Islamic Studies Abraham
Gordon Nickel
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0164


Abraham is one of the most important characters in Islamic faith and life. There is more about Abraham in the Qurʾan than about any figure except Moses—more than 240 verses in 25 of the Qurʾan’s 114 suras. In the first two centuries of Islam, the figure of Abraham became very important for Muslim identity, especially the identification of Abraham in Muslim tradition with the lineage of Muhammad and Muslims, as the founder of the Kaaba in Mecca and as first observer of the Muslim pilgrimage. The Qurʾan makes the polemical claim that Abraham was a Muslim, rather than a Jew or Christian, and after an early period of indicating the “son of intended sacrifice” as Isaac, Muslim scholarship began to settle on Ishmael. Since the Qurʾanic materials on Abraham are allusive and elliptical, a variety of Muslim genres filled in the lacunae from a range of sources. Some Muslim materials seem to relate to no known source, such as the journey of Abraham to Mecca with Ishmael. This has raised the question of the historicity of the materials on Abraham in Arabia and has prompted a search for a pre-Islamic monotheism in Arabia that was separate from Judaism and Christianity. In Western scholarship the Islamic Abraham has been an important theme for research and has become at times both a flashpoint of scholarly controversy and a focus of interfaith discourse. After identifying a couple of general resource types, the sections of the bibliography are organized roughly according to concentric circles moving out from the material on Abraham in the Muslim scripture.

General Overviews

Helpful overviews of Abraham in Islam have been offered in the successive editions of the Encyclopaedia of Islam in Eisenberg and Wensinck 1927, Paret 1971, and Busse 2011. Others can be found in larger works on biblical characters in Islam; for example, Tottoli 2002. A newer trend is thorough studies of Muslim tradition on Abraham contained in encyclopedias on the Bible, such as Thomas 2009.

  • Busse, Heribert. “Abraham (Ibrāhīm al-Khalīl).” In Encyclopaedia of Islam: Three. 3d ed. Edited by Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, and Everett Rowson. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. 2011.

    Greatly expands article on Abraham in Islamic tradition, in which Qurʾanic content is combined with narrative material from many other Muslim sources to present the main aspects of Abraham’s story and significance for Islam. Western scholarly research on this material is only briefly indicated at the end. Helpful bibliography. Available online by subscription.

  • Eisenberg, J., and A. J. Wensinck. “Ibrāhīm.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 2. Edited by M. Th. Houtsma, T. W. Arnold, R. Basset, and R. Hartmann, 431–432. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1927.

    Presents several episodes from the Muslim story of Abraham and connects some of these episodes with rabbinic materials. The short supplement by Wensinck, however, raised controversy by relaying the 1880 thesis of Snouck Hurgronje (see Scholarly Controversy) that the Madīnan suras of the Qurʾan introduced the theme of the “religion of Abraham” in response to the Jewish rejection of the leadership of Muhammad. Available online by subscription.

  • Paret, R. “Ibrahīm.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 3. New ed. Edited by B. Lewis, 980–981. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1971.

    Provides a helpful summary of the Qurʾanic materials on Abraham, along with a brief note on how those materials were supplemented by tafsīr, qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’, and Muslim historical writing. Nearly half the article discusses Snouck Hurgronje’s thesis about the timeline of the Qurʾanic materials, as described in Eisenberg and Wensinck 1927, and the critical responses to it both from Muslims and non-Muslim Western scholars.

  • Thomas, David. “Abraham: V. Islam.” In Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Vol. 1. Edited by H.-J. Klauck, 189–195. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009.

    Sympathetic presentation of Muslim tradition on Abraham, helpfully organized into sections on Qurʾanic materials, narrative expansion in other Muslim sources, and the way in which Islam has connected Abraham with Muslim pilgrimage rituals.

  • Tottoli, Roberto. Biblical Prophets in the Qurʾān and Muslim Literature. Translated by Michael Robertson. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 2002.

    A good example of a larger work on Qurʾanic personalities; includes a useful, concise summary of Abraham in Islam.

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