Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, is important in the religion of Islam. The Qur’an says that he was a prophet and an apostle (see Qur’an Sura 19:54). Arabic Muslims trace a lot of their lineage back to Ishmael. When we go back to Genesis and the conversation that the Angel of the Lord had with Hagar, Ishmael’s mother, we see an important word for Muslims. The Angel told her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand” (Genesis 16:9). The key word is “submit.” The word Muslim means “one who submits,” and Muslims believe that Abraham coined the term. According to Islamic tradition, Abraham and Ishmael traveled to Mecca and there they built the Kaaba. The Kaaba is the holy shrine in Mecca where every Muslim is supposed to make a pilgrimage at least once during their lifetime. They believe that Abraham and Ishmael are buried in Mecca, even though the Bible says Abraham is buried in Hebron, in the cave of Machpelah in Israel.

Here is an interesting note: The sacred shrine, the Kaaba, was once a shrine that housed 360 different idols, representing 360 gods worshiped by the various Arab tribes in the region. Allah was one of those gods, a moon god, until Muhammad claimed that Allah was the one true god. In his fervor to unify all of the tribes, he squelched the worship of all other gods, killed anyone who did not submit to his perspective, and established Islam. Fascinating, isn’t it, that what today is called one of the three great monotheistic religions actually began as a polytheistic religion?

This is also interesting prophetically because Muhammad himself is called the prophet of the sword and traced his lineage back to Ishmael, of whom it was foretold, “His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (Genesis 16:12). This is especially interesting, considering that Islam itself divides the entire world into two and only two camps. The first camp is the house of Islam, the house of those who submit. The other one, if you’re not Muslim, is the house of war. You’re either Muslim and of the house of Islam, or you’re of the house of war. The Qur’an has 109 verses called war verses. One out of every fifty-five verses in the Qur’an is about making war or feuding against others—either in an inclusive statement or a call to arms. In light of Ishmael’s origins and the prediction made about him and those who would follow him, it’s helpful to understand Islamic history, traditions, and views.

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Skip Heitzig, author of The Bible from 30,000 Feet, is pastor-teacher of Calvary Church, ministering to more than 15,000 people weekly. He holds a DD and PhD from Trinity Southwest University and has a popular multimedia teaching ministry that includes print, audio, and online resources. Skip and his wife, Lenya, reside in New Mexico and have one son and two grandchildren.