Millat Ibrahim: The Religion Of Abraham – OpEd


Muslim pilgrims used the early morning hours Monday to perform the second day of the symbolic stoning of the devil, hoping to escape the afternoon summer heat that caused heatstroke and sunburns among thousands of Muslims wrapping up the Hajj pilgrimage. When hajj pilgrims perform the last major ritual of the hajj, the “stoning of the devil” Muslims world over celebrated the Eid al-Adha holiday. 

Beginning at dawn, the 1.8 million Muslims (more than 1.6 million pilgrims from 22 countries, plus about 222,000 Saudi citizens taking the pilgrimage this year) threw seven stones at each of three concrete walls symbolizing the devil in the Mina valley located near Islam’s holiest city of Mecca. A third stoning is scheduled for Tuesday. The rites have taken place under soaring summer heat, which reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit in Mecca.

The ritual commemorates Prophet Abraham’s stoning of the devil at three spots when Satan tried to dissuade him from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son.

“When Abraham was raising the foundations of the House [Ka’ba] and [with him] Ishmael, [praying], “Our Lord, accept [this deed] from us. Indeed You are the Hearing, the Knowing.”

(2:127) “Our Lord, make us muslims [submitting] to You; and from our descendants [muslimin submitting] to You. And show us our rites and accept our repentance. Indeed, You are Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.” (2:128) 

Some Islamophobe  missionaries claim Muslims should be circumcising their sons on the eighth day after birth as this was what Allah commanded Abraham; and is therefore part of Millat Ibrahim: The Religion Of Abraham. The Torah states “This is My covenant with you [Abraham] and your descendants after you, which you are to keep: Every male among you must be circumcised. You are to circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and this will be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. Generation after generation, every male must be circumcised when he is eight days old,” (Genesis 17:10-12)

And the Qur’an states: “Then We revealed to you, [O Muhammad], to follow the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth; and he was not of those who associate [other gods]with Allah.”  (16:123)

As a Rabbi I disagree. The very next verse in the Qur’an states: “Our Lord, send among them a messenger from themselves [the descendants of Abraham and Ishmael] who will recite to them Your verses and teach them the Book and wisdom and purify them. Indeed, You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (2:129) 

And “Who would be averse to the religion of Abraham except one [an atheist] who makes a fool of himself. We had chosen him [Abraham] in this world, and indeed he, in the Hereafter, will be among the righteous. (2:130) When his Lord said to him [Abraham], “Submit” [aslim], he said “I have submitted [as a muslim] to the Lord of the worlds.” (2:131)  

And “Abraham instructed his sons [Ishmael and Isaac to do the same] and [so did] Jacob, [saying], “O my [twelve] sons, indeed Allah has chosen for you this religion [imageless monotheism], so do not die except as muslims.” (2:132) Or were you witnesses when death approached Jacob, when he said to his [twelve] sons, “What will you worship after me?” They said, “We will worship your God and the God of your fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac – one God. We are muslims [submitting] to Him.” (2:133)

I have not capitalized the word Muslim because there was no Muslim Ummah before the revelation of the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad. However, there were muslims, individuals and whole families, who believed in universal imageless monotheism; and that is why it is possible for me as a Reform Rabbi to state that I am also a muslim Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. 

As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Jew to become a muslim believer in imageless monotheism. “And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good; and follows the religion of Abraham [Millat Ibrahim], inclining toward truth? And Allah took Abraham as an intimate friend. (4:125)

And I submit myself to live according to the many commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. As the Qur’an says: “O Children of Israel, remember My favor which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill My covenant [with you] that I will fulfill your covenant [with Me], and be afraid [only] of Me. (2:40)

I am a Reform Rabbi who first became interested in Islam 65 years ago, when I studied Islam at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I have continued my study of Islam off and on since that time. Thus I consider myself to be both a Reform Rabbi and a Muslim Jew [Millat Ibrahim]. 

As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish religious leaders should modify Jewish tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice. These are lessons that prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century. 

As the Qur’an tells us (17:110) “Say, “Call upon Allah, or call upon Ar-Rahman the Most Merciful. Whichever [name] you call – to Him belong the best names.” And do not recite your prayer [too] loudly or [too] quietly, but seek a way in between.”

This ayah is one of the basic principles of Reform Judaism. God has 99 names not only because God has a complex personality; but also because different individual people, and different peoples/tribes/nations, relate to the one God in many different ways. Thus no one should raise his voice in prayer over others as though his prayers were better than those of others in his own community [ummah]; or in other imageless monotheistic communities [Millat Ibrahim].

Reform Jews are the largest of the Jewish denominations in the U.S. In the U.K..Reform Judaism is called Liberal  Judaism. In many ways statements in the Qur’an about Orthodox Jewish beliefs and Ahadith relating Muhammad’s comments about Orthodox Judaism, and religion in general, prefigure the thinking of Reform Rabbis some 12-13 centuries later. 

We read about ‘millat Ibrahim’ in a number of verses such as 2:130, 2:135, 3:95, 4:125, 6:16 and 16:123. In all the verses that mention the words ‘Millat Ibrahim’ (except for 2:130 and 4:125) these words are followed by the words: “the monotheist, he was not one of the mushrikeen”. 

So the Qur’an’s definition of the words ‘Millat Ibrahim’ is belief in imageless Monotheism (as Jews do) and never associating partners with God (as Trinitarian Christians do). Consequently, when God commands Muhammad to follow ‘Millat Ibrahim’, God is commanding all of us to follow imageless Monotheism and refrain from Shirk (associating partners with God).

When Prophet Joseph declared that he follows ‘Millat Ibrahim’ he quickly added that it dictates to them (Joseph and his people the Banu Israel)) not to associate anything/anyone with God: “And I followed the beliefs of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is not for us (Banu Israel) to associate anything with God. Such is God’s favor upon us and upon the other people [nations and tribes], but most people (polytheists) are not thankful.” (12:38)

This is the Qur’an’s definition of the Arabic word ‘millat’ (as a religion or a religious community) The deliberate insertion of the words ‘the Monotheist, he was not among those who commit shirk’ after the words ‘Millat Ibrahim’ in 4 of the 6 verses which contain the words ‘Millat Ibrahim’ compels us to accept that the words ‘Millat Ibrahim’ refer to Abraham’s beliefs which are imageless Monotheism and not any one particular religious community with its own specific ritual beliefs.

Further evidence confirming that the word ‘millat’ does not refer to religion in general; but that it means ‘creed’ is found in the following verse: “I have left behind the creed of a people who do not believe in God, and [also] with regard to the Hereafter, they are disbelievers. (12:37)

These words, uttered by the prophet Joseph, speak of the ‘millat’ of those who were atheists/disbelievers, who did not believe in God or the Hereafter. Atheists do not have a religion; but they have a creed (atheism). So in verse 12:37, the word ‘millat’ cannot be speaking just about the rituals and practices of atheism since atheists do not have religious rituals and practices.

More evidence for this definition of the Arabic word ‘millat’ is found in this Quranic verse 2:120: “Neither the Jews nor the Nazarenes [Trinaterians] will approve of you unless you follow their (own specific) creed.” God is the speaker in 2:120, and states that the religion given by all God’s prophets to all People of the Book (Jews, Christians, Sabians and Muslims) is Unitarian imageless monotheism and God calls it islam (without a capital I) (3:19). 

All those who submit to this one Unitarian Imageless God are muslims in general. Muslims with a capital M refers to the believers in the one Unitarian Imageless God of the Qur’an and who also follow Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and practice the rituals of the Islamic community. This Unitarian imageless monotheism is not the only religion authorized and accepted by God; but it is the latest revelation and the one closest to its own original revelation to Prophet Muhammad. 

For Jews, their millat (a very long established religion and religious community) has expanded Judaism by the interpretations of the Rabbis. In addition to the law of God, given to them in the Torah, Jews added what we Jews  call the ‘Oral Law’ which is contained in the Talmud (Mishnah and Gemara). In upholding the Talmud, Jews have set up a man made source of law derived from the God given Torah.

For Christians, their millat (religion and religious community) has largely deviated, according to the Qur’an, from the original creed given to Jesus. Christianity is based on such doctrines as the ‘Trinity’, ‘Original Sin’, ‘Vicarious Atonement’, ‘Salvation only through Jesus’, the ‘son of God’, and the ‘Resurrection of Jesus’. All these doctrines are the basis of a religious belief system that Muslims believe was never approved by God, and is not in line with the teachings of the original Scripture given to Prophet Jesus.

Prophet Abraham, like all the other prophets, was a muslim and not a member of the Jewish, Christian or Islamic religious community at that time; because there was no Jewish, Christian or Islamic religious community then. “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclining toward truth, a muslim [submitting to Allah]. He was not of the polytheists.” (Qur”an 3:67)

Thus the Qur’an instructs members of the Islamic community when others say to them: “Be Jews or Christians [so] you will be guided…” Muslims should reply: “Rather, [we follow] the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth, and he was not of the polytheists.” (Qur’an 2:135)

Finally, for each of you [Unitarian Imageless monotheisms]: “We have declared your own law and methods. Had God willed, He would have made you one nation, but He tests you through what He has given each of you.” (Qur’an 5:48)

And who would be averse to the religion of Prophet Abraham [Unitarian imageless monotheism] except one [an atheist] who makes a fool of himself. And We had chosen him [Abraham] in this world, and indeed he, in the Hereafter, will be among the righteous.(Qur’an 2:130)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

2 thoughts on “Millat Ibrahim: The Religion Of Abraham – OpEd

  • June 18, 2024 at 10:49 am

    Thanks Rabbi Allen Maller. I enjoyed reading your enlightening piece. Please allow me to ask ” You being a follower of Prophet Ibahim, What stops you from declaring yourself a Muslim and accepting Islam as your final religion and accepting Prophet Muhammad PBUH as a seal on prophet-hood ?” Kindly enlighten me further on this aspect. regards. saleem

  • June 18, 2024 at 8:36 pm

    Rabbi, Bereshit states “Let us [plural] make man in our [plural] image ….”. Hint: Man was made by multiple “Persons” in the image of multiple “persons”. If there weren’t multiple divine Persons in one God, God would have said “Let me make man in my image…..”


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