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Ibraaheem and Fire

There has been an understanding among Muslims since the time of the Prophet, without break, that when Ibraheem AS (‘Alaihissalaam) broke the idols in the temple, his society condemned him to be thrown into a fire and burnt alive. This has been the typical punishment for all ‘heretics’ in non-Islamic religions. Even as recently as a few centuries ago, people who were considered heretics by the Christian church were burnt at the stake on the order of the Pope.

Now Allaah’s Sunnah is that He never lets His messengers[4] be killed by their opponents. So, Allaah SWT intervened and commanded the fire not to burn Ibraheem. Ibraheem was saved by a “miracle”. The fire’s natural property to burn was overruled for Ibraheem.

The question is: from where did the Muslims get this idea? Is it reported in Torah or in the Gospels or in the Talmud or in the Bible? Is it mentioned in any history books? The answer is: nowhere! Naturally, then, Muslims must have gotten this idea from the Qur-aan. Let us see from where in the Qur-aan:

“He (Ibraheem) hit them (idols) forcefully. So they (people) ran to him aggressively. He said, “Do you worship what you manufacture, while Allaah has created you and what you make?” They said, “Build a ditch for him and throw him in flames of fire (Jaĥeem ). So, they wanted to harm him, but We defeated them. He said, “I am going to my Lord, He will guide me.” (Aŝ-Ŝaafaat 37:93-99)

And the answer of his (Ibraheem’s) people was nothing but that they said, “kill him or burn him (ĥarriqoohu),” but Allaah saved him from fire (naar). Indeed in that are signs for a people who believe. (Al-‘Ankaboot 29:24)

“They said, “Who did this to our gods? Indeed that person is a transgressor.” They said, “We have heard of a young man, named Ibraheem, mentioning about them.” They said, “Bring him for an open trial so everyone witnesses it.” They asked, “Have you done this to our gods, O Ibraheem?”… He said, “Do you worship, other than Allaah, those who cannot benefit or harm you? Pity on you and those you worship other than Allaah. Do you not understand?” They said, “Burn him (ĥarriqoohu) and help your gods, if you are going to do something about it.” We commanded, “O fire (naar), be cool and comfortable for Ibraheem.” As it was, they wanted to harm him, so we made them the losers. We saved him and Loot to the land that We have blessed for all people.” (Al-Ambiyaa 21:59-70)

Any unbiased person who has freed his mind from pre-conceived notions can easily see that it is the real, physical fire being referred to. There are no words, context or style indicating that it was some kind of proverbial fire, hence, a reader’s mind does not go to anything but the real ‘fire’. That is why all generations of Muslim have always believed it to be that way, despite the fact that the Glorious Qur-aan is the only Book that has reported this incident.

The words used in these verses are Jaĥeem, Ĥarriqoohu and Naar. Jaĥeem has never been used in the Glorious Qur-aan or any other Arabic literature except for flaming fire. Ĥarriqoo has never been used anywhere except for real burning. And Naar is such a common word that in itself no one will ever suspect it to mean anything but fire, unless it is qualified by additional words. It has been used in the Qur-aan 143 times for that specific original meaning of physical fire.

Unfortunately, there are people who claim to believe in the Qur-aan, but in order to deny that Allaah SWT protected Ibraheem miraculously from burning in the fire, claim that the fire does not mean the real fire. They claim that the fire here means the fire of hate, animosity and opposition. Is this claim based on any evidence from the Qur-aan or any Qur-aanic reference? No!

Has the “Fire” been used metaphorically anywhere in the Qur-aan?

Yes, there are only two places in the Qur-aan (out of 145 uses of this word) where the word “fire” has been used metaphorically. The first is where people who usurp an orphan’s property have been told that they were filling their bellies with fire (An-Nisaa 4:10). The second is where Jews have been told that Allaah extinguishes the fire of war they ignite (Al-Maaidah 5:64). In both situations, the context and the qualifiers clearly point to the figurative meanings.

Does the deniers’ claim make sense?

Can these two instances of the metaphoric use of fire, which are quite explicit in their phraseology, justify anyone taking the word “fire” figuratively at any of 143 occurrences of simple, unqualified use of this word in the Qur-aan? Absolutely not! Does this figurative use change the meaning of the word “fire” when used on its own? No one in his right mind can make such a ridiculous claim.

Do the verses about Ibraheem contain any word or clue to indicate that the fire he was thrown into was a figurative fire? Not at all! Does Qur-aan mention anywhere that it was a figurative fire? No! Does the context indicate in any way that the fire might not be the real fire? No! So where did the deniers of miracles get this idea of fire being the fire of negative emotions? Obviously, this is only from the misguidance of their own minds.

In summary, no sensible person can use these two examples to change the meaning of the fire where there is no such context or qualifiers. In particular, these examples cannot be used to imply that absolute ‘fire’ mentioned in the above quoted verses in relation to Ibraheem can mean anything but the real fire. Taking any other meaning will be against the established norms of literary expression and basic principles of understanding the Qur-aan. Any meaning derived in such a manner will not be the guidance of the Qur-aan, but the misguidance of one’s personal attitude and thoughts.

The fact is that taking the word “fire” to mean anything else in the verses about Ibraheem is against the literary principles, rules of context and rules of consistency. In addition, it poses the following additional problems:

  • If the fire was just the figurative fire of their animosity towards Ibraheem, why does the verse mention the “ditch” and his being thrown into it? Is that how the opponents normally express their animosity by saying that “let us build a ditch of our hatred for him, and then throw him in the fire of our animosity”?
  • How did Allaah cool the fire of their animosity? Did their opposition and animosity die down? Where is the evidence of this happening? And if it did happen, why did Ibraheem and Looŧ have to leave the town?
  • If the fire represented the attitude and emotions of people towards Ibraheem, who was Allaah commanding to be cool and safe? Was His command directed to the attitudes and emotions of so many people in the society? Did it exist as one entity, separate from the psychology of people? By commanding it to cool down, did Allaah change their psychology? Would that not be interfering with the freedom of people to choose? And where is the evidence of Allaah commandeering the psychology and emotions of people? Is that not against the natural law, just like a miracle? Or is the command of Allaah also figurative? In that case, is there anything real in the Qur-aan? Or is it that whatever you do not like to accept is disregarded as figurative and metaphorical?

Thus, the misguided interpretation of this fire to mean fire of hate or animosity is wildly speculative, outright baseless and completely foreign to the text of the Qur-aan. It suffers from the following problems:

  • It violates every sensible rule of literary interpretation;
  • It is not afforded or supported by the words of the Qur-aan; and
  • It does not fit in the context.

It is saddening to see educated people abandoning all principles of literary interpretation and logical reasoning, and indulging in the promotion of totally nonsensical explanations of simple and straightforward verses of the Qur-aan – just to escape from the concept of “miracle”. An outright irrational approach is being used in the name of rationality.

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