The Ishmael Myth

The popular idea that Ishmael was a Muslim and the ancestor of Muhammad can be easily disproven. As proof, Muslims quote the Biblical account of how Abraham sent Hagar away with her son Ishmael. During this journey, there was no more water, and while Hagar wept, God sent an angel to show her a well from which she gave Ishmael a drink. God promised his race would be a great nation. (Gen 21:5, 8-19). Most Christians assume a link between Ishmael and Islam and needlessly blame him (or Abraham) for the menace of Islam in the Middle East today. This is why we all need to be better informed.

Like several other Bible stories, the Quran and Hadiths changes the scenery of the Hagar and Ishmael story from Israel to Mecca. While the Bible says Hagar “wandered in the desert of Beersheba,” the hadith claims Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael near the Kaaba (which is in Mecca) under a tree. Abraham is even said to face the Kaaba to pray to Allah before returning home. It claims that Hagar ran up the hills of Mecca- Safa and Marwa- seven times seeking water for Ishmael before an angel showed her the well of Zam-zam where she got some water. Islamic records however shows that the Kaaba, the two hills and the Zam-Zam well were pagan “holy” sites where pre-islamic Arab pagans worshiped their deities. Abraham was never a stone-worshipper.

First, Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael were never in Mecca; Biblically, Ishmael lived “in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt” (Gen 21:21). Hagar herself was an Egyptian, not an Arabian (Gen 16:1). Is Paran located in Mecca? No. The Israelites traveled from the desert of Sinai to rest “in the desert of Paran” (Num 10:13) “and encamped in the desert of Paran” (Num 12:16) “Moses sent them out from the desert of Paran” (13:3). Paran is located in Israel (Canaan). If Paran is in Mecca, that would mean that the Israelites travelled from Sinai to Mecca and back for 40 years! That’s totally absurd.

Second, Abraham lived in Hebron and died there (Gen 25:9). If he had lived in Mecca as Muslims fondly imagine, that means Ishmael had to travel about 1,200 km from his home in Paran to Mecca to bury his father with Isaac. Bear in mind also that Ishmael’s descendants “settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go towards Asshur…” (25:18). They lived near Egypt, thousands of miles away from Mecca. Perhaps seeing the geographical impossibility of Abraham living in Mecca, some Muslims invented the idea of Ishmael using a “flying camel” to travel whenever he wanted to visit Abraham (Tarikh al-Tabari 1:165). Islam has been fabricating stories right from its inception, so this is not new.

Third, there is a wide gap of 2,670 years between Ishmael and Muhammad. If we take the average lifespan of an Arab, based on islamic traditions, it would take about 133 generations to produce a genealogical link between Ishmael and Muhammad. Biographer, Ibn Ishaq, attempted to fabricate a genealogy for Muhammad, but he could only come up with 40 generations. What about the 93 “missing links?” Even the names he made up were all 8th century islamic names not related to any ancient documentation. Yet, his work is the major “proof” Muslims present to link Muhammad with Ishmael or Abraham.

Islamic scholar, Alfred Guilaume agrees that “there is no historical evidence for the assertion that Abraham or Ishmael was ever in Mecca and if there have been such a tradition, it would have to be explained how all the memory of the old Semitic name Ishmael (which was not true Arabian form in Arabian inscription…) came to be lost.” (Islam, 1956, 61-62).

Some of Ishmael’s descendants could have migrated to Arabian nations, but some historians stated that Saudi Arabia probably didn’t exist as a city until the Yemenite immigrants colonized it in the 4th century AD. According to a work:

“[T]he idea of the southern Arabs being of the posterity of Ishmael is entirely without foundation, and seems to have originated in the tradition invented by Arab vanity that they, as well as the Jews, are of the seed of Abraham- a vanity which, besides disfiguring and falsifying the whole history of the patriarch and his son has transfered the scene of it from Palestine to Mecca…The vast tracts of country known to us under the name of Arabia gradually became peopled by a variety of tribes of different lineage.” (McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical. Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 1:339)

The Akkadians, Assyrians, Persians or Hittites who were not Abraham’s descendants, could have been the progenitors of the Arab race. Even the Encyclopedia of Islam traces the Arabs to non-Abrahamic origins (1:543-7). The Dictionary of Islam also questions the whole idea that the Arabs are Ishmael’s descendants (p 18). The Ishmael’s link with Islam is not tenable.

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