Who Was Abraham?

Abraham (Hebrew: אַבְרָהָם‎‎ / Arabic: إبراهيم) was a patriarch figure well-known in the three major Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

For Jews, Abraham (with his wife, Sarah) is the founding patriarch of the children of Israel. God promised Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you.”1 With Abraham, God entered into “an everlasting covenant throughout the ages to be God to you and to your offspring to come.”2 It is this covenant that makes Abraham and his descendants children of the covenant. Similarly, converts, who join the covenant, are all identified as sons and daughters of Abraham (and Sarah).

Christians view Abraham as an important exemplar of faith, and a spiritual, as well as physical, ancestor of Jesus. For Christians, Abraham is a spiritual forebear as well as/rather than a direct ancestor depending on the individual’s interpretation of Paul the Apostle,3 with the Abrahamic covenant “reinterpreted so as to be defined by faith in Christ rather than biological descent” or both by faith as well as a direct ancestor; in any case, the emphasis is placed on faith being the only requirement for the Abrahamic Covenant to apply. In Christian belief, Abraham is a role model of faith,4 and his obedience to God by offering Isaac is seen as a foreshadowing of God’s offering of his son Jesus.5

For Muslims, Abraham is a prophet, the “messenger of God” who stands in the line from Adam to Muhammad, to whom God gave revelations6, who “raised the foundations of the House” (i.e., the Ka’abah)7 with his first son, Isma’il, a symbol of which is every mosque. Ibrahim (Abraham) is the first in a genealogy for Muhammad. Islam considers Abraham to be “one of the first Muslims”8 — the first monotheist in a world where monotheism was lost, and the community of those faithful to God, thus being referred to as ابونا ابراهيم or “Our Father Abraham”, as well as Ibrahim al-Hanif or “Abraham the Monotheist”. Islam holds that it was Ishmael, (Isma’il, Muhammad’s ancestor) rather than Isaac, whom Ibrahim was instructed to sacrifice.9 Also, the same as Judaism, Islam believes that Abraham rejected idolatry through logical reasoning. Abraham is also recalled in certain details of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

  1. Gen. 12:2
  2. Gen. 17:7
  3. Rom. 4:9–12
  4. Heb. 11:8–10
  5. Rom. 8:32
  6. Qur’an 4:163
  7. Qur’an 2:127
  8. Qur’an 3:67
  9. Qur’an 37:99-109