Powerful Conversations Between A Father and A Son: Lessons from Prophet Ibrahim a.s and Prophet Ismail a.s.

Surah As-Saffat, verse 101-111, relates to us the story of Prophet Ibrahim a.s. and Prophet Ismail a.s, which later became the celebration of Aidiladha. Let us explore beyond the religious rites per se and discover other lessons from this significant event.
by Ustaz Dr Muhammad Haniff Hassan 2021-07-19 • 18 min read
Research Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
2021-07-19 • 18 min read

Lessons from the story of Ibrahim and Ismail

Hari Raya Aidiladha will soon be upon us again. Its arrival should not be celebrated merely as an annual routine or festival but rather, we should take some time to reflect and ponder some lessons to help us be a better person for the days to come, in line with the teaching of the Quran - 

فَٱعْتَبِرُوا۟ يَـٰٓأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَبْصَـٰرِ

“Learn a lesson, then, O you who are endowed with insight!”

(Surah Al-Hashr, 59:2)

Let us ponder the verses of the Quran (in Surah As-Saffat, 37:101-111) relating to the conversation between Prophet Ibrahim a.s. and his son, Prophet Ismail a.s, about the dream that God commanded the former to sacrifice the latter. This is the story from which Hari Raya Aidiladha became a day of great significance in Islam. It is where the act of sacrificing animals (qurban) on the day and the three days after it (Days of Tashriq) for the purpose of feeding the poor became an important religious ritual. 

Also read: The Value of Sacrifice in Islam

Let us revisit the verses of the Quran to discover new lessons around Hari Raya Aidiladha beyond the rituals of qurban. This article takes the significance of Aidiladha and delves into the theme of fatherhood from a Muslim perspective. 

As Muslims, the Quran is our basis as a source of guidance in our lives.  Many lessons could be learned from these verses pertaining to fatherhood. 

First lesson – Active fathering

Prophet Ibrahim a.s’s conversation with Prophet Ismail a.s. implies the Quran’s emphasis on positive fathering.

A point to ponder is why God made the interaction and conversation about qurban between the father and son and not the mother and son?

It is interesting to note that all the conversations between a parent and child in the Quran are between a father and his child; such as the dialogue between Luqman and his son (Surah Luqman, 31:12-19), Prophet Ya’qub a.s. and his children in Surah Yusuf, and Prophet Nuh a.s. and his son (Surah Hud, 11:42-43). There is not a single dialogue between a mother and her children in the Quran, not even between Maryam a.s. and his son, Prophet Isa a.s, who was born without a father.

Traditionally, many of us are aware of the important role of mothers as educators to the children. However, from the numerous passages in the Quran narrating the conversations between a father and his child, it implores us to infer that the Quran enjoins all fathers to play an active and positive role in the upbringing of their children.

Lessons from the story of Ibrahim and Ismail

Thus, a good Muslim father should not be an “armchair parent” who delegates the upbringing of the children at home to only mothers. Let us be active and positive fathers among us in the sharing of roles as a parent for all our children.  

Read: 4 Powerful Stories in the Quran About the Role of a Father

Second lesson – Importance of children’s good upbringing

The role of fathers in the upbringing of their children is essential in Islam.

Prophet Ismail a.s’s response to his father, Prophet Ibrahim a.s, when informed about God’s command underpins his obedience and commitment to God. He accepts the command and his destiny without any doubt. It also indicates Prophet Ismail’s high maturity despite being just a “ghulam (boy)”, as mentioned in the Surah As-Saffat verse 101, at that point in time. The maturity, obedience and commitment displayed by Prophet Ismail a.s. could not be achieved without a good upbringing by his parents.

Thus, parents who wish for their children to be as obedient to God and filial to their parents as Prophet Ismail cannot overlook the important role played by Prophet Ibrahim a.s. in providing good fatherly guidance to his son, guidance that is rooted in divine revelation.

prophet ibrahim story in quran

In this regard, one must also note that Prophet Ismail is not the only son of Prophet Ibrahim a.s. who succeeded him as Prophet. Prophet Ibrahim a.s’s other son became Prophet Ishaq a.s. Good parenting grounded in the guidance of a father is essential, even when it pertains to the prophets of God a.s. 

Read: 10 Ways To Raise Your Son To Be A Gentleman

Third lesson – The importance of effective parental communication with children 

Effective communication with children is a critical skill for parents towards good upbringing and guidance.

For example, we can refer to the conversation,

فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ ٱلسَّعْىَ قَالَ يَـٰبُنَىَّ 

“Then when the boy reached the age to work with him, Abraham said, “O my dear son!..”

(Surah As-Saffat, 37:102)

In this verse, Prophet Ibrahim a.s. addressed his son with, “Ya Bunayya..”. It must be noted that Prophet Ibrahim a.s. did not use phrases such as “Ya Ibni..” or “Ya Waladi..” which simply mean, “O my son…”. He used the phrase that connotes an affectionate feeling in Arabic which means, “O my beloved or dearest son…”. The choice of words highlights Prophet Ibrahim a.s’s approach to dealing with his son – with good manners (adab) and love and affection, instead of authority and power.

The same communication style could also be found in other verses with father and son’s conversations in the Quran.

Fourth lesson – Instil faith with conviction instead of blind obedience

Our modality in communication between parents and children need not be on the basis of “listen and obey”. As parents, we can take the example of Prophet Ibrahim a.s. 

Our Prophet Ibrahim a.s. did not simply inform his son of God’s command and demanded absolute obedience in the name of God. Instead, he sought his beloved son’s opinion on the matter when he said,

فَٱنظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَىٰ

“What would be thy view!” 

(Surah As-Saffat, 37:102)

Therein lies the importance of instilling a critical mind in our children’s upbringing in order to cultivate faith and obedience in them through their own personal convictions. As opposed to drilling in them the dogmatic views of religion, absolute obedience to authority and blind conformance to traditions.

This point is supported by these additional examples found in the Quran;

1. Angels’ question to God on the reason for creating Adam or Man on earth (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:30-33)

2. Story of Uzair who questioned how God could resurrect Man after death (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:259)

3. Story of Ibrahim a.s. on his search for truth (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:260) (Surah Al-An’am, 6:75-9) and (Surah Hud, 11:74-76)

4. The importance of knowledge and strong argument as the basis of religious understanding and practices (Surah Yusuf, 12:108).

Fifth lesson – Be consultative in family affairs

The virtue of being consultative in managing family matters is often underestimated.

Prophet Ibrahim a.s. consulted his son on a matter that has grave ramifications to his son, despite him being a just young boy

قَالَ يَـٰبُنَىَّ إِنِّىٓ أَرَىٰ فِى ٱلْمَنَامِ أَنِّىٓ أَذْبَحُكَ فَٱنظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَىٰ

Abraham said, “O my dear son! I have seen in a dream that I (must) sacrifice you. So tell me what you think.”

(Surah As-Saffat, 37:102)

The duality of Prophet Ibrahim a.s’s role as both God’s messenger and a father did not deter him from being consultative in his tone and manners.

One might ask - why would the opinion of a young boy matter in performing divine injunction? 

There is a valuable lesson in that God wishes to convey to parents that a consultative approach is more important when dealing with all our worldly affairs. As long as a matter would have an effect on a child, parents are not to simply impose their preference.

In fact, the Quran requires the head of the family (father/husband) to practice consultation in matters as small as the issue of breastfeeding a baby.

فَإِنْ أَرَادَا فِصَالًا عَن تَرَاضٍ مِّنْهُمَا وَتَشَاوُرٍ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَا

"If both sides decide—after mutual consultation and consent—to wean a child, then there is no blame on them."

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:233)

فَإِنْ أَرْضَعْنَ لَكُمْ فَـَٔاتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ ۖ وَأْتَمِرُوا۟ بَيْنَكُم بِمَعْرُوفٍ

“And if they nurse your child (after the divorce is finalised), compensate them, and consult together courteously.”

(Surah At-Talaq, 65:6)

story of prophet ibrahim sacrificing his son

Consultative parenting could also be found in other verses of the Quran: 

وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِى ٱلْأَمْرِ ۖ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

"and consult with them in (conducting) matters. Once you make a decision, put your trust in Allah. Surely Allah loves those who trust in Him."

(Surah Ali-’Imran, 3:159)

وَٱلَّذِينَ ٱسْتَجَابُوا۟ لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَىٰ بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَـٰهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ

"who respond to their Lord, establish prayer, conduct their affairs by mutual consultation, and donate from what We have provided for them"

(Surah Ash-Shuraa, 42:38)

This also underlines a crucial point to parents that being in the position of power should not lead them to be authoritarian towards their children.

Sixth lesson – The use of tests in children’s upbringing  

At the end of the story, God decreed the replacement of Prophet Ismail a.s. with a sheep for sacrifice,

وَفَدَيْنَـٰهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ

And We ransomed his son with a great sacrifice,

(Surah As-Saffat, 37:107) 

and pronounced that the whole incident was designed as a test of faith on both Prophet Ibrahim and Ismail a.s. and they were highly praised for successfully passing it 

قَدْ صَدَّقْتَ ٱلرُّءْيَآ ۚ إِنَّا كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِى ٱلْمُحْسِنِينَ. إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَهُوَ ٱلْبَلَـٰٓؤُا۟ ٱلْمُبِينُ

“You have already fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, this is how We reward the good-doers. That was truly a revealing test.

(Surah As-Saffat, 37:105-106)

We can extrapolate this lesson and infer that tests and appraisals as educational tools for children should not be limited only to school settings. The Quran recommends the methodological use of testing and appraising as a parental tool towards character building for their children.

It must be noted that God decreed such a challenging and difficult test on both Prophet Ibrahim a.s. and Ismail a.s, not as punishment for sins or mistakes committed by them, but to build their character to prepare them for difficult challenges ahead.

This should also be the underlying spirit of children’s upbringing in Islam. Fathers, being the head of the family, should constantly look for opportunities to uplift and elevate their children’s character and potentials or test their mettle by giving them challenging tasks.

This is also in line with God’s pronouncement in the Quran that life, be it good or bad, is full of tests for Man’s benefit in this world i.e. character building, material progress, survival and in the Afterlife i.e. eternal happy life in Paradise

ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلْمَوْتَ وَٱلْحَيَوٰةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلْعَزِيزُ ٱلْغَفُورُ

"(He is the One) Who created death and life in order to test which of you is best in deeds. And He is the Almighty, All-Forgiving."

(Surah Al-Mulk, 67:2)

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ ۗ وَنَبْلُوكُم بِٱلشَّرِّ وَٱلْخَيْرِ فِتْنَةً ۖ وَإِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُونَ

"Every soul will taste death. And We test you (O humanity) with good and evil as a trial, then to Us, you will (all) be returned."

(Surah Al-Anbiya’, 21:35)

Seventh lesson – Rewarding children for positive achievements

God rewarded Prophet Ibrahim a.s. and Ismail a.s. for successfully overcoming the test

كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِى ٱلْمُحْسِنِينَ. إِنَّهُۥ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

"This is how We reward the good-doers. He was truly one of Our faithful servants."

(Surah As-Saffat, 37:110-111)

More importantly, God made the ritual act of sacrificing an animal a central theme in the commemoration of Aidiladha. Both Prophets will be remembered for their great deed and success by Muslims till the end of time.

وَتَرَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ فِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرِينَ

"and We let him be praised by succeeding generations"

(Surah As-Saffat, 37:108)

Fathers can be gracious in rewarding their children for their good performance and achievements, especially pertaining to character and spiritual development. 

Ibrahim sacrifice in Quran

Fathers can work towards emulating the same values of graciousness in giving rewards and compassion, even in punishment. This is revealed in,

مَن جَآءَ بِٱلْحَسَنَةِ فَلَهُۥ عَشْرُ أَمْثَالِهَا ۖ وَمَن جَآءَ بِٱلسَّيِّئَةِ فَلَا يُجْزَىٰٓ إِلَّا مِثْلَهَا وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

“Whoever shall come (before God) with a good deed will gain ten times the like thereof, but whoever shall come with an evil deed will be requited with no more than the like thereof, and none shall be wronged.”

(Surah Al-An’am, 6:160)

Conclusion

Although this article delves into the positive ways of being a father, the preceding seven lessons, when analysed carefully, could be applied to other non-family settings as well:

1. Leaders-followers relationships in organisational or community setting

2. Human resource development in an organisation

3. Educators in educational institutions 

4. The ethos for excellence in an organisation.

On balance, the success of a unit, as small as a family or as big as a state, requires four key drivers. First, good leadership as portrayed by Prophet Ibrahim a.s. Second, good followership is based on one’s good upbringing, character, conviction as shown by Prophet Ismail a.s. Third, good systems in terms of human resource development, education, assessment, communication, and a consultative manner. Fourth, good values in the areas of critical thinking, obedience, mutual respect. 

The list of possible drivers is non-exhaustive. There could be many other lessons behind the story of how Aidiladha came to be. It is hoped that this article has successfully stimulated our readers to think and ponder further.

Read: The Significance of Hari Raya Aidiladha

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