Did the Prophet Abraham Ever Worship Celestial Bodies?
Abraham was one of the greatest Prophets, one who was called ‘the intimate friend of God’. God’s Messenger took pride and pleasure in his connection with him, saying: I am the one whose coming Abraham prayed for and Jesus gave glad tidings of, and I resemble my forefather Abraham more than anyone else.13 He was thrown into fire because of his belief in One God, and the fire became, by God’s Will and Power, coolness and a means of safety for him.
Abraham, like the other Prophets, never worshipped, nor thought of worshipping, idols in any phase of his life. Despite this fact, some erroneous and untrue stories have unfortunately found their way into some Qur’anic commentaries. They have come from a misunderstanding of the following verses:
When the night covered him over, he saw a star: He said, ‘This is my lord’. But when it set, he said, ‘I love not those that set.’ When he saw the moon rising in splendor, he said, ‘This is my lord’. But when it set, he said, ‘Unless my Lord guided me, I would surely be among those who go astray’. When he saw the sun rising in splendor, he said, ‘This is my lord; this is the greatest (of all).’ But when the sun set, he said: ‘O my people! I am indeed free from your ascribing partners to God. For me, I have set my face towards Him who created the heavens and the earth, as a man of pure faith and one by nature upright, and I am not among those who associate partners with God’. (al-An’am, 6. 76–9)
These verses clearly show that Abraham tried, by way of analogy, to convince his people that none of the heavenly bodies was worthy to be believed in or worshipped as God. Historically, Abraham lived among the Chaldeans in northern Mesopotamia, a people very knowledgeable about heavenly bodies and who worshipped them along with many other idols. Abraham first argued with his father that the idols could not be worthy to worship, as explicitly stated in the verse preceding those cited above:
Abraham once said to his father Azar: ‘Do you take idols for gods? Surely I see you and your people in manifest deviation.’ (al-An’am, 6. 74)
Since Azar was the maker of the idols for his people to worship, Abraham, upon him be peace, had started his mission by opposing him. After that, he turned his attention to his people to guide them to the truth. Since they had great knowledge of heavenly bodies, God would instruct him in matters concerning them and showed him the metaphysical realities behind them so that he might attain certainty of the highest degree with respect to the truths of belief and convince his people of their deviation:
So also did We show Abraham the inner dimensions of, and the metaphysical realities behind, the heavens and the earth, that he might have certainty. (al-An’am, 6. 75)
While traveling in mind and heart through heavenly bodies, Abraham began by saying in front of his people that a star could not be God because it sets. Although the superstitious might read fortunes into it or attribute some influence to it, true knowledge shows that it rises and sets according to the laws authored by God, and its light is extinguished in the broader light of day, so worshipping it is futile.
Abraham took a second step in his analogy to guide his people to the truth and showed that, although looking brighter and bigger than the star, the moon could not be God either because, besides setting like the star, it changes its shape from hour to hour, and depends for its light on some other body. At this point, Abraham openly declared that he had already been guided by his Lord, and that those who did not worship Him alone were among those that went astray.
The last blow which Abraham struck was to show that the sun could not be worshipped as God either because, despite its size and light, it also disappears from sight, and therefore it was folly to worship created phenomena. After rejecting the worship of creation, Abraham declared his faith:
I have set my face towards Him who created the heavens and the earth, as a man of pure faith and one by nature upright, and I am not among those who associate partners with God. (al-An’am, 6.79)
So, it is sheer illusion and a great mistake to infer from the verses above that Abraham took heavenly bodies as God in the early phase of his life.
13. Muslim, “Iman,” 271.