Two Views of Abraham’s Sons

The focal point of Hebron in West Bank is the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Cave of Machpelah), known to Muslims as Ibrahimi Mosque. The site is sacred to both Muslims and Jews (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

In the June 13, 2022 issue of IslamiCity Barnaby Rogerson writes: “In the Muslim account Abraham has two separate families. His Jewish descendants come from his marriage to his cousin-wife Sarah. His Arab descendants come from Hagar, his Egyptian concubine. Hagar had been given to Sarah as a gift from Pharaoh’s sister and, although Sarah had initially allowed her husband to sleep with her, Sarah became jealous when she remained barren while Hagar became pregnant. 1"The First Hajj" by Barnaby Rogerson

“When Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, Abraham was forced to separate his two women. He took Hagar and her baby across the Arabian desert and left them with just a bag of dates and a jar of water in the empty valley of Mecca. As he climbed out of the valley he stopped on the plain and prayed to God to care for them.

“As their supplies dwindled, Ishmael began to cry out with thirst. Hagar ran distractedly up first one hill and then another (these two hillocks, the hill of Safa and the hill of Marwah, stand just outside the Kaaba sanctuary) searching desperately for water. She ran between these hillocks seven times (the origin of the oldest of the practices of the Muslim pilgrimage) before finally  collapsing. The Archangel Gabriel then appeared to her and dug down into the earth in order to expose the Zemzem spring, whose waters bubbled out to save both mother and son.

“Many years later Abraham returned to find his son Ishmael grown into manhood and Hagar presiding over the town of Mecca. His joy was great but his dismay even greater when God tested him by calling upon him to sacrifice his first born son.

“Ishmael, like his half-brother Isaac, was of course spared this terrible fate. Instead father and son built the Kaaba as an altar to the One God. In the process they discovered the foundations of an earlier altar built by Adam; which had been washed away in the flood. They instituted a three-day festival, which culminated in the sacrifice of a ram to commemorate God’s mercy. This is the original Eid el Kebir, the feast of sacrifice. It is the single greatest festival of the Islamic year.”

From "The Prophet Muhammad" by Barnaby Rogerson.

Since I have been writing articles for IslamiCity for more than 15 years, I thought I would add some views of Hagar and her son Ishmael that appeared in an article that I, Rabbi Allen Maller, wrote with Rabbis Ron Kronish titled: The Descendants of Prophets Isaac and Ishmael Can Live Together Peacefully.

Muslims know that Hagar and her son Prophet Ishmael are mentioned in the biblical book of Genesis, (chapter 21); but very few know that “every year Jews in synagogues worldwide read Genesis chapters 21 and 22 on the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah; the Jewish New Year Festival.”

Rabbi Kronish writes: “On these very special holy days we read about Prophet Ishmael as well as Prophet Isaac. Reading about the patriarch of the Arab people is part of our Jewish tradition because these foundational events are essential to our identity as Jews and Chapter 21—the story of the birth and banishment of Ishmael—establishes our Jewish connection to God’s non-Jewish children.

“God saw Ishmael was about to die and the text tells us the God of the Hebrew Bible hears the voice of all children, including Ishmael, in their suffering and misery, as well as in their joyous and hopeful moments.

“After these events we next hear about Ishmael a few chapters later, when Isaac and Ishmael meet again (Genesis 25:9) at the funeral of their father Abraham. Islamic and Jewish tradition both agree that Prophet Abraham visited Prophet Ishmael’s distant home on at least two different occasions to make sure that his family relationships were suitable. These pre and post funeral reconciliations would be why the Torah’s describes Abraham as ‘contented’ in his old age.

“Can we see this as a very good model for family reconciliations [today by] forgiving old hurts? And can it also become a model for the descendants of Prophet Ishmael and Prophet Isaac, the contemporary Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, to find the grounds to attain, after the military funerals are over, the forgiveness and reconciliation that both Islam and Judaism teach are holy goals.

“Rabbi Kronish’s answer is Yes. “But Jews and Muslims have to overcome some deeply ingrained negative stereotypes of each other. Some of this comes from our understanding –or purposeful misunderstanding — of our sacred texts, which can be very problematic and often lead to negative stereotyping. It is time to choose reconciliation rather than retribution between Jews and Muslims in this world. The time for enmity is over.”

And I would add to the words of Rabbi Kronish that everyone knows how important daily worship and prayer are in Islam; but few know that Islam considers reconciling people better than many acts of worship.

Prophet Muhammad said: "Should I not tell you what is better in degree than prayer, fasting, and charity." They (the companions) said: "Yes." He said: "Reconciling people, because grudges and disputes are a razor (that shaves off faith)." 2Ahmad, Abu Dawood, and At-Tirmithi

Even more amazing the Prophet said: "The one who reconciles people is not considered a liar if he exaggerates what is good or says what is good." [Ahmad]

This is an excellent guide to dealing with the three-generation old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than focusing mostly on what the other side did to us, we all should focus on how the conflict has hurt all of us, and how much better our future would be if we could live next to each other in peace.

If the descendants of Prophet Isaac and Prophet Ishmael negotiate a settlement that reflects the religious policy that “…there is no sin upon them if they make terms of settlement between them – and settlement [reconciliation] is best.” (Quran 4: 128)

For in Jewish tradition family harmony is of such importance that a rabbinic dicta states that this goal even warrants engaging in a "white lie". When God tells Sarah she will give birth to a son, she says: "After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my husband being old also?" But when God speaks to Abraham, God says: "Why did Sarah say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?" (Genesis: 18:12-13).

The rabbis comment that God omitted Sarah's mention of Abraham's even older age out of concern for their family harmony. And the Sages of the school of Hillel taught that one can praise the beauty of a bride even though she is not very pretty.

Prophet Muhammad said: “He is not a liar who seeks to reconcile between people and says [only] good things.” (al-Bukhaari, 2490) This is because the Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or nation: “Abraham was a nation/community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists.” (16:120)

If Prophet Abraham is himself an Ummah, then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided.

Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. His book, The Other Peace Process: Inter-religious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017.

Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: Rabbi Maller blogs in the Times of Israel. His 2017 book is: ’Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles previously published by Islamic web sites).


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