Why is the name of Abraham's father different in the Qur'an and the Torah?

Details of the Question

- In the Torah, the father of the prophet Abraham (PBUH) was named Terah, and in the Qur'an Azar: After being seventy years old, Terah became the father of Abraham, Nahor, and Haran. Genesis 11:26 ,
And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said to his father Azar, "Do you take idols as deities? Indeed, I see you and your people to be in manifest error.”  al-An’am-74.
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While Abraham (PBUH) was a great prophet in all three religions, the fact that his father's name was mentioned differently is a serious contradiction. A non-convincing comment is made on this subject: Azar is the uncle of Abraham and the in the Arab custom uncle is called the father.

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The fact that a subject is different in the Qur'an and the Torah does not mean that it is a contradiction.

First of all, holy books other than the Holy Qur'an could not be preserved as they were sent down. For this reason, the fact that a subject in the Qur'an does not appear exactly in the Torah, the Gospel and the Psalms does not mean it is a contradiction, but that the ones other than the Qur'an have changed.

Indeed, one of the names of the Qur'an is Muhaymin.

This feature means that the Qur'an is a book which supervises the previous books, corrects the mistakes that have been put in (by people) and confirms the truths. For example, we see a correction in “six days” issue too.

As the well-known scholars state, the fact that there is no error in any verse of the Qur'an shows that it is the word of Allah, who has the infinite knowledge.

However, the comment that Azar is the uncle of Abraham (PBUH) is only one of the many explanations and interpretations. The names of Azar and Terah also have many interpretations and explanations other than that.

This means that there may be misunderstandings about such issues due to lack of information and other reasons.

After this brief explanation, let us try to explain the issue in detail:

Azar

Azar, according to the Holy Quran, is the name of the father of Abraham (PBUH).

The origin of the word Azar is controversial. It is claimed that it has been Arabicized from the word Azur in Hebrew which means “the one who is strong and does his job well” and this name was given to him because he was a vizier of Nimrod and because of his credibility in his views and ideas. (Hasan al-Mustafawi, I, 64-65)

In fact, the stem of word “azr” in Arabic means “power, strength; strengthening and supporting ”. (Lisan al-Arab, “azr” item)

On the other hand it has been said that the word azar is a distorted version of the word alizar in Hebrew (Horowitz, p. 85), that it means “aged, old” in the Nabati language and that it even means “the one who makes mistakes, goes astray” in the language of Abraham (PBUH) . (Lisan al-Arab, “azr” item)

Azar and Terah

While Abraham’s (PBUH) father is named Azar in the Quran (al-An’am 6/74), in the Torah (Genesis, 11/26) and in other Hebrew sources, he is called Terah. A tablet found in archaeological excavations also showed the expression “Abraham son of Terah”. (Woolley, p. 23-24)

Several comments have been made to explain this difference. According to some Western researchers, this difference stems from Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica. Eusebius called Abraham's father as Athar, which was distorted from Tharra, and this word got to the Islamic world in this way. (IA, II, 91)

According to some other researchers; the names of Abraham’s (PBUH) father and his servant were mixed together, and the name of his servant was transformed from Eliezer to Azar and it was accepted as the name of the father of Abraham (PBUH). (Horovitz, p. 85, 86; 1A, V / 2, p. 878; EI² [Eng.], I, 810)

In the Islamic sources other than the Qur’an and Hadiths, the father of Abraham (PBUH) is called both Azar and Terah bin Nahor and this second name (Terah bin Nahor) was inherited from the People of the Book.

Islamic scholars have made various comments on these two names to compromise them.

1. Just as Jacob has two names as Jacob and Israel, so too does Abraham’s (PBUH) father have two names as are Azar and Terah.

2. One of those two names is the name (Terah) and the other one is the nickname (Azar). Abraham’s (PBUH) father’s name is Terah; since Nimrod relied on his vizier’s ideas and advice and made him do his works, Nimrod nicknamed him as Azar.

3. Azar was the Terah’s idol god, which he served; he was named as Azar due to his service.

4. The name Azar which mans “deviant” was used for insulting Terah.

Azar-uncle interpretation

One of the interpretations about this issue is that the word “ab” (father in Arabic) is used in the meaning of “uncle” in the Qur’an (al-An’am 6/74) and hence Azar is the uncle of Abraham (PBUH), not the father.

However, this interpretation is controversial because in the verses which are about Abraham’s (PBUH) calling his father to the true religion (Maryam 19:42-45; al-Anbiya 21:52; ash-Shu’ara 26:70,86; as-Saffat 37:85; az-Zukhruf 43:26) and in the verses which he asks from Allah Almighty to forgive his father (at-Tawbah 9:114; al-Mumtahanah 60:4), the word “ab” is repeated and also this word is used in the meaning of “father” in the other verses of the Qur’an.

The view based on the verse 219 of the Surah ash-Shu’ara that there is no unbeliever among the ancestors of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) and hence Azar cannot be Abraham’s (PBUH) father does not seem convenient according to the Qur’an. (Elmalılı III,  1964)

One of the pieces of information available on the name of Abraham's father (PBUH) as Azar or Terah is based on the Qur'an and the other one is based on the Torah.

Considering that the Qur'an, the product of revelation, has not been destroyed like the Torah, it seems to be the most appropriate choice to accept that the name of Azar is a name that belongs directly to the father of the Prophet Abraham, either directly or by nickname and the like.

Azar’s Life

There is not much information about the life of Azar.

In the Old Testament, Terah who generally appears in genealogical lists (Genesis, 11/24-27; Joshua 24/2; I. Chronicles 1/26) was the son of Nahor and an idolater. (Joshua, 24/2).

Terah left Ur city of Chaldeans to go to Canaan and died in Harran at the age of 205 (145 in the Samaritan Pentateuch). (Genesis, 11/31-32; Ejd., XV, 1013)

In the Torah Commentaries, Terah is mentioned as an idol master; it is stated that he appointed Abraham (PBUH) as his deputy in his absence but that he took Abraham (PBUH) to Nimrod after he broke all the idols. Abraham (PBUH) persuaded his father to leave the service of Nimrod and go with him to the land of Canaan and Terah, whose repentance was accepted by God, entered heaven. (Ejd., XV, 1014)

Some Jewish scholars say that he was the abbot. (A Dictionary of Islam, p. 29)

The Holy Qur’an indirectly mentions Terah related to Abraham’s (PBUH) invitation of his father to the right religion.

According to Islamic sources, Azar is from the village of Kutha in the Kufa region (Tabari, Tafsir, V, 158) and is an idol master under the auspices of Nimrod. There are also sources referring to Azar as Nimrod's son-in-law and even his vizier. (Hasan al-Mustafawi, I, 65)

It is certain that Azar was a prominent figure in his art and he was a notable person. Azar did not obey the order of Nimrod to kill all the children to be born, took his pregnant wife to Ur city, which is between Kufa and Basra, and hid her in a cave and Abraham (PBUH) was born in that cave. According to a rumor, when Azar took his son who grew up in the cave to Nimrod, Abraham (PBUH) asked his father the names of the thing he saw on the way and said that there must be only one creator and believing in idols is a deviance. (Tabari, Tarikh, I, 237)

According to the verses of the Qur’an about Abraham’s (PBUH) invitation of his father to the true religion,

  • Abraham (PBUH) explained to his father the irrationality of worshiping idols (Maryam 19/42-45; al-Anbiya 21/52-57),
  • but his father did not accept what he said, and he tried to inculcate his religion and threatened him. (Maryam 19/46)

Azar wanted to take his son to a festival of idols (Tabari, Tarikh, I, 238), but Abraham did not go with his father, claiming that he was sick, and broke the idols that his father and his people worshiped when no one was around. (al-Anbiya 21/57-68; as-Saffat 37/89-96)

When his father insisted on worshiping idols instead of accepting true religion, Abraham (PBUH) asked Allah for forgiveness for him. (Maryam 19/47; ash-Shu’ara 26/86; al-Mumtahanah 60/4), but this wish was not accepted because according to the Qur'an, Azar, the father of Abraham (PBUH) is an enemy of Allah. (at-Tawbah 9/114).

The meaning of a hadith narrated from the Prophet Muhammad SAW regarding the issue is as follows:

“On the Day of Judgment, Abraham (PBUH) will meet his father, Azar, whose face is soaked in dust, and will say to him, ‘Did I not tell you not to rebel against me?’ and his father will say, ‘I will not rebel against you today.’” (Bukhari, Anbiya, 8)

The narration that Abraham emigrated to Harran with his father (Genesis, 11/31) does not seem accurate according to the information in the Holy Qur'an because there is a complete difference between the father and the son in terms of religious faith. Moreover, it is clearly stated in the Qur’an that Azar ordered Abraham (PBUH) to leave if he would continue to object to the idols (Maryam 19/46). When Abraham (PBUH) realized that his father was really an enemy of Allah, he stayed away from him. (at-Tawbah 9/114)

References:

- Lisan al-Arab, “azr” item.;
- Mas‘udi, Muruj adh-Dhahab    (Abdulhamid), I, 44-45; II, 247;
- Tha‘labi, Araisul-Majalis, p. 55;
- Mawhub b. Ahmad al-Jawaliqi, al-Muarrab, Tehran 1966, p. 28-29, 359-365;
- Fakhruddin ar-Razi, Tafsir, XIII, 3741;
- Qurtubi, Tafsir, VII, 22-23;
- Elmalılı, Hak Dini, III, 1962-1965;
- Mustafawi, at-Tahqiq, I, 63-68;
- J. Horovitz, Koranische Untersuchungen, Berlin 1926, p. 85-86;
- L. Woolley, “Abraham”, Découvertes Récentes sur Les Origines Hebreux, Paris 1949, s. 23-24;
- T. Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, New Jersey 1965, p. 29;
- W. F. Albright, “Was the Patriarch Terah a Canaanite Moon-god?”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, nr. 71, Baghdat Jerusalem 1938, p. 35-40;
- Murray Lichtenstein, “Terah”, Ejd., XV, 1013-1014;
- A. J. Wensinck, “Âzer”, İA, II, 91;
- the same writer, “Azar”, EI² (İng.), I, 810; J. Eisenberg, “İbrâhim”, İA, V/2, s. 878.
- TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi, Azer item

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