Summary of 5.9 "Hajj: History"
First of all, we said that the pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five Pillars of Islam and a duty on every Muslim male or female who is financially and physically able to do it at least once in their lifetime.
Secondly, we dispelled some of the common misconceptions about Islam and that the pilgrimage is simply a visitation to the grave of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and we said that the pilgrimage can be completed without visiting the grave of the Prophet. There is no evidence in the Quran, the word of God, or in the teaching of Prophet Muhammad that visiting his grave was part of the pilgrimage. Even more importantly, we indicated that the pilgrimage can be completed in Mecca, while the tomb of the Prophet is in Medina which is about 300 miles northwest of Mecca. There is no foundation whatsoever for the claim that Muslims make pilgrimage to his tomb as the pilgrimage is to the holy sites.
Thirdly we indicated the pilgrimage of the Muslim is not like any other pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is not simply the visitation of sacred shrines or places but it is rather an act of worship, it reminds us of our responsibility and mission on earth, it reminds us of our end and of the Day of Judgment, it reminds us how we will stand for accountability before God, it is practical training in obedience and submission to God and it is a practical manifestation of the Islamic principles of brotherhood and equality before God. The pilgrimage is very much related to Prophet Abraham, the father of all monotheistic religions. We explained the connection between Muslims and Prophet Abraham (PBUH). It starts with his descendents as Prophet Ishmael was his first son and the second was Isaac. We indicated that Isaac lived in Palestine and from his descendents came all of the Israelite prophets ending with Prophet Jesus (PBUH). Ishmael however, was taken to Mecca where he dwelt. Centuries later came the very last of all the prophets of God, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), from the descendents of Ishmael. Through Prophet Muhammad the Israelite and Ishmaelite branch connected especially after the prophethood shifted from the Israelite branch to Ishmaelite branch following the rejection of Prophet Jesus.
5.10 Hajj: History Continued
Host: What were the circumstances surrounding Ishmael going to Arabia?
The first thing to emphasis first of all is that if you compare the story in accordance with the Islamic tradition with the story that appears in the Bible that there are points of agreement. The similarities are that Prophet Abraham took his son Ishmael and his mother Hagar away from Palestine. After this point there seemed to be a clear difference with respect to when this incident took place, where the baby and his mom was taken and also whey they were taken there. In order to clarify that we said that according to the Biblical story that Ishmael and his mom were taken simply because of the jealousy on the part of Sarah the first wife of Abraham. If one reads the Bible in the book of Genesis chapter 21 verses ten on it appears that Sarah is not only dictating her jealousy to Prophet Abraham but it appears that she is dictating it on God. The reason for this is when Abraham was sorry and disappointed because of her request that God told him to listen to his wife.
In Islamic tradition the reason why Hagar and her son were taken to Mecca was not because of dictation on the part of Sarah but rather a command from God. The command was to have the first branch of the household of Abraham dwell in Arabia with the ultimate plan that more than1600 years later the last Prophet would come from this branch.
A second area of difference is that in the Bible it says that Abraham took Ishmael and Hagar to the wilderness of Beersheba which is in southern Palestine. In Islamic tradition he took them to Mecca and is confirmed by events that preceded that advent of Prophet Muhammad and relics and sites that are connected with Hagar and Ishmael till this very moment. For example in Islamic tradition it was Hagar who ran between the hills of Safa and Marwah in search for water for her baby. These hills still exist in Mecca till this very moment. Even before the advent of Prophet Muhammad these hills were known to commemorate Hagar’s search for water. The well of Zamzam which still exists till this very moment and existed before the coming of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the spring of water that gushed from under Ishmael’s feet when he was crying and kicking the ground out of thirst.
The third point which is even more essential is when this incident took place. In Islamic tradition this took place before the birth of Isaac who was born (born 14 years after Ishmael). In the Biblical story we find that a great deal of confusion; in fact I checked the Interpreter’s Bible which is several volumes of commentary on the Bible written by Christian scholars and when it comes to this point they said there is a problem and probably a confusion of sequence. The reason is that if one checks the story according to the Bible (Genesis 21:8-21) it says in verse 8 that the incident happened after Isaac was weaned. Then if one reads the remaining parts of the chapter (verse 18) it says that Hagar lifted up her child when the angel told her to lift up the lad. It also says that when she ran out of water she was very greave and could not stand watching her baby die of thirst. So it says in the book of Genesis that she cast him under a shrub. All of these descriptions give an impression that the child with Hagar was a baby because he is lifted and cast etc. Yet in accordance with the Bible in Genesis (21:5) it says that Abraham was a 100 years old when Isaac was born and in the book of Genesis (16:16) it indicates that Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old. This means then that when Isaac was weaned Ishmael must have been 15 years or more. How can it be that a child that is 15 years old is lifted and cast by his mother? So like I said Christian sources show that there is confusion in the sequence. If we compare this story with Islamic story we find that Islamic one is a very coherent story.
Host: Do we have any indication that Prophet Abraham visited his wife and Ishmael after he had left them in Mecca?
Yes, there are at least two pieces of evidence that we can refer to from the Quran. The first was the case when Abraham went to Mecca and built the Kaaba, the holy shrine that still exists in Mecca, the first house on earth built for the worship of the one God with the help of his son Ishmael. The second incident where Abraham went to Mecca was in the story of sacrifice when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael.
The documentation for the first one is found in the Quran in (2:127-128) “And remember Abraham and Isma'il raised the foundations of the House (With this prayer): “Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us: For Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-knowing. Our Lord! make of us Muslims, bowing to Thy (Will), and of our progeny a people Muslim, bowing to Thy (will); and show us our place for the celebration of (due) rites; and turn unto us (in Mercy); for Thou art the Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.” This section doesn’t only describe the building of the Kaaba by both Abraham and Ishmael but also shows us that the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad was in fact a fulfillment of the prayer made earlier by both Abraham and Ishmael for God to send a prophet in that specific location. In Hebrew Ishmael means God hears. In (2:129) it says “"Our Lord! send amongst them an Messenger of their own, who shall rehearse Thy Signs to them and instruct them in scripture and wisdom, and sanctify them: For Thou art the Exalted in Might, the Wise.”
The second story I mentioned is related to the sacrifice of Prophet Ishmael. One time when Abraham was sleeping he saw in a dream that he was sacrificing his first and only son, Ishmael. As a basic rule a vision or a dream for a prophet is not like one for us as it is a command from God. When Abraham woke up he spoke to his son Ishmael and told him that he saw himself sacrificing Ishmael. Ishmael showed a great deal of faith in God and obedience to his father and simply responded that if God had ordained him to do so then he should do it. Abraham took his son Ishmael to a place which is now called Minah near Macca and was about to execute the command of God when an angel came from the heavens carrying a big ram. The angel gave the ram to Abraham and said that because he showed his obedience to God he should sacrifice the ram instead of his son. In the rites of the pilgrimage the same thing is repeated. When people finish their pilgrimage they go to Minah and they slaughter rams or other animals by way of sacrifice, commemoration, and thanks giving to God for saving Ishmael in order for him to become the grandfather of the last of God’s prophets.
Host: What evidence is there that Abraham was ordered to sacrifice Ishmael not Isaac?
Yes, there is no doubt about this point. In the Quran (37:99-113) gives the whole story. “He said: "I will go to my Lord! He will surely guide me! “O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!” So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: “O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!” (The son) said: “O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practicing Patience and Constancy!” When they had both submitted their wills (to Allah., and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), We called out to him “O Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision! thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times: Peace and salutation to Abraham! Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For he was one of our believing Servants. And We gave him the good news of Isaac - a prophet,- one of the Righteous. We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to their own souls.”
After the story of the sacrifice was finished and Abraham showed his faith in God and his willingness to sacrifice his only son, then God gave him the news that Isaac was to be born. So this whole event took place before the birth of Isaac.
Host: Why would a beneficent God a merciful God request Abraham (PBUH) to sacrifice his first son or any son for that matter?
There are a number of lessons to be learned from this story. First of all, it shows us that Abraham did not put his own logic and thinking above the wisdom of God. This teaches humility because God did give us logic and intelligence but we should not be arrogant enough to think that we are above the wisdom of God. There may be certain things that we can’t understand and so we should not hasten and make a quick judgment.
A second lesson is basically like the verse I sited that it is a test of Abraham’s faith. Here a man’s logic and emotions told him not to sacrifice his son, but as a prophet he knew for sure that God said for him to sacrifice his son. Again this is a test of the depth of faith; the mind and heart sway towards one direction and the command is in another direction. I don’t know if any of us who might be subjected to this kind of test could pass it.
The third lesson is in humility. Prophet Abraham through out his life has gone through lots of tribulation and tests. He stood up against the idolatry of his father and people, he was thrown into the fire and threatened and he traveled a lot for the sake of God. This was a lesson that taught him not to think that he was any better than a human and no matter how pious or perfect a human he was(as much as human perfection can be attained) still week. Sacrificing his son was his weakness, even though he obeyed the order it was not easy on him. In addition to this the very fact that the angel substituted a ram for a human is a lesson that we as humans should not sacrifice a human or spill blood while thinking that we are pleasing God. Pleasing God is through righteousness, piety and trying ones best. If one has to sacrifice something it should be an animal and it should not only be done for the ritual but to feed the poor. This is done to transfer the idea of blood sacrifice into something beneficial to the community.
Finally, we can’t just say that this is part of history but in reality the supreme act of sacrifice on the part of Abraham is a good lesson for us that each one of us has his own Ishmael (Abraham loved Ishmael so much especially after waiting for so many years to have a child, he did not have Isaac at that time, he was still willing to carry out the command of God). All of us have something that we love that seems to compete with our love of God (the love of material, children and property) that we forget to remember God. This story teaches us about sacrifice a little bit.
Host: Why should a person accept one version of the story over the other?
Like we discussed the age of Ishmael when this took place one can go to the Bible and read it carefully and they will be surprised that many of the common notions are not necessarily accurate or there is question about the proper interpretation of them. We run into similar difficulties in the book of Genesis in (22:2 and 16). In (22:2) it says “And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.” It says take your only son Isaac which lead some scholars to suspect that the word Isaac may have been a later insertion, and that the original word was probably thy only son Ishmael. According to the Bible itself in (16:16) it says that when Ishmael was born Abraham was 86 years old and in (21:5) it says that when Isaac was born Abraham was 100 years old. The only son that Abraham had for 14 years was not Isaac but Ishmael. Some people try to resolve this by making claims that Ishmael was not a legitimate son as this has no foundation in the Bible where it says that Hagar was Abraham’s wife and that Ishmael was his seed. Some try to say that Isaac was the only son Abraham had at home at that time, but again if one has a son in Vancouver and one in Halifax one doesn’t say their only son is the one here. Some claim that the promised son was only Isaac, but according to the book of Genesis in (22:13 and 18) God also promised to make of Ishmael a great nation. We are not denying that Isaac was a great Prophet of God and he was also promised to have prophethood in his descendents for nearly 1600 years. All we are saying is that the Bible itself shows that Ishmael was also promised and God’s promise has been fulfilled in both branches. It doesn’t mean that because Muslims believe that Ishmael was the son of sacrifice (which is logical according to both the Quran and the Bible) that this in any way belittles Prophet Isaac in any way. Both Isaac and Ishmael are both great prophets and the children of a the great Prophet, Abraham, and grandfathers of great prophets which include Jesus and the last Prophet, Muhammad (PBUT).