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
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.