Āzar

Muzaffar Iqbal and Naseer Ahmad

The noun Āzar appears in the Qurʾān once (Q 6:74): And when Ibrāhīm said to his father, Āzar, do you take idols as gods? Verily, I see you and your people in manifest error. Philologists recognize Āzar as an Arabicized word (muʿarrab) (see Arabic) (al-Jawāliqī, al-Muʿarrab, 2:63; Suyūṭī, Itqān, Type 38). In most lexicons it is classified under the root ʾ-z-r (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub ʾ-z-r). A variant reading of the word is Āzaru (rather than Āzara), meaning crookedness (aʿwaj) or one who errs (al-mukhṭīʾ) (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, and Bayḍāwī; Suyūṭī, Itqān, Type 38). While three opinions exist in the exegetical sources about his relationship to Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, genealogists consider the father of Ibrāhīm to be the son of Nāḥūr b. Shārūgh b. Fāligh b. ʿĀbir b. Shālikh b. Arfakhshudh b. Sām b. Nūḥ (al-Samʿānī, al-Ansāb, faṣal fī nasb Rasūl Allāh 1:25).

His Identity

Three different opinions are mentioned in classical exegetical literature regarding his identity: (i) Āzar is the name of the father of Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace; (ii) it is the name of the idol his father worshipped; and (iii) it is the name of his uncle. Al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) says that it is possible that Ibrāhīm’s father had two names or one of the two was his agnomen (laqab) (Tafsīr). Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1373) strongly supports this view (Tafsīr).

Al-Rāzī’s (543-606/1148-1209) Mafātīḥ al-ghayb contains one of the most extensive discussions about Āzar’s identity. He points out that Q 6:74 clearly states that Āzar was the name of Ibrāhīm’s father, even though al-Zajjāj (241-311/855-923) claimed that “there is no disagreement among genealogists that his name was Tāraḥ” (the Terah of Genesis 11:26-28). This, al-Rāzī writes, can be resolved in two ways: (i) the name of Ibrāhīm’s father was in fact Āzar, and the statement about the unanimity of genealogists is weak because their agreement rests on one or two reports which, ultimately, go back to Jewish or Christian sources that cannot be relied upon at the expense of the clear text of the Qurʾān; (ii) if we accept that his name was Tāraḥ, then it is possible that he was commonly known as Āzar. If, instead, Āzar was the name of an idol he worshipped, then Allah called him by it for two reasons: (a) when one dedicates oneself to what one loves, one may take the name of the beloved, as Allah Most High said: On this day We shall call all people by their leaders (Q 17:71); and (b) the governing noun (muḍāf) of this construct state has been removed and in its stead the genitive governed noun (muḍāf ilayhi) has been retained.

Al-Rāzī also examined the view that Āzar was the name of an uncle of Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace. Among the arguments in favor of this view is the Arabic linguistic usage of the father’s name for an uncle, as also occurs in Q 2:133, where the children of Prophet Yaʿqūb, upon him peace, say to him: “the God of your fathers Ibrāhīm and Ismāʿīl and Isḥāq” (Q 2:133)—whereas it is well-known that Ismāʿīl was the uncle of Yaʿqūb. The Prophet, upon him peace, also called his uncle ʿAbbās, “my father” (Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf, al-Maghāzī, fatḥ Makka). After examining the possibiities, al-Rāzī rejects the view that Āzar was the name of an uncle of Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, calling it a baseless and unnecessary convolution because the name of Ibrāhīm’s father was Āzar as clearly stated in Q 6:74 (Rāzī, Tafsīr).

Al-Suyūṭī (849-911/1445-ca.1505) devotes a long section of his Masālik al-ḥunafāʾ fī wāliday al-muṣṭafā to the question of Āzar’s identity and repeats some of the arguments by al-Rāzī, though without explicitly mentioning his name. Al-Suyūṭī supports his arguments for Āzar being the name of an uncle of Prophet Ibrāhīm on the following basis:

  • hadiths which state that none of the forebears of the Prophet, upon him peace, were polytheists, while scholars agree that Āzar was a polytheist and died as such (p. 41, 51-53);
  • the sayings of a number of Companions, including Ibn ʿAbbās and Sulaymān b. Ṣard, quoted by Ibn al-Mundhir (d. 318/930) in his Tafsīr al-Qurʾān (of which only the first two volumes are now extant), that Āzar was the uncle of the Prophet (p. 51-52); and
  • Ibrāhīm, peace be upon him, asked Allah to forgive his parents after building the Kaʿba(Q 14:41), long after the death of Āzar, who is said to have died when Ibrāhīm was cast into the fire; Ibrāhīm—upon him be peace—would not have asked Allah to forgive Āzar because when it was made clear unto him that he (Āzar) was an enemy of Allāh, he (Ibrāhīm) disavowed him; behold, Ibrāhīm was most tender-hearted and clement (Q 9:114) (p. 53).

The conclusive proof (al-ḥujjat al-qāṭiʿa) for Āzar being the name of the father of Ibrāhīm, upon him peace is the hadith in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī  where the Prophet, upon him peace, himself called Āzar the father of Ibrāhīm: “On the Day of Resurrection, Ibrāhīm will meet his father Āzar whose face will be dark and covered with dust. Ibrāhīm will say unto him: ‘Did I not tell you not to disobey me?’ His father will reply: ‘Today I will not disobey you.’ Ibrāhīm will say: ‘O my Lord! You promised me that you would not put me to shame on the Day of Resurrection; and what greater disgrace is there [for me] than [that of] my father being most forlorn?’ Allah Most High will say: ‘Indeed, I have forbidden Paradise for the disbelievers.’ Then it will be said: ‘O Ibrāhīm, see what is underneath your feet!’ He will look and find [there] a blood-spattered hyena (dhīkhin multaṭikh), which will be caught by the legs and thrown into the Fire” (Bukhārī, Aḥādīth al-Anbīyāʾ, qawl Allāh taʿālā wa-ttakhadha-Llāhu Ibrāhīma khalīlā).

Ibn Ḥajar (773-852/1371-1449) enumerats various opinions found in the exegetical literature explaining this animal metamorphosis: (i) to spare Ibrāhīm the sight of his father in eternal Hellfire; (ii) to seal his dissociation from what was no longer his father but a gruesome feral being; hence, (iii) to avoid him the disgrace of being the son of a disgraced father (cf. Q 3:192) since the latter was no longer recognizable as such; while, at the same time, (iv) fulfilling both Divine promises at once, namely, neither disgrace Ibrāhīm nor to allow a disbeliever entry into Paradise (Fatḥ al-bārī, Tafsīr, wa-lā tukhzinī yawma yubʿathūn).

To the objection that Ibrāhīm’s plea in the above hadith makes his disavowal next-worldly, which contradicts the fact that he had already disavowed his father in Q 9:114 and knew the promised threat (waʿīd) of Allah Most High for the disbelievers too well to dispute it, Ibn Ḥajar offers the following reconciliation: When Āzar died as a disbeliever, Ibrāhīm, upon him be peace, gave up asking for forgiveness for him; but filial love and tenderness will return to him when he sees his father on the Day of Resurrection, and he will again ask Allah for his forgiveness; but when he will see his father disfigured, he will dissociate himself from him in a lasting disavowal (Fatḥ al-bārī, Tafsīr, wa-andhir ʿashīratak al-aqrabīn).


Father of Ibrāhīm in the Qurʾān

The Qurʾānic description of the father of Prophet Ibrāhīm (Q 9:114; 19:42; 21:52; 26:70; 37:85; 43:26) is unequivocal. In each of these verses the father is always mentioned anonymously—which in itself is a sign of his low status in the sight of Allah Most High (see Anonymous Mentions)—and always in the words of Ibrāhīm, who asks his father and his people: “Whom do you worship? Do you seek to serve false gods instead of Allah?” (Q 37:85-87). This is elaborated in Q 26:69-76: And relate unto them the story of Ibrāhīm; when he said to his father and his people: What is it that you worship? They said: we worship idols, and we remain devoted to them. He said: Do they hear you when you invoke them or do they benefit or harm you? They said: But we found our forefathers doing the same.” [Ibrāhīm] said: Have you ever considered what it is that you have been worshipping—you and your forebears?” At the end of this passage Ibrāhīm, upon him be peace, asks Allah to forgive his father: “And forgive my father, for, verily, he is among those who have gone astray, and do not put me to shame on the Day when all shall be raised from the dead...” (Q 26:86-87). When Ibrāhīm asks his father and his father’s people: “What are these images to which you are so devoutly clinging?They responded: We found our forefathers worshipping them. He said: Surely you and your forefathers have been in manifest error” (Q 21:52-55).

In Q 43:26, Ibrāhīm, peace be upon him, dissociates himself from what his father and his people worshipped, and in Q 19:42-45 he asks his father: “O my father, why do you worship that which neither sees nor hears, and which can be of no avail to you? Father, truly, knowledge has come to me which has not come to you, so follow me that I may guide you to the Straight Path. Father, do not serve Satan, for Satan is indeed a rebel against the Most Gracious Lord. O my father, I fear that a punishment from the Most Gracious Lord may strike you and you may end up as Satan’s companion.”

The father responds by asking Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, if he has abandoned his gods, threatening him with death by stoning if he does not recant and ordering him to leave his presence forever. Ibrāhīm responds: “Peace be upon you; I shall seek forgiveness for you from my Lord; indeed He has always been gracious to me. I shall withdraw from you and all that you call upon beside Allah. I shall only call upon my Lord. I hope that my supplication to my Lord will not be in vain” (Q 19:47-48). The supplication of Ibrāhīm for his father’s forgiveness was, however, only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became apparent to Ibrāhīm that his father was an enemy to Allah, he disassociated himself from him... (Q 9:114).

The Qurʾānic account of Āzar is thematically linked to several other aspects of its message: no blood relationship is of any avail in the sight of Allah (cf. Q 26:88-89) (see Kindered; Family and Household); intercession is real and the exclusive prerogative of Allah (cf. Q 2:254-255), Who gives it to whomsoever, whenever, and howsoever He wills (see Intercession); one is bound to repudiate one’s ancestral religion if it is false (cf. Q 2:170, 5:104; 11:109); and, finally, one’s responsibility before God is nontransferable and individual (cf. Q 6:164; 17:15) (see Legal Liability).


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See also

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