Isaac And Ishmael Excerpt from ‘The Family of Abraham’
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No one can underestimate the importance of Abraham to the
three great monotheistic faiths of the world, but unlike Jews and Christians, Muslims claim their
identity with Abraham through Hagar and Ishmael rather than through Sarah and
Isaac. Muhammad sought to give legitimacy to Islam by identifying with Abraham
and his other son, Ishmael. And this is the root of the alienation that exists
between Christians and Muslims, both of whom claim to be the heirs of Abraham.
(Hagar is not mentioned by name in the Quran. But the
Hadith, that is, the Traditions, correctly name her as the mother of Ishmael.
In the pilgrim rites at Mecca, all Muslims re-enact Hagar's desperate search
for water as they run between the hills of Safa and Marwa. The search is
climaxed as they reach the well of Zamzam where they drink in memory of God's
mercy to Hagar.) Ishmael is mentioned several times in the Quran and is
powerfully memorialized in the rites connected with the annual pilgrimage to
Taking a few steps back into the Bible and the story of
Abraham, Isaac, Sara and Ishmael we know that Ishmael was the first-born.
Its too long a story to go into, but the crux of the story was when Sara got
pregnant Ishmael made fun of his little half-brother. That was too much for
Sarah. She made an irrevocable decision: ". . . Get rid of that slave
woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the
inheritance with my son Isaac" Hagar and Ishmael were provisioned
and dismissed from service. Who can gage the depth of bitterness and resentment
that must have filled the hearts of Hagar and Ishmael?
The source of the Lord's prophetic utterance (“He will
be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's
hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Gen.
16:12).) concerning the behavior of Ishmael is rooted in these events.
Is there any
linkage between the characteristics of Ishmael and that of Islam, which has embraced
him as one of their patriarchs? As strange as it may seem, there may be.
History seems to bear this out.
either focus either inwardly, causing psychosomatically induced illnesses or
suicidal tendencies, or it will project itself outward on some designated hate
object. It can be triggered to commit acts of violence, either against a person
(homicide) or against a people (genocide or war).
hostility and propensity to violence were rooted in the sin of his own scoffing
and jealous attitude towards his brother Isaac. Muslims today are those in whom
this vicious cycle has not been broken. They have voluntarily chosen to
identify with Ishmael and have, consciously or unconsciously, embraced the
spirit of that ancient and bitter rivalry. The present-day animosity of Islam
towards Jews and Christians, in this author's opinion, can be traced to the
Islamic embrace of the spirit of Ishmael.
Ishmael was to
be strong, wild and free; and we might add, he also would be difficult, holding
his brothers in contempt, despising town life, loving his freedom to the point
of not being able to get along with his own kin or anyone else. As one
commentary puts it: "The Ishmaelites live in an incessant state of feud .
. . with one another or with their neighbours.
from Ishmael's line sprung a man, Muhammad (570-632), who initially founded Islam as a religion
for the Arab people. Later he tried to universalize it and impose it on all
mankind. In Islam, Jesus
is reduced to a mere prophet; and by making himself equal to Jesus and
ultimately superior to Him, Muhammad perpetuated the spirit of rivalry, not
reconciliation. The roots of this present-day alienation go back to the tragedy
of events that led to the breakup of Abraham's family. Islam became the venue
for the aggrieved and alienated members of this family to redress the shame of
that early expulsion from the tents of Abraham. Even more than that, Islam is
committed to the attempt to dominate the world.
Muhammad was a
true descendant of Ishmael. While trying desperately to tie into the
genealogical tree of Biblical prophets, he fiercely maintained his independence
as an "Arab prophet" with an "Arabic Qu’ran. He stoutly
maintained that he was neither of the Jews nor the Christians but of the
"Religion of Abraham". In taking this position, Muhammad, attempting
to establish his own identity as a legitimate prophet, borrowed from the
traditions of each, as well as separated himself from both. The final voice of
God to the human race.
Muhammad attempted to woo both Jews and Christians. When he was unsuccessful,
as neither would subscribe to the idea of a pagan God, he not only turned away
from them, but in the case of the Jews, after dispossessing two of the tribes,
he banished them, and massacred all the men of a third tribe and made slaves of
the women and children. In the case of the Christians, he also reduced them to
second-class citizens (Dhimmis) and attempted to destroy the very heart of the
Christian message. Having made himself odious to both Jews and Christians,
Muhammad then took the step of enshrining violence forever among his followers
by sanctifying vengeance (Q. 42:39) and fighting (Q. 2:216; 4:74; 9:5; 61:4).
(There are more than fifty separate references in the Quran on the duties and
conditions of Holy War).
mysterious way, it appears that the characteristics of Ishmael, as described in
Genesis 16:12, have survived to this day in the lives of those who have so
closely identified with him through the life of Muhammad and his teachings in
the religion of Islam.
As much as we
would like to see Judaism, Christianity and Islam as branches of one big happy
"family of Abraham," it cannot be. The stumbling block is Jesus Christ, the
"seed of Abraham." The issue between Islam and Christianity has to do
with the way Muslims have departed from the Scriptures and denigrated Christ.
In fact, they have gone far beyond doctrinal differences; they have set up a
rival religion that seeks to supplant Christianity. Islam has taken an
adamant stance against the very heart of the Gospel message, including denial
of the deity of Christ, incarnation, atonement, the crucifixion and the
question of God as Father, Son and Spirit.
"Aristotle the Hun" was the name given to me more than 30 years ago when a friend noticed that in spite of my intellect I was still an Iowa farm boy.
Rev. Sam Sewell, is Director of Best Self USA, a Pastoral Psychotherapist, serves on the faculty of Naples Community Hospital as an instructor for Clinical Pastoral Education, President of the Theological Center in Naples, a member of Mensa where he serves as Gifted Youth Coordinator, a U.S. Navy Veteran, and a Member of the Association For Intelligence Officers. He is a frequent commentator on mental health and religious issues.His award winning research on family issues is published in several languages. Member of Sigma Delta Chi Honor Society
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