Muslims believe that Muhammad was a descendant of Abraham through Ishmael. In Islamic tradition, Adam built the original Ka’aba in Mecca. When Hagar and Ishmael were turned out into the desert of Paran by Abraham, they wandered the desert and were on the verge of death when Hagar discovered the well of zam-zam, which saved their life. Later, Ishmael and Abraham were to have gone to Mecca to rebuild the Ka’aba.
Of the descendants of Ishmael, we are told that they will be too many to count, and that his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him (Genesis 16). The claim of Abrahamic descent through Ishmael may very well be valid, but without any evidence to support it. Such a claim would not have any weight in a court of inheritance law, given that there is no documented chain of descent. There are no records of Mecca or the Meccans that predate Islam. There is a rich, detailed, continuous tradition and genealogy of the descendants of Isaac documented in the Old Testament, but nothing but roaring silence regarding those of Ishmael throughout the entire 2000 years that the old testament covers between Abraham and Christ. Nothing is known of these people, what trials they endured, what victories they celebrated, what gods they worshiped for 2 millennia. Without any documentary evidence to substantiate it, Islamic claims to Abrahamic blood descent are circumstantial at best, and more likely completely specious.
Islam claims that the covenant of Abraham belongs to the heirs of Ishmael, not the heirs of Isaac. Ishmael was indeed the firstborn, but was only a recognized heir in Isaac’s absence, since Isaac was the firstborn legitimate heir. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 was by implication to him and his children through his wife Sarah. Since Sarah was childless, they became impatient for God to fulfill his promise, and Sarah offered her Egyptian servant Hagar as a surrogate. When Hagar became pregnant, she began to deem herself superior for being able to provide an heir. Sarah realized her mistake and banished Hagar. Hagar returned and submitted to Sarah. When Isaac was born it became clear that the presence of Ishmael and Hagar would be a potential threat to Isaac, because his legitimacy usurped the illegitimate Ishmael’s claim to be heir to Abraham. They were banished again, this time permanently. This banishment, never disputed in Islamic scripture, clearly demonstrates Ishmael’s inferior claim to be the heir of Abraham. This inferiority is confirmed, as Ishmael’s descendants failed to record their history, and effectively disappeared from history until Muhammad resurrected them for his own purposes.
The Life of Ishmael
According to Islamic sources, Hagar was turned out into the desert of Paran, with the suckling Ishmael at her breast. Accounts differ whether she was on her own or accompanied by Abraham to Mecca. Regardless, she was left alone near Mecca, and in desperation for her child dying of thirst she ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwan seven times. Allah took pity on her and sent an angel to dig the well of zam-zam with his heel. The water allowed her to live in Mecca, and she was joined by a tribe of Jurhum. Ishmael grew up there and learned Arabic. Later, he married a Jurham woman. Abraham visited him, and advised him to put his Jurham wife away. He did so, and married another one. Abraham came back, approved of the second wife, and together he and Ishmael built, or re-built, the Ka’aba.
There are some practical problems with this story. The most obvious is that Mecca is in a basically uninhabitable valley, in the middle of a sun blasted desert, a thousand miles from the promised land where Abraham lived. A thousand miles through the Arabian desert is not something to take lightly, and not something to be done without a very good reason. Given that there would be no sustenance for any pack animals used, everything must be carried on such a trek. It would take at least two months of hard, constant travel to make this trip, assuming you had a good idea of where you were going and how to get there. There is no practical reason why Abraham would travel so far, nor is there any evidence or indication that he ever did so. Abraham was a herdsman, and the only times when he is depicted in the Bible as being away from his herds for any length of time is when he was on a military campaign, which this obviously wasn’t. Moreover, it has him making this trip not once, but at least twice, and perhaps more.
Ibn Ishaq records that when Muhammad helped restore the Ka’aba, it was barely head-high, and had no roof. Much was made of putting a roof on the Ka’aba during Muhammad’s time, using timber from a shipwreck discovered near Jedda, because some offerings had been pilfered from the unprotected shrine. The account details placing of stones, and no mention is made of mortar. So we are to believe that Abraham made a four-month round trip journey through trackless desert wastes in order to build a head high pile of rocks and call it a shrine?
Sorry, I don’t get it.
Muslims would be quick to point out that Abraham obviously made this trip because Mecca is a holy place. My question is then why didn’t he stay there? Surely a man of Abraham’s obvious devotion to God would want to reside close to the holiest place on Earth. Further, if Mecca is so holy, why didn’t Moses lead his people there after they left Egypt? Why were the ten commandments delivered on Mt Sinai, instead of at Mecca?
Genesis Chapter 21 details Hagar’s exile to the desert. This is done shortly after Isaac’s birth. Genesis 16:16 tells us that Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born, and 21:5 states he was 100 when Isaac was born. If Ishmael was a suckling babe at the age of 14 as Islam has us believe, it’s no wonder that Abraham cast him out!
Genesis 21:21 tells us that Ishmael was raised in Paran, and took an Egyptian wife. This makes sense, since Paran is the desert area just south of Judah, and north of Midian. Genesis 16:1 tells us that Hagar was an Egyptian, so she would have naturally sought one of her people for a daughter in law.
Further, we know that Ishmael lived and settled not far from Hebron, where Abraham and Sarah were buried, because in Genesis 25:9 he helps Isaac bury Abraham. At this time Isaac was 75 years old, and Ishmael was 90. (Genesis 25:7-9).
Ishmael’s descendants lived not far from the promised land, either, for we find in Gen 28:9 that Isaac’s son Esau was forbidden to take a wife from among the Canaanite women, and married one of Ishmael’s daughters, Mahalath.
None of these would have been possible if Ishmael’s base of operations was Mecca, which was a thousand miles from the Hebron valley. There is no case in history of non-seafaring peoples carrying on social and economic intercourse at a distance of a thousand miles that early in history. This is pure fantasy on behalf of Muhammad and his credulous followers.
Islam claims that Abraham was a Muslim. What does it mean to be a Muslim? The common definition of a Muslim is “One who submits.” Abraham had a close relationship with God, in fact he frequently demonstrated through sacrifice that nothing was more important in his life than God. But this was not blind submission as a slave, as Muslims understand the word. Abraham frequently questioned God, and in fact boldly negotiated with him regarding the fate of Sodom and Gomorra (Genesis 18:23-32).
The statement of conversion, the Shahada, requires that for one to become a Muslim, one to state that “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” How could a person who lived before Muhammad be a Muslim, since the Shahada would have been nonsense beforehand?
The hallmarks of Islam can be found in the five pillars of Islam: Monotheism, observance of Ramadan, daily prostration in prayer, paying the Zakat, and the Hajj. Of these, only monotheism was practiced by Abraham. He observed no holy months, he paid no temple tax, because there was no temple. I have already demonstrated that he never made the hajj, for there was no reason to before the Ka’aba was built, and no reason to suggest that Abraham built the Ka’aba and then for some reason returned to Hebron. He prayed constantly, but did so in reverence, only prostrating himself when overwhelmed by the presence of God. There is no record that he prayed in any particular direction.
If any of these things were part of Abraham’s theology, there would have been some mention of them in Judeo-Christian scripture. There would have been some remnant of these observances left over and continued. Moses, who was given a very detailed and precise set of laws filled with exhaustive minutiae, has no record or even trace of four of the five pillars of Islam.
We know from Biblical history that the ancient Israelites were very susceptible to seduction by other forms of worship, and pagan belief systems. Only reference to the written scripture was able to draw them back to God in many cases. There are many records in Hebrew scripture that detail how difficult it was for the Hebrews to keep faithful to the God of Abraham. What is the possibility that the Meccans could have done so with no scripture with which to guide them, no written tradition, no record of any prophets, judges or Kings?
Islamic scripture is very clear that Meccans were polytheist worshipers of a moon god cult which was prevalent throughout Arabia in the 7th century. It was common practice in Arabia at the time to worship stones, particularly unusual stones. The rare iron meteorite would be thought to have particularly special religious significance. The Ka’aba was a shrine to the rock idols and moon God, not unlike many similar ones found throughout Arabia and Yemen. The chief deity of the Meccan Ka’aba was Allah, long before Muhammad came along. Circumambulation of a holy structure was a common form of worship in this cult, not unique to Mecca. There is no similar form of worship anywhere else in Judeo-Christian tradition.
Islam’s claim to Abraham has no basis in scripture, and defies common sense. There is no evidence or rational reason to place Abraham within 800 miles of Mecca at any time in his life. Many of the stories of early Mecca may have some root in legend of early Arabian settlers of the area, and Muhammad changed the names to coincide with Biblical characters. This sort of adoption of Biblical figures is common in unlettered communicants of early Christianity - witness the local legends of Jesus having visited Cornwall in England before he started his ministry in Palestine. Muhammad’s claims of Abrahamic descent were designed specifically to lend him legitimacy as a messiah to the Jewish population of Medina. He routinely adopted Jewish scripture wholesale, and made it part of his Koran. The problem is that he did not understand the underlying themes of the Jewish scripture, and adopted only the stories, never the meanings. The Jews, comparing his tortured rendering of their stories to their actual written accounts, recognized that he was a poseur, and rejected him as relevant to their belief system.
The fundamental problem that all Muslims face with this and many other claims is that the Koran is a record of memorized verse. The written word will trump oral tradition every time.