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Ishmael or Isaac?
By Ali Ataie
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us?’ But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie” (Jeremiah 8:8).
Who was the real covenant child of Abraham? Obviously, the Jews and Christians stand united in their support for Isaac, the second-born of Abraham and forefather of the Children of Israel. Most Muslims, however, believe him to be Ishmael, the first-born of Abraham and forefather of the Arabs. If modern-day Trinitarian Christians whose ancestors worshipped trees and rocks can get away with being counted among the spiritual progeny of Abraham simply because Jesus descended from Isaac, then we as Muslim monotheists (believers in the oneness of God) can certainly present our case for Muhammad, a DIRECT DESCENDANT of the first-born son of Abraham (upon whom be peace).
NOTE: The intention of this article is not to discredit or insult the Holy Prophet Isaac (upon whom be peace) or any of his righteous progeny. According to Islamic law (shari’a), insulting a Prophet of God is calumny (kufr) and tantamount to a capital offense.
The Qur’an states: “And We bestowed on him (Abraham) Isaac and, as an additional gift, a grandson Jacob, and We made righteous men of every one of them. And We made them leaders, guiding men by Our Command, and We sent them inspiration to do good deeds, to establish regular prayers, and to practice regular charity; and they constantly served Us and Us only” (Qur’an 21:72-73).
Let’s attempt to ascertain the true identity of this covenant son by closely examining the book of Genesis in the Jewish Torah.
We are told in Genesis 22:2: “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” At no time during the lifetime of Isaac (upon whom be peace) was he ever the “only son” of Abraham. Did “God” forget about Ishmael, Isaac’s brother who was fourteen years his senior?
Christians will retort that God only intended the son Abraham “loved,” the implication being that Abraham hated Ishmael. Although we can never believe such nonsense, what does the Law say about this?
In Deuteronomy 21:15-17 we read: “If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and they have borne him children, both the loved and the unloved, and if the firstborn son is of her who is unloved, then it shall be, on the day of bequeaths his possessions to his sons, that he must not bestow firstborn status on the son of the loved wife in preference to the son of the unloved, the true firstborn. But he shall acknowledge the son of the unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.”
Therefore, it matters not whether Abraham loved Ishmael, he IS the first-born. It was none other than the evil pen of a scribe who changed the name “Ishmael” to “Isaac” in Genesis 22:2. Truly Allah has told us: “Of the Jews there are those who displace words from their (right) places…” (Qur’an 4:46).
“But Ishmael was the illegitimate son of a bondswoman!” the Christian will shout. Tell him to consider the following passage: “Then Sarah, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his WIFE, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So Hagar bore Abram a SON; and Abram named his SON, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram” (Genesis 16:3, 15-16).
According to the Bible, Ishmael is Abraham’s son through his wife Hagar.
Now listen to what Abraham has to say about the mother of Isaac, Sarah: “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they kill me on account of my wife. But indeed she is truly my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife” (Genesis 20:11-12).
Once again we have a breach of the book of Deuteronomy: “Cursed is the one who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:22).
If Abraham lived during the time of Moses, the latter would have had him stoned to death. So how can the son of Abraham’s sister be legitimate? He can’t!
Genesis 15 reveals to us two vital stipulations in the covenant between God and the chosen child of Abraham. It reads: “Then He (God) brought him (Abraham) outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And he said to him, (1) ‘So shall your descendants be.’ On the same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, (2) ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates’” (Genesis 15:5, 18.).
The vast majority of land between the two great rivers constitutes the Arabian desert and peninsula. This region was never conquered by the Children of Israel, but immediately upon the emergence of Muhammad and the Muslims. It was only with the appearance of the Messenger of the Covenant Muhammad (Malachi 3) that all idolatry was rooted out of these lands promised to the covenant progeny of Abraham. Jewish history demonstrates the obvious ineptness of the Children of Jacob to abolish the heathen worship of statues in Palestine and even in their very Temple!
Karen Armstrong, author of the popular book A History of God remarks: “We have seen that it took the ancient Israelites some 700 years to break with their old religious allegiances and accept monotheism, but Muhammad managed to help the Arabs achieve this difficult transition in a mere 23 years” (page 146).
At this point it is worth giving an overall breakdown of the family of Abraham the Patriarch, the true in faith (Hanifah). Abraham’s first son and covenant child was Ishmael, whom he bore through Hagar. Next, Sarah conceived a son called Isaac. Abraham took a third wife, Keturah, and had six sons with her.
Ishmael’s first born, Nebajoth, had a brother named Kedar (Genesis 25:13) and his progeny are called the Kedarites or Ishmaelites. Ishmael’s two daughters Basemath and Mahalath wed Esau, who is Edom. The Lexicon Strongs’ Concordance gives Esau the title, “the progenitor of the Arab peoples” and this to a son of Isaac! These become known as the Edomites.
From Jacob, Isaac’s other son, twelve luminaries appear with names such as Ruben, Levi, Judah, Joseph, and Benjamin. The descendants of Jacob, and not Jacob or Isaac, are dubbed the Children of Israel (Bani Isra’il). Abraham’s first born of Keturah, Midian, is described by the Strongs’ Concordance as, “progenitor of Midians or Arabians.”
Therefore these Arabs are called the Midianites. A descendant of Midian named Jethro (Shu’ayb in the Qur’an) gave his daughter Zipporah permission to marry a Levite and fugitive of Egypt named Moses. Therefore, it can be observed that the vast majority of the progeny of Abraham were and are in fact Arabs “as numerous as the stars” who intermarried and accepted the sons and daughters of Jacob as righteous servants of the Almighty.
The Sign of God’s covenant was circumcision. In Genesis 17:9, 11 God tells Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations…and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.”
In verse 26 we are told: “That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael.” So far we have been told that:
1) Ishmael is Abraham’s first-born son.
2) Hagar is Abraham’s lawfully wedded wife.
3) The covenant seed will be as numerous as the stars.
4) The covenant seed will be given the land between the Nile and Euphrates Rivers.
5) Ishmael was Abraham’s only son and seed for fourteen years.
6) Circumcision is the symbol of God’s covenant.
7) Ishmael was circumcised with his father on the same day to fulfill the covenant with the flesh of their foreskins.
NONE of the above have anything to do with Isaac!
Christians will no doubt point to verse 19 where God tells Abraham, “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.”
Why has God changed his mind? He continues: “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation” (verse 20).
In other words: “Don’t worry about Ishmael, I’ll throw him a bone or two!” The most obvious piece of Jewish scribal deception, however, occurs in Genesis 21:
“Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him…So the child grew up and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing (playing with Isaac, REB version).
Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondswoman with her son; for the son of this bondswoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac’…So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away (he set the child on her shoulder, REB version).
Then she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, ‘Let me not see the death of the boy.’ So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the lad (God heard the child crying, REB version).
Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, ‘What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand (in your hand), for I will make him a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.” – Genesis 21:5-19.
It is very clear from the text that we are given the profile of an infant here and not that of a seventeen-year old man. In Jewish custom, a child (Isaac) is weaned after three years. This would have made Ishmael seventeen (Remember that Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born and 100 when Isaac was born, Gen. 16:16, 21:5). Can you imagine a grown man sitting on Hagar’s shoulder, CRYING beneath a shrub for water, and then being LIFTED UP and FED by his mother? It is very interesting to note that although Ishmael is referenced in no less than eleven places in this passage, he is never addressed by name.
It seems as if the chronologies of these events have been deliberately manipulated in order to give the reader the impression that Ishmael was banished due to a conflict between him and Isaac. In actuality, the nameless infant would not know his younger sibling until many years later. According to Islam, Ishmael and his mother were never banished at all. Abraham was told by God to leave them in the wilderness as a sign of his faith that God would fulfill His covenant under any circumstances. This was where Ishmael grew up and continued his father's work.
According to Genesis 16:10-11, God called him “Ishmael” because He heard Hagar crying after she ran away from Sarah. This concocted story serves as a clever way for the rabbinical scribes to explain the meaning of Ishmael’s name, meaning “God heard,” while also making the point that Hagar and her son are inferior to Sarah. It is possible, however, that the child was not named until after Genesis 21:5-19 was written and “God heard” (verse 17) the infant child Ishmael crying while he and his mother settled in Baca, “the weeping valley” (Psalm 84:6; Qur’an 3:96), and not Beersheba as the Bible states. Another possibility is that God named him Ishmael because He had heard the prayer of Abraham for a son to continue his legacy. Why exactly Ishmael’s name is not mentioned in Genesis 21:5-19 remains a mystery.
We are also told in Genesis 25:9 that in the spirit of brotherhood, both sons of Abraham buried their father. From this we can also conclude that the story given in Genesis 16:10 in which God tells Hagar that she must “submit herself under Sarah’s hand,” and Ishmael is called a “wild ass of a man,” are undoubtedly forgeries penned by the Jewish rabbis and scribes in order to discredit the God-given rights of Ishmael, the ancestor of Muhammad -- The Messenger of God (salallau ‘alayhi wa sallam).