Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul

The Father of Many Nations. Abraham’s story serves as a foundation to the Islamic faith as well as to Judaism and Christianity. He was, after all, the father of both Isaac—the Jewish son—and Ishmael—his elder son, who would become the father of the Arabic nations. Indeed, it is Ishmael, not Isaac, who is nearly sacrificed by Abraham in the Koran, as shown at the top of the painting at left, a miniature from the 16th-century Islamic manuscript Zubdat at Tawarikh, a summary of biblical and political world history. While Ishmael waits calmly, his eyes closed as he prepares for the blow, Abraham quietly sharpens the slaughtering knife (upper left). As in the Bible, however, at the last moment a ram appears (here led by an angel, upper right) to take the child’s place. The lower half of the miniature—one of 40 such illustrations in the manuscript, dedicated to the Ottoman Sultan Murad III—shows Abraham sitting calmly in the fiery furnace, having been cast there by Nimrod as punishment for destroying his father’s idols. Nimrod, a magician, and the devil appear in the background, stunned by Abraham’s ability to resist the flames.

The Koran contains many tales similar to Jewish legends that developed around Abraham,particularly stories of his rejection of the idolatry of his native land. In both the Koran and the Jewish pseudepigrapha, Abraham urges his father to leave behind the worship of false gods and join him in the worship of the one God. For both faiths, Abraham’s rejection of polytheism made him worthy of receiving God’s eternal blessing.