This is one of my favorites and it brings tears to my eyes each and every time.
Nearly 4,000 years ago in Sumerian town of Ur in the Valley of the River Euphrates (now a southern province of Iraq), lived a young man named Abraham. The people of Ur once worshipped Allah, but as time passed they forgot their true faith, and started praying and worshipping idols as statutes made of wood and clay and sometimes even stones. Abraham could not understand this. How could people worship things they made with their own hands? He would often leave the town to sit alone and think about the heavens and the earth and world around him. He believed wholeheartedly that the worship of his people was wrong and that there was a right way of worship.
One night, Abraham sat staring at the sky and saw a beautiful shining star, so he said “This must be Allah!” (Quran vi.77) The star then faded away and he became disappointed. Another night Abraham saw the rising moon and he though to himself “This is my Lord.” (Quran vi. 78) But the set and Abraham began to wonder: “Unless my Lord guide me, I surely shall become one of the folk who are astray.” (Quran vi. 78).
Abraham started to see the beauty in the moon and the sun and the stars. Abraham began to realize that Allah was the most powerful and Allah was the creator of everything: the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, etc. This understanding made Abraham feel at ease, because he finally realized the truth. He went back to his father and the town’s folks and inquired what it they worshiped. They told him that they worshipped and were devoted to idols. He asked them if their idols heard them when they cried or did their idols benefit them in any way or harm them. They responded in the negative.
To this, Abraham became angry and told them that Allah created them and guided them. It was Allah who fed them and it was from Allah that they drank water. It was Allah who healed when they were sick. It was Allah who allowed death and it would be Allah that lifted humanity to the heavens and Allah who would forgive them for their sins.
What do you worship? They said: We worship idols, and are ever devoted to them. He said: Do they hear you when you cry? Or do they benefit or harm you? They said: Nay, but we found our fathers acting in this manner. He said: See now that which you worship, you and your forefathers! Lo! They are (all) an enemy to me, except the Lord of the Worlds. Who created me, and He guides me, And Who feeds me and waters me. And when I sicken, then He heals me. And Who causes me to die, then gives me life (again) And Who, I ardently hope, will forgive me my sin on the Day of Judgment. (Quran xxvi.70-82)
One day, when the townspeople were away, Abraham smashed the idols, expect for the ones they were too large. They asked Abraham who had done such a thing, and Abraham responded that they should ask their Gods. To this, the people responded that the idols do not speak.
To this, Abraham responded: ‘Do you worship what you yourselves have carved when Allah created you and what you make?' ‘Do you worship instead of Allah that which cannot profit you at all, nor harm you?' (Quran xxxvii.9S—6, xxi.66).
Abraham then issued a warning to the townspeople:
Serve Allah, and keep your duty unto Him; that is better for you if you did but know. You serve instead of Allah only idols, and you only invent a lie. Lo! Those whom you serve instead of Allah own no provision for you. So seek your provision from Allah, and serve Him, and give thanks unto Him, (for) unto Him you will be brought back. (Quran, xxix. 16-17)
The people decided to punish Abraham by burning him to death. The King of Ur and the townspeople gathered as Abraham was put into a closed-off building filled and made with wood. The fire was so bad that the people were pushed back by the flames.
Allah said: “O’fire, be coolness and peace for Abraham.” (Quran, xxi. 69)
When the fire died down, they saw Abraham sitting as if nothing happened. The people of Ur, despite the miracle before them, still not convinced of the presence and power of Allah. Abraham implored his father to stop serving the devil and to reject the gods of Ur, and his father would not. Abraham was threatened with stoning, and left Ur, sadly without his father.
Abraham left his home and went into the wilderness alone. He could not remain in Ur among people who worshipped statutes. He travelled long and far and then settled in what is not Palestine. This is where he married Sarah. Unfortunately, Sarah and Abraham were not blessed with a child and Abraham married another woman, Hagar who gave him a son, Ishmael. Years later, Sarah had a son and they named him Isaac. Allah told Abraham to leave Palestine to a new land with Hagar and Ishmael only.
Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael leaving Palestine was a wonderful and important part of Allah’s plan for Islam. You see, the decedents of Ishmael would form a nation from which a prophet would be born that would guide the people in the way of Allah. This would be Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him), the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings upon him). From the decedents of Sarah’s son, Isaac, would come Moses and Jesus.
Well Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael left Palestine and travelled until they reached what is now Mecca. There was no water in the valley of Mecca, but Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael knowing Allah would take care of them. With no water, Hagar found two hills, one called Safa and the other Marwah. She went up one hill and found no water. Then she went up the second hill and again, found none. She did this seven times going up and down both hills. Then she returned to her son and to her surprise she found a spring of water bubbling out from the earth beneath him. The spring, near where Hagar and Ishmael settled, was later called Zamzam.
The area where Hagar and her son settled became the city of Mecca. Abraham would visit his family from time to time, travelling from Palestine to Mecca. During one of his visits to Mecca, Allah commanded Abraham and Ishmael to build the rebuild the Ka’bah, the very first place that people worshipped Allah. Allah told them exactly how to build it – it would stand straight up by the wall of Zamzam and be in the shape of a cube. Its eastern corner was to be built using black stone that fell to earth from heaven, and was brought to them by an angel from the hill of Abu Qubays. Abraham and Ishmael worked hard and prayed that Allah would send a prophet from among their decedents.
After the completion of the Kabah, Allah commanded Abraham to call mankind to his Holy House. Abraham was not sure if anyone would hear his call, but Allah told him that Abraham would call them and Allah would bring them. This call is how the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca started and til this day, the people of Islam continue to answer the call of Abraham.