In an attempt to understand the complexities of Islam and its dedicated one-and-a- half billion followers, we must first turn to an unlikely source – to the Bible of the Jews and Christians. Interestingly, the Bible does provide some historical and spiritual insights on the origins and fate of the Middle Eastern peoples that gave birth to the Islamic faith. It turns out that the Middle East has had an ancient history of volatility and violence that is well established in biblical record. Islam has its root in Arabic culture mixed among the belief and tradition of Abraham and his son Ishmael fathering the tribes of the Middle East. If both the people of Islam and those of Judeo-Christian heritage claim Abraham as their patriarch, why have they been forever at each others throats? The answer can be found in the scripture of both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
What the Bible Says. We can gain some insight into this generations’ old conflict by picking up the story in Genesis 16 where Abraham and his wife Sarah were first known as Abram and Sarai. Abram was 86 years old and Sarai had never bore him any children, yet God had promised him that he would have a male descendent who would bring forth descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:3-5).
Frustrated and impatient with the lack of God’s immediate fulfillment of His promise, Abram decided (with Sarai’s encouragement) to take matters into his own hands.
He took unto himself Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, and she bore him a son.
And the Angel of the Lord said to her [Hagar]: “Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael [viz., God shall hear], because the Lord has heard your affliction.
He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” Genesis 16:11-12, NKJV
Several things should be noted at this point. First, Abram chose to disbelieve God’s promised covenant with him and establish his own covenant by the flesh. Second, his partner in this fleshly covenant was the pagan, Hagar (meaning one who takes flight), the Egyptian. Third, it was God, not Abram, who chose the name of Ishmael for this son to be born outside of God’s chosen covenant with His people. Fourth, it was God who said at Ishmael’s conception, that he would “be a wild man;” and that “his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” At the same time “he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”
It is important to note that the Hebrew word used for “wild” in the above verse means for one to be like a “wild ass” with no boundaries. The Hebrew word used for “hand” means the “open hand of power.” And who were Ishmael’s brethren? He had a Hebrew father, Abram, and a pagan Arabic mother, Hagar. His brethren at the time of his birth were both Jews and Arabs.
When Abram was 99 years old, he was still without a true heir by Sarai’s womb. God then spoke to Abram and made this covenant with him:
As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. Genesis 17:4-8, NKJV
Fourteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God fulfilled His intended covenant with Abram (now Abraham) with the birth of Isaac to Sarah who was no longer called Sarai.
Abraham asked God if “Ishmael might live before You?”
But God told Abraham, “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.
“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 (Genesis 17:18-20, NKJV).”
God never intended to establish His covenant with Ishmael, because Ishmael was not the child of the promise but of the flesh. God could not establish His covenant with him, He could only bless him. While God blessed Ishmael with fruitfulness, He never made a covenant with him. God’s covenant was with Abraham and him only. And, unlike Abraham and Isaac, God never promised Ishmael and his seed that He would be their God.
Although Arabic Muslims claim Abraham as their heir, biblically they are descendants of pre-covenant Abram, the one who disobeyed God and disbelieved His promise of an heir through Sarah. God could bless Ishmael, but He could never establish His covenant with a sinful seed of the flesh.
Ishmael became the father of 12 Arabian princes (nations) whom God said that He would “multiply . . . exceedingly” (Genesis 17:20). Ishmael and Hagar were driven into the Wilderness of Paran to dwell (Genesis 21:20-21). This wilderness covers the eastern Sinai and the southern and southeastern borders of present-day Israel.
Ishmael’s sons initially inhabited an area from Egypt and the Sinai Desert, the Arabian peninsula to Assyria (which includes present day Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and the lesser Arab kingdoms).
Remember, God promised that Ishmael and his descendants would be wild men whose hand would be “against every man.”
After the death of Abraham, some Bible translations of Genesis 25:18 state that the descendents of Ishmael “lived in hostility toward” or “in defiance of” all their brethren (New International Version, New Living Translation and North American Standard). Other versions (including the King James, New King James and Amplified Bibles) state only that Ishmael’s descendents lived “close to” or “in the presence of” their relatives.
Muhammad and the Muslims have found a simple solution to this dilemma of a negative biblical image. Muhammad asserted that Allah revealed to him that it was Ishmael, not Isaac, that Allah chose to test Abraham’s faith; and therefore it was Ishmael and all those who are descendents of him that are the true chosen people to fulfill Allah’s covenant.
Instead of God calling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on a makeshift altar on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (the current site of the Dome of the Rock), it was Allah who called Abraham to sacrifice Ishmael on Mount Mina outside Mecca.
According to the Qur’an, Abraham prayed to Allah: “’My Lord! Grant me [a son who shall be] of the doers of good deeds [that is, righteous].’ So We gave [Abraham] the good news of a boy, possessing forbearance. And when [Ishmael] attained to working with him, [Abraham] said: O my son! Surely I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice you; consider then what you see. He said: O my father! Do what you are commanded; if Allah please, you will find me of the patient ones. So when they both submitted and [Abraham] threw [Ishmael] down upon his forehead, and We called out to him saying: O Ibrahim! You have indeed shown the truth of the vision; surely thus do We reward the doers of good: Most surely this is a manifest trial (surah 37:100- 106).”
This version in the Qur’an of Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son strongly contradicts the biblical story. “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about (Genesis 22:2).’” Notice that God refers to Isaac as Abraham’s only son. That is because only Isaac was God’s choice to fulfill His covenant with Abraham – not Ishmael, the son of the flesh.
In the Genesis account, Isaac had no prior knowledge of his role in the sacrifice. “Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’
“’Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied.
“’The fire and wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’
“Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son (Genesis 22:7-8a).’”
Because of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son and not withhold him from God, God promised Abraham that “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me (Genesis 22:18).”
From the present day and historical perspective of the daily violence against mankind by the followers of Islam, it is hard to see that this was God’s plan for blessing the nations of the earth through the descendents of Ishmael. Among the descendents of Isaac, however, was Jesus, the sacrificial lamb who brought salvation to the world by the shedding of His blood and not that of another human being – truly a blessing to all who will receive Him.
Excerpted from Islam & Christianity