• Zack Shaheen

Issac and Ishmael: Some thoughts

By Imam Shamsuddin Waheed (Click for Original Blog)

The latest round of violence which has occurred in the Middle East has prompted much discussion on the origins of the tensions. There is a great deal of disinformation regarding both the contemporary problems, as well as their origins, deliberate and outright evil attempts to control the narrative, to brainwash the next generation of human beings to be in favor of a system that is inherently unjust.

One of the theories that is often cited, especially in the last two weeks, is that the "Middle East conflict" is simply an extension of an old family feud, a feud between two brothers, themselves, while having different mothers, bear the same father. Indeed, Islam itself is claimed by those who hold that view to be a creation born from that feud!


According to the scriptures, Abraham ("father of many nations") was blessed by God to received guidance, delivery from idol-worship, and was given a covenant. Broadly speaking, this is agreed upon by the adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Indeed, these faiths are referred to as the Abrahamic religions, as they see themselves as having their roots in Abraham's experiences.

The Bible (Gen. 16:1-9) asserts that a wife of Abraham, by the name of Sarai (also known as Sarah) unable to give birth on her own, encouraged him to have a relationship with her "maidservant" (known as Hagar), conceive with her, so that the family line would go on. However, problems developed between the two women, causing the latter to leave.(#1)

The two sons from the Bible

Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, who is seen as the progenitor of the Arabs, whereas years later, Sarai gives birth to Isaac, viewed as the progenitor of the Hebrew group.

The problems between their mothers were visited upon the sons, as the story goes. The Bible, while acknowledging that Hagar has not done anything wrong, nonetheless asserts that Hagar was told that her son, who is the progenitor of the Arabs, would be "a wild donkey of a man".(Gen.16:12).

Isaac, although younger, is said to embody the covenant. Ishmael is disinherited from that. It is interesting that throughout the Bible, expressions such as "The Lord God of the house of Israel" and "The Lord God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob" are common.

The two sons from the Qur'an

The Qur'an does not entertain any problems between the two sons. They are both mentioned with respect (Q 6:84, 14:39-41, 2:136 and other places), and it is common practice to say "peace be upon him" when referencing both.

There is never a disrespectful passage in the Qur'an about Issac, even though he is viewed as the progenitor of the Jews. Indeed, Isaac is viewed as a recipient of Divine guidance.

It is important here to note that the Qur'an contrasts from the Biblical style in that it NEVER uses racist or nationalistic language. It refers to God as the "Caretaker of the universe" (Q 1:2), and never as being restricted or exclusively connected to Arabs.

Religious rhetoric has certainly been exploited throughout the "Middle East conflict". Arabs are routinely portrayed as savages, and antisemitism is a charge regularly made by the supporters of the state of Israel, as a means to disarm criticism. Indeed, the ghosts of the holocaust are routinely resurrected to accomplish this, even though the Arabs and Muslim world had no relation to the Nazi-led holocaust that occurred (in Christian Europe) during the days of the second world war.

Evangelical figure John Hagee, in almost all of his speeches and writing, has exemplified this pattern, as well as stated in no uncertain terms that he expects a time in the near future when "Israel will own an control all of present-day Israel, including Jerusalem, Lebanon, The West Bank of Jordan, and most of Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia".(#2)

Such rhetoric cannot be ignored, especially when it is backed by financial and political drive. One need only conduct a google search to see the reach this figure and this trend has.

If there ever was conflict between Isaac and Ishmael, or between Hagar and Sarah, that conflict is no excuse to perpetuate oppression. Moreover, in the spiritual realm, it is Islam, which has been conveyed via the Qur'an to Muhammad, which has stated clearly that blood ties has no bearing on one's ties to God. It is Islam which has clearly stated that respect and love be had not only for one son of Abraham, but the other one as well.

This post has only been some brief thoughts, meant to convey that the Islamic position is actually very reasonable, for any who use reason, when it comes to issues surrounding the descendants of Abraham(#3).In conclusion, we pray "Glorified is Your Lord, the Lord of honor and glory, he is above what is wrongly attributed to him, peace be upon the messengers, and praise belongs to God, the caretaker of the universe." ( Q 37:180-182).


(1) Robert Alter, in his Torah translation THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES ( New York, Norton& Company Limited, 2004) pg.78 uses the word "harassed" to describe Sarah's attitude towards Hagar.

(2) This quotation is taken from John Hagee's book CAN AMERICA SURVIVE? 10 PROPHETIC SIGNS THAT WE ARE THE TERMINAL GENERATION ( New York, Howard Books, 2010) pg.109.

(3) The following article has a thorough explanation of the Muslim understanding of issue such as the covenant, sacrifice, etc.. associated with Abraham. http://www.why-christians-convert-to-islam.com/nice201.htm

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