Abraham was an Immigrant:  A Theological Reflection






Many know this immigration saga of Abram, but there is more.  For all was not well in the
early Promised Land - there was a severe famine and Abram and his family were forced to
move again, this time further south into the land of Egypt.  As refugees fleeing starvation,
the tribe was at the mercy of the Egyptians.  Abram devised a plan – he ordered his wife,
Sarai (later called Sarah) to tell the Egyptians that she was his sister, for otherwise said
Abram, the Egyptians would kill him to take her. When the Pharaoh inquired of this
irresistibly beautiful Sarai, Abram promptly sent her into Pharaoh’s house.  By this
disingenuous bargain, the tribe of Abram sojourned in Egypt and survived.

From the days of that unwitting, unnamed Pharaoh, we can take a giant leap in unspecified
time to the days of the Roman Caesar Augustus.  Joseph, the father of a tiny household,
decided to obey the voice of an angel - he fled from Bethlehem with his wife Mary and new-
born to Egypt. This family obtained political asylum in Egypt and lived safely with the
Egyptians until the death of King Herod who had cruelly ordered the killing of all male
infants under the age of two in and around Bethlehem because Herod had heard that a
future king had been born. The Scriptures are silent respecting Joseph's dealings in Egypt.

Last, we can take another six century leap towards the present.  Another great prophet,
after an assassination attempt, fled with a small group of friends from the great
commercial, then polytheistic city of Mecca to a remote village to the north then known as
Yathrib (only later renamed Medina or City of the Prophet).  The reason for the Hijra of
September 9, 622 was religious persecution against the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by
his own Quraysh tribe for his preaching of the one God and the Day of Judgment.  This rag-
tag band of asylum seekers who trekked across the perilous desert in fear and hope, is
called the muhajirun (Arabic for emigrants). Upon arriving exhausted in Medina, the
muhajirun prayed towards Bait-ul-Maqdis (and only later was the qibla changed to the
Kaaba, a tradition that continues to the present).

Immigration plays an important role in all three traditions, and it is true that the outcome of
each version of emigration is different.  Notwithstanding sublime religious ramifications,
what is the common human link in all three stories?  If we were to set aside for the
moment all the theological subtleties, religious differences, and political conflicts that
may derive from these instances of immigration, and focus on the humanity of Abraham,
Joseph and Muhammad, what can we, as temporal traveling companions who share for
a limited time this small space on earth, discern?  

Can we not see that each patriarch or prophet as is the case, was
obliged, albeit for various reasons, to leave their ancestral home?
Abram was faced with the choice of emigrating or starving to
death.  Joseph fled to save his baby Jesus from execution by a
paranoid satrap.  Muhammad sought safety for himself and the
community of believers for his insistence on the one God.  All
suffered personal loss, fear of annihilation, and humiliation. Each
placed the hope for survival and dream for a better future in a new place.
All approached from a position of weakness.  Each began as a vulnerable
human prone to suffering and deprivation.  Perhaps, most poignant is the
willingness to deliver and entrust their lives into the hands of another better placed
than they were.  They all were immigrants.  
A Theological Reflection by
Charleston C. K. Wang 07/04/06.   
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WANGNEWS OPINION PAGE
Abraham is widely accepted as a patriarch of the three great
monotheistic faiths of the World.  Abraham was an
immigrant.  His father, Terah was from the land of Ur of the
Chaldeans (somewhere in present day Iraq) and while the
tribe was resting at Haran, Terah died.  Abraham, then known
as Abram, heard God tell him to get out of his country and
from his father's house to a land that God will reveal.  Abram,
whose obedience is renowned, complied.