Patriarch Abraham’s Deism and Monotheism: The Best Paradigm For Interfaith Tolerance


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Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The Jews and the Christians associate themselves with Isaac, the younger son of Abraham, while the Muslims, while recognizing the prophethood of Isaac, have a greater association with Ishmael as many of the first Arab Muslims in Makkah were his direct descendants.  But, few among us are fully aware of a paradigm or way of religious understanding that I am going to share below.

Every time we Muslims stand up to pray and we are supposed to pray five times a day, we say a verse of the holy Quran as the intention for our prayer or Salat. Do you know which verse it is and if you are a Muslim, do you know which surah it is from?

The verse is: إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا ۖ وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ “I have single-mindedly devoted the whole of my attention to Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and I am not of those who associate partners with Allah.” (Al Quran 6:79/80)

This verse is not talking about the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, or Ishmael but about Patriarch Abraham and is a very integral part of every Muslim’s spiritual life.

The whole story and the context of this verse is:

Thus, it happened, that when Abraham was enveloped in the darkness of night, he saw a star, whereupon he exclaimed: Can that be my Lord? and when it set, he muttered: I like not those that set. Then when he saw the moon rising, he said: Can this be my Lord? and when it set he said: Had my Lord not guided me, I would surely have been of those who go astray. Finally, when he saw the sun rising, he said: Can this be my Lord, no doubt this is the biggest? But when that also set, he said to his people: Most certainly, I have no truck with that which you associate with Allah; I have single-mindedly devoted the whole of my attention to Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and I am not of those who associate partners with Allah. (Al Quran 6:76-79/77-80)

The holy Quran frequently talks about Abraham and Moses and other Jewish prophets including Jesus, may peace be on all of them.  In this sense Islam is not a new religion rather a continuation of what Abraham believed or did some 1800 years before Jesus.

If my articles are boring to you, it may be that you need to read more of them, as was suggested by John Cage, an American composer, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

My main point in this article is that the interfaith tolerance for the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims, lies in the person of Patriarch Abraham, who is referred to as Hanif’ in the holy Quran. Seyyed Hossein Nasr and colleagues describe the meaning of Hanif’, in their commentary, talking about the verse 98:5:

Hanif’ (pl. hunafa’) derives from the verb hanifa, meaning ‘to incline.’ It is employed in the Quran to indicate one who inclines away from idolatry and toward belief in the Oneness of God (tawhid). Abraham is thus  described as a Hanif’ in several verses (2:135; 3:67, 95; 4:125; 6:79, 161; 16:120, 123). And in 10:105, the Prophet is enjoined, Set thy face toward the religion as a Hanif’, and be  thou not among the idolaters; see also 22:31; 30:30. For the meaning of Hanif’, see 2:135c.

Rather than obsessing on parochial details and non-consequential issues in each tradition, the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims will do well by constant focus on how Deism leads to Monotheism in their respective traditions and for this purpose, here are some starting materials: Deism: Common between Islam, Christianity and Judaism and 12 Famous Scientists On The Possibility Of God. It is taking the attention away from the politics of the last 3800 years and focusing on the basic and the fundamental, which is Monotheism of the Abrahamic faiths.

Read on and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”

If our religious grounding or foundation pours out of the spring of Deism, belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a Creator, as was true for many of the Founding fathers of USA, rather than revelation of individual prophets, it will bring the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims, in debate with the agnostics and the atheists, to establish Monotheism and away from the less significant issues that drive the children of Abraham apart from each other.

This idea should not be foreign to the Muslims at all as there are numerous verses in the Quran that suggest Deism as the foundation for the Personal God of the Abrahamic faiths or Monotheism. Not only the foundation of Monotheism, the holy Quran often uses the first creation as the proof for the second creation or the Afterlife, the second most important belief of the Abrahamic faiths. The former is discussed at some length in the commentary of Surah Al Fatihah, in a new commentary of the Quran, the Quran dot love, and the latter in the commentary of Surah Al Waqi’ah. Additional suggested reading in this regard is: Cataloging 750 verses of the Holy Quran inspiring believers to study nature.

This is not to deny the differences that exist between Judaism, Christianity and Islam but to change the focus to what is common and fundamental.  If the Abrahamic faiths are not about the Creator of this universe, who is also the Lord of Mercy and wants to have a relationship with the humans and become a Personal God, then I know not what they are about.

I conclude with another verse of the holy Quran:

Say Muhammad, ‘O People of the Book! come to a word common between us and you — that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for Lords beside Allah.’ But if they turn away, then say, ‘We bear witness that we have submitted to God.’ (Al Quran 3:64/65)

Suggested Reading

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The anesthesia of familiarity: There should be a Creator of Our Universe

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For the Forty Percent Europeans, Who Don’t Believe in a Soul

Compassion or Dogma: That is the Question for the 21st Century?

Atheism exposed in one paragraph

A challenge for Dawkins: Where did carbon come from?

Video: The world’s best known atheist, Richard Dawkins does seem to believe in a Creator God

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