Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sirat al Mustaqim of Abraham

Bruce Feiler's sincere inquiry into the heart of the world's three monotheistic faiths in search of the role and meaning of Abraham results in an astounding conclusion that offers healing to all men and women of faith:

"When I first set out on this journey, I believed Abraham existed in some mysterious place. The Great Abrahamic Hope was out there, an oasis somewhere in the deepest deserts of antiquity, and all we had to do was track him down, unveil him to the world, and his descendants would live in perpetual harmony, dancing "Kumbaya" around the campfire.

That oasis, I realized, is just a mirage.

But Abraham isn't. Abraham is like water. I came to to believe, but not the oasis I had originally thought. He's a vast, underground aquifer that stretches from Mesopotamia to the Nile, from Jerusalem to mecca, from Kandahar to Kansas City. He's an ever-present, ever flowing stream that represents the basic desire all people have to form a union with God. He's a physical manifestation of the fundamental yearning yo be descended from a sacred source. He's a personification of the biological need we all share to feel protected by someone, something. Anything.

This perpetual stream of Abrahamic ideals has existed just under the surface of the world for as long as humans have told themselves stories. And every generation - at moments of joy and crisis - tapped into the same source. Each generation chose an Abraham for itself.

And we can, too. We can tap into the same underground stream and draw out a figure for our times. We can summon our own savior from the sands, and in so doing bring ourselves closer to God. We can, like Abraham, leave behind our native places - our comfortable, even doctrinaire traditions - and set out for an unknown location, whose dimensions may be known only to God but whose mandate is to be a place where God's blessing is promised to all.

In short, we can create Abraham Number Two Hundred Forty-one.

And we must.

So what should our`Abraham look like? For starters, he should look like us. He should be a creature of the modern world, informed by our number-crunching mentality - the number of people killed, the number of people under occupation,, 1948, 1967, 56.6 K, 9-11. He should be a student of our time, knowing like a savvy, modern day Zelig that a lot of other people bearing his name are running around the world wreaking havoc in his honor.

But most of all he should embody the timeless values he's represented for four millennia. The Abraham I crave is God-fearing but also God-not-fearing. This Abraham is a wanderer, a man of the frontier, who's prepared to leave the comfort of his family for the sake of the family he wants to create, and who admits that he can't do this alone but needs a partnership with God in order to realize himself more fully. And this Abraham, having given his life over to God, is then prepared to challenge God, in order that God might more fully realize himself and renew his commitment to protect humankind.

The Abraham I long for would be a bridge between humanity and the divine, who demonstrates the example of what it means to be faithful but who also delivers to us God's blessing on earth. And this Abraham conveys God's grace through his children, through Ishmael, through Isaac, and who then has so much hallowedness left over that he doles some out to all members of his household, and then to the children of his second wife. And this Abraham is perceptive enough to know that his children will not always embrace the fullness of God's blessing, they will not always endlessly dance "Kumbaya" around the campfire, they will fight, murder, fly planes into buildings, send bombs into schools, and generally try to squander God's generosity.

But this Abraham believes - against all belief - that his children will crave God. They still need the comfort of something greater than themselves, still hold on to some gleam of humanity, still dream of a moment when they stand alongside one another and pray for their lost father and for the legacy of peace among the nations that was his initial mandate from heaven.

This Abraham is not Jew, Christian, or Muslim. He is not flawless; he's not a saint. But he is himself, the best vessel we've got, the father of all.

This Abraham won't be the only Abraham. He won't be the last Abraham. But he is an Abraham for today.

I choose him." (2002, pp. 215-218).

~ Excerpted from "Abraham" by Bruce Feiler.

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