Citation for Ismail

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"Ismail." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. Ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 17, 2022. <>.


"Ismail." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. , edited by John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed May 17, 2022).


Son of Abraham

Ismail was the firstborn son of Abraham, the patriarch (founding father) of Judaism and Islam according to both the Qur'an and the Bible. Muslims trace their religious roots to Abraham through Ismail. Jews, in contrast, trace their spiritual lineage to Abraham through Ismail's younger half-brother Isaac.

The Qur'an and the Hebrew Bible agree about Ismail on several points. Both scriptures describe Abraham and his wife Sarah as having been unable to conceive a child for many years. Although Sarah was very old, God had promised her a child. Sarah, nevertheless, persuaded Abraham to have a child with Hagar, her Egyptian maidservant. Hagar bore Abraham a son, Ismail. Several years later, Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac. Sarah then became jealous of Hagar and Ismail because, as Abraham's first-born son, Ismail was heir to his father's inheritance. Sarah pressured her husband to send Hagar and Ismail away, which greatly distressed Abraham. At first he resisted Sarah's demands, but he finally gave in after God promised to make Ismail the father of a great nation. The Qur'an and the Old Testament both describe how Hagar and Ismail nearly died of thirst in the desert but were saved by God, who provided them with a spring of water that miraculously flowed from the sand.

The Qur'an differs from the Bible, however, on several other points concerning Ismail. In the Old Testament, God tests Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. The Qur'an does not specify which son God asked Abraham to sacrifice, but Islamic scholars believe that the son in question was Ismail. Muslims believe that Abraham and Ismail demonstrated their faith by accepting God's command. Jews and Muslims agree that, in the end, God spared the life of Abraham's son.

Islamic scriptures also diverge from the Bible about Ismail's fate after he was sent into the desert. The Qur'an describes how Hagar and her son eventually settled near Mecca. Abraham later sought them out and was reunited with them. After hearing about their near death in the desert and how God had saved them, Abraham wanted honor their God. He and Ismail rebuilt the Kaaba, a holy shrine in Mecca. Many Muslims believe that Adam had built the original Kaaba as the first temple of the one true God, but that a flood had destroyed it.

According to Islamic sources, polytheists took over Mecca in the years following Ismail's death and filled the Kaaba with many idols. In the early 400s, Ismail's descendants, called the Quraysh, who were also polytheists, recaptured the city. In 630 Muhammad, who had emigrated from Mecca several years earlier, returned triumphantly from his exile and cleansed the Kaaba of its idols, finally restoring the monotheistic religion of Abraham to Mecca.

Muslims today continue to remember Ismail in their worship practices. They consider the Kaaba he helped build as their most sacred site. They believe that Ismail and Abraham placed the Black Stone inside the cube-shaped structure as a symbol of God's covenant with his people. Each day, Muslims around the world turn in the direction of the Kaaba to pray.

Ismail's experience is also an important part of Muslim pilgrimage rites. As part of their journey to Mecca, pilgrims drink from the well of Zamzam, which they believe to be the water that God provided for Hagar and Ismail. Pilgrims also visit the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son. They throw stones at three pillars, symbolizing their rejection of the devil, who tried to tempt Abraham into disobeying God's command to sacrifice his son. See also Abraham; Kaaba.

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