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16. Who Started Islam: Abraham or the Arabs?
Chapter 1. What is Islam?

1.2. The teaching of the Koran about the Islam of Abraham

The Koran, however, openly proclaims that Abraham was a Muslim: "Abraham was not a Jew or a Nasraanite (i.e. Christian), but he was a Hanif, a Muslim, and he was not one of the (idolatrous) associators!" (Sura Al 'Imran 3:67) It is interesting here that he is not just called a Muslim, but first a Hanif and then a Muslim. What is a Hanif? Many people think that a "Hanif" is somebody, who believes in God as the creator of the heavens and of the earth and of all that is in them, including human beings. As such a Hanif rejects the worship of idols, which he regards as sinful associations of other "gods" with the one and only true God, who created everything. Is this Hanafite faith all that makes up a Muslim? Or is there more to Islam than Hanafism? If the answer to the second question is no, then this would explain what we find in the Koran. The Koran many times speaks of "Iman" (meaning faith) but it speaks far fewer times of "Islam" (meaning submission). Here are the details:

The word "iman" (faith) appears 17x, the word "amanu" (they believed) appears 258x and the word "mu'minun" (believers) appears 166x in the Koran, giving a total of 441 occurrences in the Koran of the concept of "faith". The word "aslama" (he submitted) appears 22x, the word "muslim" (a submitter) appears 42x and the word "islam" (submission) appears only 7x in the Koran, giving a total of 71 occurrences of the concept of "submission" in the Koran.

This infrequent reference in the Koran to "Islam" (submission) as opposed to "Iman" (faith) can be interpreted as meaning that Islam is primarily Iman (Faith). However, most Muslims today would argue otherwise. They say: "Islam is not just believing in Allah and in his power, but also submitting to the will of Allah by living as a Muslim." This raises the question about the Sharia, the legally coded will of Allah. Muslims have to pray five times a day in the direction of Mecca (Salat). They have to give the religious poll tax (Zakat) once a year. They have to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime (Hajj). They can have up to four women as wives at the same time (Nikah). They are forbidden from drinking wine or other alcoholic drinks (Haram). And so on. If they obey these laws, then they prove to be Muslims, because they have submitted to the will of Allah as reflected in these laws. Did Abraham follow this Sharia of Allah? Most probably not, because he did not have a Koran, which is the basis for these laws of Islam today. So, by this definition, he was not really a Muslim by the current meaning of this concept.

However, if you study some details of Abraham's life in the Koran, then you will find out that he nevertheless did submit to the will of Allah. Two incidents can be cited here: Abraham destroyed the idols of his father (Sura al-Anbiya' 21:51-71, especially 21:58), which he did because he believed they were useless, as only the Creator of the worlds is powerful; also Abraham obeyed Allah in being ready to sacrifice his son (Sura al-Saffat 37:101-111). Both events in the life of Abraham can be viewed as some kind of submission to Allah and to his will and therefore as proof that Abraham was Muslim. However, the Koran ends the second of these events with the statement: "He is one of our believing worshippers" (Sura al-Saffat 37,111). Here Abraham is not described as a Muslim worshipper, but as a believing worshipper, which leaves us with Abraham more as a Believer and not so much as a Muslim according to these passages of the Koran.

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