Abraham: The Spiritual Mission To God 

         by Thich nu Minh Tam

 The golden final goal of human beings is to reach salvation, freeing from suffering which is the real fact of man's life.  To liberate oneself and help others to be freed from bondage is the highest and most difficult task of any compassionate person who wishes to sacrifice himself for living beings' happiness and freedom.
 This particular kind of person is very rare in our world, and Abraham, the noble patriarch who is respectfully admired in the Old and New Testaments as well as the Koran, was that special one.
 Abraham, real previous name Abram, Biblical patriarch, known as the ancestor of the Hebrews through his son Isaac and of the Arabs through his son, Ismael, is believed to be the chosen person of God to fulfill a spiritual mission of healing human's suffering.
 Abram seems to have lived a life typical of the Middle East in the early second millennium BCE.  These were the early centuries of the ancient Israelite kingdoms of Judah and Israel.  In these kingdoms, stories of Abram's migrations in the land were closely associated with religious or political centers important to each kingdom.  According to the stories recorded in Genesis, Abram obeyed God's call to leave his home in Ur and lead a life of wandering, believing God's promise that he would be the father of many peoples and that a land (thus, the Promised Land) would be theirs: "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing, I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you."  Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him." (Gen.12: 1-3)  These words of Genesis trace the impact of the Hebrew Bible's image of Abram's obedience completely to God's calling, neither questioning nor resisting the divine command.  God soon changed his name to Abraham, "the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen. 17: 5) (Corrigan, p.3).
 To understand thoroughly Abraham's acts of obedience and spiritual journey to God, we should not forget the Torah which is the most important record about Abraham and his sons' sacrifices.  The central focus of the Torah is the description of a series of covenants or promises, sealed between God and Israel.  Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob were the first to receive covenants.  The earliest covenantal promises assure God's human partner of numerous offspring and a homeland (Gen. 15: 4-7; 28:13-15).  According to the Torah, from its beginning, the world was an ordered  harmony of the animate and the inanimate, created by a Being transcendent to it in will and nature.  This world was given to humans, but they rebelled and punishments soon followed.  After a cataclysmic flood (Gen. 6-9), God promised a stable universe: "And God said unto Noah, "This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth."(Gen. 9: 12-17).   
The universal focus of these tales narrows to God's unilateral covenant with the Hebrew patriarchs: "And God said unto Abraham, thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations." (Gen. 17:9) or "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee.  Every man child among you shall be circumcised" (Gen. 17: 10-14).  The sign of this covenant is Circumcision, borne by males to remind God of his promise of genealogical continuity.  Other promises include inheritance of a special land.  The community of faith is thus a natural order of descendants of Abraham whose meaning and destiny are shaped by divine revelations.  Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen: 22) is seen as the supreme test of his faith.  In the Koran, it is Ismael who was to be sacrificed.  
God's acceptance of Abraham's faith and obedience as righteouness (Gen: 15:6) becomes in the New Testament an exegetical basis for Paul's doctrine of Justification by Faith (Gal. 3:6-9; Rom. 4:13-25) and the Christian interpretation of the Church as the new Israel.  Furthermore, significant verses in Surahs 2, 5, 14, 47 can help us notify that the Muslims also believe that their temple, the Kabah, was built by Abraham for the worship of the One God and descent from Abraham through Ismael were God's appointment to be in the role of religious leadership.  Therefore, they change the Qiblah, from Jerusalem to the Kabah at Mecca for daily prayers.  Especially, through Surah 2, we realize that it runs the note of warning, that it is not the mere profession of a creed, but righteous conduct, which is true religion.  There is the repeated announcement that the religion of Abraham, to which Judaism and Christianity (which springs from Judaism) trace their origin, is the only true religion, and that that religion consists in the surrender of man's will and purpose to the Will and Purpose of the Lord of Creation as manifested in His creation and revealed by way of guidance through successive Prophets.  Of sincerity in that religion the one test is conduct, and the standard of that religion is for all alike (The Koran, p.33).  It contains mention of all the essential points of the Revelation, which are elaborated in the Old and New Testaments or the Hebrew scriptures.  In Surah 2: 136: "We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ismael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord.  We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered," the Muslims revealed the spiritual mission of Abraham because of God's calling as well as Muhammad by the means of a prophet to guide people free from sin and suffering and then they concretely believe that under the prophet's guidance, they can reach perfect salvation to unite in one with God in heavens. 
In comparison Surahs 14: 35, 39; 47: 21 with Genesis 15: 6, 22, we find more similarities of the faith to God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims; obedience and belief are the two most important stairs for them on the ladder to heavens: Abraham's obedience to God without asking, Muhammad's engagement in the Prophet's role with no hesitation, or Moses in his leading position for Jewish emigration, etc.  These eventful facts have expressed strongly their complete obeyance and following the words of God.
Islam, like Christianity, it has a keygmatic or confessional tone, perceiving its message (there is no god but God) as demanding a response from all peoples in all generations.  Like Judaism, it has an indissoluble ethnic focus  (of the Arab people, the Arabic language, and, above all, the Arab prophet).  None of the teachings of prophets who preceded Muhammad are denied.  From Adam and Abraham to Solomon and Jesus, the biblical (and even extrabiblical) prophets are affirmed, many of their actions and utterances being aluded in the pages of the Koran.  But since Muhammad, the Arab prophet, is also the last prophet, the revelations communicated through him supersede, even as they mark the culmination of all earlier Scriptures.  The authority of both Jewish and Christian scripture is subordinated to the content of Muslim revelation; the former serve as a theological, not merely a chronological, preamble to Islam (World Religions Dictionary).  However, following the length of Islamic history, we see that the social position of Jews and Christians is subordinate to the Muslims, and under Muslim rule, it directly mirrored the worthy valuation of their religious leader.  Because of these different conflicts of religion and society, the gap and discrimination among religions become more and more distant.
The Jewish idea of a Prophet was one who would give them dominion, not one who would make them brethren of every pagan Arab who chose to accept Al-Islam.  The Jewish tribes, once paramount in Yathrib had not very long before the coming of Al-Islam, been reduced by the pagan Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, each Jewish tribe becoming an adherent of one or the other.  Before the coming of Al-Islam, these Jewish rabbis had often told their neighbors that a Prophet was about to come, and had often threatened them that, when he came, the Jews would destroy the Arabs as the Muslims had destroyed them.   Because of that point of view, although the image of the absolute obedience of Abraham makes a powerful statement of what it means to follow the God of Israel, it is not statement that originates in the eighteenth century BCE.  It tells us that Jews still believe in their ancient origins, but they also propose to act in light of those beliefs to declare the superlative nature of Judaism. 
However, the relationship between God and human remains open through divine messengers who instruct, warn, denounce, or offer hope.  Life is still full of suffering, religion has still been present and the role of religious leader is still worthy for a bridge connected to God.