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Summary of 12.2 “Muhammad (P) & Abrahamic Tree II: Paran, Be'ca, and Ishmael”

First of all the entire program was on the prophecies of the advent of Prophet Muhammad in the context of the Bible, and specifically the book of Genesis. We continued the discussion of the well that was shown to Hagar and said that in all likelihood that this was the well of Zamzam. The 84 Psalm of David verses 4-6 speaks about Be’ca, which is one of the names of Mecca. Then we moved on to discuss the origin of the word itself and where it came from and found that on the basis of both, ancient Arabic sources as well as Biblical sources that Be’ca in all likelihood is a reference to a specific place and not to an allegorical place as some people believe.

Subsequent to that we discussed the story of Hagar and Ishmael and how they came to live in Mecca or Be’ca. we discussed this from the Islamic standpoint: from indirect evidence from the Qur'an as well as historical evidence on the history of the Arabs and the Ishmaelites. We also referred to some Biblical sources that corroborated the same conclusion. Towards the very end of the program it was indicated that the prophecy in Genesis of blessing the nations of the earth through the children of Abraham is in itself sufficient to show the common grounds between Muslims, Christians and Jews because it is well known that the Israelite prophets all came through the descendent of Isaac and prophet Muhammad is a descendant of Ishmael. This shows how the promise of God was came to pass and was fulfilled.

 

12.3 Muhammad (P) & Abrahamic Tree III: Attempts to Exclude Ishmael

Host: At the end of last week’s program, we had touched upon on some of the responses from Jewish and Christian scholars. Could you discuss that further?

Jamal Badawi:

Let’s first deal with the four common objections. The first is that Ishmael should be separated from Isaac because Isaac was the legitimate son. The Interpreter’s Bible, on page 605, discusses this objection of Ishmael being an illegitimate son. Why should the question of Ishmael’s legitimacy be raised at all in the Bible? The Bible itself, in the book of Genesis in chapter 16 in verse 3 describes Hagar as a wife to Abraham. She may be the second wife but she is still considered a wife. Polygamy was a common practice among the Israelites of the time. Where does the question of legitimacy fit then? Especially, if the Bible itself calls prophet Ishmael a seed of Abraham (Genesis 16:15 & 21:13). Therefore the question of legitimacy and separating the two should not be raised.

The second objection is that it is sometimes argued that Isaac was the son of Sarah the free woman while Ishmael was the son of Hagar a slave. If this objection was raised in a place where apartheid and white supremacy was a common practice, then one could probably understand this attitude of discrimination between the children with the same father. But how could this objection be raised by people who are religious and sincere to their faith and by people whose moral and religious values believe in God and the equality of human beings? Even more strange is that according to the Bible itself, the status of the first-born child does not change because of the status of the child’s mother. This is found, for example, in the book of Deuteronomy in chapter 21 verses 15-17 and from reading the Interpreter’s Bible one can easily discerned that this law in Deuteronomy, even though attributed to Moses, has it’s roots from ancient traditions of Israelites and throughout the Bible this basic tradition of the double-honor for the first son has always been maintained even before Moses.

Another example: The Interpreter’s Bible says, “However, the law of the first-born had ancient sanction, and so long as it was accepted justice demanded that mere favoritism not be allowed to deprive the eldest son of his rights.” (Volume 2, pg. 461) I only wish that the writers of The Interpreter’s Bible remembered that when they wrote the first volume and raised questions on the legitimacy of prophet Ishmael and limit the term legitimate to Isaac alone.

The third objection is that Isaac is the only son of promise. They say that Genesis 17:2 refers that the covenant would be with Isaac. In chapter 21 verse 12, it says “for in Isaac shall thy seed be called”. This objection is contrary to the Biblical text itself for a number of reasons. The first reason is that God’s promise to bless the nations of the earth through Abraham and his children is general and does not limit it to one branch of Abraham’s family tree. It is quite easily seen in the book of Genesis 12:3 and even after the verse of Ishmael and before the verse of Isaac as found in the book of Genesis 17:4.  There is no reason to say that the subject of God’s promise is a matter of either or: either this branch of his family or that branch. The promise was clear and general and applied to all the children of Abraham. Another reason is that to say the covenant will be in the seeds of Isaac does not mean this is to the exclusion of Ishmael or other branches of the Abrahamic family tree so long as there is evidence that they are included in that divine promise. Now to say also that the covenant was believed as everlasting with Isaac again does not exclude them. The term everlasting is not always used literarily; for example, in the book of Isaiah (9:6) it describes one to come as an “everlasting father,” which is allegorical. For centuries prophethood was explicit in the descendants of Isaac but this doesn’t exclude Ishmael's descendants.

On the other hand, whenever there is provenance the covenant has conditions that go with it. Anyone who breaks the conditions of the covenant cannot expect the other side to keep up the commitment. This is only normal. The Bible is filled with examples that show the Israelites where they have already broken the covenant with God on many occasions. And so if God decides to move the tree of prophethood or even just endow the other branch with prophethood of the Abrahamic family tree that’s not really a breaking of the covenants because it was already broken by the Israelites. The last episode of breaking the covenant was their rejection of the last Israelite prophet, Jesus may peace be upon him.

The Bible, even in its present form contains more than one text, implicit and at time explicit, that God would also bless Ishmael. There are numerous examples of this. The first, the news of the forthcoming birth of Ishmael, the glad tidings, was conveyed by the angel of God as shown in Genesis 16:11. It reminds us that there is some importance and an honor that is being bestowed on Ishmael.  The name Ishmael itself was chosen by God and communicated through the angel. This means that God chose that name for him. This is another aspect of honor to Ishmael. The meaning of the name Ishmael comes from the work Yeshmael, in Hebrew, which means God Hears. Whether it is interpreted as God hears the affliction and prayers of Hagar or the prayers of Abraham to send, in the spot where he placed Hagar and Ishmael, a prophet from among themselves and that would be Prophet Muhammad. In both cases, that would be another aspect of honor.

Another example is that a symbol of covenant with God among the Israelites was circumcision and Ishmael, according the Bible, was circumcised (Genesis 17:22-27). Despite the fact that Jesus, may peace be upon him, himself was a good Jew of the Israelites and was circumcised. We know that this practice was taught after him because of the teachings of Paul. It was again revived only when Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, came as the grandchild of Ishmael and Abraham and that is an indication of the revival of the convent with God.

What is more important, is that there are clear and explicit statements in the Bible that show exclusively that the divine blessings of the nation of the earth does include Ishmael and his descendants. Genesis describes the angel conveying the message to Hagar and says, “And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed” (21:13). The same chapter says, “for I will make him a great nation” (21:18). The term ‘great nation’ was not even used in the Bible to refer to Isaac. It was used in the book of Exodus to refer to Moses. When Abraham was afraid that the glad tiding of the birth of his second son, Isaac, may mean that his eldest child Ishmael had lost favor with God and find that the Bible clarifies that he will also be blessed. God tells Abraham in regards to Ishmael, “I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly” (Genesis 17:20). Notice the text used the term bless and when God speaks about blessing includes blessing in the spiritual and leadership sense. Also notice that it says that God will multiply him exceedingly. Before Islam, the children of Ishmael were not really multiplied that exceedingly. It was only after Islam that not only the Arabs who descended of Ishmael but those who consider themselves the spiritual descendants of Ishmael (the Muslims all over the world regard themselves as descendants of Ishmael) all multiplied considerably. Today 1 out of every 5 human beings is Muslim.

Some people say that if they were to go with the understanding of the term seeds of Abraham then why not include the descendants of Ketura his third wife? From the Islamic standpoint, why not? It is not a matter of either/or as stated earlier. All the nations of the earth should not be excluded at the expense of the other. On the other hand, who among the descendants of Ketura became as prominent as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad became? We know that among the Edomites prophet Job may have come from that group. In any case, we do not say that the children of Ketura should be removed from that divine promise. The Bible seems to be much more explicit and clear in blessing Isaac and Ishmael. We’re talking about two major branches, not excluding others, of a tree that developed two great nations.

Host: On more than one occasion you’ve used the phrase “the Bible in it’s present form,” is there a reason behind that?

Jamal Badawi:

There is definitely a reason behind that. The end of the previous series touched on this discussion of whether the Bible is exclusively the word of God or does it contain the word of God alongside with additions, interpretations and explanations by the authors of the various books of the Bible. The other reasons, which may perhaps relate more directly with this particular topic on the prophecies include that we should not forget that the authors of the various books of the Old Testaments were Israelites. Their attitude was to look down upon the Ishmaelite brethren even though they are their cousins. They believed they were superior to the Ishmaelite and superior to everyone else in the world. This is recognized not only by historians but also by Biblical scholars. The Interpreter’s Bible says, “Many Israelites did not want a God who would be equally the God of all nations on the earth. They did not want one who would be impartial Holiness. They wanted a god who would be partial to them. So we read in Deuteronomy of the demands for a complete extermination of non-Israelite people of Palestine (Deuteronomy 7:2) and as to the carrying out of that injunction read the harsh sentences of Deuteronomy 20:10-17” (Volume 1 pg. 575). If this was the understanding of the Christian authors of the Interpreter’s Bible, why are they doing exactly the same thing as the Israelites have done? When the issue comes up regarding the blessing of Ishmael and his descendants (Prophet Muhammad) why can’t they interpret the Biblical text in the same way, humane and consistent, and why should they continue to pursue the long standing erroneous tradition of belittling the Ishmaelites and their descendants including Prophet Muhammad, and putting down their importance. It cannot be explained in terms of a reaction to the position of Muslims. If Muslims were belligerent towards the Israelite prophets and attacked them or they believed that the blessing of Ishmael is at the expense of Isaac and do not recognize Isaac, then one could understand putting down the Ishmaelite’s as a reaction to this. But as indicated, in numerous occasions, Muslims have all the respect and admiration towards all the Israelite prophets: Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, all of them. So it’s very difficult to understand the attitude that still persists among some authors.

 

Host: There’s a question about Ishmael that keeps on coming up. Now, was he the son of sacrifice or was it Isaac? How do the Quranic and Biblical versions of this particular issue differ?

Jamal Badawi:

First of all, let me indicate in natural that it is commonly believed among our Jewish and Christian brethren that the son of sacrifice, where God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, was Isaac. The Muslim version of this is that it was Ishmael. It would only be fair to challenge both views on what their documentations are and to see if there is any reconcilability or any inconsistency on the one side or the other. As far as the Islamic version, it is biblically Ishmael who is the son of sacrifice. There is no question about that. One can easily refer to Surah number 37 in the Qur'an in verses 101-113. I am going to the Qur'an directly because it is quite possible that Muslim literature may have erroneous understandings or interpretations of the Qur'an. The Qur'an is definitely more authoritative than the ideas of any interperters.

In this section of the Qur'an, it describes how God gave glad tidings to Abraham of the birth of ghulamun haleem (verse 101) or a child who will be able to forbear suffering and then it says that when that child grows up his father, Abraham, told him that he had seen in a dream that he was to sacrifice his son. The son answered and told his father to do what he was ordered to do and that his father will find him, by God’s will, among those who forebear and persevere.  Then it goes on and describes how Abraham took his son, Ishmael and the moment when he was about to sacrifice him that God sent a big ram as a substitute for Ishmael. This was a symbol showing that God is not interested in the sacrifice of the blood of humans at all. It was just a test of faith that prophet Abraham passed with an A+ I should say. But it continues and we find that after that incident, by way of rewarding Abraham, as we find in verse 112 in that surah, it says, “We gave him good tidings of Isaac, a prophet from among the righteous.”

The sequence of events then shows that the son’s sacrifice most definitely was Ishmael, and when he succeeded Abraham was given the glad tidings of the forthcoming birth of Isaac.

In addition to this, referring to the Qur'an, we find that there is an Islamic tradition, a rite that has been going on even before Islam and still remains until this day is the slaughtering of animals on Eid Al-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice. And this is done as it is well known historically as a communal relation of the story of Abraham and Ishmael and the willingness of Ishmael to accept to sacrifice himself. This tradition has been carried out every year.

As far as the Biblical version, the Bible acknowledges that Ishmael was born first and that when Isaac was born Ishmael was around 14 years old. This means that the only son that Abraham had for fourteen years was Ishmael. This is from Genesis 16:16 and 21:5. On the other hand, in the book of genesis chapter 21 verse 2 it says that God commanded Abraham to take his only son Isaac, how could Isaac be the only son if Ishmael was already around for fourteen years? One cannot say that the difference here is Isaac being the only son of promise because we have already given ample evidence that the promise included both Isaac and Ishmael. This raises important questions related to the previous one: Is it possible that the Isaac was a later addition? Is it possible that the original text said Ishmael and some editor replaced it with Isaac? The answer to this question is that the Biblical scholars admit that lots of editing has taken place, especially when trying to show the superiority of the Israelites over the Ishmaelites. In any case, I just tried to answer as honestly as I can but it does not mean at all that being the son of sacrifice, whether Isaac or Ishmael, belittles the other one because respect is accorded to all of them. The fact is that the son of sacrifice was Ishmael and there is no question about it.

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