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Children of Abraham?

Reader comment on item: Is Allah God?

Submitted by Michael Spielholz (United States), Jun 30, 2005 at 17:19

In the article "Is Allah God?" reference is made to "a common 'children of Abraham' bond" that exists between Jews and Muslims. But does this bond truly exist or is it a myth? The relevant information can be found in S. D. Goitein's "Jews and Arabs." In that book, Goitein states that although Jews and Arabs, and by extension Jews and Muslims, might somehow be related, there is no definitive proof of the matter. "To be sure, there is no record in the Bible showing that Ishmael was the forefather of the 'Arabs'. . . ." (p. 21) "The idea that Jews and Arabs are 'cousins' through Ishmael and Isaac, the sons of Abraham, was not an indigenous tradition, either in the Bible or among the ancient Arabs." (p. 22)

How, then, did the idea that Jews and Arabs are related come about? According to Goitein, it happened in the following manner: "Ishmael obviously was a very ancient tribe which vanished soon from history, and therefore the word Ishmaeli came to be used, even in the Bible, as a common noun denoting a desert people of camel-breeders who engaged in raids or overland transport. . . ." (p. 21) "It is therefore not surprising that when, during the period of the Second Temple, the Jewish people had many dealings with Arab tribes . . . the term Ishmaeli was extended to them. . . ." (p. 22) "The Jewish notion that the Arabs are Ishmaelites and hence the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, was taken over by the Arabs themselves. At a later stage in Muhammad's career he made this a cornerstone of his new creed." (p. 22)

And how, according to Goitein, did Abraham come to be known as the spiritual father of Islam? "In chapter 2, verse 125, of the Koran, Muhammad has Ishmael help his father, Abraham, convert the Ka'ba of Mecca into a shrine of the true religion, thus making Abraham, the presumed physical ancestor of the Arabs, also the founder of Islam, their religion" (p. 22).

Jewish-Muslim dialogue is of course extremely important, but it needn't be carried out in the shadow of dubious "facts."
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