The Prophet Ibrahim (may Allah’s peace and blessings descend upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon him and both their families) was the son of Terah. This is mentioned in Genesis 11:26-27, and Genesis 11:31.
Ibn Kathir confirms in his Stories of the Prophets that this is the correct and widely held belief among the historians and biographers. (1) He also says that the majority of the genealogists, among whom is the Companion and most knowledgeable exegete of the Qur’an, Ibn Abbas- radi Allahu anh– are agreed that the name of Ibrahim’s father is Tareh, and that the People of the Book, the Jews and the Christians, pronounce it Tarekh. (2)
So if Ibrahim’s father is Terah/ Tareh/Tarekh, then who is Azar, who the Qur’an calls as his “father”?
In Sura Maryam, we are told how he called his “father” to the religion, but:
His father answered, “Abraham, do you reject my gods? I will stone you if you do not stop this. Keep out of my way!”
Abraham said: “Peace be with you: I will beg my Lord to forgive you- He is always gracious to me- but for now I will leave you, and the idols you all pray to, and I will pray to my Lord and trust that my prayer will not be in vain.” (Q 19: 46-49)
Then, as Ibn Kathir says, he asked Allah to forgive his father in his supplications, but when it became clear to him that he is the enemy of Allah, he disassociated himself from him, as the Qur’an says:
Abraham asked forgiveness for his father because he had made a promise to him, but once he realized that his father was an enemy of God, he washed his hands of him. Abraham was tender-hearted and forbearing. (Q 9: 114) (3)
Now, in Surat al-An’am of the Qur’an, this “father” is called Azar.
Remember when Abraham said to his father, Azar, “How can you take idols as gods? I see that you and your people have clearly gone astray.” (Q 6: 74)
Likewise in a hadith narrated by the imams Bukhari, Nasa’i, and al-Bazzar, we are told how:
Ibrahim will meet his father Azar on the Day of Rising, upon whose face is dust. Ibrahim will say to him: “Did I tell you not to disobey me?”
His father will say to him: “Today I will not disobey you.”
Ibrahim will say: “Oh Lord. You promised me not to disgrace me on the Day when all people are resurrected, so what disgrace is greater than that of my furthest father?”
Allah will say: I have made Paradise forbidden for the disbelievers.”
This has led many, including Ibn Kathir, to believe erroneously that Azar is none other than Ibrahim’s father Tarekh, and that he possibly had two names, or one of them is a real name, and the other a nickname. (4)
However, this possibility is denied completely by the Qur’an itself, so that it is absolutely impossible.
As we have seen above, when Ibrahim (peace be upon him) first became a Prophet, he called Azar to the faith, and Azar rejected it. Ibrahim left him, and continued to pray for his guidance, until it became clear to him that he is an enemy of Allah, after which he disowned him, disassociated himself from him, and washed his hands of him. He no longer asked Allah to forgive him, for the enemies of Allah will not be forgiven.
As the Qur’an itself says:
It is not fitting for the Prophet and the believers to ask forgiveness for the idolators- even if they are related to them- after having been shown that they are the inhabitants of the Blaze. Abraham asked forgiveness for his father because he had made a promise to him, but once he realized that his father was an enemy of God, he washed his hands of him. (Q 9: 113-114).
The Qur’an is telling the Prophet and his Companions to learn from the example of Ibrahim, and to stop asking forgiveness for their disbelieving relatives.
In Surat Ibrahim, the Qur’an tells us that much later, after Ibrahim’s trials with his people, and his leaving his homeland, and after going to Mecca, and his eldest son Ismail had grown up and helped him build the Kaaba, he prayed to Allah:
Praise be to God, who has granted me Ishmael and Isaac in my old age: my Lord hears all requests! Lord, grant that I and my offspring may keep up the prayer. Our Lord, accept my request. Our Lord, forgive me, my parents, and the believers on the Day of Reckoning. (Q 14: 39-41)
Here we see the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) asking Allah to forgive his parents. This is decades after having abandoned prayers for Azar. This is clear proof that Azar is not the same person as Ibrahim’s actual father Tarekh. It shows that Tarekh and Ibrahim’s mother were believers.
Furthermore, we have here what in Arabic is known as ‘atf: conjunction, or coupling. Ibrahim joined the believers to his parents in the du’a (5), as if he was saying: “Forgive me, my parents and the rest of the believers.”
So why does Ibrahim call Azar his father in the Qur’an? That is because in the Arabic language, and in the language of the Qur’an itself, a “father” could be the actual father of a person, or his ancestor, his uncle, or the person who raised or adopted someone.
The Qur’an tells us that when the Prophet Jacob was on his death bed, he said to his sons,
“What will you worship after I am gone?”
They replied, “We shall worship your God and the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac, one single God: we devote ourselves to Him.” (Q 2: 133)
Here, the term “father” is used to describe Jacob’s actual father Ishaac, his grandfather Ibrahim, and his uncle Ismail (peace be upon them all). Just as the Qur’an calls Ismail the “father” of Jacob, likewise it calls Azar the “father” of Ibrahim, when they are their respective uncles.
Such examples are found in the story of our Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him and his family).
As is well known in the biographies and hadith collections, the Prophet, at the age of 12, traveled with his uncle, who had adopted him and raised him, to Syria for trade. There they met the monk Bahira, who recognized that the child is a Prophet.
He said to Abu Talib: What is this boy’s relation to you?
He replied: This is my son.
Bahira replied: His father should not be alive.
So he said: My nephew.
Here we saw Abu Talib calling his nephew “my son.”
Likewise, the Prophet Muhammad called him his “father”.
As is narrated in the hadith collection of imam Muslim, a man came to the Prophet and said: “Where is my father?”
So the Prophet replied: “In the fire.”
Then after the man walked away, the Prophet wanted to console him, so he said to him: “My father and your father are in the fire.”
Here, the Prophet was referring to his uncle who raised him, Abu Talib. He called him that not only because it is normal in the language of the Arabs, but because it was more effective in consoling the man. Of course, the hadiths describing Abu Talib’s punishment in the Fire – and how he was the least of all of people there in punishment- make it clear that he was being punished as a sinning believer. How could he not believe when Bahira had told him that his nephew was to be a Prophet, and when Abu Talib composed many lines of poetry praising his nephew’s religion as the best religion?
Instead, Abu Talib was being punished for fearing the people of Quraysh and what they would say about him if he declared his Islam. But when Allah removes the sinning believers from the Fire, Abu Talib will be rescued with them and enter Paradise, and God knows best. There is a large work on this subject by the Mufti of Mecca, shaykh Ahmad Zayni Dahlan (d. 1886).
We know that the Prophet Muhammad could not have meant his actual father Abdullah because all of the Prophet’s ancestors were monotheists, as the great scholars of the Ummah have declared. After all, the Prophet had said in the hadith narrated by Abu Nu’aym:
“Allah continued moving me from the pure backs of fathers to the pure wombs of mothers. Never would a family line branch out in two except that I was in the best of the two.”
As the scholars say, only the believing men and women are described as pure (tahir), and this shows that all of his ancestors, fathers and mothers from Adam and Eve, to Ibrahim’s parents, until Abdullah and Aminah were believers.(6)
We also saw the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) call the wife of Abu Talib, as “my mother,” just as he called Abu Talib his father. When she died and her grave was dug out, he (peace be upon him) went into it, laid down on it, and prayed to Allah Most High:
“O Allah, forgive my mother Fatima bint Asad…by the right of Your Prophet, and the Prophets before me, for You are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” (7)
Thus, Azar, as the Qur’an, the life of our Prophet, and the hadiths all show, was Ibrahim’s uncle. It’s possible that Ibrahim was raised by his uncle just as our Prophet Muhammad was raised by his uncle, and as our Prophet Muhammad said, no one was more similar to Ibrahim then he himself.
This is also a possible explanation of Ibrahim’s describing him on the Day of Judgment as “my furthest father”. Some interpreted to mean that he is far away from me, because he is a disbeliever, but it is possible that it means that he is not his actual father, but one step away from that: his uncle.
Had Ibrahim been the flesh-and-blood son of Azar, Azar would not have said to him:
“Abraham, do you reject my gods? I will stone you if you do not stop this. Keep out of my way!”
Would someone stone his own flesh and blood?
Furthermore, when Azar had rejected Ibrahim’s call, Ibrahim prayed to God:
Forgive my father, for he is one of those who have gone astray, and do not disgrace me on the Day when all people are resurrected. (Q 26: 86-86)
Notice that he only asked forgiveness for one person. Had his parents been disbelievers, he would not have asked forgiveness only for his father and not for his mother.
Likewise in the hadith of al-Bukhari mentioned above, Ibrahim says:
“Oh Lord. You promised me not to disgrace me on the Day when all people are resurrected, so what discgrace is greater than that of my furthest father?”
Had Ibrahim’s actual parents been disbelievers, Ibrahim’s mother would have been mentioned as well. Instead, only one person is mentioned.
This all shows that this one person could not have been his actual father. For Ibrahim prayed for the believers and among them especially his parents in his old age by saying:
Our Lord, forgive me, my parents, and the believers on the Day of Reckoning. (Q 14: 41)
This verse, as we discussed above, is alone absolute proof that his parents where believers, and that the person Ibrahim stopped asking Allah’s forgiveness for was someone else- his uncle. All the rest was just supplementary evidence.
Now there remains one matter, regarding the Prophet Muhammad’s parents. In a treatise attributed to the great Hanafi scholar Mulla Ali Qari, there is a quote attributed to Imam Abu Hanifa’s Al-Fiqh al-Akbar, in which Abu Hanifa says: “The parents of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) died upon the kufr, and Abu Talib died a kaafir.”
However, Shaykh Mustafa al-Hammami says that he saw in his own eyes an Abbasid era manuscript of Abu Hanifa’s Fiqh al-Akbar, in the Shaykhul Islam Library in al-Madina al-Munawwara, in collection 330 of the library. In this ancient manuscript of Abu Hanifa’s work it says:
“The parents of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) died upon the fitra, and Abu Talib died a kaafir.”
The fitra, as you know, is belief in monotheism. The great Imam Abu Hanifa said that the Prophet’s parents were monotheists. As for the imam’s view upon Abu Talib, we have mentioned above that there is much evidence to the contrary in Sahih Muslim and others, and one should consult the work of imam Ahmad Zayni Dahlan on the matter called Asna’l Matalib fi Najat Abi Talib, but Allah knows best.
It is clear that a copyist mistakingly changed “al-fitra” in Imam Abu Hanifa’s manuscript to “al-kufr.” This is clear because had the original said “al-kufr,“ Imam Abu Hanifa would have said: “The parents of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and Abu Talib died as kuffaar.” The fact that Abu Talib is mentioned separately shows that what it said of him was different than what it said of the parents of the Messenger of Allah.
Furthermore, in his famous commentary on Qadi Iyad’s al-Shifa, Mulla Ali Qari himself says:
“As for the Islam of (the Prophet’s) parents, there are different opinions. The most correct is that they were Muslim, as has been agreed upon by the greatest of the scholars of the Ummah, and has been made clear by al-Suyuti in his three treatises (on the subject).”
This shows that the treatise mentioning otherwise is false. (8)
There are in fact six treatises that were written by the great “seal of the hadith masters” and “reviver of the religion in the 10th century” Imam Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, devoted to proving that the parents of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) are among the people of Paradise.
May Allah most high’s peace and blessings shower upon our Prophet Muhammad and his family as they showered down before upon the Prophet Ibrahim and his family.
1) Ibn Kathir, Qisas al-Anbiya’, Beirut and Damascus: Dar al-Khayr, 1997, p. 117.
2) Ibid, p. 120.
4) Ibid, p. 120-1.
5) Salih al-Ja’fari, Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya al-Muhammadiyya, Cairo: Dar Jawami’ al-Kalim, 1993, p. 15.
6) Hasan al-Adawi al-Hamzawi, Al-Nafahat ash-Shadhliyya fi Sharh al-Burda al-Busiriyya, Beirut: Dar Al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, 2005, p. 34.
7) Narrated by at-Tabarani, Abu Nu’aym, and al-Haythami among others.
8 ) Muhammad ibn Alawi al-Maliki, Al-Dhakha’ir al-Muhammadiyya, Cairo: Dar Jawami’ al-Kalim, 1993, pp. 50-52.