Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
And when Abraham’s Lord tested him with certain commandments, which he fulfilled, He said, ‘I will make you a leader of people.’ Abraham asked, ‘And will You make leaders from my descendants too?’ God answered, ‘My pledge does not hold for those who do evil.’ (Chapter 2: Verse 124)
Allah brings us the story of prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) in order to show the deep relations Arabs and Muslims have to Abraham and the Ka'ba. Allah is asking us to remember the tests and trials He put Abraham through. When you hear the word: test or trial, you may often think of them in negative terms. That should not be the case. A test is a negative experience for the person who is not prepared and will likely fail. It is quite a different experience if you are prepared and pass with flying colours. Tests and trials are tools we use to sort out the good from the bad, and the well prepared from the lazy.
The word ‘Lord' is translated from the Arabic origin 'Rub افرب’ which means the caretaker and the educator. If you are a parent, or a teacher, one of the important tools you can use to push a child towards better learning and stronger character is testing. Tests allow you to judge whether the child's learning efforts are successful or not.
This brings us back to the verse where God tested His prophet with commandments. God's obligations - to do this and not to do that- come through words and scriptures. The scholars have differed in opinion in regards to the words Abraham received from his Lord. Some scholars said that he was tested with ten commands, while others said forty. Let's look at ten -as narrated by Ibn Abbas- which are mentioned in chapter 9 of the Quran: God says:
those who turn to God in repentance; who worship and praise Him; who meditate, who bow down and prostrate themselves; who order what is good and forbid what is wrong and who observe God’s limits. Give glad news to such believers. (09:112)
Another ten are mentioned in chapter 23:
Prosperous indeed are the believers. Those who pray humbly; those who turn away from worthless talk; who keenly pay the prescribed alms; who guard their chastity except with those joined to them in the marriage, or whom their right hands possess, for in their case they are free from blame; But those who seek anything else beyond this, it is they who are the transgressors; those who fulfil their trusts and keep their promises; who safeguard and observe their prayers; It is they who will be the heirs, who will inherit the Firdaous of Paradise. Therein they will remain. (23:1-11)
And in chapter 33 God says:
Indeed the Muslim men and the Muslim women, the faithful men and the faithful women, the obedient men and the obedient women, the truthful men and the truthful women, the patient men and the patient women, the humble men and the humble women, the charitable men and the charitable women, the men who fast and the women who fast, the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, the men who remember Allah greatly and the women who remember —Allah holds in store for them forgiveness and a great reward. (33:35)
And lastly in chapter 70:
Not so those who pray, and are constant in their prayers; who give a due share of their wealth to beggars and the deprived; who believe in the Day of Judgement, and fear the punishment of their Lord–– none may feel wholly secure from it––, who guard their chastity from all but their spouses or those whom their right hands possess––there is no blame attached to these, but whoever seeks beyond that —it is they who are the transgressors; And those who give honest testimony, and are steadfast in their prayers. (70:22-34)
Regardless of which commandments God tested Abraham with, they had to be appropriate for the status of Abraham -the father of the prophets- and at a level which would make him deserving of God’s blessings. A great character like Abraham (peace be upon him) would require a challenging and difficult test from the Lord. Recall when Abraham turned to the Lord as he was thrown into the fire for his beliefs, and God saved him. And recall the hardest test of all: when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son.
Prophet Abraham fulfilled all the obligations; and out of love for Allah, he went beyond what was asked of him. When he was about to be thrown into the blazing fire for his beliefs, Gabriel came to him asking if he needed help; Abraham replied: from you: I don't; but as from my Lord, He is best aware of my situation and that sufficies me from asking. Furthermore, when he was tested and commanded to slaughter his son, he hastened to obey God and was content with what was decreed for him. Allah was dearer to Abraham than himself, his wife, and even his child. He understood that whatever comes from the Lord is for his best in this world and the next.
How did Allah reward Abraham's faith? He Almighty says: ‘I will make you a leader of people.’ God granted him leadership of mankind. A man with such faith and trust in the Lord deserves to be entrusted with leadership. It is a lesson for all of us of how the Lord selects His servants who become His messengers, prophets and leaders.
When Abraham received this good news from God he said: ‘And will You make leaders from my descendants too?' Descendants are a person’s children and grandchildren who come after him. It is our human nature to want good for our children and grandchildren. We willingly and happily give our children what we have earned throughout life. Likewise, Abraham wanted the leadership to transfer to his children after him so that they would enjoy the spiritual values that guard their lives and lead them to paradise. God replies ‘My pledge does not hold for those who do evil.’ Allah wants you to know that Abraham was granted leadership as a result of his deeds, and this leadership is only passed onto the pious servants who worship and exalt God. This was also a warning to the descendants of Abraham not to exchange spiritual values for materialism.
Prophethood and leadership are not inherited. Take the example of prophets Moses and Aaron. Moses was the bearer of God's message, and he asked Allah to bring Aaron along in order to help him -as Aaron was a better speaker-. God willed that prophethood would continue in the children of Aaron, not Moses.
Perhaps the most important point to remember is that the progeny of Prophets is different from that of the rest of mankind. The Prophets are chosen based on their sincerity, purity and values. Those who adopt their ways and values are their sons and daughters. The true inheritors of God's messengers are the people who properly follow them, not those who inherit their genes, blood and skin colour. Perhaps the story of Prophet Noah explains this concept best. When Noah's son was about to drown, Noah raised his hands towards the heavens and supplicated:
Noah called on his Lord and said: "O Lord, my son is surely a member of my family, and verily Your promise is true, as You are the most just of all judges." (11:45)
To which God replied:
"O Noah! he is not of your family. He is one of unrighteous conduct. So do not ask of Me what you have no knowledge of. I caution you so that you do not behave as one among the ignorant." (11:46)
God clearly explained that Noah's son was not ascribed to Noah because his deeds were unrighteous. Indeed, those who adopt the values of God's prophets and messengers are the ones deserving to be among their families.