Abraham, Father of the Middle East

From Issue No. 1
by N E Dangoor

In many ways Abraham is the common denominator of the Middle East especially that part of the region known as the Fertile Crescent. He was an Aramaean born in Iraq who had to migrate to Canaan for the sake of religious freedom. His compliance with the divine command which bade him to leave ‘thy country, thy kindred and thy father’s house’, demonstrates both his obedience to God and his attachment to his native land which he did not leave out of choice: both Isaac and Jacob had to choose their wives from the old country.

Abraham spoke Aramaic (Syriac) which at the end of the eighth century B.C.E. became the lingua franca of the Middle East. From that time and for 1,200 years Aramaic was the spoken language of Jews in Palestine and Babylonia right up to the Moslem conquest of the Middle East. The Hebrew that was used in writing the Bible and was the language of the prophets and the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah was in fact the language of Canaan. Abraham’s ancestors originally came to Iraq from the north-eastern part of the Arabian peninsula which was the cradle of the Semitic family which emigrated into the Fertile Crescent, the people who subsequently became the Hebrews, Phoenicians, Babylonians and Assyrians of history.

Abraham’s travels took him first to Haran in northern Iraq and then to Damascus where he resided for some time. He later proceeded to Canaan, which at that time was sparsely populated and consisted of a number of small city states. One of these was Salem (Jerusalem) whose king, Melchisedek, priest of the Most High God, was particularly friendly with Abraham.

Abraham had eight sons: Ishmael by Hagar, Isaac by Sarah and six sons by Keturah. Ishmael’s offspring became the Nabataens who populated northern Arabia from the Euphrates to the Red Sea. Africa is named after Ofren, one of Abraham’s grandchildren, who conquered Libya.

Abraham was shrewd, loyal to his kin, brave in war, desirous of numerous offspring, extremely hospitable, just, a hard bargainer, and an unquestioning believer in God. His religion, according to the Bible, was the first monotheistic faith. He was the first to venture the notion that there was but one God, the Creator of the Universe. In that field of course his influence became felt throughout the civilised world, first through Judaism and then through Christianity and Islam so that today the greater part of mankind acknowledges the God of Abraham.

Mohammed regarded Abraham as the spiritual ancestor of Islam. The submission of Abraham and his son to the will of God in the supreme test when Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, expressed in the verb ‘aslama’ (submitted themselves), was evidently the act that provided Mohammed with the name Islam for his faith.

It is interesting to dwell further on Abraham’s personality: a visionary and a prophet – he is referred to as the ‘friend of God’ in the Old Testament and the Koran; a tribal chief, a merchant prince and a traveller; a warrior and a brilliant tactician. On his return from one trip to Egypt he adopted some hieroglyphic symbols and, by making each symbol represent a particular sound, developed the first alphabet, suitable for the Hebrew nomads and which was used to record the fascinating story of the Chosen People which was beginning to unfold as well as the old sagas that go back to Noah and beyond.

The tradition and personality of Abraham can be used as a basis to forge a democratic federation of the Fertile Crescent comprising Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan - all Abraham’s country in which still live a score of different nationalities. Of these only the Arabs would oppose and frustrate such a union, in order that they may achieve complete Arabisation.

The ideal capital for such a federation would be at Abu-Kemal, half-way on the Euphrates and near Mari of old in which Abraham once lived. What better name can such a capital have than that of Abraham?

Other selected articles from previous issues :

Iranian Jewry Celebrates Cyrus
The Cellar Club
In the Footsteps of Adam
The Arabs Will Never Make Peace with Reality