Summary of 3.1 "Methodology"
The main point discussed in the previous lecture was regarding the references in the bible that show Muhammad was foretold in the Bible. Two main stances were raised and discussed. It is true that Muslims do not take the Bible as a source of faith since the Qur'an is considered the last revelation of God in the most complete and accurate form. This is because Muslims have reservations concerning the incorporation of human errors and philosophies alongside the revelation as originally and purely given to the prophets (prior to the Prophet Mohammed).
On the other hand, Muslims cannot completely reject the Bible. One of the Articles of Faith in Islam is that a Muslim must believe in all of the prophets and all the holy books, in their original form, as reveled to the prophets. Even though the holy books no longer exist in their original form, this doesn’t mean that they are all fabricated. There are portions, which still remain intact.
So what criteria do Muslims use to distinguish the passages in the Bible? Do they pick and choose or is there a criterion for what is accepted and what is not? There is a verse in the Qur'an that tells us that the Qur'an itself is the criterion. Any passage from the Old or New Testament that is consistent with what the Qur'an has confirmed, then Muslims can accept those portions in the Bible as having remained intact.
However, if passage in the Bible contradicts what is said in the Qur'an, such as an immoral character of the prophets or the deification of Prophet Jesus, then Muslims consider those sections as human interpretations rather than the pure words of the prophets in the past.
Even in the present form that the Bible is in today, we find that there are many prophecies, which obviously and clearly show that Prophet Mohammed was truly foretold both in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.
We started off with the prophecy in the Book of Genesis and discussed the story of Abraham. His wife, Sarah, was barren and so she gave him her bondwoman, Hagar, as a wife. Hagar bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael. About fourteen years later, Sarah gave birth to his second son, Isaac. From the descendants of Isaac came all the Israelite prophets ending with Prophet Jesus may peace and blessings be upon him. From Ishmael descended the last prophet, after Jesus, Mohammed may peace and blessings be upon him.
We said that this reflects the fulfillment of God’s promise that He made to Abraham. We quoted the verse from the Book of Genesis, in which God explicitly makes the promise to make of Abraham a great nation- some specified Isaac while other passages specified Ishmael. It was obvious that through both branches of Abraham, the nations of the earth would be blessed as we find in the integration of the prophets.
3.2 Lineage of the Awaited Prophet
Host: Can you elaborate, briefly, on the controversial issue that limits the covenant of prophet-hood through the descendents of Isaac only?
Recently I had a discussion with a very learned and sincere Christian, and I asked him what he thought about the attitude that one gets from the Bible when discussing the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. He said without any hesitation that anyone could notice the clear bias in favor of the Israelite side at the expense of the Ishmaelite even though both are the children of Abraham. That’s well understood.
Many biblical scholars are realizing that the Bible, unlike the Qur'an, has some kind of human authorship. People who translated and rewrote the Bible were, as humans tend to be, a little more biased towards their own ethnic group or heratige.
In fact, the argument is based largely on two quotations in the Bible. The Book of Genesis says, “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac.” (GEN 17:21) The other passage, which is in the Book of Genesis as well says, “For in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (GEN 21:12). Some take these passages as saying that the covenant and the descendents of Abraham are from the Israelite and therefore the other branch is excluded.
Notice, however, that these two passages do not, in themselves, preclude Ishmael. Saying that making a covenant with Isaac does not mean that there will not be a covenant with Ishmael. Also, when it says, “For in Isaac shall thy seed be called” (GEN 21:12 ) does not, again, preclude Ishmael. The very following verse immediately after that adds “And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.” (GEN 21:13) These two verses flow together. One talks of Isaac being the seed of Abraham and the other says the same of Ishmael.
These two verses are quoted frequently to negate the honor given to Ishmael, the first son of Abraham, but they, in themselves, do not expel the prophecy for Ishmael.
There are a few more interesting points. The verse that we sited last session, found in the Book of Genesis, discusses the promise made to Abraham saying, “As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations.” (GEN 17:4). Notice, this applies to Abraham and his seeds and at that time Isaac wasn’t even born yet. This shows that the promise applies to the seeds of Abraham, without necessarily discriminating between either of his sons.
We find that even as early as the twelfth chapter, before Ishmael was born, there’s a verse, similar to the one just mentioned, addressing Abraham, it says, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing” (GEN 12:2-3) What appears from this, according to the Bible itself, there is no evidence whatsoever of the exclusion of Ishmael. Furthermore, there is positive evidence that a promise was also made to Ishmael to make his descendents a great nation.
“And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.” (GEN 21:13) And “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.” (GEN 21:18) These two passages particularly discuss Ishmael.
Therefore, both, Isaac and Ishmael, were definitely included in the promise of God in blessing the nations of the earth. This is historically manifested since the last prophet of God is a descendent of Ishmael.
Host: Doubt is raised about the status of Hagar the bondwoman who was given to Prophet Abraham by his wife Sarah. Hagar, of course, is Ishmael’s mother. People go so far as to question Ishmael’s status. Consider him as illegitimate. Could you clarify this point from the Muslim perspective?
I’ll comment on this from the Muslim’s perspective but I’ll also bring to attention some passages in the Bible, itself, that contradicts this point.
We’ve indicated in the previous passages, conclusively, that the promise does not exclude Ishmael. That, itself, suffices to respond to this claim of illegitimacy. However, if there is any question of the status of Hagar, refer to the Bible. It says, “And Sarah Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.” (GEN 16:3) Hagar was given to Abraham as his wife.
Hagar, the Mother of Ishmael, was a legitimate wife and as you know in the Old Testament, polygamous marriages were legitimate, recognized and viewed as a commonality. So based on the text in Bible, Hagar is a legitimate wife. If Hagar was legitimate then her son was definitely legitimate as well. There is no question about that. It’s just bias that would cause anyone to raise any issue of the legitimacy of the first son, of Ishmael. He was not born out of wedlock.
In the Mosaic Law, it was followed that the first son was given the honor of the firstborn no matter the status of the woman within the family who gave birth to him. The text of the Bible itself indicates this. I refer to the Book of Deuteronomy and it says, “If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.” (21:15-17) Regarding the term ‘hated’ in this passage, this could also be interpreted as status: the wife who is of higher status (Sarah) is the ‘beloved’ and the other of lower (Hagar) is the ‘hated’.
The status of the first-born child does not change. However, Muslims do not view Ishmael as superior to Isaac, because then we would be falling in the same bias. We’re simply saying that, according to the Bible itself through the Mosaic Law, the status of Ishmael, being the son of a bondwoman, as the first born does not change.
The distinction between the two children of the very same father is a distinction that is neither justified from the text of the Bible nor is it justified on moral or logical grounds; especially when we talk of the compassion and love of God for humanity.
In this sense we can say that from both the Muslim and the Biblical point of view, if taken in the true spirit, both are children of Abraham and both are on equal footing.
I would also like to point out something that shows, conclusively, the divine origin of the Qur'an as compared to other revelations (which are mixed with human interpretation and bias). From the Qur’anic point of view, all human beings are free in the sight of God. The unfortunate and temporary state of bondage itself does not make people superior or inferior in the sight of God. God does not subscribe to this kind of distinction.
God does not accept or follow the human attitude of being ethnically oriented and does not accept ethnic superiority. When talking of love and compassion we have to be consistent. If we do accept the distinction that because Ishmael was the son of a woman who was unfortunate to be under a temporary state of bondage, then we are making slavery and bondage a divine institution, something that no sincere Jew, Christian or Muslim or any logical person can accept.
We can see then that according to the Bible, the Qur'an, and the spirit of revelations given to all previous prophets it is a completely intangible argument to make this discrimination between the two sons of Abraham. The more logical thing is the fulfillment of the promise of God has taken place through both branches, both children of Abraham, and that is what makes sense and is consistent with the universality of God’s revelation to mankind.
Host: Let’s move on to the story of Ishmael’s settlement in Arabia. How similar or different, from the Bible, is the story of Ishmael’s settlement according to Muslim tradition?
There are three essential differences in the story. The first difference, is in the Book of Genesis, which says, “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” (GEN 21:14) Beer-sheba is the southern part of Palestine.
In the Islamic tradition and according to the Qur'an, that was not the case. Ishmael actually was settled in Mecca, which is in Saudi Arabia. In the Qur'an, Abraham says, “O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House.” (14:37) The Father of the Arabs is Ishmael. It is well known historically that Mecca was the center of Arabia.
A second issue, according to Islamic tradition, is the reason for taking Ishmael to the wilderness of Mecca and it was not because of Sarah’s jealousy. There is no mention of the jealousy of Sarah as the cause for this as can be found in the Book of Genesis. Rather taking Ishmael to the wilderness of Mecca was a divine plan in fulfillment of the promise to bless all nations through the children of Abraham.
The third basic difference is that Ishmael was only a baby at the time. According to Islamic tradition when Ishmael came with Hagar to Mecca his mother ran out of water and started running between two hills known as Al Safa and Al Marwa in search for water. Her baby Ishmael was crying and kicking the ground where he lay with his feet. All of a sudden, a well of water gushed from under his feet (now called the well of Zamzam) and his mother gave him water to drink.
Today, these three sites are still in existence. Al Safa and Al Marwa are mentioned by name in the Qur'an, in the second chapter (verse 158). Even before Islam, that is more than 1400 years ago, it was known that the Arabs used to make certain rights, which originally came through the practice of Prophet Ishmael in commemoration to Hagar’s search for water.
The well of Zamzam, interestingly, was in use even before Prophet Muhammad was born and still, to this day, provides water. For hundreds of years there is physical evidence of where Ishmael and his mother settled and that is, of course, a different interpretation than the mention of the word Beer-sheba, which is an inaccuracy that doesn’t go with the historical facts that have been taught over hundreds of years (even before the arrival of Islam) among the Arabs.
Host: Does the Bible mention the age of Ishmael when he was taken to the wilderness with his mother?
Chapter 21, in the Book of Genesis, goes into detail on this. Verses ten to twenty are very revealing. When Isaac was born, Ishmael was already 14 years old. That is documented in the Book of Genesis (16:16) and (21:5). Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born and a 100 when Isaac was born. This means that when Isaac was born Ishmael was already almost a grown up.
According to chapter 21 in the Book of Genesis, it clearly gives the impression that the incident of Hagar leaving with Ishmael was after Isaac was born, actually after Isaac was weaned, which means Ishmael was about 15 years or older at the time. Because, as mentioned earlier, it says that Sarah got jealous after Isaac was born, and so she asked her husband to take Hagar, the bondwoman, and her child away.
I mentioned that this is a very revealing difference. So which story should be believed? Here are five questions that should clarify the issue. First, verse 14 in chapter 21 in the Book of Genesis says that Abraham gave Hagar a bottle of water and the child putting them on the shoulder of Ishmael’s mother. An interesting point. I, also, checked the revised standard edition of the Bible. It gives the indication that Abraham gave Hagar the child over her shoulder. I checked the Interpreter’s Bible and again there is an admission there that the original Hebrew word shows that Hagar was carrying her child on her shoulder as she was carrying the bottle of water.
The question here is this: according to the Bible Ishmael was over the age of 14. How could a mother carry, on her shoulders, a 14 or 15-year-old boy?
The second question, in verse 15 of chapter 21 in Genesis, it says specifically that Hagar cast the child under the shrub, again how could a mother cast a full grown teenager under a shrub?
Question three: In verse 16 of the same chapter, it says that Hagar sat away because she could not stand sitting nearby and watch her child die. Again would that really be applicable to a 14-year-old boy?
Question four: According to verse 18, it says that the Angels told Hagar to arise and lift up the lad. Imagine a mother carrying a boy that may be taller and heavier than her.
Question five: Verse 19 says that when God made her see the well of water she went to fill her bottle up with it and give it to her child to drink. The impression is obvious that he was a baby since she was giving him the water to drink. If he was older he should have gone to get the water for his mother since he should be stronger than his mother by that time.
These are very clear signs for anyone who reads the Bible without any bias, with an open mind and an open heart. It shows very clearly that there is confusion in the writing of the Book of Genesis. Things were put out of sequence and for sure this gives credibility to the Islamic tradition that Ishmael was a baby.
Host: How do biblical scholars explain these discrepancies?
I cannot speak on behalf of Biblical scholars. I believe in the Qur'an and take from the Bible only so far as it agrees with the Qur'an. This part does not agree, therefore, I take the Qur'an as my reference.
However, I did check some references such as the Dictionary of the Bible by James Hastings. I, also, checked the Interpreter’s Bible. It appears that the view held by many scholars is quite different from the Fundamental view, which says that every word in the Bible is the literal word of God- there could be no error or mistake in it.
Most of the scholars, I would say, acknowledge the human authorship of both the Old as well as the New Testament. It doesn’t mean that the Bible is all fabricated or authored by humans without any foundation. Simply, it is a mixture of revelation with their personal thought, views and, possibly, biases. There is more than one passage that shows there are difficulties with the sequence of events. In the Book of Isaiah there are problems that have been mentioned in the Interpreter’s Bible and at times even problems with consistencies as we have seen with the story of Ishmael.
I think what is useful in a matter like this, is to look into the subject with open hearts and open minds. To leave behind the antagonism and polemics of the past and to researches that are familiar with the Bible and the Qur'an and join together in the reconstruction of the history of revelation, which is not a monopoly only to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is a heritage for the entirety of mankind.
If this is done, not only would some of these inconsistencies and problems be absolved, but we would also be able to pave the way to better understand the nature of the foretelling of the advent of Prophet Mohammed in the Bible. This would lead hopefully to at least better mutual understanding between the followers of these great faiths.