Prophet Ishmael was the son of Prophet Abraham and Lady Hagar, the brother of Prophet Isaac, the forefather of the Arabized Arabs (Ishmaelites), and the predecessor of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon all of them).
Though Christianity and Islam concur on honoring Prophet Ishmael, the Christian handling of Prophet Ishmael’s personality in the Bible discriminates against him and his descendants in favor of Prophet Isaac and his descendants.
Unlike the biblical attitude, Islam does not discriminate against or in favor of any prophet or any descendants of a prophet.
Prophet Ishmael in Christianity
In the Bible, Christianity honors Prophet Ishmael as we read about God’s blessing of Ishmael and his descendants. Nevertheless, such honoring is contradicted by blatant discrimination against him and his descendants in favor of his brother Prophet Isaac and his descendants.
The Bible tells us that the covenant God had had with Prophet Abraham was bequeathed to Isaac and his descendants to the exclusion of Ishmael and his descendants.
For example, we read: And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” (Genesis 17:18-21)
We also read: He said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She replied, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her authority.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your offspring, and they will be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “You have conceived and will have a son. You will name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your cry of affliction. This man will be like a wild donkey. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; he will settle near all his relatives.” (Genesis 16:8-12)
Prophet Ishmael’s Honoring in Islam
Islam highly honors and praises Prophet Ishmael. For example, the Qur’an tells us that Prophet Ishmael was one of the prophets who were preferred to worlds. We read:
And Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot – and all [of them] We preferred over the worlds. (Al-An`am 6:86)
The Qur’an also tells us that Prophet Ishmael was one of the elite of the prophets. We read:
And remember Ishmael, Elisha and Dhul-Kifl, and all are among the chosen. (Saad 38:48)
The Qur’an states that Prophet Ishmael was of the patient whom God admitted into His mercy. We read:
And [mention] Ishmael and Idris and Dhul-Kifl; all were of the patient. And We admitted them into Our mercy. Indeed, they were of the righteous. (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:85-86)
The Qur’an also mentions that Ishmael was a prophet and a messenger who was true to his promise and with whom God was pleased. We read:
And mention in the Book, Ishmael. Indeed, he was true to his promise, and he was a messenger and a prophet. And he used to enjoin on his people prayer and zakah and was to his Lord pleasing. (Maryam 19:54-55)
Ishmael’s Role in the Holy Sanctuary’s Rebuilding and Monotheism’s Revival
The Qur’an tells us that Prophet Abraham as well as his Egyptian wife, Lady Hagar, and his firstborn baby, Prophet Ishmael, moved to the Valley of Bakkah, later known as “Makkah Al-Mukarramah”.
The Qur’an also tells us that Prophet Abraham was commanded to rebuild the Holy Sanctuary after its demolition by the Great Deluge. It was the first house ever made for people to worship God. It had been built by angels and it was then rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael. In the Qur’an, we read:
Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Bakkah – blessed and a guidance for the worlds. (Aal `Imran 3:96)
About the command to rebuild the Holy Sanctuary, revive monotheism and enact pilgrimage rites, we read:
And [mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the House, [saying], “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass (Al-Hajj 22:26-27)
Ishmael participated in rebuilding the Holy Sanctuary, reviving monotheism and the supplication to God to secure the Valley of Bakkah, provide its people with fruits, make their descendants begotten there faithful offspring and send Prophet Muhammad as a prophet and messenger to them. About that, we read:
And We charged Abraham and Ishmael, [saying], “Purify My House for those who perform Tawaf and those who are staying [there] for worship and those who bow and prostrate [in prayer].” And [mention] when Abraham said, “My Lord, make this a secure city and provide its people with fruits – whoever of them believes in Allah and the Last Day.” [ Allah ] said. “And whoever disbelieves – I will grant him enjoyment for a little; then I will force him to the punishment of the Fire, and wretched is the destination.” And [mention] when Abraham was raising the foundations of the House and [with him] Ishmael, [saying], “Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the Hearing, the Knowing. Our Lord, and make us Muslims [in submission] to You and from our descendants a Muslim nation [in submission] to You. And show us our rites and accept our repentance. Indeed, You are the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful. Our Lord, and send among them a messenger from themselves who will recite to them Your verses and teach them the Book and wisdom and purify them. Indeed, You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (Al-Baqarah 2:125-129)
We also read:
Our Lord, I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline toward them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful. (Ibrahim 14:37)
Prophet Ishmael Offered as a Sacrifice
The Qur’an indicates that it is Ishmael whom Prophet Abraham was commanded to slay. It is Ishmael also who was ransomed with a great sacrifice upon slaughter and after submission to the command of God. In the Qur’an, we read:
And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times: “Peace and salutation to Abraham!” Thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For he was one of our believing Servants. And We gave him the good news of Isaac – a prophet,- one of the Righteous. (As-Saffat 37:107-112)
The above Qur’anic verses make clear that Isaac had not been born when the sacrifice incident took place. Rather, good news of his birth was given after this incident. It is Ishmael who was the only son of Prophet Abraham at the time.
However, unfortunately, as one of the forms of discrimination against Prophet Ishmael, the Bible alleges that it is Isaac who experienced the sacrifice incident along with his father, Prophet Abraham. It is ironic that the Bible involves such indications which prove the falsehood of the above claim.
In the Bible, we read: After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered. “Take your son,” he said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1-2)
The above verses tell us that God commanded Prophet Abraham to slay his “only son”. Accordingly, Isaac was never an only son. It is Ishmael who had remained Abraham’s only son until Isaac was born.
Supposing that the intended meaning is “the only son whom Abraham loves”, there is nothing in the Bible which indicates that Abraham loved his son Isaac rather than or even more than his firstborn son Ishmael. This is just a form of discrimination against Ishmael in favor of Isaac.
Islam is much fairer towards Prophet Ishmael and his descendants. It does not discriminate against/in favor of any prophet or his descendants.
As for the Biblical discrimination in favor of Isaac and his descendants against Ishmael and his descendants, this is baseless in Islam. The Qur’an often equates Prophet Isaac and his descendants on the one hand and Prophet Ishmael and his descendants on the other hand without discrimination. In the Qur’an, we read:
Say, [O believers], “We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” (Al-Baqarah 2:136)
Prophet Isaac and Prophet Ishmael are equated to the fullest extent that Ishmael is counted among the forefathers of Jacob, though he was his uncle rather than his father. In the Qur’an, we read:
Or were you witnesses when death approached Jacob, when he said to his sons, “What will you worship after me?” They said, “We will worship your God and the God of your fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac – one God. And we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” (Al-Baqarah 2:133)
The Qur’an tells us that when Prophet Abraham prayed to God so that he would bequeath the leadership he had to his descendants, God refused, explaining that some of them would be such wrongdoers who would not deserve it, be they from Isaac’s descendants or Ishmael’s descendants without discrimination. We read:
And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham was tried by his Lord with commands and he fulfilled them. [Allah] said, “Indeed, I will make you a leader for the people.” [Abraham] said, “And of my descendants?” [Allah] said, “My covenant does not include the wrongdoers.” (Al-Baqarah 2:124)
We also read:
And We have already sent Noah and Abraham and placed in their descendants prophethood and scripture; and among them is he who is guided, but many of them are defiantly disobedient. (Al-Hadid 57:26)
Nowhere in the Qur’an do we find dispraise intended solely for the descendants of Isaac (children of Israel), except for the disbelievers out of them. This means that the honoring and praise intended for Abraham’s descendants still apply to the believers from the descendants of Isaac without discrimination in favor of Ishmael’s descendants. In the Qur’an, we read:
Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected Faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus the son of Mary: because they disobeyed and persisted in excesses. (Al-Ma’idah 5:78)
- The Glorious Qur’an
- The Holy Bible