The Quran

Commentaries for 21.68

Al Anbiya (The prophets) - الأنبياء

21.68 Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(They cried) their king Nimrod said to them: (Burn him) in the Fire (and stand by your gods) and avenge your deities, (if ye will be doing) something to him; and they threw him in the Fire.
21.68 Jalal - Al-Jalalayn
They said, ‘Burn him, that is, [burn] Abraham, and stand by your gods, by having him burnt, if you are to do anything’, in the way of standing by them. Thus they gathered lots of firewood and lit a fire throughout it. They then tied up Abraham, placed him in a ballista and had him hurled into the fire. God, exalted be He, says:
21.68-70 Kathir - Ibn Al Kathir
How Ibrahim was thrown into the Fire and how Allah controlled it
When their arguments were refuted and their incapability became clear, when truth was made manifest and falsehood was defeated, they resorted to using their power and strength, and said:
حَرِّقُوهُ وَانصُرُواْ ءَالِهَتَكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ فَـعِلِينَ
("Burn him and help your gods, if you will be doing.'') So they gathered together a huge amount of wood. As-Suddi said, "I if a woman was sick, she would make a vow that if she recovered she would bring wood to burn Ibrahim. Then they made a hole in the ground and set it aflame, and it burned with huge sparks and immense flames. There had never been a fire like it. They put Ibrahim, peace be upon him, into a catapult, at the suggestion of a nomadic Kurdish man from Persia.'' Shu`ayb Al-Jaba'i said, "His name was Hayzan, and Allah caused the earth to swallow him up, and he will remain sinking into it until the Day of Resurrection. When they threw him he said, `Sufficient for me is Allah, and He is the best disposer of affairs.' '' This is similar to what Al-Bukhari recorded from Ibn `Abbas that Ibrahim said, "`Sufficient for me is Allah, and He is the best disposer of affairs,'' when he was thrown into the fire, and Muhammad said it when they said:
إِنَّ النَّاسَ قَدْ جَمَعُواْ لَكُمْ فَاخْشَوْهُمْ فَزَادَهُمْ إِيمَـناً وَقَالُواْ حَسْبُنَا اللَّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ
(Verily, the people have gathered against you, therefore, fear them. But it increased them in faith, and they said: "Allah is sufficient for us, and He is the best disposer of affairs.'') 3:173. Sa`id bin Jubayr reported that Ibn `Abbas said: "When Ibrahim was thrown into the fire, the keeper (angel) of the rain said: `When will I be commanded to send rain' But the command of Allah was more swift. Allah said:
ينَارُ كُونِى بَرْداً وَسَلَـمَا عَلَى إِبْرَهِيمَ
(O fire! Be you cool and safety for Ibrahim!), and there was no fire left on earth that was not extinguished.'' Ibn `Abbas and Abu Al-`Aliyah said: "Were it not for the fact that Allah said,
وَسَلَـماً
(and safety), Ibrahim would have been harmed by its coldness.'' Qatadah said: "On that day there was no creature that did not try to extinguish the fire for Ibrahim, except for the gecko.'' Az-Zuhri said: "The Prophet commanded that it should be killed, and called it a harmful vermin.''
وَأَرَادُواْ بِهِ كَيْداً فَجَعَلْنَـهُمُ الاٌّخْسَرِينَ
(And they wanted to harm him, but We made them the worst losers.) they were defeated and humiliated, because they wanted to plot against the Prophet of Allah, but Allah planned against them and saved him from the fire, and thus they were defeated.
21.55-73 Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
The literal translation will be: "Are you presenting the Truth before us, or just playing with us?" They were so sure of the truth of their creed that they could never imagine that anyone could be serious in declaring it to be false.
That is, "If you do not understand this by argument, I will present a practical proof that these idols are helpless and have no powers. Therefore, it is wrong to make them your deities."
This was that practical proof. In the absence of the priests and attendants, Prophet Abraham entered their central Temple and broke all the idols to pieces.
The pronoun in the original Text may be translated into "it" or "him". In the former case, it will refer to the chief idol and in the latter to Prophet Abraham. In the first case, it will imply a subtle sarcasm in order to make them realize that their creed of idol-worship was foolish, for obviously the chief idol could not break the minor idols. In the second case, it will refer to Prophet Abraham, who thought that they might turn to him about the "incident" and he might get an opportunity to have a frank talk with them about their absurd creed.
This was exactly what Prophet Abraham expected to happen. He wished that the matter should not remain confined to the priests and the attendants but the common people also should be present there to witness that their deities were helpless and their priests were deluding them about their powers. The priests committed the same folly as was later committed by Pharaoh when he arranged an encounter between Prophet Moses and the magicians in the open in front of the multitudes of the common people, and the former got an opportunity to show publicly the miracle of the staff which shattered the illusory, magical tricks of the magicians.
The very sentence, "You may ask them, if they can speak", is a clear proof that it was not a lie when Prophet Abraham said, "All this has been done by their chief." What he intended by this was to make them realize and confess that their idols were helpless because they could do nothing to protect themselves, and could not even speak. It is clear that when a person poses an unreal question for the sake of argument in order to bring home the fact that the position taken by the other party is untenable, it cannot be considered as a lie; firstly, because the speaker himself never intended it to be a lie, and secondly, because the addressees also knew that it was not a lie.
The foregoing remarks have been necessitated because of a "tradition" that Prophet Abraham told three "lies" in his life, of which one is the above mentioned event. The second "lie" is contained in XXXVII: 89: "I am indisposed", and the third "lie" is not contained in the Qur'an but in the Bible that he declared his wife to be his sister. (Gen. 12:12,13, 18;19). It is a pity that this "tradition" has given rise to two divergent opinions. The orthodox traditionalists actually believe that Prophet Abraham told these lies just because an "authentic tradition" says so. They do not consider that it is far better to discard the "tradition" according to which a Prophet is accused of being a "liar". On the other hand, those who are against the Traditions, discard all of them just because this solitary tradition, which has been reported as authentic by Bukhari and Muslim, is unreliable on the very face of it. Obviously it needs no elaborate arguments to prove that all the traditions cannot be discarded just because one or a few of them are unreliable. As regards the upholders of the first opinion, they have gone to the other extreme and think that a tradition can be discarded in spite of the authenticity of its reporters for cogent reasons. They do this without reference to the contents of the tradition itself. But if the text of the tradition itself clearly shows that such a thing could not have been said by the Holy Prophet, there is no reason to insist that it should be accepted as authentic merely because its reporters are authentic.
This, tradition is unreliable for other reasons also. As has already been shown, the first "lie" is no lie at all. As regards the second "lie", ("I am indisposed"); it cannot be considered as a lie unless it is proved beyond doubt that Prophet Abraham was perfectly healthy at that time, and the text does not testify this. As regards the third "lie", the event stated in the Bible in chapter 12 of Genesis is absurd on the face of it. When Prophet Abraham went to Egypt with his wife Sarah, he was, according to the Bible itself, 75 years old and his wife was 65. Therefore the very age of Sarah is a clear proof that she could not be a "fair woman to look upon" to force Prophet Abraham to pose that she was his sister in order to save his life. The tradition under discussion, which accuses Prophet Abraham to be guilty of telling a lie, has accordingly no basis at all and cannot be taken as reliable in spite of its authentic reporters.
Literally the original Text means: "They were turned down upon their heads." Some commentators have interpreted it to mean: "They hung down their heads with shame". But this does not fit in the context and the wording of the Text. The right interpretation would be: "When they considered the answer of Prophet Abraham, they realized that they themselves were in the wrong, because they had set up helpless idols as deities, which could not even speak a word as to who had broken them. But soon after this, they were overpowered by obduracy and ignorance which perverted their minds and they again relapsed into crookedness."
Though this is one of those miracles which have been clearly stated in the Qur'an, there are people who try to "prove" that there was no such miracle at all. According to this passage (vv. 68-70), Prophet Abraham was actually threatened to be burnt alive and he was accordingly thrown into the burning fire; but Allah ordered the fire to become cool and harmless for him. In the face of the clear words of the Qur'an, these people deny this miracle because according to them it is impossible even for Allah to go beyond the routine of the physical laws. They say that miracles cannot appeal to the rationalists of the modern age, and therefore these should be interpreted in accordance with physical laws. They forget that according to the Qur'an, Allah is able to do everything, and He does extraordinary and unusual things which cannot be explained by "science". Therefore they should accept the Qur'an as it is or discard it, but they should not twist it to suit their so-called rationalism.
According to the Bible, Prophet Abraham had two brothers, Nahor and Haran; Prophet Lot was the son of Haran (Gen. 11:26), and he was the only person to believe in Prophet Abraham. (XXIX: 26).
The "blessed land" refers to Syria and Palestine, which contains both material and spiritual blessings. It is one of the most fertile regions in the world; moreover, it was blessed for two thousand years with more Prophets than any other region of the world.
That is, "We made his son a Prophet and his grandson too".
This important event of the life of Prophet Abraham has found no mention whatever in the Bible. In fact nothing about his life in `Iraq -his conflict with Nimrod, his father and the community at large, his efforts to eradicate idolatry, the incident of his being cast into the fire, which ultimately led to his forced exile from the country-is mentioned anywhere in the Bible. The Bible merely mentions his migration, and that too, in a manner as if a family was migrating from one country to another in search of livelihood. There is another interesting difference between the Qur'an and the Bible. According to the Qur'an, the father of Abraham, who was a mushrik, was foremost in tyrannizing over his son, but the Bible gives a different account, which is as follows:
"Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took Abram 'his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and settled there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran." (Gen. 11:27-32).
"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And 1 will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." (Gen. 12: 1-3).
The Talmud, however, gives quite a few details about the life of Prophet Abraham about the period of his stay in `Iraq, which are generally the same as given in the Qur'an, but there is a glaring discrepancy in some of the important events. In fact, one can clearly feel that the account given in the Talmud is full of heterogeneous and hypothetical things while the one given in the Qur'an is most clear and contains nothing unworthy of Prophet Abraham. We reproduce below the account as given in the Talmud so that the reader may know the difference between the Quranic and Jewish versions. This will also remove the misunderstanding of those who think that the Qur'an has borrowed stories from the Bible or Jewish literature.
According to the Talmud, "The wise men saw a large star in the sky on the night Abram was born and they advised Nimrod to kill the child born in the house of Terah. The King decided to kill the child but Terah hid his child and had a servant's son killed in exchange. Terah thereupon hid his wife and child in a cave where they lived for ten years. In the 11th year Abram was taken by Terah to Noah, where he lived under the guidance of Noah and his son Shem for 39 years. During the same period Abram married his niece Sarai, who was 42 years his junior. (The Bible does not mention that Sarai was the niece of Abram; moreover, the difference in their ages is mentioned as ten years). (Gen. 11: 29, 17: 17).
The Talmud then says, "Abram left Noah at the age of 50 and came back to his father. Here he found that his father was an idolatry and had twelve idols in the house according to the twelve months of the year. He tried to preach to his father against idolatry but when the latter did not listen to him, Abram one day broke all the idols in the house. Seeing this Terah went straight to Nimrod and complained that the son who was born in his house 50 years ago had misbehaved and broken the idols. He wanted the King's verdict on this. Nimrod sununoned Abram for interrogation, but the replies given by Abram were straight, terse and clear. Nimrod sent him to jail and then referred the matter to the Council for a decision. The Council decided that Abram should be burnt to death. A fire was accordingly prepared and Abram was cast into it. His brother and father-in-law Haran was also similarly cast into the fire. Haran was punished because Nimrod enquired of Terah as to why he had another child killed in place of Abram when he wanted to kill Abram on the day of his birth. Terah replied that this was done at the instigation of Haran. Nimrod accordingly let off Terah but threw Haran into the fire along with Abram. Haran was burnt to death instantly but people saw that Abram was walking unhurt through the flames. When Nimrod was informed of it, he witnessed it with his own eyes and cried out: `O man of the God of Heaven, come out of the fire and stand before me'. Thereupon, Abram came out and Nimrod became one of his.believers and gave him many costly presents. After this, according to the Talmud, Abram stayed in `Iraq for two more years when Nimrod saw a dreadful dream and the astrologers told him that the destruction of his empire.would come through Abram and that he should, therefore, put him to death. Nimrod sent people to kill Abram but Abram came to know of the plot before-hand through Eleazar, a slave presented to him by Nimrod himself. Abram accordingly fled and took refuge with Noah where Terah also met him off and on secretly. The father and the son at last decided to leave the country and Noah and his son Shem also approved of their plan. Accordingly, Terah along with his son Abram and his grandson Lot and his grand-daughter and son's wife Sarai, left U: and went to Haran." (H. Polano: The Talmud Selections, London, pp. 30-42).
Can a reasonable person after reading this account of the Talmud ever imagine that this could be a source book for the story as given in the Qur'an?