Was Azar the Father of Ibrahim?
By: Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani
The above quoted verses as well as 15th verse of Surah Tawbah and 14th verse of Surah al-Mumtahinah would give the impression that Azar was related to Ibrahim in the capacity of father and Ibrahim too, has addressed him as 'father'. However, the idol-worshipper Azar's being his father is not in harmony with the consensus of opinion of the Shi'ah scholars, who believe that the forefathers of the Holy Prophet of Islam as well as all other Prophets were pious people who believed in monotheism. The distinguished Shi'ah scholar, Shaykh Mufid has, in his exquisite book, considered this proposition to be one on which all the Shi'ah scholars are unanimous and a large number of Sunni scholars have also concurred with them in holding this belief. The question, therefore, arises as to what is the real import of the apparent contents of the aforesaid verses and how this problem should be solved.
Many commentators of the Holy Qur'an assert that, although the word 'Ab' is usually used in Arabic to mean 'father', this meaning is not exclusive and at times it has been used in the Arabic lexicon and in the Quranic terminology to mean 'uncle' as well. For example, in the following verse the word 'Ab' stands for 'uncle'.
Were you present when death came to Ya'qub? He said to his children: 'What will you worship when l am gone' They replied: We will worship your Allah and the Allah of your forefathers (Aba) Ibrahim and Isma'il and Ishaq: He is the only Lord. To Him we have surrendered ourselves. (Surah Baqarah, 2: 132).
There is no doubt about the fact that Isma'il was the uncle of Ya'qub and not his father, because Ya'qub was the son of Ishaq who was the brother of Isma'il. However, inspite of this, the children of Ya'qub have mentioned him as father of Ya'qub i.e. they have called him 'Ab' vis-a-vis Ya'qub. As this word carries two meanings it is possible that in the verses related to Azar having been invited to the right path by Ibrahim it may mean 'uncle', and especially so in view of the consensus of opinion mentioned by Shaykh Mufid. And possibly Ibrahim called him 'father', because he had acted as his guardian for quite a long time and he (Ibrahim) looked upon him as if he were his father.
AZAR IN THE HOLY QUR'AN
With a view to find out the verdict of the Qurtan about the relationship between Ibrahim and Azar we should like to invite the attention of the reader to the explanation of two verses:
1. As a consequence of the strenuous efforts made by the Holy Prophet, Arabia was illuminated with the light of Islam. Most of the people embraced this religion whole-heartedly and realized that polytheism and idol-worship would end in Hell and torture. Although they were happy to have come within the fold of the true faith, they felt grieved to recollect that their fathers and mothers were idol-worshippers. Hearing of the verses which depict the plight of the polytheists on the Day of Judgment weighed heavily on them. To get rid of this mental torture they requested the Holy Prophet to pray to Allah for the forgiveness of their forefathers who had died as infidels, in the same manner in which Ibrahim had prayed for Azar.
The following verses were, however, revealed in reply to their request
It is not for the Prophet or the believers to beg forgiveness for idolaters, even though they be related to them, after it has become manifest that they have earned the punishment of Hell. Ibrahim prayed for his father only to fulfill a promise he had made him. But, when he realized that he was an enemy of Allah, he disowned him. Yet Ibrahim was a compassionate and tender-hearted man. (Surah Tawbah, 9:113 - 114)
It would appear more probable that the conversation of Ibrahim with Azar and his promising the latter to pray for his forgiveness, which ended in the severance of their mutual connections, and renouncement of each other took place, when Ibrahim was young i.e. at a time when he was still residing in Babylon and had not yet intended to go to Palestine, Egypt and the Hijaz. After studying this verse it may be concluded that, when Azar persisted in his infidelity and idol-worship, Ibrahim, while still young, severed his connections with him and never thought of him thereafter.
2. During the last part of his life i.e. when he grew old, Ibrahim, after discharging a great responsibility (i.e. construction of the Ka'bah) and bringing his wife and child to the dry desert of Mecca, prayed, from the core of his heart, for a number of persons, including his parents, and sought acceptance of his supplication from Allah. At that time he prayed thus
'Forgive me, Lord, and forgive my parents and all the faithful (believers) on the Day of Reckoning. (Surah Ibrahim, 14 41)
These verses clearly show that the ceremony of supplication took place after the completion of the construction of the Ka'bah when Ibrahim was passing through his old age. If the father for whom he has shown love and devotion in this verse and he prayed for him is the same Azar it would mean that Ibrahim did not remain dissociated from him throughout his life and at times also prayed for him, whereas the verse which was revealed in reply to the request of the descendants of the polytheists makes it clear that after some time, when he was still young, Ibrahim broke off all connections with Azar and kept aloof from him - and aloofness and renouncement means ceasing to be on speaking terms, lack of attention and abandoning supplications for each other's salvation.
When these two verses are read together, it becomes clear that the person whom Ibrahim came to hate in his young age and with whom he broke off all ties of interest and love was a person other than that whom he remembered till his old age and prayed for his forgiveness and salvation.
 Awa'il al-Maqalat, page 12
 Majma'ul Bayan, vol. III, page 319 and al-Mizan, vol. Vll, page 170