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

1.3. In what sense was Abraham a Muslim?

The main passage in the Koran, which portrays Abraham as a Muslim is Sura al-Baqara 2:124-134. Here Abraham first prayed to his Lord to become Muslim together with his descendants (2:128), then Abraham's Lord commanded him to submit (i.e. become Muslim), which he then did (2:131), then Abraham commanded his sons and Jacob that Allah had chosen their religion for them and that they are not to die without becoming Muslim to him (2:132), and finally the sons of Jacob told their dying father that they are Muslims to his (i.e. Jacob's) God and to the God of their fathers Abraham, and Ishmael and Isaac as one God (2:133). It is peculiar that the object of submission (Islam) changes here. In the beginning it is submission to Abraham's Lord, then briefly it is submission to Allah, and finally it is submission to the God of Jacob, of Abraham, of Ishmael and of Isaac. Also, these verses do not clearly state what is meant with submission: is it an attitude of the heart, or is it just the abstention from idols, or is it more than that? In Islam today the answer is clear, but for Abraham in the Koran the answer is vague.

So, according to the Koran, was Abraham a Muslim? Yes and No. The events of Abraham's life, which for us today would reflect the meaning of submission do not use the word "Muslim", and the events of his life according to the Koran, which use the word "Muslim" for Abraham, do not clarify what the content of his submission is. It is true the passage in Sura al-Baqara 2:124-134 makes statements like this: "Abraham sought words from his Lord, which he (Abraham) then fulfilled" (2:124), or "We (i.e. Allah) made the house (which house?) for people a place to travel to and a safety, and take the abode of Abraham as a place of prayer" (2:125), or "We covenanted with Abraham and with Ishmael to cleanse My house for the circumambulators and the devotees and the kneeling prostrators" (2:125), or Abraham praying "our Lord, send among them a messenger, who will recite over them your verses, and who would teach them the Book and Wisdom, and would purify them" (2:129). But none of these statements actually use the word "Islam" in connection with their content. On the contrary, they reflect that the actual meaning of Islam would only come in the future, since Allah is asked to send a messenger to the people after Abraham, who then would actually teach them what submissive Islam is all about (2:129).

If we sum up this first direction of inquiry, we arrive at the Koran portraying Abraham as a preliminary or proto-Muslim, who prayed for full-fledged Islam to come about as something which a future messenger would reveal. Muslims believe this future messenger was the Arab man Muhammad, who brought complete Islam as we know it today.

It is important to note here that this faith in Abraham as a preliminary Muslim is part of the Islam, which Arabs started during and after the days of the Arab man Muham­mad. For this faith is based on verses in the Koran, the foundational scripture of the Islam, which was started by the Arabs. This means that the Arabs that started Islam (the Arab man Muhammad and his early Arabic speaking followers) tell the adherents of present-day Islam that Abraham was a Muslim. But what did Abraham himself and his early descendants say about this?

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