The Festival of Idols
Every year, the community celebrated a festival that took place out of town. Ibrahim’s AS father asked him to attend, but Ibrahim AS declined, claiming that he was feeling sick. What he inferred to was not his physical health, but rather the inward sickness he felt at the extent of falsehood practiced by his community. This was one of the first three lies, for the cause of Allah, which Ibrahim AS spoke in his lifetime.
With all the townspeople away, Ibrahim AS found himself alone in the town amongst the multitude of idols and statues. He found them everywhere he looked, with sacrificial offerings and food that had been laid out before them remaining untouched and uneaten. He asked them in disdain: “Do you not eat? What is [wrong] with you that you do not speak?” (Al Qur’an 37:91 – 37:93) Naturally, the statues, being lifeless pieces of wood and rock, were not capable of responding.
Ibrahim AS then demolished all the statues to pieces, except for the largest one, which he left untouched. By some reports, it is said that he put the axe that he had used into the hands of the largest statue.
When the townspeople returned from the celebrations and saw the destruction, there was an uproar. They said, “Who has done this to our gods? Indeed, he is of the wrongdoers.” (Al Qur’an 21:60)The suspicion naturally fell upon Ibrahim AS, whose views against idolatry were widely known. The community was astute enough to make that connection, but was not smart enough to grasp that if all the idols and statues were indeed gods, they would have been able to defend themselves against such a battering without any human intervention.
Ibrahim AS was summoned before the community. The magnitude of what he did demanded a public spectacle, where people could hear his testimony and witness his sentencing. The assembly said, “Have you done this to our gods, O Ibrahim?” (Al Qur’an 21:62) When confronted with their accusations, Ibrahim AS accused the largest idol of causing all the damage, and challenged them to question it. He said, “Rather, this – the largest of them – did it, so ask them, if they should [be able to] speak.” (21:63) Thus this was the second lie that he told.
Ibrahim’s AS simple statement backed the assembly into a corner. They realized that what Ibrahim AS had indicated was correct. The idols were silent witnesses, not even capable of speaking, much less defending themselves. They were inanimate, devoid of any life, intelligence or faculties. The people realized their deeply flawed reasoning of worshipping things so lacking in power and usefulness. If these statues were unable to protect themselves, then how could they be of benefit to their worshippers? So they returned to [blaming] themselves and said [to each other], “Indeed, you are the wrongdoers.” (AL Qur’an 21:64)
However, mankind is an arrogant breed. While the realization struck a chord with them, they almost immediately recanted. Instead of acknowledging their error, they continued in their argument with Ibrahim AS. Then they reversed themselves, [saying], “You have already known that these do not speak!” He said, “Then do you worship instead of Allah that which does not benefit you at all or harm you? Fie upon you, and upon that which you worship besides Allah! Have you then no sense?” (Al Qur’an 21:65-21:67)
Even though the truth was self-evident, the soundness of his arguments did not work in Ibrahim’s AS favour. He was sentenced to a barbaric punishment – being burnt alive.
The Big Fire
The gravity of Ibrahim’s AS offence demanded that the method of his execution be unorthodox and spectacular. The townspeople decided to build a huge furnace, and many months passed while they methodically gathered firewood to feed the flames. When finally ignited, the blaze was so large that it would incinerate any bird flying overhead. At the same time, a man, the inventor of the catapult, was commissioned to build one for the occasion, into which Ibrahim AS was placed to be flung into the inferno.
Ibrahim AS was the only man on the surface of the earth at the time who professed his belief in the one true God, the sole Muslim; and his life lay in the balance.
It is reported that Jibril AS, with Allah’s permission, offered to aid Ibrahim AS. Ibrahim AS refused, on the basis that Jibril AS came of his own volition, rather than being directed to do so by Allah. Likewise, when the angel of wind and the angel of rain offered to help extinguish the blaze, Ibrahim AS refused as they were not instructed by Allah to do so. The only help that he was willing to accept was the one that came directly from Allah Himself, and even then, he did not ask Allah for help.
As his catapult was released, flinging him towards the heart of the raging flames, he said “Allah is sufficient for us, and how good a protector he is.” This statement resonates the sincerity and depth of Ibrahim’s AS belief in his Lord.
His unwavering faith was rewarded. As he descended into the fire, Allah said, “O fire, be coolness and safety (peace) upon Ibrahim.” (Al Qur’an 21:69) Fire, like all of Allah’s creations, is a slave to Allah. All of creation, except man and jinn, obey Allah unconditionally, and accordingly, the fire immediately obeyed, moderating its temperature. Its flames became cool; and created a peaceful and safe environment which greeted Ibrahim AS as he landed. The same way that Allah can transform gentle elements to wipe out disobedient nations, He can likewise change the nature of the destructive elements to offer peace and sanctuary for the believers.
Reports vary as to how long Ibrahim AS remained in the fire. Some accounts mention forty days, and some others report four months. Allah provided for his sustenance during this time. It is also reported that Ibrahim AS said that no days nor nights were as good in his life as when he stayed in the fire.
Over time, the flames slowly died. When at last he walked out of the embers, he was unscathed. The only thing the fire had destroyed were the shackles in which he was placed. It was nothing short of a miracle.
The people of town knew they were defeated. Their malevolent plan was a resounding failure. “And they intended for him harm, but We made them the greatest losers.” (Al Qur’an 21:70).
While the fire had cooled itself for Ibrahim AS, no such fate would fall upon the townsfolk, for their eternal abode will be more excruciating than the hottest furnace on earth. “And [Ibrahim] said, “You have only taken, other than Allah, idols as [a bond of] affection among you in worldly life. Then on the Day of Resurrection you will deny one another and curse one another, and your refuge will be the Fire, and you will not have any helpers.”(Al Qur’an 29:25)