History of the Prophets

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Ishmael

Ishmael is often mentioned along with his father Abraham, particularly in connection with the Kaba [Kabah], and as such he has been repeatedly referred to in the chapter on Abraham. Abraham prayed for a son after being delivered from the hands of his enemies. This prayer and its acceptance are spoken of in the following words:

“My Lord, grant me a doer of good deeds. So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son.” (The Holy Quran, 37:100–101)

It has already been shown in the chapter on Abraham that it was Ishmael whom Abraham was commanded to sacrifice. The Holy Quran speaks of this incident in the following words:

“But when he (Ishmael) became of (age to) work with him (Abraham), he said: O my son, I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice thee: so consider what thou seest. He said: O my father, do as thou art commanded; if Allah please, thou wilt find me patient. So when they both submitted and he had thrown him down upon his forehead. And We called out to him saying, O Abraham, Thou hast indeed fulfilled the vision. Thus do We reward the doers of good. Surely this is a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice. And We granted him among the later generations (the salutation).” (The Holy Quran, 37:102–108)

He is often spoken of as one of the prophets in the Holy Quran. Nothing is said about the people to whom he was sent, but a report speaks of him as having been sent to the people of Yemen. Besides what has been stated of him above, he is spoken of in words of praise on many occasions. Thus in one place:

“And mention Ishmael in the Book. Surely he was truthful in promise, and he was a messenger, a prophet. And he enjoined on his people prayer and almsgiving, and was one in whom his Lord was well pleased.” (The Holy Quran, 19:54–55)

The Bible on the other hand does not speak of him as a prophet. The text may have been altered in this matter on account of the later Jewish prejudice which grew up against Ishmael. The covenant which the Bible speaks of was made, not with Israel but with Abraham and therefore included both Ishmael and Isaac. Nay, the covenant was made with Ishmael in exactly the same terms as with Abraham. Abraham was told:

“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing. [And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.]” (Genesis 12:2–3)

And again:

“And I will make thee exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of thee and kings shall come out of thee.” (Genesis 17:6)

Exactly the same promise was given regarding Ishmael when Abraham prayed to God that Ishmael might lead a perfect life — “that Ishmael might live before Thee”:

“And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:20)

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