Sunday, June 22, 2008

Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Ishmael

Genesis 21.8-21
Something about this story doesn't quite add up. According to an earlier episode in the saga of Abraham and Sarah, Ishmael - Abraham's son by the slave woman Hagar - is already more than thirteen years-old and is therefore, in Jewish tradition, already a man when he and his mother are sent away. However, in this passage the story reads as though Ishmael were still only a little child, not old enough to understand what is happening. His mother is described as casting him under a bush when she sits down in the desert to die, and then - a little later - she lifts him up and holds him fast in her hand. It would seem, therefore, that he is really little more than a toddler in this particular version of the Abrahamic tradition.

The Hadith, a traditional collection of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, preserves a similar version of the story, in which Ishmael is not yet weaned. In both the Hadith and today's passage from the Bible account of Ishmael's life, the infant Ishmael and his mother are saved from death in the desert through God's gracious intervention.

From this point on, however, the two faiths diverge. The Qur'an tells how Ishmael, presumably now reconciled with his father, goes on to help Abraham found its greatest shrine in Mekkah, whereas in the Bible Ishmael drops out of the story. But the discrepancy in the Bible between the earlier account of Ishmael and Hagar living as part of Abraham's family when he was a teenager, and the alternative description of their estrangement when he was still a small child, led in turn to one of the biggest controversies between Jews and Muslims. Whereas the Bible sees Ishmael as the illegitimate son, cast off by his father and sent out into the desert to carve out a new life for himself apart from the chosen people, some Muslim scholars used this story to argue that he was in fact one of the rightful heirs of Abraham, especially when it comes to Abraham's spiritual legacy.

The Bible does acknowledge that Ishmael was blessed by God and that God heard his cry, and the Hadith says much the same thing, but some Muslim scholars go further and claim that - after an early reconcilation with his father - it was really the thirteen year-old Ishmael, and not Isaac, whom Abraham was asked to offer as a sacrifice, and therefore that it was Ishmael whom God saved from death a second time when he provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead. According to these scholars, then, the greatest test of Abraham's trust was not the call to sacrifice his wife's son, but the son of his slave. And so, in this version of the story, it is Ishmael who is more special than Isaac, both in God's eyes and in the eyes of Abraham. And because, in the Bible at least, the two stories about Ishmael do not quite add up, this allows Muslims to argue that - long ago - Jewish people deliberately obscured the truth in order to show their own spiritual inheritance in a better light than it deserved.

The difference between the two versions of Ishmael's story also allows Muslims to claim the moral high ground. Sarah, the ancestor of the whole nation of Israel, is depicted in the Bible, as capricious, callous and cruel. She doesn't know, and doesn't even care, that God is going to bless Ishmael. She only wants him sent away, so that he will not share - or take away - the precious family inheritance from her own son. And this is despite the fact that it was, in the first place, her own idea for Abraham to have an adoptive son with her slave woman, Hagar, because Sarah thought at the time that she couldn't have any children.

Not only does the Bible cast Sarah in the stereotypical role of the wicked stepmother, but Abraham too - in agreeing to expel his own son from the family - is also depicted as weak and vacillating, prepared to do something very wrong simply in order to appease his jealous wife, whereas, in the Qur'anic account of the story Abraham treats Ishmael throughout as his true heir, and the separation comes about purely as a test of his faith.

And then the Bible version of the story definitely identifies Ishmael as inferior to his brother simply because his mother was only a slave, and not his father's wife, whereas the Muslim version makes clear that every believer is equal before God no matter who their parents are. Unfortunately, no such moral can be drawn from the Biblical account.

Finally, in the Bible story, Hagar sits down in the desert and despairs whereas, in the Hadith, she sets a wonderful example of perseverance as she desperately searches for water to save Ishmael's life.

Of course, the most striking thing about the story is that it shows just how ancient is the antagonism between the Arab and Jewish nations. In Biblical times the Arab people were not that important. Occasionally they raided the land of Israel, but otherwise the two nations went separate ways. However, after the rise of Islam and until the Twentieth Century, the Arab nation had the upperhand over Israel. And then, since the re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, the tables have been turned. The bombings of July 7 and th airliner hijackings of 9/11 have both been blamed on the continuing oppression of Muslim and Arab people in Palestine today, making the conflict acutely relevant - even to us in the United Kingdom - and perhaps it's no coincidence therefore, that the Bible version of the story is about the oppression of Ishmael and Hagar by Sarah and Abraham, and about God's concern to rescue the oppressed. It's never right for one nation or faith to act unjustly towards another, even if the oppressors sincerely believe that God is on their side, for God never condones injustice and cruelty.

The story reminds us, then, of the need for compassion towards people who are different from ourselves, especially when they are in need. This could apply to any refugee or asylum seeker, but also to any minority group which finds itself under pressure from the majority. Today, as we read this story, we need to acknowledge that Muslims in our country sometimes find themselves in an uncomfortable place, vilified because they are considered guilty by association of terrorist outrages and hate-filled preaching. The story reminds us of the need not to over-react but to go on patiently loving our neighbours, whatever their creed.

Romans 6.1b-11
Paul had never been to Rome but his reputation had preceded him. Detractors were saying that he encouraged Christians to feel it was all right to go on sinning because it is God's grace which saves us from condemnation, not any actions of our own.

They had a point, of course. Some Muslim community workers were asked to design a poster for a cultural festival. The organiser wanted his country's national flag printed as the background to the poster itself. But the community workers identified a snag with this. The flag of his country includes the name of God, printed in bold Arabic letters. What if one of the posters dropped off a noticeboard onto the floor and someone accidentally trod on it? They would then be dishonouring the name of God, which is a mortal sin. My immediate reaction on hearing this story was that I was sure God can't be all that concerned about people treading on a poster, and that is essentially a Pauline response to the problem. That is to say, I chose to emphasise God's graciousness over and against the idea of his inflexible holiness and justice. According to Paul, God's default position is to show forgiveness and mercy, to be compassionate and gracious in the face of our weakness and disobedience. All God seeks from us in return is an honest acknowledgement of our sinfulness and of our need for grace.

Of course, it's possible to use this starting point to argue that, if God is always willing to forgive us, it doesn't really matter how we live or what we do. Some of the early Christians interpreted Paul's teaching in exactly this way and thought that he was giving them a licence to behave disreputably without losing favour with God. The Emperor Constantine certainly thought this was what Paul meant. He spent his years as emperor committing crimes which would make modern day politicians seem as white as snow by comparison. But then, on his death bed, he confessed his sins and received Christian baptism. From now on he resolved that he would be a good Christian. Too bad that he was about to die!

But this isn't what Paul means at all. In this passage from his letter to the church at Rome he painstakingly argues that, if we believe in Jesus and in the power of his death to put right our relationship with God, then that belief has to shape - and become the pattern for - the whole of our life. If we believe in the goodness of Jesus, we have to strive to live like him, and if we believe in the power of God's gracious love to free us from sin and disobedience, then we have to begin living in that freedom at once. Anything else would be totally hypocritical.

Because of our trust in God's graciousness, mercy and love we don't have to worry about accidentally dishonouring his name if we step on a poster that's fallen onto the floor. But we do have to respond to his love by treating others with the same graciousness, compassion and forgiveness that we ourselves would like to receive from him.

This is where Abraham and Sarah went wrong in their relationship with Hagar and Ishmael. They thought that they could love and honour God and yet still continue to act unjustly. And, in Sarah's case, she forgot that, if God cared about her and Isaac, he also cared just as much about Hagar and Ishmael. In other words, God has no favourites!

Matthew 10.24-39
This collection of disparate sayings reinforces some of the issues which we have already explored. The disciple has to behave like her master. We can't adopt a radically different lifestyle from Jesus and still claim to be part of his team, nor can we pretend that we are not his followers and expect him to acknowledge before God that we are his friends. But if we are loyal to Jesus we can be sure that, when the going gets tough, he and God will be on our side. Like Ishmael and Hagar in the desert we are never alone. God is with us and cares about us. In fact, as Abraham discovered, God cares about everyone. No one is ever insignificant or unimportant in God's eyes, not even tiny sparrows. And also, like Ishmael and Hagar, we shall find that or relationship with God goes deeper and is more enduring even than our relationship with our own parents or children. Finally, just as Hagar feared that she and her son were about to lose their lives, but then discovered that in God life is never lost, so we shall find that our relationship with God endures even beyond suffering and death.

3 comments:

President Ahmedinajad said...

THE FOLLOWING ISSUE CAN DESTROY ISLAM, ZIONIST RACIST ISRAEL AND THE TEACHINGS OF THE CHURCH AND NOT THE WAY OF JESUS WHICH IS PERFECT. RESEARCH THE BELOW SMALL THESIS to see if there is any truth to it.READ THE FOLLOWING PASSAGES FROM THE BIBLE AS IT HAS IMPLICATIONS ON THE WAR AGAINST TERROR/ISLAM and the claim of Israel that god gave them the land. If the child is an infant than the Judeo-Christian version becomes null and void and we are wasting our time and resources i.e. we could save trillions of dollars and create a more peaceful world rather than fighting against Islam the religion of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).The COVENANT with Abraham and his DESCENDANTS is central to JUDAISM/CHRISTIANITY/ISLAM.Please note this is not a competition between faiths but an attempt to decipher fact from fiction.Genesis 21:14 Contemporary English version se below Link
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=GENESIS%202
Early the next morning Abraham gave Hagar an animal skin full of water and some bread. Then he put the boy on her shoulder and sent them away.
GENESIS 16:16 And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ish’mael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish’mael to Abram.
GENESIS 21:5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.At Genesis 22 Abraham had only 2 sons others came later.The Quran mentions that it was Ishmael that was sacrificed hence the reference in genesis 22:2 your only son can only mean someone has substituted Ishmael names for Isaac!!BY DOING SOME KINDERGARTEN ARITHMATIC USING ARABIC NUMBERS (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)NOT ROMAN NUMERALS (I, II, III,IV,V,VI,VII,VIII,IX,X) NB no concept of zero in roman numerals.
100 years old – 86 years old = 14ADD 3 YEARS FOR ISSAC’S WEANINGTHAT WOULD MAKE ISHMAEL 17 YEARS OLD IN GENESIS 21:14-21 BUT IT IS A DESCRIPTION OF AN INFANT.Carefully read several times the above passage and then tell me the mental picture you get between the mother child interactions what is the age of the child. If the mental picture is that of a 17 year old child being carried on the shoulder of his mother, being physically placed in the bush, crying like a baby, mother having to give him water to drink, than the Islamic viewpoint is null and void. Why is there no verbal communications between mother and (17 YEAR OLD) child?
GENESIS: 21:14 – 21 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the (17 YEAR OLD) child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the (17 YEAR OLD) child under one of the bushes. Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Let me not look upon the death of the (17 YEAR OLD) child.” And as she sat over against him, the (17 YEAR OLD) child lifted up his voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the (17 YEAR OLD) lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the (17 YEAR OLD) lad where he is. Arise, lift up the (17 YEAR OLD) lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the (17 YEAR OLD) lad a drink. And God was with the (17 YEAR OLD) lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.The age of Ishmael at this stage is crucial to the Abrahamic faiths. If he is 17 than the JUDEO/CHRISTIAN point of view about the Abrahamic covenant is correct. This has devastating theological consequences of unimaginable proportions.This makes the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac and there descendants a work of fiction. I would strongly suggest it is clear cut case of racial discrimination and nothing to do with god almighty. The scribes have deliberately tried to make Isaac the only son and legitimate heir to the throne of Abraham??Please can you rationally explain this anomaly?I have asked many persons including my nephews and nieces - unbiased minds with no religious backgrounds but with reasonable command of the English language about this passage and they all agree that the child in the passage is an infant.
AS THE DESCRIPTION OF ISHMAEL IN GENESIS 21:14-21 IS THAT OF AN INFANT IT CAN BE ASSUMED SOMEONE HAS MOVED THIS PASSAGE FROM AN EARLIER PART OF SCRIPTURE!!! AND HAVE GOT THERE KNICKERS IN A TWIST.For background info on the future religion of mankind see the following websites:
http://www.islamicity.com/Mosque/Muhammad_Bible.HTM (MUHAMMAD IN THE BIBLE)
http://bible.islamicweb.com/ http://www.islamicity.com/ http://www.islamonline.net/english/index.shtml http://www.islamalways.com/ http://ifamericansknew.com/
http://www.witness-pioneer.org/vil/Books/MB_BQS/default.htm (BIBLE, QURAN and SCIENCE) http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/ANTI-WAR
http://www.harunyahya.com/(EVOLUTION DECEIPT)
http://www.barnabas.net/
http:/www.answering-christianity.com/ac.htm
HOLY QURAN CHAPTER 37 verses 101 – 122
101. So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear.102. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practising Patience and Constancy!"103. So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah., and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice),104. We called out to him "O Abraham!105. "Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" - thus indeed do We reward those who do right.106. For this was obviously a trial-107. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice:108. And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times:109. "Peace and salutation to Abraham!"110. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.111. For he was one of our believing Servants.112. And We gave him the good news of Isaac - a prophet,- one of the Righteous.113. We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to their own souls.114. Again (of old) We bestowed Our favour on Moses and Aaron,115. And We delivered them and their people from (their) Great Calamity;116. And We helped them, so they overcame (their troubles);117. And We gave them the Book which helps to make things clear;118. And We guided them to the Straight Way.119. And We left (this blessing) for them among generations (to come) in later times:120. "Peace and salutation to Moses and Aaron!"121. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.122. For they were two of our believing Servants.
ISHMAEL IS THE FIRST BORN AND GOOD NEWS OF ISSAC DOES NOT APPEAR UNTIL AFTER THE SACRIFICE?????Therefore the claim that god gave the land to Israel is destroyed without the need of any WMD’s.
HADITH Volume 4, Book 55, Number 583:Narrated Ibn Abbas:
The first lady to use a girdle was the mother of Ishmael. She used a girdle so that she might hide her tracks from Sarah. Abraham brought her and her son Ishmael while she was suckling him, to a place near the Ka'ba under a tree on the spot of Zam-zam, at the highest place in the mosque. During those days there was nobody in Mecca, nor was there any water So he made them sit over there and placed near them a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward.Ishmael's mother followed him saying, "O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?" She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her Then she asked him, "Has Allah ordered you to do so?" He said, "Yes." She said, "Then He will not neglect us," and returned while Abraham proceeded onwards, and on reaching the Thaniya where they could not see him, he faced the Ka'ba, and raising both hands, invoked Allah saying the following prayers:'O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Your Sacred House (Kaba at Mecca) in order, O our Lord, that they may offer prayer perfectly. So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and (O Allah) provide them with fruits, so that they may give thanks.' (14.37) Ishmael's mother went on suckling Ishmael and drinking from the water (she had).When the water in the water-skin had all been used up, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She started looking at him (i.e. Ishmael) tossing in agony; She left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended from Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwa mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Safa and Marwa) seven times."The Prophet said, "This is the source of the tradition of the walking of people between them (i.e. Safa and Marwa). When she reached the Marwa (for the last time) she heard a voice and she asked herself to be quiet and listened attentively. She heard the voice again and said, 'O, (whoever you may be)! You have made me hear your voice; have you got something to help me?" And behold! She saw an angel at the place of Zam-zam, digging the earth with his heel (or his wing), till water flowed from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, using her hand in this way, and started filling her water-skin with water with her hands, and the water was flowing out after she had scooped some of it."The Prophet added, "May Allah bestow Mercy on Ishmael's mother! Had she let the Zam-zam (flow without trying to control it) (or had she not scooped from that water) (to fill her water-skin), Zam-zam would have been a stream flowing on the surface of the earth." The Prophet further added, "Then she drank (water) and suckled her child. The angel said to her, 'Don't be afraid of being neglected, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father, and Allah never neglects His people.'The House (i.e. Kaba) at that time was on a high place resembling a hillock, and when torrents came, they flowed to its right and left. She lived in that way till some people from the tribe of Jurhum or a family from Jurhum passed by her and her child, as they (i.e. the Jurhum people) were coming through the way of Kada'.They landed in the lower part of Mecca where they saw a bird that had the habit of flying around water and not leaving it. They said, 'This bird must be flying around water, though we know that there is no water in this valley.'They sent one or two messengers who discovered the source of water, and returned to inform them of the water. So, they all came (towards the water)." The Prophet added, "Ishmael's mother was sitting near the water. They asked her, 'Do you allow us to stay with you?" She replied, 'Yes, but you will have no right to possess the water.' They agreed to that."The Prophet further said, "Ishmael's mother was pleased with the whole situation as she used to love to enjoy the company of the people. So, they settled there, and later on they sent for their families who came and settled with them so that some families became permanent residents there. The child (i.e. Ishmael) grew up and learnt Arabic from them and (his virtues) caused them to love and admire him as he grew up, and when he reached the age of puberty they made him marry a woman from amongst them.

METHODISTBISHOP said...

I take it that you are not really President Ahmedinajad, so I wonder why you have chosen this pseudonym.

I suspect the Hadith has indeed preserved a more accurate version of this story, as you say. I am not sure this totally counteracts Israel's claim to Palestine, however, since this is based on God's promise to Abraham - and all his descendants, including Israel. What it does have a bearing on is Israel's exclusive claim to Palestine. The claim of many in Israel that God has given them the land of Palestine, and tough luck therefore on all its other inhabitants, cannot be justified from a reading of the Judaeo-Christian scriptures in their entirety, though it can be justified by taking a few passages in isolation.

None of this has any bearing on the teachings of the Church which - like Islam - does not base its link to Abraham on biological descent. Anyone can become a follower either of Islam or Christianity, and so claim that they are inheritors of the promises made to Abraham, whereas for Orthodox Jews, biological descent from Abraham - and Isaac - actually matters.

Anonymous said...

You make the comment "Whereas the Bible sees Ishmael as the illegitimate son, cast off by his father and sent out into the desert to carve out a new life for himself apart from the chosen people..."

Look at Genesis 17;20; 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.

and Genesis 21;
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham: 'Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.'
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight on account of his son.
12 And God said unto Abraham: 'Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall seed be called to thee.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.'

Conclusion
To claim that Ismail is the illegitimate son of Ibrahim is to insult Ibrahim himself and Jesus's forefather, not the sign of a very good Christian!

29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave.
John14;29-31)

Regards

sherazshahid@hotmail.com
Yorkshire