. We know that Lot was Abraham's nephew, the son of his brother Haran (Genesis 11:27). Abraham and Lot travelled and entered the land of Canaan together and they lived in close proximity for some time. Later, they went into different directions (Genesis 13) before Abraham's first son was born (Genesis 15). Lot is a contemporary of Abraham, but he is not his son. This can also be seen in 15:51-66 and 29:26 of the Qur’an. Thus, the inclusion of Lot in the "seed of Abraham" in 6:86 is an error, even according to the Qur’an. No doubt, in order to escape from this mistake, many Muslims will claim that in the middle of verse 86 the list switches from the descendants of Abraham to the descendants of Noah when it says:
"... and Noah We guided before; and of his seed David and Solomon ...", and in this line the pronoun "his" refers back to Noah, not to Abraham. Therefore, all the names listed from David onwards are to be understood as the seed of Noah.

There are several reasons why we do not believe that this is a satisfactory answer. We agree, Arabic grammar allows to read the text this way.
And this interpretation would remove the error discussed above. However, the correct question for any text has to be: "What is the meaning that was intended by the author?" Many statements, when taken out of context, could potentially have several different meanings. That is the nature of human language. Intellectual integrity demands not to ask: "Which understanding of this statement suits me best? (perhaps because it would save the Qur’an from a historical error), but: "What was the intended meaning of the statement it its context?" — even if it is uncomfortable because the intended meaning is factually wrong.

Here are the reasons why we believe this is
supposed to be a list of Abraham's descendants. The story is about Abraham. The passage from 6:74-87 belongs together. Apart from the small remark in verse 84, Noah is not mentioned anywhere in that whole long Surah of 165 verses. The natural reading is to consider the short statement about Noah to be a parenthetical remark, not the beginning of a new section and a switch of focus from Abraham to Noah. Moreover, the Qur’an has similar statements in a number of passages: 29:27; 45:16; 19:49




  1. Is it possible that Abraham's peers and father was forcing him to accept their idols, such as the sun,moon,stars,statues, etc.?

    Is it possible that before God's message was revealed to him, he tried to accept these idols by reasoning, and with his own intelligence figured out that these false idols can not be the almighty God who created everything? (Hence the narrative in the Quran?)

    Just saying..


  2. Sorry, but what you state is just wishful thinking, and not reality. This is not what is in the Qur’an, in the Sunnah, and shurely this is not the example of Muhammad. You can see reality of Islam (that contradicts almost anything you state) by going through Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence). What you say is what a reasonable mind (like yours) would expect to a religion to be. Reality, historic facts and jurisprudence tells the oppiosite. It’s up to you to use your mind or to continue holding your eyes closed
    (ps : all my reasoning comes from Islamic texts and sources…it’s up to you to understand)