|Quranic Storytelling in Dialogue (4)
Abraham and His People
There is another prophet of outstanding quality in the eye of God, as is apparent from the many superlatives used in his praise. This is just one of these descriptions, i.e. where God announces that He has taken Abraham (a.s.) for a friend: “Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to God, does good, and follows the way of Abraham the true in Faith? For God did take Abraham for a friend” (4: 125).
There is a plethora of references to Prophet Abraham (a.s.) in the Holy Qur’an, to the extent that his name or story are mentioned in no fewer than twenty chapters. In these chapters many aspects of his personality and life are discussed. His dialogues, be they soul-searching, those with his Lord, his people, the dictator of his age (Nimrod), or with the angels who brought him the news of what would be the fate of the people of Prophet Lot (a.s.) and gave him glad tidings of granting him offspring in old age.
Examining Abraham’s story offers many different approaches to dialogue in the process of discharging one’s responsibility in calling to the way of God, or expressing oneself in matters pertaining to the faith. In Abraham’s personality, the human prophet, as he lived all his life feeling the presence of God around him, we will discover that, to him, duty came before personal feelings, even in the most heightened situations where emotions could run high and take hold over the person.
As has already been discussed, Abraham (a.s.) conducted dialogue in three different situations. They were: (a) his soul-searching dialogue to find the path to God, (b) his dialogue with God to tread the road to belief that stemmed from the heart and mind, and (c) his dialogue with his people, in the wake of his destruction of their idols, where he confronted them with strong evidence of the fallacy of both their beliefs and conduct in life.
We have concluded that Abraham’s experience should provide Muslim activists with a good vehicle in the cause of God. Abraham’s soul-searching method should serve as an example that should be followed by the activists by creating the right conditions for dialogue in cultural and ideological seminars and other avenues where the activists come face to face with the masses and get acquainted with what concerns them. The participants may start their intellectual exchanges where the activists are in it to sharpen their wits as they are on a learning curve, ensuring that the other party should feel assured that they are not about to enter into a bruising brawl.
In so doing, the other party to the dialogue would be able to discover their fault without any qualms. To a certain degree this is akin to a reader of a book or a novel who comes to empathize with the characters of the story, which may lead in the end to discovering his own self and where he has gone wrong as a result. This approach, i.e. soul-searching, can be advocated in writings that are intended to express the views on doctrinal matters, be they for or against. Instead of the direct preaching style, soul-searching and soliloquy could be used.
Putting this approach to use should form the building blocks for the literature of Islamic call, guided by the Quranic experience, both in form and content. This would be in an effort to mix and cause the interaction of artistic tools for literary work with the practical basis for calling to the way of God.
Ideology and belief
In Abraham’s dialogue with his Lord, we may find an excellent example of how one can go about calling to the way of God. He asked his Lord to physically show him how He brought the dead to life again, so that he could have peace of mind. This approach should teach us how to handle the reactions of others to the ideas we raise with them. That is, we have to be fully satisfied that the strength of evidence we offer others to embrace our ideology should sink in their minds. Yet we should appeal to their hearts for the same objective and in the same measure. Only then should we feel secure in the knowledge that others would experience spiritual peace and security. Thus, we should not be taken aback if we are confronted with requests, such as the one Abraham asked his Lord to accomplish. God did not find Abraham’s request the least outrageous because he was sincere in his request to achieve certitude in his faith.
As you would expect, we are not in a position to entertain others’ requests in showing them a miracle along the same lines as God did with His prophet. Nevertheless, we can provide them with clear-cut ideas that are very close to their day-to-day situations. This will make them feel that the question of belief is with them, hand in hand with all that they do and in the relations they develop with others.
This explains the need for the activists to be in constant interaction with reality, so that they can understand it and deal with it as though it were a raw material necessary for manufacturing a product. This would lead us to breathe life into modes of religious instructions and raise awareness in the fields of knowledge. That done, we would be sure of success in extricating our work practices in the way of God from intellectual inertia, which might turn it into inanimate relics stacked in the museums of thought.
Putting this approach into practice would make it desirable not to stop at the thought and rulings we have inherited from bygone generations, which have acquired the eminence of being “public records”. Those “records” have become so rigid that whoever had the experience of reading them would feel as though they were going through a document that had been committed to memory.
What gives us the confidence to reach such a conclusion is that the Quranic approach has opened up on life in all its fields, small and large, be it cosmic phenomena or public/individual life, only to exhibit the evidence of the existence of God and of the great human values.
This approach, which has come about as a result of extensive experiments, leads us to realize that there may be other means that are waiting to be discovered on the way of our life, which is ever-changing and ever-developing in every department. That is, although the truth is an ever-fixed reality, yet the routes that may lead to it are not the exclusive preserve of a particular time, place, or individual. We might, in this regard, be inspired by these wise words, “The roads that lead to God are as many as there are human souls. And if men of old came to discover some truths, they have left out many others for us to uncover and impart to others.”
Seizing opportunities to engage in dialogue
The third type of approach Prophet Abraham (a.s.) espoused was the one he conducted with his people after he had torn down their idols. We may borrow this approach in certain situations where we feel the need to throw ourselves into the breach to engage the opponents in dialogue on those matters they seem to have failed to notice. Having conducted the dialogue, we may come out with conclusive evidence of their flawed argument or wanting conduct. Thus, they might be pushed into taking one of two positions: either (a) accepting the truth, or (b) showing open arrogance and intransigence, which is liable to make them lose their self-esteem and the respect of others. This in turn would minimize their capacity to influence others to walk the road of misguidance and deviation.
While advocating this approach we should not lose sight of opening the door on others’ ideologies and practices, in order to discover their strengths and weaknesses to make use of them in the battles of dialogue in the cause of faith.
These are some of the practical aspects of Abraham’s dialogues we can make use of. There were other modes of dialogue Abraham (a.s.) used with his people. However, the Quran does not mention in detail all that his people talked about. It has, though, made references to their stances. Their viewpoint was contained in the answer, or it can be detected from the universally known belief of polytheism. The Quran has touched on the latter, be it in the story of Abraham (a.s.) or other prophets at large, as has already been discussed in the section “Dialogue with the Polytheists”.
Standing up against the campaigns of harassment and scaring tactics
Let us dwell on these Quranic verses, which show some aspects of dialogue:
“His people disputed with him. He said: “(Come) ye to dispute with me, about God, when He (Himself) hath guided me? I fear not (the beings) ye associate with God: Unless my Lord wills, (nothing can happen). My Lord comprehends in His knowledge all things. Will ye not (yourselves) be admonished? How should I fear (the beings) ye associate with God, when ye fear not to give partners to God without any warrant having been given to you? Which of (us) two parties hath more right to security? (Tell me), if ye know. It is those who believe and confuse not their beliefs with wrong – that are (truly) in security, for they are on (right) guidance.” (6: 80–82)
As we read these verses, we come to the conclusion that the polytheists wanted to instill fear into Abraham’s heart that their gods might harm him. They urged him to desist from challenging their associates and beliefs under the pretext of caring about his safety from the revenge of the gods that could be unleashed against him. It seems that they were under the illusion that their gods could harm those who dared to resist them, as is evident from the assertions of Noah’s people, thus: “We say nothing but that (perhaps) some of our gods may have seized thee with imbecility.” (11: 54)
Abraham seized this misguided notion to fight back. He made it clear to them that his relationship with God was not built as a result of needing to vent psychological pressure on belief. Rather, it came about from God’s guidance, which enlightened his heart and mind with belief, thus responding to the light coming from God’s realm.
He started the dialogue with them from the question of fear and security, leaving them without any doubt that he did not fear their gods, regardless of the power they alleged their gods had. That is, God alone is the Creator of everything and the possessor of the power therein; nothing can bring benefit or cause harm, except with His will.
He countered their argument of warning him of the harm their gods might cause him, using the same ammunition, by raising the specter of fear of God in their hearts for setting up partners to Him without warrant. He concluded by posing them the question of a sense of security, that one can protect oneself from the partners with one’s own strength, which draws on that of God, or through His power, if one cannot put up a defense. That is the source of feeling secure. Conversely, how could the polytheists enjoy security before God’s wrath and might, which none can withstand.
As a result, security was the share of the believers, who did not tamper their belief with oppression, because the sense of security had been based on sound and strong foundation.
Since that dialogue was conducted between polytheism and monotheism, it would certainly have a bearing on the present day stand-off between the forces of belief and those of unbelief and misguidance. This is particularly so, when the defeatists’ challenges are being issued to the believers to weaken their resolve in calling to the way of God and belief, under the pretext of fearing for their safety from the forces of unbelief and misguidance, which possess all the material power, whereas the believers have none of that. This, the apologists maintain, may possibly shake up the position of the believers and deal a blow to their morale, leaving them paralyzed.
This method can also be used with the waverers among the believers who have had a nervous breakdown and whose morale has collapsed under the weight of the overwhelming forces of unbelief. Thus, they have been lulled into a false sense of security, preferring to stick it out with those who have lost their way, rather than adhering to the truth in adversity.
There may be a need for the approach to dialogue that Abraham (a.s.) used with his people on the question of security and insecurity, with a view to bringing the waverers back to the fold of belief. Abraham managed to revive in them the strength of belief in the Omnipotent to the exclusion of any other power. Then and now, believers are capable of standing up to the forces of defeatism and be counted. As the Quran has put it:
“Men said to them: “A great army is gathering against you”: And frightened them: But it (only) increased their Faith: They said: “For us God sufficeth, and He is the best disposer of affairs.” And they returned with Grace and bounty from God: no harm ever touched them: For they followed the good pleasure of God: And God is the Lord of bounties unbounded. It is only the Evil One that suggests to you the fear of his votaries: Be ye not afraid of them, but fear Me, if ye have Faith.” (3: 173-175)