"When Ibrahim said, ‘Make imams from my offspring’, Allah said, ‘Evil-doers cannot be imams.’" (al-Baqara, 2/124). How should we understand prophets being sent from Hz. Ibrahim’s offspring despite the verse above?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The translation of the verse mentioned in the question is as follows:

“And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled: He said: ‘I will make thee an Imam to the Nations.’ He pleaded: ‘And also (Imams) from my offspring!’ He answered: ‘But My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers.’” (al-Baqara, 2/124)

Hz. Ibrahim is one of the great prophets whose life and deeds of conveying the message are narrated in the Quran.

The fourteenth chapter of the Quran is called "Ibrahim". Hz. Ibrahim is mentioned sixty-eight times in the Quran. There are detailed explanations about this great prophet in the Quran in the following verses of the Quran: al-Baqara, 2/124-135, 258, 260; Aal-i Imran, 3/67-68 ,95-97; al-An'am, 6/74-86; Hud, 11/69-76; Ibrahim, 14/35-39; Maryam, 19/41-50; al-Anbiya, 21/51-73; as-Saffat, 37/83-113.

Allah mentions the basic qualities of believers and unbelievers at the beginning of the chapter of al-Baqara first and then munafiqs (hypocrites); He explains the wrong beliefs, attitudes and deeds of Jews and Christians in detail beginning from verse 40 and criticizes them. Then, He mentions Hz. Ibrahim, who is one of the leading representatives of belief in one God called "Hanif religion", and who is shown great respect by the members of the religions mentioned above; Allah mentions how Hz. Ibrahim fulfilled the orders of Allah and how he passed the test virtually reminding them that they have to know him well if they show respect to him; then, He gives information about his activities in the way of Allah.

There are various explanations about what is meant by certain “commands” Allah gave to Ibrahim to test him in tafsir books including circumcision.

Quoting the narrations regarding the issue, Tabari summarizes those views as follows:

"The meaning of Allah’s testing Ibrahim is informing him about the duties and commands He rendered fard for him. The commands Allah revealed to Ibrahim as a test to fulfill are those duties."

Therefore, it will not be appropriate to regard the verse to be related to only one or some of those duties and commands. For, there is no explanation in that sense in this verse, in another verse or in hadiths. (Tabari, 1/523-528)

When Hz. Ibrahim fulfilled those commands, that is, the duties given to him, Allah said to him, "I will make you the imam to the nations." When Ibrahim made a request about his offspring also being imams, Allah said, "My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers"; thus, He stated that superiority was not based on biological reasons and blood relation but on religious and ethical merits.

This explanation is an answer to the Jews that lived when the Prophet (pbuh) was alive and the other Jews who regarded themselves "the selected nation of Allah". Accordingly, evil-doers cannot have the privileges like imamate, leadership and superiority promised by Allah unless they deserve them even if they are among the descendants of Hz. Ibrahim. Allah’s promise regarding the issue based on those conditions will not include them.

Thus, the verse reminds the Jews of Madinah first that it is a misgiving for them to regard themselves superior to Muslims and feeling distinguished, that evil-doers, that is, those who transgress the boundaries determined by Allah related to religious and ethical issues, those who are polytheists and deniers, those who act contrarily to the principles of justice, fairness and equality and those who fight against the truth blindly and obstinately have no rights to be the leaders of their nations but that anybody who deserves to be valuable and superior in terms of their belief and lifestyle deserves to be an imam in principle. (see Kur’an Yolu, Heyet, the interpretation of the verse in question)

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