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Abraham's struggle against idolatry and the story of his idolatry
Shortly after the birth of Abraham, he began to oppose the idolatry. According to narrations, Abraham’s first opposition to Azar was before his prophecy and when he was thirteen or fourteen years old. Before Azar’s eyes, Abraham broke the idol he had artistically carved and said to him: “Do you worship what have you carved?” What Abraham did frightened him very much, so he said to his mother: “He is the person who will overthrow our idolatrous regime.” Abraham’s first apparent opposition to the idolatry was at the town’s marketplace. Although, Azar prevented Abraham from monotheism, when he saw Abraham’s divine face, he became more interested in him. Since Azar was the chief of the factory in which the idols were made, one day he gave Abraham a few idols and asked him to take them to marketplace and to sell them like what his brothers did. Abraham accepted Azar’s request and took the idols to the center of the marketplace. He intended to prevent them from deviation and ignorance and cause them to become averse to worship the idols, so he tied a rope to the idols’ neck and dragged them on the ground and cried: “Who will buy these useless idols, the idols which have no profit and loss?” Then, while people were looking at him, he took the idols near the oozy and the waters which had been gathered in the holes and threw them in the mud and dirty water and cried: “Drink and speak!!” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 12, p. 13). Accordingly, he tried to inform people of the fact that: “Idols do not deserve our worship” he warned them and said: “beware of this fact and do believe in One God and monotheism and do not prostrate yourself before these useless idols which have been made by human beings and have no profit or loss. Are you not wise, are you not human? Why do humiliate yourself? Why?!” Then he brought the idols to Azar and said to him: “No one bought these idols.” But Azar’s children informed him of Abraham’s insult to the idols. Azar summoned Abraham and rebuked and threatened him and then he intimidated him with Nimrod and his reign. But Abraham paid no attention to Azar’s threats. To punish him and not to allow him to have active presence in the society, Azar decided to imprison Abraham. Hence, he arrested Abraham and imprisoned him in his house and determined a group of warders to keep a watchful eye on him. But soon he could escape from the prison and could continue his religious invitation. Consequently he prevented people from idolatry and invited them to monotheism. (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 12, p. 31).
Abraham's negotiations with Nimrod, and Nimrod’s condemnation
The story of Abraham’s opposition to idolatry became so famous and hence, this event was considered as the top news and since Nimrod was very sensitive about it, he ordered that Abraham had to be brought to him immediately. He intended to keep him silent through bribes and threats. They brought Abraham and Nimrod cried at him and objected to what he had done and said: “Who is your Lord?” Abraham replied: “My Lord is the one who gives life and causes death.” Nimrod tried to argue with him through sophistry, so he said: “O man, it seems that you are unaware of everything, I am the one who give life and cause death, don’t you know that I can release the criminal who has sentenced to death and if I want I can execute the one who has not been sentenced to death.” Then, he ordered that a person who had been sentenced to death be released and another person who had not been sentenced to death be executed. Then, Abraham promptly changed his argument and said: “It is not only about the death and life but all the universe is in the hands of God. So my Lord is the One who causes the sun to rise on the eastern horizon at dawn and to go down on the western horizon at the sunset. If you tell the truth and claim that you are the Lord of all people, then make the sun rise on the eastern horizon and go down on the western horizon.” Against this argument, Nimrod was overwhelmed and could not speak. (Adapted from Verse 257 of Surah Al-Baqarah). Nimrod who knew that it would cause him a greater scandal if he showed open hostility toward Abraham, he inevitably released him and decided to get revenge on him in an appropriate opportunity in the future. But Nimrod made his spies responsible to monitor him everywhere and thretened people not to be contact with Abraham.
Abraham’s act of breaking the idols and his argument
In the Holy Quran (Verses 57-67 of Surah Al-'Anbya' and Verses 90-96 of Surah As-Saffat) the story of Abraham’s act of breaking the idol have been related. Abraham struggled with idolatry in different ways. But Abraham’s statements and struggles had no effect on those obstinate idolaters and on the other hand, Nimrod’s reign intended that people never refrain from idolatry because it helped the continuation of ,their monarchy. The verses of Surah Al-'Anbya' indicates that the idolaters had not taken their struggle with idolatry seriously. In this regard the Quran says: “They said, "Have you come to us with truth, or are you of those who jest?"” (Surah Al-'Anbya'-Verse 55). Abraham, then chose a new stage in its struggle against the idolaters and accordingly he strongly warned the idolaters and the reign of Nimrod. In this regard the Quran says: “And I swear by Allah, I will surely plan against your idols after you have turned and gone away.” (Surah Al-'Anbya'-Verse 57). It is said that this verse only indicates Abraham’s internal intent. Since, Abraham had to struggle with the obstinate idolaters, it would be illogical to say that he declared his decision with its exact time. In this regard the Quran says “after you have turned and gone away” (Al-'Anbya'- 57). As it has been stated, this sentence may refer to this issue that the idolaters’ went away from the house of idols and not from the town, however considering the whole story, this probability would be ruled out. It is natural that if Abraham had stated this sentence in front of the soldiers of Nimrod, they would not have accepted Abraham’s excuse that he had been ill and hence, they would not have allowed him to stay in the temple. Anyhow, in order to break the idols, Abraham waited for the Celebration Day to come. According to Babylonian custom, every year on this day, people left the town and went to desert, mountains, plains and other open spaces in order to have pleasure. On that day, people left the town and even Nimrod and his companions also left the town. They even invited Abraham (a.s) to accompany them. According to the Quran, in response to their invitation, Abraham said: “And he cast a look at the stars and said, "Indeed, I am [about to be] ill.” (Surah As-Saffat-Verse 87). Abraham was not physically ill, but when he saw that people were very obsessed with corruption and idolatry, he became mentally depressed and accordingly when he said “I am [about to be] ill” he meant that he was mentally depressed. Verses 88 to 90 of Surah indicates that it was the same opportunity for which Abraham had waited because people were ready to leave the town to take part in the ceremony of the Celebration Day. But Abraham made excuses for not accompanying them and said to them that he was ill and consequently they left the town and he stayed there. The sentence “And he cast a look at the stars” implies that since their Celebration Day was in summer, it was better for them to hold the ceremony at night. When they left the city, Abraham took an ax and a little food and entered the house of idols. He observed a lot of statutes with different forms which had been arranged next to each other, but they were unable to move. Abraham took the food and went toward each of these idols and asked them to eat from the food the idol worshipers had brought to them. They did it either to humiliate the idols or as an act of disapprobation of the idols or because of his anger. In this regard the Quran says: “Then he turned to their gods and said, "Do you not eat? What is [wrong] with you that you do not speak?” (Surah As-Saffat-Verses 91-92). When the idol did not respond, with his ax Abraham broke their hands and legs. In this regard the Quran says: “And he turned upon them a blow with [his] right hand” (Surah As-Saffat-Verse 93). Abraham did the same with all other idols in the house of idols and broke them into pieces. In this regard the Quran says: “So he made them into fragments.” (Surah Al-'Anbya'-Verse 58) and accordingly the central part of the house of idols became full of the broken idols. But Abraham did not attack the large idol and left it intact and instead he placed the ax on its shoulder. In this regard the Quran says: “except a large one among them” (Surah Al-'Anbya'-Verse 58). Regarding the fact that whether the term “large” refers to the high status of the idols for the idolater or to its size, the commentators have stated that there are two possibilities. It has to be said that there was a reason behind what Abraham did. Accordingly, Abraham’s purpose was that in the future he could use this argument against his enemies and could sentence them. According to the Quran, Abraham’s Purpose for not breaking the large idols was that: “that they might return to it [and question].” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 58). Although, in the previous verse, the pronoun “it” may refer to the large idol or the Almighty God, most of the commentators hold that this pronoun refers to Abraham (a.s). Therefore, when the people wanted to arrest Abraham (a.s), he intended to argue with them and in this way he could either reveal that the idols were not their Lord or make people believe in him and prevent them from worshiping the idols. After breaking the idols, Abraham placed his ax on the shoulder of the large idol and left the house of idols. After returning and facing with the house of idols and the broken idols, the idolaters stated that the one who has done this is of the wrongdoers and began to search for him. In this regard the Quran says: “They said, "Who has done this to our gods? Indeed, he is of the wrongdoers.” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 59). In the previous verse the term “Who” may not mean to search for the one who has broken the idols but according to the response of a group of idolaters in the next verse: “They said, "We heard a young man mention them who is called Abraham.” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 60), this probability is rejected. After Abraham was introduced as the one who had broken the idols, the idolaters decided to bring him before the eye of the people. In this regard the Quran says: “They said, "Then bring him before the eyes of the people that they may testify.” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 61). Consequently they rushed to him. In this regard the Quran says: “Then the people came toward him, hastening” (Surah As-Saffat-Verse 94). According to the verse 63 of Surah Al-'Anbya' “Rather, this - the largest of them - did it” the people had been gathered in the house of idols. There were some reasons for bringing Abraham among the crowd of people. Accordingly if someone had seen him while he had been breaking the idols or while he had been insulting the idols, he could have testified it. Therefore, they could have made him confess to breaking the idols. Another reason could be that Abraham’s punishment could be a warning for all of those who saw it. In this regard the Quran says: “that they may testify” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 61). Finally, Abraham (a.s) was arrested and as it was said, he was taken to Nimrod and was asked: “Are you the one who has done this to our gods, O Abraham?” In this regard the Quran says: “They said, "Have you done this to our gods, O Abraham?” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 62). Abraham then, replied “Nay, this one, the largest idol (that on whose shoulder there is the ax) has done it to other idols.” In this regard the Quran says: “Rather, this - the largest of them - did it” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 63). Abraham then added: “Ask the idols, if they are able to speak.” In this regard the Quran says: “so ask them, if they should [be able to] speak.” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 63). Next verses indicates that through Abraham’s response, the idolaters realized the truth and those who just moments ago believed that Abraham was a wrongdoer, turned to themselves and confessed that they had been of the wrongdoers due to worshiping of the idols. In this regard the Quran says: “So they returned to [blaming] themselves and said [to each other], "Indeed, you are the wrongdoers."” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 64). It was a great victory. The Quran describes the reactions of the idolaters after experiencing this inner state as the following: “Then they reversed themselves, [saying], "You have already known that these do not speak!"” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 65). Then, they fell down on their heads however it does not mean that they themselves fell down but it means that their argument was overthrown and it shows that the idolaters intended to prove their own claim but Abraham’s claim was proved instead. Therefore according to the Holy Quran, they said to Abraham: “You have already known that these do not speak” and this way they confessed that the idols were unable to speak. As other commentators have interpreted this verse, the idolaters were overwhelmed to hear Abraham’s statement consequently, they were embarrassed and put their heads down and testified against themselves and said: “You have already known that these do not speak.” It is also said that this verse means that although the idolaters realized the truth, they argued with Abraham and since the idols were unable to speak the idolaters considered Abraham’s statements as his confession to breaking the idols and hence they announced that Abraham was a wrongdoer. In this regard some commentators however, interpreted the statement of the idolaters as the following: “You know that the idols are always silent and are never able to speak”. According to this interpretation, by their statement, the idolater tried to give an excuse for idols’ inability to speak and by which they intended to conceal the idols’ weaknesses. Consequently, referring to idolaters’ confession, Abraham (a.s) stated that worshiping the idols is a useless act. He also added that idols do not speak because they know nothing and they are unable to do anything and that they neither benefit nor harm you and as result worshiping them is useless. In this regard the Quran says: “Then do you worship instead of Allah that which does not benefit you at all or harm you?” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 66). Abraham then, announced his aversion to Idolaters and the idols and blamed them. In this regard the Quran says: “Uff to you and to what you worship instead of Allah. Then will you not use reason?” (Surah Al-'Anbya'- Verse 67).
Nimrod’s conversation with Azar and Abraham’s mother
As it has been narrated Nimrod was told that Abraham the son of Azar, has broken the idols. Nimrod summoned Azar and said to her: “You betrayed me and concealed this boy (Abraham) from me” Azar said: “I am not at fault for concealing this boy from you, because his mother has concealed him and has taken care of him and she maintains that there is a reasoning behind what she has done.” Nimrod ordered to bring Abraham’s mother to him and said to her: “Why did you conceal your son from me, the son who did such with our god?!” Abraham’s mother said: “Since you were killing your people and it could endanger their generation, I thought to myself that it would be better to keep this child for the survival of the future generations and if this child would be the one who would overthrow your kingdom, I would deliver it to you so as to be killed and if he would not be that child, I would have a son. Now that you have recognized that he is the one how will overthrow your kingdom, do as you wish.” Nimrod who liked the statements of Abraham’s mother, released her. Then, Nimrod personally spoke with Abraham about the broken idols. When Abraham (a.s) said: “The largest idol has broken the other idols” instead of accepting Abraham’s great reasoning, Nimrod consulted with his companions about punishing him. Then, Nimrod’s companions said: “Burn him and support your gods.” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 12, p. 32).
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