Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish, by J. E. Hanauer , at sacred-texts.com
IBRAHÌM, whose surname is Khalìl Allah, or the Friend of God, was the son of Azar or Terah, a sculptor, and also wazìr to Nimrûd, King of Kûtha. The impiety of Nimrûd was so great that he compelled his subjects to worship him as a god.
A dream which greatly disturbed him was interpreted by soothsayers to portend the speedy birth
of a great prophet who should overthrow idolatry and cause Nimrûd's ruin. To prevent this the tyrant collected all men into a large military camp, had every male infant in his dominions massacred, and ordered that all women likely to become mothers should be closely watched and their offspring, if male, destroyed at birth.
In spite of all these precautions, Azar's wife was delivered of Ibrahìm without the knowledge of any mortal but herself. When the hour of her trouble approached, she was led secretly by angels to a concealed and well-furnished cavern. Her trial was rendered painless by Allah's grace, and, leaving her new-born babe in the care of celestial ministrants, she returned to her home in perfect health and vigour.
Azar, who, like all the other men, was away from home in constant attendance upon Nimrûd, was for a long time ignorant of what had happened during his absence. His wife was allowed to visit her child every few days, and was every time surprised at his growth and extraordinary beauty. In one day he grew as much as any ordinary child would in a month, and in one month as much as another would in a year. He was also fed in a marvellous manner. Entering the cave one day, his mother found the infant sitting up and sucking his fingers with great gusto. Wondering why he did this, she examined his fingers, and found that from one there gushed forth milk, from the next honey, whilst butter and water respectively exuded from the others. It was most convenient, and she ceased to be surprised
that the child throve so remarkably. At the age of fifteen months he could already speak fluently, and, being very inquisitive, put the following shrewd questions to his parent: "Mother, who is my Lord?" She answered, "I am." "And who is thy Lord?" "Thy father." "And who is my father's Lord?" "Nimrûd." "And who is Nimrûd's Lord?" "Hush!" said the mother, striking the child on its mouth. She was, however, so delighted that she could no longer keep the child's existence hid from Azar. The wazìr came and was conducted to the cavern. He asked Ibrahìm whether he really was his son. The infant Patriarch answered in the affirmative, and then propounded to his father the same series of questions that he put to his mother, and with the same result.
One evening Ibrahìm begged his mother to allow him to go out of the cave. His request being granted, he marvelled greatly at the wonders of creation, and made the following remarkable declaration. "He that created me, gave me all things needful, fed me, and gave me drink, shall be my Lord, and none but He." Then, looking skywards, he perceived a bright star, for it was evening, and he said, "Surely this is my Lord!" But the star, as he watched it closely, sank to westward and disappeared, and Ibrahìm said, "I love not things that change. This could not have been my Lord." In the meantime the full moon had risen and was shedding her mild beams on all around, and the child said, "Surely this is my Lord!" and he watched her all through the night. Then the moon also set, and,
in great distress, Ibrahìm exclaimed, "Verily, I was in error, the moon could not have been my Lord; for I love not things that change." Soon after this the sky was tinged with all the glorious colours of the sunrise, and the sun arose in all his brightness, waking men and birds and insects to life and energy, bathing all things in a golden glory. At his splendour, the boy cried, "Surely this is my Lord!" But, as the hours wore on, the sun also began to sink westwards, and the shadows to lengthen, till at last the shades of night again covered the earth, and in bitter disappointment the child said, "Verily I was again in error, neither star nor moon nor sun can be my Lord. I love not the things that change." And in the anguish of his soul he prayed: "O Allah, Thou Great, Unsearchable, Unchangeable One, reveal Thyself to Thy servant, guide me, and keep me from error."
The petition was heard and Gabriel sent to instruct the earnest seeker after truth. As a child of ten years of age, Ibrahìm already began to exhort the people to worship Allah only. One day he entered the idol temple, and, finding nobody present, he broke up all the images except the largest with an axe, which he then laid on the lap of that which he had spared. When the priests entered the temple they were very angry, and, seeing Ibrahìm, accused him of sacrilege. He told them there had been a quarrel amongst the gods, and that the greater one had destroyed those who had provoked him. When they answered that this could not be, he showed them from their own mouths the folly of their idolatrous
belief. Hereupon they accused him to Nimrûd, who had a great furnace built, filled with fuel and set on fire. He then ordered Ibrahìm to be thrown into the fire. The heat, however, was so great that nobody dared venture near enough to carry out the command. Then Iblìs showed Nimrûd how to construct a machine by means of which the young martyr, bound hand and foot, was hurled into the flames. But Allah preserved him, and the furnace was to him as cool and pleasant as a rose-garden watered by fountains. He came out of the fire unhurt. Nimrûd then declared that he must either see this God of Ibrahìm's or kill Him. He therefore had a lofty tower built, from the top of which he hoped to get into heaven. When the tower had reached the height of seventy stories, each story being seventy dra’as high, Allah confounded the speech of the workmen, Seventy-three languages were thus suddenly spoken all at one and the same time and in the same place, causing great babbling, wherefore the tower was called Babel. Pilgrims from Mosûl and Baghdad declare that its ruins exist in their country to this day. Foiled in this attempt, Nimrûd constructed a flying-machine, as simple as it was ingenious. It was a box with one lid at the top and another at the bottom. Four eagles which had been specially trained, and had attained their full size and strength, were tied one to each of the four corners of the box; then an upright pole was fixed on to the chest, and to this pole a large piece of raw meat was fastened. The birds flew upwards in order to get at the meat, and in so doing carried the box, into which Nimrûd
and an attendant archer had entered, with them. The harnessed eagles could not get at the meat, and so the flying-machine rose higher and higher. When it had ascended so high that the earth could hardly be seen, the giant ordered his companion to shoot an arrow heavenwards. Before ascending, Nimrûd had taken the precaution to dip the tips of the arrows in blood. Arrow after arrow was shot heavenwards, and, when the quiver was emptied, the pole with the meat on it was taken down and thrust through the opening in the bottom of the box. On finding themselves thus baulked of their food, the wearied eagles of course began to descend, and on reaching the earth, Nimrûd pointed to the arrows which had fallen back to the earth as a proof that he had wounded Allah; while the latter, as he boasted, had not been able to do him the least harm. This blasphemy completely deceived the people, whose confidence in Nimrûd had been rudely shaken by Ibrahìm's deliverance from the fiery furnace, and they again began to worship the cunning giant. Allah, however, did not let his wickedness go unpunished. The more clearly to show the greatness of His power, the Almighty employed the smallest of His creatures in order to humble the most arrogant. A sand-fly was sent to enter the giant's nostrils and make its way to his brain, where for two hundred years it tormented Nimrûd day and night until he died. Towards the end his agony was so intense that he could only get relief by employing a man to strike him constantly on the head with an iron hammer.
In the meantime, however, when Nimrûd found that he could do no harm to Ibrahìm, and that many people were being converted to his faith, he banished the prophet from his dominions. But hardly had he taken this step ere he regretted it, and sent a troop of soldiers, mounted on the mules which had been used to carry fuel to the furnace, in order to recapture him. When the Patriarch, who was riding a donkey, saw the soldiers at a distance, he realised that, unless he abandoned his beast and found some hiding-place, there was no hope for him. So he got off and took to his heels.
After running for some time he came across a flock of goats, and asked them to protect him. They refused and he was obliged to run on. At last he saw a flock of sheep, which, at the same request, at once agreed to hide him. They made him lie flat on the ground, and huddled together so closely that his enemies passed him by. As a reward for the sheep, Ibrahìm asked Allah to give them the broad and fat tails for which Eastern sheep are remarkable; and, to punish the goats, he procured for them little upright tails, too short for decency; while the mules, which till then had been capable of bearing young, were now made barren, because they willingly carried fuel to the furnace, and bore the soldiers of Nimrûd swiftly in pursuit of El-Khalìl.
After this, Ibrahìm had various adventures both in Egypt and at Bir-es-Seba, 1 following which came events which I cannot do better than tell in the words of one of the sheykhs of the great
[paragraph continues] Mosque at Hebron, who gave me the following account.
Having escaped from Nimrûd, El-Khalìl was commanded to go to Mecca and build the "haram" or sanctuary there. On reaching his destination, he received instructions first to offer up his dear son Ismaìn (Ishmael) as a sacrifice upon Jebel ’Arafat, the mountain where Adam had recognised Hawa. Iblìs, hoping to make trouble between the Patriarch and his Friend, went to our Lady Hagar, on whom be peace, and implored her to dissuade her husband from the cruel deed. She snatched up a stone and hurled it at the tempter. The missile did him no harm, but the pillar against which the stone dashed is still shown to pilgrims. From this incident he has the name "Esh Sheytân er Rajìm," meaning "Satan, the stoned One," or "who is to be stoned."
Having finished the Ka’aba, Ibrahìm was directed to build another "haram" at El-Kûds. This he did, and was then ordered to build a third at Hebron. The site of this last sanctuary would, he was informed, be shown to him by a supernatural light which would shine over it at night. This is one account. Another account says that three angels in human form having appeared to the Patriarch, he, supposing them to be men, invited them into his tent, and then went to slay a failing as a meal for them. In some way or other the calf eluded Ibrahìm, who followed it till it entered a certain cave. Going in after it, he heard a voice from some inner chamber informing him that he stood in the sepulchre of our Father Adam, over which he must build the sanctuary. A third story
runs that a strange camel was to come and guide El-Khalìl to the appointed place. This time Iblìs succeeded in deceiving the Father of the Faithful, who began to build at Ramet el Khalìl, an hour from Hebron, but, after he had laid the few courses which are still to be seen there, Allah showed him his mistake, and he moved on to Hebron.
1Hebron was then inhabited by Jews and Christians, the name of whose patriarch was Habrûn. Ibrahìm went to visit him, and said he wished to buy as much land as the "furweh" or sheepskin jacket which he was wearing would enclose if cut into pieces. Habrûn, laughing, said, "I will sell you that much land for four hundred golden dinàrs, and each hundred dinàrs must have the die of a different sultan." It was then the ’asr, 2 and Ibrahìm asked leave to say his prayers. He took off his furweh and spread it on the ground for a prayer-carpet. Then, taking up the proper position, he performed his devotions, adding a petition for the sum demanded. When he rose from his knees and took up the jacket, there lay beneath it four bags, each containing a hundred gold dinàrs, and each hundred with the die of a different sultan.
He then, in the presence of forty witnesses, told the money into Habrûn's hand, and proceeded to cut his furweh into strips with which to enclose the land thus bought. Habrûn protested, saying that was not in the agreement; but Ibrahìm appealed to
the witnesses, who decided that the size or number of pieces into which the furweh was to be cut had not been specified.
This made Habrûn so angry that he took the forty witnesses to the top of the hill south-west of the city, where the ruins of Deyr el Arba’ìn 1 now stand and there cut their heads off. But even that did not silence them, for each head, as it rolled down the hill, cried: "The agreement was that the jacket should be cut." El-Khalìl took their corpses and buried them, each in the place where the head had stopped rolling.
Next to his implicit faith in Allah's Providence, Ibrahìm was chiefly noted for his hospitality. He used often to say, "I was a poor penniless outcast and fugitive, but Allah cared for and enriched me. Why, therefore, should not I, in my turn, show kindness to my fellow-men?" He had a hall built in which there was a table set ready for the refreshment of any hungry wayfarer, as well as new garments for such as were in rags. Before taking his own meals he was wont to go forth out of his camp to the distance of one or two miles in hopes of meeting guests to keep him company. In spite of his liberality he was not impoverished, but actually grew richer, by Allah's blessing. One year there was a sore famine in the land, and the Patriarch sent his servants to a friend he had in Egypt, asking the latter to send him a supply of corn. The false friend, thinking that he had now an opportunity for ruining the Friend of Allah, answered that, had
the grain been wanted for the use of Ibrahìm and his own household and no others, he would have gladly furnished it; but that as he knew that the food, which was so scarce all the world over that year, would only be wasted on vagabonds and beggars, he felt that he would be doing wrong to send any.
Ibrahìm's servants, very loyal to their master, were ashamed of being seen returning to his camp with empty sacks, so they filled them with fine white sand, and, reaching home, related what had happened. The Patriarch was much grieved at his friend's treachery, and whilst thinking on the matter he fell asleep. While he slept, Sarah, who knew nothing of what had occurred, opened one of the sacks and found it full of the most beautiful flour, of which she made bread. Thus, when earthly friends failed, Allah succoured El-Khalìl.
Being so hospitable himself, Ibrahìm could not understand how others could be the contrary. One day he was obliged to leave his tents and visit a distant part of the country, where some of his flocks were pasturing in the charge of shepherds. On reaching the place where he had expected to find them, he was told by a certain Bedawi that they had gone to other pastures a good way off. He therefore accepted the Arab's invitation to enter his tent and rest awhile. A kid was killed to furnish a repast. Some weeks later, El-Khalìl had again occasion to go the same way, and met the same Bedawi, who, in answer to his inquiry as to the whereabouts of his shepherd, answered: "So many hours north
of the place where I killed a kid for thee." Ibrahìm said nothing, but passed on his way. Not long after this he had occasion to make a third journey, and on meeting the Bedawi the latter told him that the flocks he was seeking were at such a distance south of "the place where I killed a kid for thee." The next time El-Khalìl met the man,' he told him that the sheep were so and so far east of the place where that precious kid had been killed. "Ya Rabbi, O my Lord," exclaimed Ibrahìm, past patience, "Thou knowest how ungrudgingly I exercise hospitality without respect of persons. I beseech Thee, therefore, that as this man is constantly throwing his wretched kid in my teeth, I may be enabled to vomit it out, even though it be so long a time since I partook thereof." The prayer received an instant answer, and the slaughtered kid was restored alive and whole to its churlish owner.
Amongst other things which, according to Moslem tradition, began with Ibrahìm, we may mention three. The first of these was the rite of circumcision, which was instituted in order that the corpses of Moslems slain in battle might be distinguished from those of unbelievers and receive decent burial. The second was the wearing of the wide Oriental trousers called "Sirwâl." Till the time of Ibrahìm the only clothing worn was that which pilgrims to Mecca have to wear on approaching that city. It is called the "Ihrâm," and consists of a woollen loin-cloth, and another woollen cloth thrown over the shoulders. Finding these garments insufficient for the demands
of modesty, the Patriarch asked Allah that they might be supplemented, and accordingly Gabriel was sent from Paradise with a roll of cloth. Out of this he cut the first pair of sirwâls, and instructed Sarah (who was the first person since the time of Idrìs to use a needle) how to make them up. Iblìs, however, being jealous of the angel's tailoring, told the infidels that he knew a better and more economical way of cutting cloth, and, in proof, produced the Frank trousers, which, in these depraved and degenerate days, are being adopted by some Easterns. The third thing which began with El-Khalìl was grey hair. Before his time it was impossible to distinguish young men from old, but the Patriarch, having asked Allah for some sign by which the difference might be known, his own beard became snow-white. He was also the inventer of sandals; for people went altogether barefoot before his time.
Ibrahìm had obtained from Allah the promise that he should not die until he expressly wished to do so, and thus when the predestined day arrived, the Almighty was obliged, since his "Friend" had not expressed the wish, to inveigle it from him.
As before said, Ibrahìm was very hospitable. One day, seeing a very old man tottering along the road to his encampment, he sent a servant with a donkey to his assistance. When the stranger arrived, Ibrahìm made him welcome and set food before him. But when the guest began to eat, his feebleness seemed to increase. It was with difficulty he carried the food to his mouth.
At last El-Khalìl, who had been watching him with surprise and pity, inquired, "What ails thee, O Sheykh?" "It is the weakness of old age," was the reply. "How old are you?" asked Ibrahìm, and, on hearing the answer, "What!" he exclaimed, " shall I, when I am two years older, be as you are now?" "Undoubtedly," replied the stranger. At that El-Khalìl cried out: "O Lord God, take away my soul before I reach so pitiful a condition!" Hereupon the sheykh, who was Azrael in disguise, sprang up and received the soul of the Friend of Allah.
Ibrahìm was laid to rest in the cave of Machpelah at Hebron, by the side of Sarah his wife. His son Isaac and his grandson Jacob were also, as time rolled on, buried in the same place. However it is a mistake to say that they are in tombs and dead, for as a matter of fact they are not dead, but living. These prophets, like David and Elijah, still appear sometimes in order to save God's servants in times of danger or distress, as in the following story, which I relate as it was told me by the chief rabbi of the Jews at Hebron.
Some two centuries ago, a pasha, deputed to collect the taxes in Palestine, came to Hebron, and informed the Jewish community that, unless within three days they paid a large sum of money, their quarter would be looted and wrecked.
The Jews of Hebron were very poor, and had no hope of procuring so much money. They could only fast and pray for succour in their dire extremity. The night before the day on which the
money must be paid was spent by them in ceaseless prayer in the synagogue. About midnight they heard loud knocking at one of the gates of their. quarter. Some of them went and trembling asked who it was who thus disturbed them. "A Friend," was the reply. Still they dared not open. But the man without thrust his hand through the solid door and placed a large bag in a hole of the wall within. The arm was withdrawn again, and all was still. The bag was found to contain the exact sum in gold demanded by the pasha. The Jews next morning presented themselves before their oppressor and laid the money at his feet. At sight of the bag he blenched and asked how they came by it. They told their story, and he confessed that the bag and its contents had been his until the middle of last night, when, though his tent was straitly guarded, a sheykh in bright raiment had come in and taken it, threatening him with instant death if he moved or said a word. He knew that it was El-Khalìl, come to rescue the Jews, and begged their pardon for his harsh exactions. The Jews of Hebron still show the hole in the wall in which the bag of money was placed by Ibrahìm.
30:1 Some of the details in the ensuing narrative remind one of the story of the founding of Carthage.
30:2 Hour for afternoon prayer, half way from noon to sunset.--ED.
31:1 i.e. Convent of the Forty.