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Summary of 12. 1 "Muhammad (P) & Abrahamic Tree I: Introduction"

First of all we started to relate the new series to the previous programs that were covered prior to this series. We began with the first segment of this new series by examining how the mission of prophet Muhammad may peace be upon him fits with the mission of the previous prophets. Then we clarified that from a Muslim understanding the mission of prophet Muhammad is the climax of all divine revelation; the culmination and embodiment of all prophetic traditions throughout history, not only in the Middle East but everywhere else as well. More specifically, we stated that his mission is the climax of the Abrahamic family tree and the promise that was given to Abraham and his children that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through them. To clarify how this promise of god was fulfilled we indicated that Abraham was childless. His wife Sarah who was barren gave him a bondwoman by the name of Hagar as his second wife. From Hagar came Ishmael, the first son born to Abraham.  God promised to bless Ishmael and to make from him a great nation, which the book of Genesis indicates. Finally, we said that prophet Ishmael and his mother Hagar settled in the wilderness of Paran, which is actually the land of Hijaaz, more particularly Mecca, which is also known as Be’ca. From that place came the last prophet, prophet Muhammad may peace be upon him. We indicated that the name, Mecca or Be’ca, has actually already been mentioned in the 84 Psalm of David in verses 4-6.


Muhammad (P) & Abrahamic Tree II: Paran, Bacca, and Ishmael


Host: To talk about this prophecy is actually quite an interesting one and I know that this has been covered a few years ago but I was wondering if we could discuss it again in the context of this series.

Jamal Badawi:

I definitely agree with you, but have some bias because I happen to like this particular topic. It is important because, to start with, in the previous series for example, Jesus the beloved messenger of God, we tried to show that there is one important common ground between Muslims and their Christian brethren and that is that they both believe in Jesus and love him and honor him. We then discussed the areas of differences and understanding. That was at least one basic common ground. On the other hand, I would also say that this topic in the context of dealing, with the life of prophet Muhammad may peace be upon him, may turn out to be another possible common ground between Muslims and Christians.

This may sound strange but even if we started from the Bible, as it is, we will find that there are many passages, which are perhaps less known and possibly misunderstood that seem to provide that common ground. As such, they are in-line with what the Qur'an states that the coming of prophet Muhammad was indeed prophesized by several prophets in the past including Abraham, Moses and Jesus may peace be upon them.

Secondly, since the topic of that series is the history of the last prophet of God, prophet Muhammad may peace be upon him, it is useful to also try and place his roots in history and the prophecies about his advent being the climax of divine revelation throughout history. My only reasons for hesitating, initially, to go into much detail on this is that, as you mentioned, it’s covered in a previous eight segment series. However, we could possibly elaborate on some issues, not necessarily to be an exact replica of what was covered before or taking the exact same approach to the topic, but perhaps if we refer to some additional research done after the first series were already finished, which I will show that they tend to confirm the conclusion of that series. Also, and more importantly, to discuss some of the objections that I have been aware of in writing and through dialogues since the series was done in 1980. So if you feel that there is some benefits in continuing with this, I definitely don’t mind. Like I said, I have some bias to this topic because it’s a topic where I have deep interest in and personally I find it extremely fascinating.

Host: Let’s start off with the point you made at the end of the previous program that Mecca was actually mentioned in the Bible. Now, what is the significance of this and how do non-Muslim biblical scholars explain this?

Jamal Badawi:

The mention of Mecca, or Be’ca, which is the same name, in the Bible is very important because there is no other place in the ancient world that was known by the name of Mecca, or Be’ca, except for one place that is in Arabia where Ishmael and Hagar lived and where prophet Muhammad was born. This is exceedingly important I believe. However, in order to appreciate that mention and discuss some of the views of orientalists or objections of the interpretations offered let me just read the text of that section from the revised standard version of the Bible. Again, it is Psalm 84 verses 4 through 6.

It says, “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.” The prophecy to me seems to be quite interesting because, to start with, it speaks about blessing the people who are dwelling in the house of God ever-singing His praise. Of course, you could say that this applies to Jerusalem, having a temple where God was praised but also remember that there is no house on earth today and for the past 1400 years where the name of God has been praised more than the Kabah built by prophet Abraham before Jerusalem was even built. It was the place where people always prayed and revolving around the Kabah, day and night, in every season. This is the amazing thing about the Kabah.

The part that relates to the question of the well that we were talking about in the previous program and the water gushing at the feet of prophet Ishmael when he was crying for water, it says that they go through the Valley of Baca make it a well. There is reference to water here in the context of people passing through the valley of Baca. Now it must be pointed out here that again I emphasis that Mecca and Be’ca is the same place. In fact it’s only a variation in tribal dialects. And the Qur'an itself, revealed 1400 years ago, uses both names interchangeably. In one verse, it uses the term Be’ca and the other uses Mecca. So, they are the same place.

Regarding the question as to whether there are any objections, which go beyond what we covered in the first series about prophet Muhammad. The first objection was one that I heard in the process of the dialogue with Jewish and Christian scholars in the University of Southern California about a year ago. A question was raised about the issue of the prophecies and so I mentioned that Be’ca, or Mecca, was already mentioned in the Psalms of David and indicates the importance of that place and blessing of the people there. A Jewish scholar, who is a professor of theology and Jewish studies, said that Be’ca does not mean Mecca but means a valley. So I said to him, Professor if you want to go back to the text of the Bible it says they go to the Valley of Baca and if the word Baca means valley then it means the valley of Valley or the valley of the valley. This doesn’t really make any sense. I don’t know what source he used for showing that Baca means a valley, because it doesn’t mean a valley at all.

Some have claimed that the term Be’ca comes from Baca, which means to weep and I think in one of the translations of the Bible it uses the term to mean the Valley of Weeping. I’ve seen that, for example, in the Arabic translation of the Bible. The reader can easily discover that when you address and Arabic speaking person, whether Muslim or Christian, and use the term Mecca or Be’ca they’ll know immediately that it’s Mecca. I wonder why the term Valley of Weeping or Wadi al Buca is used in the Arabic Bible. I find that this explanation is not very reasonable at all to say that Be’ca is not a reference to a specific place.

First of all, we don’t know where in history is a valley called the Valley of Weeping. We don’t see, particularly, any place, to my knowledge that carries that name. Secondly, if it is said that this is an allegorical name in the same way that the Bible sometimes speaks of the Valley of the Shadow of Death or something of that nature. The question here is why should we assume this to be an allegorical name? Why should we say it’s an allegorical name if we know of a place, which historically exists and was called Be’ca? It’s just like saying New York City never existed and doesn’t exist and start analyzing the etymology and saying that New means so and so and York means so and so but it is just an allegorical name and doesn’t really mean a specific place. Be’ca, also known as Mecca, is a well-known place in history. Why is this then considered an allegorical name?

In relation to this there are a number of reasons that make it quite comfortable with the understanding that this is a clear reference to Mecca. Firstly, the term Be’ca is an Arabic term and it was explained by a famous Arab geographer, Shahab Adeen al-Yakooti al-Baghdadi, in his famous multi-volume book called Mujam Albuldan says (he died in the early 13th century of the Christian era) that the reason Be’ca was called by this name was because it comes from the Arabic word Yatabacun which means to crowd and is a reference to the pilgrims during the season of pilgrimage when they come to a small limited space and so are crowded with one another. This was mentioned in his first volume of this book on page 75.

A second reason is that some of the Christian sources also seems to refer to mecca and recognizes that this is actually part of the prophecies, not necessarily very openly, but in an indirect way. Some examples of this are as follows; the New Oxford Bible describes Be’ca as “unknown far away place which is frequented by pilgrims who make pilgrimage to an unknown holy place”. I fully agree except for the term ‘unknown’ is not a mystery. Yes, it is a far away place from Jerusalem. It is a place that is frequented by pilgrims and those pilgrims are visiting a holy place, which is known place that is Mecca.

This place was not a place of pilgrimage only after Islam and after prophet Muhammad may peace be upon him. History shows that the Kabah was visited by pilgrims since the days of Abraham and Ishmael as soon as it was built. The Kabah is definitely a holy place. A second example is that according to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, the first volume page 402 describes the Valley of Baca as a thirsty valley; a valley so named because it contained trees that exuded resin or gum, perhaps of several species of the Balsam tree. This is interesting because one of the most famous type of resin is known as the Samr al Arabi, or the Arabic gum. A third example is found in the Interpreter’s Bible, in volume 2 on page 465, gives a similar explanation saying that Baca comes from Baaca which is a shrub or tree. The point is that even if we take Baca in the sense of weeping, the flow of the resin or gum from the tree may resemble weeping. But in all of these explanations, which are all from Christian sources, they indicate that this place is indeed Mecca and rather than an unknown or allegorical place.

In view of this consistent evidence from a variety of sources, some of which are quite old sources, it is only fair to say that Mecca or Be’ca was the place where Ishmael lived and where prophet Muhammad was born. It is the same Baca that was mentioned in Psalm 84. This is part, again, of the fulfillment of the divine promise to bless the nations of the earth through the seeds of Abraham.


Host: I’d like to change our focus now to the story of Hagar and Ishmael, but as it is in the Bible and as it is in the Qur'an. Could you compare the two?

Jamal Badawi

On one hand, in the Bible, it is said that Abraham took Ishmael and Hagar away after Isaac was weaned. That means that Ishmael must have been at least sixteen years old at the time, possibly even seventeen. Why? Because according to the Bible Isaac was born about fourteen years after the birth of Ishmael. In the Jewish tradition a child is weaned at about the second or third year. So this means Ishmael was about sixteen or seventeen years old. On the other hand, the Bible, in Genesis chapter 21 verses 14-19, the main exodus of Hagar and Ishmael is describes, leaving no doubt in the mind of any perceptible reader, Ishmael as a small baby rather than a seventeen year old teenager. Both of these cannot be correct at the same time.

In the 21st chapter of Genesis, it describes how Abraham put the skin full of water and the child on the Hagar’s shoulder. Why would Hagar carry a sixteen year old? It says that when Hagar was left in the wilderness she cast her child under a shrub and then she was very scared that he may die out of thirst and she couldn’t stand sitting and looking at him suffering. Then she began running back and forth looking for water. It says that when the angel showed her the well that gushed with water, Hagar went and filled her container and brought it back to Ishmael. Anyone would easily recognize that this is a description of a small child not a sixteen year old. If he was a teenager he’d be the one who should be looking for water for his mother instead of the reverse.

Like I said earlier, in the very same chapter, we’re told that the reasons why Hagar and Ishmael were taken away was that after Isaac was weaned, Ishmael was joking or speaking in a way to Isaac that Sarah did not like and so she told Abraham to take them away. This backs the story that he’d have been a teenager or older at the time and that doesn’t fit with the other description.

Another observation that is in the Islamic tradition, it is known that Ishmael was taken when he was a small child to Mecca according to a divine command and a divine plan and that the well of Zamzam, which is still gushing with water until today, is the one that gushed under the feet of Ishmael while he was crying of thirst as a baby. The Islamic tradition is quite consistent.

There was something that really attracted my attention in the Bible. In the 21st chapter of Genesis in verse 14, it says that Ishmael and Hagar wandered in Beer-sheba, and they dwelt in the wilderness of Paran. Now, to tie in this chapter between Beer-sheba, which most geographers would identify as in the southern part of Palestine and to connect it with Paran is difficult for anyone to understand. This is because some of the dictionaries of the Bibles identify Paran as being part of the Sinai peninsula and we’ll come to that discussion later on. In fact Paran means Mecca but we’ll come to that later.  Even in their own references, the dictionaries of the Bible mention it as in Sinai.

The Qur'an does not specify, for example, the exact place where Ishmael was taken but one can easily discern that it was indeed Mecca. This is because in surah 13 verse 37, the Qur'an says that when prophet Abraham was praying saying Oh my Lord I have kept my progeny in an untilled or barren land and of course if you connect that with the history of the development of the Ishmaelites there then you’d know where the place was.  It is interesting to note that the term Sheba, according to the Bible, is actually a designation of the name of one of the descendants of Ketura. Ketura was the third wife of Abraham and she married him after Sarah had passed away. That appears in Genesis chapter 10 verses 28-30 and also in chapter 25 verse 3.

The Bible also tells us that Joktan lived in the territory, which runs between Nesha and Sephar, which is in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. Obviously that expanse of land includes Mecca and in fact, in Mecca, until today we are told lives a particular tribe known as the Shebani or coming from Sheba. They are historically the ones who had looked after the Kabah. I must add also that historically it has not been proved at all by anyone really that the Ishmael and his mother dwelt in Beer-sheba: the southern part of Palestine. Despite of these differences it appears to me that the text of the Bible is quite clear on the promise to bless the progeny of Abraham and that this blessing includes both Isaac as well as Ishmael.

It would be of interest to note here that there had been a new and emerging phenomenon among some Christian writers to recognize that prophet Mohammad is indeed a descendent of Ishmael. This has been recognized, for example, in the Davis Dictionary of the Bible and in the international Standard Bible encyclopedia, and in the Smith Bible dictionary. They have acknowledged the lineage of prophet Mohammad as a descendent of prophet Ishmael. I believe that this was a clear prophecy and the prophecy was fulfilled.


Host: If this is clear, why is this not accepted by both Jewish and Christian scholars?

Jamal Badawi

In my humble understanding, the prophecy is very clear and very important in the meantime, because as mentioned earlier it could potentially, if understood without bias, it could provide very important common ground not only between Muslims and Christians but I think it could even extend to the Jews as well. All accept and believe in the original revelation of the Bible and all three religions belong to and descend from Abraham. This prophecy, in itself, suffices to make the point. Unfortunately I find that many writers don’t focus on its importance and don’t raise objections, which quite frankly I find particularly unscholarly. Perhaps this is an issue we can pick up later on when we have more time.

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