Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Response to a Christian About the Biblical Story of Ishmael and Isaac - Part Four

Ishmael and Isaac in the Bible: A Response to a Christian’s Objections, Part Four 

This article is a continuation of our discussion with a Christian from the IslamiCity Discussion Forum on the inconsistencies and contradictions of the Biblical story of Ishmael and Isaac.  In the most recent reply, the Christian began with yet another ad hominem attack.  He wrote:       
“Here is a perfect example of the Ahmed Deedat (A Muslim Debater) syndrome. That is, to discredit the Bible if it is not in harmony with the Koran and to take things out of context.”

We see yet again the Christian’s tendency to go into verbal tirades and his obsession with Ahmed Deedat.  Let us see if he actually provides a substantive argument for once. 
He wrote:

  “The subject at hand is whether the term “only son” was appropriately used when God used it in reference to Isaac, the only son of Abraham and Sarah. A term in which Muslims vehemently need to deny tooth and nail and I’ll explain why later. First let me say, Christians believe whole heartedly that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that it has been preserved by God over the centuries. Muslims feel that the Koran was transmitted to Muhammad through an angel, much later identified as Gabriel and that it too has been preserved by Allah.”

So far, the Christian has not offered any real argument.  It is already well-known what Christians believe about the Bible and what Muslims believe about the Quran.  What is his point?  

Through all his attacks on the motives of Muslims, he never seems to realize the other side of the coin, which he represents.  Has it ever occurred to him that his “vehement need to [defend] tooth and nail…” the Biblical story (despite its obvious contradictions) is due to his “Christian apologist syndrome”?  So why waste time questioning motives?  Why not just respond like a mature individual to the actual issues?

Next, the Christian stated:

“However, to believe Muhammad, one would need to accept Ishmael. Why? Because Muslims claim that Muhammad is a descendant of Ishmael and that God’s promise to Ishmael was that he would become a nation.  But, little do they know that’s all he would become, a nation of people, nothing more, nothing less. Not a nation of Kings and certainly not of prophets.”

This is nothing more than a red herring which fails to deal with the contradictions in the story.  The Christian has failed to refute our points about the contradictory descriptions about Ishmael (describing him as a young man yet using the Hebrew word “hay-ye-led” which means child) or the contradiction in referring to Isaac as the “only son” yet referring to Ishmael as Abraham’s son a few chapters later (during the latter’s burial)!

            He then stated:        

“So for a Muslim, Ishmael is the key to Abraham which the connection to Muhammad is allegedly made, although Muhammad himself never claimed to be a descendant of Ishmael.”

Again, the Christian resorts to a red herring.  We have yet to see any direct response to any of the points raised in the last article.

            Nevertheless, the above statement (though completely unrelated to the topic) can be very easily refuted.  First, even if Muhammad (peace be upon him) “never claimed to be a descendant of Ishmael”, that does not mean he could not be a prophet.  Unlike the Bible, which paints a very narrow-minded view of God choosing only Hebrew prophets, the Quran states unequivocally that Allah (swt) chose prophets from all nations:

“To every people (was sent) a messenger: when their messenger comes (before them), the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.”[1]

Hence, a person did not need to be a descendant of either Ibrahim or Ishmael (peace be upon them) in order to “qualify” as a prophet or messenger.  Allah (swt) chose the righteous from every nation as His prophets and messengers.

            In any case, there is evidence from the words of the Quran and the words of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that show that he was a descendant of Ibrahim and Ishmael (peace be upon them).  First, the Quran states that when Ibrahim and Ishmael (peace be upon them) built the Kaaba, they made a prayer to Allah (swt) to guide their progeny:

“‘Our Lord! Make of us Muslims, bowing to Thy (Will), and of our progeny a people Muslim, bowing to Thy (will); and show us our place for the celebration of (due) rites; and turn unto us (in Mercy); for Thou art the Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.  Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall rehearse Thy Signs to them and instruct them in scripture and wisdom, and sanctify them: For Thou art the Exalted in Might, the Wise.’”[2]

In their prayer, Ibrahim and Ishmael (peace be upon them) asked Allah (swt) to guide their “progeny”[3] and to send among them a messenger.  This messenger was Muhammad (peace be upon him), as all scholars of Islam agree.  

            Second, Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself did claim descent through Ibrahim and Ishmael (peace be upon them) by referring to their prayer.  Ibn Kathir mentions in his commentary the following statement of the Prophet:

“I am the supplication of my father Ibrahim, the good news of Jesus, the son of Mary, and my mother saw a light that radiated from her which illuminated the castles of Ash-Sham (Syria).”[4]

As we can see, the Christian’s claim is not only an attempt at distracting from the Biblical contradictions but it is also completely inaccurate.

            Next, he stated:

“But, for argument sake let’s say that he was, Ishmael and other descendants of Abraham would never be an heir to the throne of David, why? Because the promise of a Kingdom was made only to Isaac and his line of descendants which the Messiah Jesus Christ would come through. So you can see why it’s imperative that Muslims claim Ishmael as the “only child” of sacrifice and not Isaac.”

Again, this is distracting from the issue at hand.  Not only that, but the Christian again goes off on tangents and makes bizarre statements.  Where did we ever claim that “Ishmael and other descendants of Abraham” were “heir[s] to the throne of David”?  
            Next, the Christian stated:

“Muslims thus say it was Ishmael that was about to be offered up as a sacrifice and not Isaac, another account that is taken out of context by the Deedat syndrome in order to fit the Koran’s account of Abraham and Hagar rather than Abraham and Sarah. How did Isaac come to be Abraham’s and Sarah ‘only son?’ I’m getting to it but you must read it in its full context!

This is just more repetition of the same argument which has yet to actually provide a reasonable explanation for why the Bible referred to Isaac as the “only son” when in fact Abraham had two sons, with Ishmael being the eldest.  This individual seems to have a pretty bad case of “Christian apologist syndrome”. 
            The Christian then stated:

Genesis 21:10 reads So she said to Abraham: “Drive out this slave girl and her son, for the son of this slave girl is not going to be an heir along with my son, with Isaac!”
Right from the start Ishmael displayed bad traits and had to be driven away. Was her request backed up by the God of Abraham? Yes!
Genesis 21:12 Then God said to Abraham: “Do not be displeased by what Sarah is saying to you about the boy and about your slave girl. Listen to her, for what will be called your offspring/seed will be through Isaac. So the Bible’s view is that Abraham’s seed for blessing all mankind would come through Isaac, not Ishmael.”

Again, this does nothing to refute the contradiction of referring to Isaac as the “only son”!  In fact, the Christian very conveniently ignored the next verse (Genesis 21:13) in which Ishmael is clearly referred by God as Abraham’s “offspring” and we pointed this out in our previous articles:

“I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

So, let us ask again the questions that the Christian seems unwilling or unable to answer:
Why does the Bible refer to Isaac as the “only son” when Ishmael was also Abraham’s son?  Why does the Bible contradict itself by referring to Ishmael as Abraham’s son both before and after the sacrifice episode?
            The Christian then stated:

But why did God favor Sarah and not Hagar?

Genesis 17:19 To this God said: “Sarah your wife is indeed bearing you a son, and you must call his name Isaac. And I will establish my covenant with him for a covenant to time indefinite to his seed after him. God himself laid down the LAW for an everlasting covenant with Sarah’s son Isaac! What about Ishmael? As promised he would still be fruitful and become a nation of people.

Genesis 17:20 But as regards Ish′ma·el I have heard you. Look! I will bless him and will make him fruitful and will multiply him very, very much.

But again, God is laying down the LAW for Israel and not for Islam by repeating it.
Genesis 17:21 However, my covenant I shall establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this appointed time next year.

Although this fact is plain and simple and repeated by Abraham’s God over and over again, it cannot be true according to Muslims, why? Because the covenant is with Isaac and not with Ishmael, The Ahmed Deedat syndrome in effect.”

We are still not getting any substantive rebuttal.  The Christian keeps referring to the covenant even though we never questioned the Bible in that regard.  The question is why the Bible refers to Isaac as the “only son”.  Since when does taking a covenant with one son automatically invalidate the other son?  Was Nathan no longer David’s son since God chose Solomon?[5]  We invite the Christian to use his reason.

            Next, he stated:

“Why in Genesis 22:2 did God say “Take, please, your son, your only son?” Because, here, Isaac was the only son of Sarah and the only son remaining in Abraham’s household at the time that God spoke these words.”

How does this explain the use of the phrase “only son”?  Even if Ishmael was not physically in the household, was he not still Abraham’s son?  Would Abraham not have understood if God simply said “Take, please, your son…”?  Would he have become confused over whether God was referring to Ishmael, who was very far away at the time, or to Isaac, who was probably just a few feet away?  The Christian is resorting to a non-sequitur fallacy. 

            The Christian then stated:

Qur’an translator Ali admits that “Muslim tradition . . . is not unanimous on this point. Even Some Moslem writers agree with the Biblical account that Isaac was the prospective sacrifice.”

We should point out that the Christian has clearly not read Yusuf Ali’s commentary on the Quran but has rather plagiarized this statement from like-minded Christian sources from the internet.[6]  Let us read what Yusuf Ali actually stated in his commentary on the relevant verses in Surah As-Saffat.  Regarding verse 101 (which states that Allah answered Ibrahim’s prayer for a son), Ali wrote:

“This was in the fertile land of Syria and Palestine. The boy thus born was, according to Muslim tradition, the first-born son of Abraham, viz., Ismail. The name itself is from the root Samia, to hear, because Allah had heard Abraham's prayer (verse 100).”[7]

Clearly, the Christian detractor did not actually read Yusuf Ali’s commentary.  He simply copied a like-minded source from the internet!  I suppose we can call this “plagiarizing syndrome”, which appears to be a category of “Christian apologist syndrome”!

            The Christian stated next:

“The Qur’an itself highlights another aspect of Jesus’ activity that further helps us to identify him as the promised seed through whom blessings would come to mankind. At Sura 5:113 we read: “Then will God say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! . . . thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My [God’s] leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. . . . thou didst show them [the Israelites] the Clear Signs.”

We have to ask what this has to do with the topic at hand.  Isa (peace be upon him) is a beloved prophet in Islam.[8]  How does going off on tangents about the place of the prophet Isa (peace be upon him) in Islam help to explain the obvious contradictions in the Bible?  Why cannot this Christian offer a sensible argument for once?[9]  

            The irony is that had the Christian actually bothered to check his source, he would have realized that the source he plagiarized from did not even get the verse number correct for the above quote from the Quran.  It was not Surah Al-Maeda (5:113), but rather 5:110, which states:

“Then will Allah say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel and behold!  Thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold!  Thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: 'This is nothing but evident magic.'”

This future event will occur on the Day of Judgment and refers to Isa’s prophethood to the Children of Israel as mentioned in Surah Al-Imran, 3:48-49:

“‘And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel,  "And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): "'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe;’”

In contrast, the Quran states that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent to all mankind:

“O Mankind! The Messenger hath come to you in truth from Allah: believe in him: It is best for you. But if ye reject Faith, to Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth: And Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.”[10]

Undoubtedly, the Christian has no business quoting the Quran since he obviously has never read it and can only plagiarize material from the internet.

            Next, the Christian attempted to summarize his fallacious claims:

“No wonder the Koran never specifies the boy by name in Sura 37:101, 102, it would have caused more of a division within Islam. It would have been a perfect opportunity to mention Ishmael by name in this account but it doesn’t. It is obvious that Muslims so badly need Ishmael and his offspring to claim “heir” to the everlasting covenant that was promised to Isaac and his offspring. This is key in order for Muslims to claim Muhammad as an descendant/messenger/prophet of Ishmael although Muhammad himself never made the claim.”

As can be seen from the points we have made so far, the Christian’s claims are patently false.  As for the “division” he refers to, the disagreements among Muslim scholars regarding the identity of the son has never been an issue of great contention or controversy.  Nevertheless, the minority view that Isaac (peace be upon him) was the child of sacrifice is not supported by the context of the verses in question.  In fact, we previously mentioned Yusuf Ali’s commentary (which the Christian would have known if only he had actually read it), which made an excellent point of why the son was Ishmael (peace be upon him):

“The boy thus born was, according to Muslim tradition, the first-born son of Abraham, viz., Ismail. The name itself is from the root Samia, to hear, because Allah had heard Abraham's prayer (verse 100).”

Even the Bible agrees with the Quran on the meaning of Ishmael’s name, as can be seen from Genesis 16:11:

“The angel of the Lord also said to her: ‘You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son.  You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.”

The New International Version states that “Ishmael” means “God hears”.[11]  Hence, we can see even more proof from the Quran that the son to be sacrificed was indeed Ishmael (peace be upon him).  He was born after Ibrahim (peace be upon him) prayed to Allah (swt) to grant him a son (Surah 37:100), a prayer which Allah (swt) answered (verse 101).

            Next, the Christian stated (emphasis in the original):

“But, as you can see it was after Ishmael and Hagar was dismissed from the scene all together the scriptures appropriately used the term ‘only son’ not before they were dismissed as islamispeace link alleges. It also must be emphasized that the Bible mentions Isaac by name several times but the Koran leaves out Ishmael name all together in regards to which son Abraham was going to sacrifice.”

Again, the Christian misrepresents what we actually wrote and is also changing what he originally stated.  He is clearly not paying much attention.  In his previous response, the Christian had stated:

“#5 It was after Hagar and Ishmael was dismissed from Abraham’s household the promise and or covenant was made, who at that time the “only” son of Abraham and Sarah was Isaac.”

It should be noticed that he had originally made the claim that the covenant with Isaac had been made after Ishmael and Hagar were “dismissed”.  We refuted this claim using the Bible.  Instead of admitting his mistake, the Christian instead misquoted our response and changed his argument.  We never denied that the term “only son” was used after Ishmael was banished and the Christian never previously referred to this.

            In any case, the Christian has yet to offer a strong reason for why the phrase “only son” had to be used.  Isaac was not the only son, even if he was the only one physically present in Abraham’s household.  Surely, Abraham did not need to be reminded that Isaac was in his house and not Ishmael!  Instead, the phrase suggests that the editors of the Bible altered the story for their own nefarious purposes.  We have already provided strong evidence for this in the original article as well in our previous three rebuttals to the Christian.

            Finally, the Christian closed off his diatribe with the following remarks:

“To sum this up, the Koran or Muhammad never, ever mentions Ishmael as the [child] of sacrifice. And the Koran and Muhammad never, ever mention himself as a descendant of Ishmael. Why would the Koran and Muhammad leave these very important items out, which would confirm and validate Islam’s messenger Muhammad? Simply, because he was not an heir to an everlasting covenant, only Isaac, the ‘only’ son of Abraham and Sarah.”

We refuted these statements above and exposed the Christian’s abhorrent ignorance of the Quran as well as his proclivity to shamelessly plagiarize material from the internet.  It should be noted that the Christian has yet to refute any of the points we raised and has never admitted to the mistakes he has made in quoting his own Bible!  Readers can see the previous three rebuttals for the growing list of issues the Christian has tried to avoid responding to.  We will list a few here:

  • The meaning of the Hebrew word “hay-ye-led” is “child”. 
  • The status of Hagar as a legitimate wife of Abraham. 
  • The absence of the story of Ishmael’s birth in the Dead Sea scroll 4Q225 (a clear attempt to eliminate the contradictory nature of the Biblical story). 
  • The promise/covenant with Isaac was made before Ishmael and Hagar were sent out but after the “covenant of circumcision”. 
  • The status of Ishmael as a legitimate son of Abraham and a member of his household even after the exile and at the time of the sacrifice.

One may ask why the Christian wants to ignore these questions.  Why is he ignoring the truth?  Does he think that ignoring the truth will make it go away?  If so, he can be assured that the truth will not go away.  As Marsha Norman said:

People do think that if they avoid the truth, it might change to something better before they have to hear it.
And Allah knows best!

[1] Surah Yunus, 10:47 (Yusuf Ali Translation).  See also Surah An-Nahl, 16:36.

[2] Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:128-129.

[3] The Arabic word used” is “ذُرِّيَّتِنَا”, which can mean “progeny, offspring, children [or] race” (John Penrice, “A Dictionary Glossary of the Koran”, p. 51).

[5] According to the Bible, the Messiah would be a direct descendant of David through Solomon, not Nathan (http://www.chabad.org/library/moshiach/article_cdo/aid/1714864/jewish/Is-the-Messiah-a-Descendant-of-King-Solomon.htm). 

[6] The Christian probably plagiarized this statement from one of the following websites:

In all probability, each of the authors in these links copied an article found on the “Answering-Islam” website, where ironically, the author deliberately misquoted the Yusuf Ali commentary.  See the next note for the explanation.

This is sadly not an uncommon tactic among Christian apologists.  They pretend to have done the requisite research but have usually just resorted to a Google search to find any source which agrees with them (usually another Christian apologetic source).  I have witnessed this behavior in many discussions with Christians. 

In the “Answering-Islam” article, the author deceptively made the following claim about Ali’s commentary on the identity of the son:

“The ambiguity of the text has left many Islamic scholars guessing as to whether the child was Isaac or Ishmael. Yusuf Ali makes a note of this in his commentary:

"This (i.e. the child promised to Abraham and later commanded to be sacrificed) was in the fertile land of Syria and Palestine. The boy thus born, was, according to Muslim tradition (which however is not unanimous on this point), the first-born son of Abraham, viz Ishmael ..."”

As we just saw, Ali’s commentary states no such thing.  While there is some “disagreement” among scholars, the majority view is that Ishmael (peace be upon him) was the son to be sacrificed.  Surely, it would be silly to believe that just because there is “disagreement”, we cannot identify the son.  The view that it was Ishmael (peace be upon him) clearly makes more sense from the context of the ayat in question.  However, it should also be pointed out that those Muslim scholars who did believe that Isaac (peace be upon him) was the son to be sacrificed nevertheless did not see it as a problem for Islam.  Does it really matter who the son was?  Indeed, if it was Isaac (peace be upon him), it would not be a big deal, for he too was a righteous servant of Allah (swt) whom Muslims love and respect.

[8] For the Muslim perspective, the reader should read our article “Jesus in the Bible and the Quran: A Comparative Analysis”.

[9] In any case, this statement was also directly plagiarized from the internet.  It seems that the Christian’s “research” was limited to a Google search which yielded the following link (which we listed above as one of the possible sources the Christian plagiarized from).  It seems clear that he did indeed plagiarize from this link:

[10] Suran An-Nisa, 4:170.  The Christian would be wise to listen to this advice!

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