Abraham's Idols | Then and Now

The Wooden Idols

Prophet Abraham is perhaps one of the most well-known patriarchs in history. In the Quranic account, Abraham’s father is an idol-maker. One day, while the townspeople are at a festival, Abraham goes into the temple housing the city’s idols, and breaks all of them but one. Then, he hangs the axe he used around the neck of that single idol and waits until the townspeople return. When they get back, they are shocked and infuriated (of course). Who broke all the idols? What happened here? They immediately question Abraham – but Abraham says, don’t ask me. Ask that big one with the axe around its neck. He might be your culprit. 

all art on this post by Mahi (@mahimade on IG)

all art on this post by Mahi (@mahimade on IG)

The townspeople get angrier with Abraham, are you mocking us? These things can’t move. He couldn’t have broken the other idols! 

Abraham scoffs – if they are so powerless, why are you worshipping them? If they can’t even move or protect themselves, why do you ask them to protect you and provide for you?

The Fire

After a while, the people in Abraham’s town grow sick of him. He questions their way of life, rejects the traditions of their forefathers, and preaches about one, single Creator, disturbing the people’s stability. They complain to the king, and king Nimrod orders that Abraham should be thrown in a big fire and burned alive. 


A fire is built, a fire so big that some accounts claim that Abraham had to be catapulted into the fire because people couldn’t get close to it. Abraham is thrown into the fire, and Abraham’s Maker says, "O Fire! be thou cool, and (a means of) safety for Abraham!" 

So Abraham walks out of the fire, untouched, unburned, glowing. 


The Sacrifice

Abraham grows old – really old. He is gifted with children, after all this time. And then he has a dream, which he interprets to mean he needs to sacrifice one of his sons, like they did with lambs and goats in those ancient times. Right as he’s about to do it, he is commanded not to, again by his Maker. Why would an all-wise, infinitely just, and benevolent Maker, command a messenger to sacrifice his son? How does that make sense?

The Here, The Now

Abraham is the primordial human being in the universal surrender to his Creator. Or so it is said. What am I to do with such a man, and such a story – now, in 2018? And only a week or so before Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice.

I never fully grasped Abraham’s story. I probably still don’t. I guess that’s to be expected when the story is told by the Maker of Abraham, who is also the Maker of me, who is also the Maker of all that is before and after me. And me, just a tiny human being.

However, I did reach a much clearer understanding of Abraham’s story a couple of months ago. Abraham’s story is a reminder in three parts of the kind of idolatry we all engage in every day. His story is long, and his journey arduous, as a man, as a created being, and as a prophet. He questions what created him, and what is sustaining him. He doubts the idols of his father and of his neighbors – those seem all too easy now. 

Of course, I say, nobody believes statues carved and molded by human hands can actually provide protection and sustenance and happiness and whatever else people need. Of course, they can’t detect the shrines built in their names or the altars they are put on. This is the kind of idolatry that nobody engages in anymore. 

But Abraham’s story is timeless (as the Narrator of the story), and that’s the miracle of it. Because once I delve into the fire, I realize – I engage in that kind of idolatry all the damn time. The punishment of Abraham is to be burned alive. And nobody doubts that he will die. The fire is blazing hot and hungry. It will swallow Abraham up and he will die a painful death. The king and the townspeople, they trust that, they take pleasure in knowing what will happen, and how the whole punishment will play out. 

But Abraham’s Maker has other plans. Abraham’s Maker is also the Maker of the fire, and that Maker humiliates the king and the townspeople in the most subtle and strange way. The fire is commanded so, and does not (and cannot) burn Abraham. The fire has no choice but to be cool, but to be safety for Abraham. 

Where is the idol worship in that?

Believing that the fire is the source of its own existence, and its own heat, and its own burning, and the continuation of its properties… that’s a deeper level of idolatry than any of us care to explore. I had made fire into a little god in its own world, without realizing the absurdity of such a scenario, of such a belief. 

I mean, ask yourself: is fire even aware of its own existence to retain its own properties? Does fire have a sense of self? How can fire have power over itself, when its heat and light depend on its environment? 

Wouldn’t the fire have to be the maker of itself, and of Abraham, and of the air around him, and the earth beneath him, and the universe surrounding him, to be able to burn him – to be able to kill him? 

If yes, then my idolatry (shirk) is paramount. It’s so ingrained in causality and the material world that I don’t know if there is an easy way to get out of it. 

And what of the sacrificial son? How is that idolatry?

Abraham’s readiness for the sacrifice and the son’s acceptance of the sacrifice are both lessons to be learned and internalized. From the perspective of Abraham, I learn about the most intimate kind of idolatry. (From the perspective of his son, you can check out this view that really resonates with me). 

For Abraham, a father after all those years, the love he must feel for his child is obviously immense. How does he deal with having to kill the very thing he loves so dearly? In this scene, Abraham demonstrates (and I learn with him) that even those pure and wholesome feelings I have are not from me. I am not the source of my own love and care and patience and kindness. 

If I were, I would have them all the time. I would choose to never hurt anyone and never act out of anger or frustration. I would love people SO much that they wouldn’t know what to do. But I am not the source of my own love, just as Abraham is not the source of his own love. 

I am a channel through which the Beautiful Names of my Maker come through. I demonstrate love (Al-Wadud) and compassion (Ar-Rahman) and kindness (Al-Latif). And like Abraham, I strive. I am infinitely honored to manifest these Names, and I am always working so I don’t get comfortable and think they are mine. I have no way of producing my own kindness – but I am grateful that I am not under the illusion. And I am grateful that I get to be kind.

I told someone about this blogpost and they said, it’s like that mystic that surrendered so fully, he could walk on water. He realized that all the small and big things he took for gods were not, and well, what else does he need? 

I'll end with something Hafiz wrote, 

Understanding the physics of God, 
His indivisible Nature, 

Makes every universe and atom confess:

I am just a helpless puppet that cannot dance
Without the movement of His hand. 

With love,



A Daily Decision: Beyond Political Statements

Originally published in the 2017 HijabFest Magazine

Nowadays, it seems that my “Muslim-ness” is just another slice in my minority pie chart. I am a woman. I am a Muslim woman. I am an immigrant Muslim woman -- all that I appear as in the eyes of secular politics. Nothing more, nothing less. Similar to how my being is reduced to my political status, the most visible marker of my faith, my hijab, is also reduced to a political statement and stripped of its inner content.

Yet, wearing the hijab to make a political statement, or to broadcast some sort of identity defies how I can perceive the wisdom in the hijab and connect with my Creator. Seeking empowerment in my own victimization goes against who I am. Yet both acts are prevalent and embraced in the current socio-political climate despite their detrimental attitude and misunderstanding of the essence of the hijab.

The language presented for consumption through different media outlets feeds further into misplaced ideas of how the hijab ought to be treated by Muslim women. For example, in USA Today, Waseem Abbasi writes, “But like many young Muslim women across the U.S., the very independence that drove her to cast off the traditional head covering has since drawn her to don one.”

Just in one sentence, with words like  “independence” “cast off” and “traditional”, the author has implied that in America (the land of the free), the independent and valorous Muslim women (as opposed to the oppressed and choiceless outside of the western world)  have made the decision to cast off (to discard, abandon, or reject [usually something unwanted]) the traditional (common, taken-for-granted, and ancestral) garment from their heads. But not to worry! They can also decide to wear it! Just as freely!

Contemporary understandings and interpretations of the hijab and the practice of wearing it have failed Muslim women, for decades, maybe centuries at this point. It was first made into a custom, a cultural head-covering (thus “traditional”). My mother wore it and so did my grandmother and great-grandmother and so will I, because it’s just what we do. Then the hijab was brought into the political sphere and was transformed further from its prior, unlabeled practice. It became a symbol of political oppression, and then in response, a sign of resistance, and now simply a covering women wear to react or to comply.

However, we must reflect on the original command; it doesn’t come from the shah or the president, or the dictator in power. It comes from my Maker. It comes from the Creator of every cell in my body and every planet in the universe and every thought that has crossed my mind and every star that has sped past the earth. It comes from my Lord, the Creator, Commander, and Administrator of everything in this universe, in every dimension, in every space, in every time period.

Any human force (be it a dictator or a democratic government) is essentially inconsequential in determining my reasons to wear the hijab or not. It does not matter if it is banned or if it is made mandatory because, ultimately, my duty is to obey my Maker and fulfill a duty towards Him before bowing my head or showing off to anybody else. My duty, as a believer, is to read the verse, and ask, how does this verse, that was revealed 1400 years ago, relate to me, here and now?

If I claim to believe in the Maker of this universe, and in His Messenger, and in His Book, and if I believe that my Maker is infinitely wise and all-knowing, and if I believe that His book transcends the constraints of time and space and was a guide to the believers in Medina hundreds of years ago as much as it is a guide to me, now, then, how does this verse fit into my life? What is it teaching me? What is my Creator telling me? Why has He made this book the miracle of the Messenger, and preserved it through a millennium of time for it to reach me and for me to read this verse and connect with Him?

The spiritual value of the hijab cannot be depreciated into something as simple and subjective as a political statement. I make political statements through tweets and t-shirts and offhanded comments in late-night conversations. That cannot be the purpose of a physical embodiment of the guidance given to me by my Creator.

Many political tides have come and gone with the established presence of Muslim women. The believing women have worn their scarves all through those times.Yet, the reason the hijab has stayed is not because of changing cultural and political movements, it is because the command comes from the Source of my existence. I do not wake up in the morning and think to myself, how will I oppose the establishments that are against me today? It is not related to my existential purpose in the world. My responsibility, as a created being, is to read the book of the universe and try to know and understand its Author.

I am here for a limited number of years, and I am not interested in jeopardizing my eternity for the sake of politics in this transient world. I do not wear the hijab so that it shouts out at people, like a neon sign on my head saying, “Look here! I am a Muslim! Despite you and your oppressive policies!” and I do not wear it so that my great-aunt twice removed will not tsk at me when I go to visit her house and kiss her hands.

Can other people think that those are my reasons? Sure. But I do not have agency over what other people think, so it doesn’t matter. That is on their account with their Maker, and my intentions are on mine. And “Verily actions are by intentions.”

On a final note, to equate my entire “identity” to one physically visible material is nothing but reductionist. Beards and hijabs do not make people believers. Identities are not stagnant – I did not become a believer at a certain point in my past and now I just remain as one -- lifetime guarantee. Being a believer, for me, means that I need to continually affirm my own convictions, about my own Maker, about my Maker’s commands and expectations, and about how I can get closer to Him and know and love Him more. Just because I made a declaration ten years ago and now call myself a “Muslim” does not make me a “Muslim.” Especially if I do not carry out what it means to be someone who is in the act of submitting to her Creator all her life.

Sociopolitical symbolism that is attached to the mainstream understanding and interpretation of the hijab is a byproduct of contemporary events and cultures. It can not define the hijab’s purpose or existence. Nor can it become a reason in my choosing to wear the hijab. I choose, every day, to wear it and have it be meaningful for me in my connection to my Creator. Every day is a renewal of obedience to my Maker, and a constant reminder to reaffirm my own convictions about God and His commands.

2017 HijabFest Cover

2017 HijabFest Cover