There is a very, very ancient religious dispute between the Ishmaelites and the Israelites about the questions con- cerning the Birthright and the Covenant. The readers of the Bible and the Qur'an are familiar with the story of the great Prophet Abraham and his two sons Ishmael (Isma'il) and Isaac (Ishaq). The story of Abraham's call from the Ur of the Chaldees, and that of his descendants until the death of his grandson Joseph in Egypt, is written in The Book of Genesis (chapters xi.-l). In his genealogy as recorded in Genesis, Abraham is the twentieth from Adam, and a con- temporary of Nimrod, who built the stupendous Tower of Babel.
The early story of Abraham in the Ur of Chaldea, though not mentioned in the Bible, is recorded by the famous Jewish historian Joseph Flavius in his Antiquities and is also confirmed by the Qur'an. But the Bible expressly tells us that the father of Abraham, Terah, was an idolater (Jos. xxiv. 2, 14). Abraham manifested his love and zeal for God when he entered into the temple and destroyed all the idols and images therein, and thus he was a true prototype of his illustrious descendant Prophet Muhammad. He came out unhurt and triumphantly from the burning furnace wherein he was cast by the order of Nimrod. He leaves his native land for Haran in the company of his father and his nephew Lot. He was seventy-five years old when his father died at Haran. In obedience and absolute resignation to the divine call, he leaves his country and starts on a long and varied journey to the land of Canaan, to Egypt and to Arabia. His wife Sarah is barren; yet God announces to him that he is destined to become the father of many nations, that all the territories he is to traverse shall be given as an inheritance to his descendants, and that, "by his seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed"! This wonderful and unique promise in the history of religion was met with an unshaken faith on the part of Abraham, who had no issue, no son. When he was led out to look at the sky at night and told by Allah that his posterity would be as numerous as the stars, and as innumerable as the sand which is on the shores of the sea, Abraham believed it. And it was this belief in God, that "was counted righteousness," as the Scripture says.
A virtuous poor Egyptian girl, Hagar by name, is a slave and a maid in the service of Sarah. At the bidding and consent of the mistress the maidservant is duly married by the Prophet, and from this union Ishmael is born, as fore- told by the Angel. When Ishmael is thirteen years old, Allah again sends His Angel with His revelation to Abraham; the same promise is repeated to Abraham; the rite of Circumcision is formally instituted and immediately executed. Abraham, at his ninetieth year of age, Ishmael, and all the male servants, are circumcised; and the "Covenant" between God and Abraham with his only begotten son is made and sealed, as if it were with the blood of circumcision. It is a kind of treaty concluded between Heaven and the Promised Land in the person of Ishmael as the only offspring of the nonagenarian Patriarch. Abraham promises allegiance and fealty to his Creator, and God promises to be forever the Protector and God of the posterity of Ishmael.
Later on - that is to say, when Abraham was ninety- nine years old and Sarah ninety, we find that she also bears a son whom they name Isaac according to the Divine promise.
As no chronological order is observed in the Book of Genesis, we are told that after the birth of Isaac, Ishmael and his mother are turned out and sent away by Abraham in a most cruel manner, simply because Sarah so wished. Ishmael and his mother disappear in the desert, a fountain bursts out when the youth is on the point of death from thirst; he drinks and is saved. Nothing more is heard of Ishmael in the Book of Genesis except that he married an Egyptian woman, and when Abraham died he was present together with Isaac to bury their dead father.
Then the Book of Genesis continues the story of Isaac, his two sons, and the descent of Jacob into Egypt, and ends with the death of Joseph.
The next important event in the history of Abraham as recorded in Genesis (xxii.) is the offering of "his only son" a sacrifice to God, but he was ransomed with a ram which was presented by an angel. As the Qur'an says, "That was indeed a clear trial" for Abraham (Qur'an, Ch. 38:106), but his love for God surpassed every other affection; and for this reason he is called the Friend of Allah, "Allah has taken Abraham for a Friend". (Qur'an)
Thus runs the brief account of Abraham in connection with our subject of the Birthright and the Covenant.
There are three distinct points which every true believer in God must accept as truths. The first point is that Ishmael is the legitimate son of Abraham, his first-born, and therefore his claim to birthright is quite just and legal. The second point is that the Covenant was made between God and Abra- ham as well as his only son Ishmael before Isaac was born. The Covenant and the institution of the Circumcision would have no value or signification unless the repeated promise contained in the Divine words, "Throughout thee all the nations of the earth shall be blessed," and especially the expression, the Seed "that shall come out from the bowels, he will inherit thee" (Gen. xv. 4). This promise was fulfilled when Ishmael was born (Gen. xvi.), and Abraham had the consolation that his chief servant Eliezer would no longer be his heir. Consequently we must admit that Ishmael was the real and legitimate heir of Abraham's spiritual dignity and privileges. The perogative that "by Abraham all the gene- rations of the earth shall be blessed, "so often repeated - though in different forms - was the heritage by birthright, and was the patrimony of Ishmael. The inheritance to which Ishmael was entitled by birthright was not the tent in which Abraham lived or a certain camel upon which he used to ride, but to subjugate and occupy forever all the territories extending from the Nile to the Euphrates, which were inhabited by some ten different nations (xvii. 18-21). These lands have never been subdued by the descendants of Isaac, but by those of Ishmael. This is an actual and literal fulfillment of one of the conditions contained in the Covenent.
The third point is that Isaac was also born miraculously and specially blessed by the Almighty, that for his people the land of Canaan was promised and actually occupied under Joshua. No Muslim ever thinks of disparaging the sacred and prophetical position of Isaac and his son Jacob; for to disparage or to lower a Prophet is an impiety. When we compare Ishmael and Isaac, we cannot but reverence and respect them both as holy Prophets of God. In fact, the people of Israel, with its Law and sacred Scriptures, have had a unique religious history in the Old World. They were indeed the Chosen People of God. Although that people have often rebelled against God, and fallen into idolatry, yet they have given to the world myriads of prophets and righteous men and women.
So far there could be no real point of controversy between the descendants of Ishmael and the people of Israel. For if by "Blessing" and the "Birthright" it meant only some material possessions and power, the dispute would be settled as it has been settled by sword and the accomplished fact of the Arab occupation of the promised lands. Rather, there is a fundamental point of dispute between the two nations now existing for nearly four thousand years; and that point is the question of the Messiah and Prophet Muhammad. The Jews do not see the fulfillment of the so-called Messianic prophecies either in the person of Christ or in that of Prophet Muhammad. The Jews have always been jealous of Ishmael because they know very well that in him the Covenant was made and with his circumcision it was concluded and sealed, and it is out of this rancor that their scribes or doctors of law have corrupted and interpolated many passages in their Scriptures. To efface the name "Ishmael" from the second, sixth, and seventh verses of the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis and to insert in its place "Isaac," and to leave the descriptive epithet "thy only begotten son" is to deny the existence of the former and to violate the Covenant made between God and Ishmael. It is expressly said in this chapter by God: "Because thou didst not spare thy only begotten son, I will increase and multiply thy posterity like the stars and the sands on the seashore," which word "multiply" was used by the Angel to Hagar in the wilderness: I will multiply thy offspring to an innumerable multitude, and that Ishmael "shall become a fruitful man" (Gen. xvi. 12). Now the Christians have translated the same Hebrew word, which means "fruitful" or "plentiful" from the verb para - identical with the Arabic wefera - in their versions "a wild ass"! Is it not a shame and impiety to call Ishmael "a wild ass" whom God styles "Fruitful" or "Plentiful"?
It is very remarkable that Christ himself, as reported in the Gospel of St. Barnabas, reprimanded the Jews who said that the Great Messenger whom they call "Messiah" would come down from the lineage of King David, telling them plainly that he could not be the son of David, for David calls him "his Lord," and then went on to explain how their fathers had altered the Scriptures, and that the Covenant was made, not with Isaac, but with Ishmael, who was taken to be offered a sacrifice to God, and that the expression "thy only begotten son" means Ishmael, and not Isaac. Paul, who pretends to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, uses some irreverent words about Hagar (Gal. vi. 21-31 and elsewhere) and Ishmael, and openly contradicts his Master. This man has done all he could to pervert and mislead the Christians whom he used to persecute before his conversion; and I doubt very much that the Jesus of Paul was Jesus, the son of Mary who according to Christian traditions was hanged on a tree about a century or so before Christ, for his Messianic pretensions. In fact, the Epistles of Paul as they stand before us are full of doctrines entirely repugnant to the spirit of the Old Testament, as well as to that of the humble Prophet, Jesus of Nazareth. Paul was a bigoted Pharisee and a lawyer. After his conversion to Christianity he seems to have become even more fanatical than ever. His hatred to Ishmael and his claim to the birthright makes him forget or overlook the Law of Moses which forbids a man to marry his own sister under the pain of capital penalty. If Paul were inspired by God, he would have either denounced the Book of Genesis as full of forgeries when it says twice (xii. 10-20, xx. 2-18) that Abraham was the husband of his own sister, or that he would have exposed the Prophet to be a liar! (God forbid). But he believes in the words of the book, and his con- science does not torment him in the least when he identifies Hagar with the barren desert of the Sinai, and qualifies Sarah as the Jerusalem above in heaven! (Gal. iv. 25, 26). Did ever Paul read this anathema of the Law:-
"Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people say: Amen"? (Duet. xxvii. 22).
Is there a human or divine law that would consider more legitimate one who is the son of his own uncle and aunt than he whose father is a Chaldean and his mother an Egyptian? Have you anything to say against the chastity and the piety of Hagar? Of course not, for she was the wife of a Prophet and the mother of a Prophet, and herself favored with Divine revelations.
The God who made the Covenant with Ishmael thus prescribes the law of inheritance, namely: If a man has two wives, one beloved and the other despised, and each one has a son, and if the son of the despised wife is the first-born, that son, and not the son of the beloved wife, is entitled to the birthright. Consequently the first-born shall inherit twice that of his brother. (Duet. xxi. 15-17). Is not, then, this law explicit enough to put to silence all who dispute the just claim of Ishmael to birthright?
Now let us discuss this question of the birthright as briefly as we can. We know that Abraham was a nomad chief as well as a Messenger of God, and that he used to live in a tent and had large flocks of cattle and great wealth. Now the nomad tribesmen do not inherit lands and pastures, but the prince assigns to each of his sons certain clans or tribes as his subjects and dependents. As a rule the youngest inherits the hearth or the tent of his parents, whereas the elder - unless unfit - succeeds him to his throne. The great Mongol conqueror Jenghiz Khan was succeeded by Oghtai, his eldest son, who reigned in Pekin as Khaqan, but his youngest son remained in his father's hearth at Qara- qorum in Mongolia. It was exactly the same with Abraham's two sons. Isaac, who was the younger of the two, inherited the tent of his father and became, like him, a nomad living in tents. But Ishmael was sent to Hijaz to guard the House of Allah which he, together with Abraham, had built as referred to in the Qur'an. Here he settled, became Prophet and Prince among the Arab tribes who believed in him. It was at Mecca, or Becca, that the Ka'aba became the center of the pilgrimage called al-hajj. It was Ishmael that founded the religion of one true Allah and instituted the Circumcision.
His offspring soon increased and was multiplied like the stars of the sky. From the days of Prophet Ishmael to the advent of Prophet Muhammad, the Arabs of Hijaz, Yemen and others have been independent and masters of their own countries. The Roman and Persian Empires were powerless to subdue the people of Ishmael. Although idolatry was afterwards introduced, still the names of Allah, Abraham, Ishmael, and a few other Prophets were not forgotten by them. Even Esau, the elder son of Isaac, left his father's hearth for his younger brother Jacob and dwelt in Edom, where he became the chief of his people and soon got mixed with the Arab tribes of Ishmael who was both his uncle and father-in-law. The story of Esau's selling his birthright to Jacob for a dish of pottage is foul trick invented to justify the ill-treatment ascribed to Ishmael. It is alleged that "God hated Esau and loved Jacob," while the twins were in their mother's womb; and that the "elder brother was to serve his younger one" (Gen. xxv Rom. ix. 12, 13). But, strange to say, another report, probably from another source, shows the case to be just the reverse of the above-mentioned prediction. For the thirty- third chapter of Genesis clearly admits that Jacob served Esau, before whom he seven times prostrates in homage, addressing him "My Lord," and declaring himself as "your slave."
Abraham is reported in the Bible to have several other sons from Qitura and "the concubines," to whom he gave presents or gifts and sent them towards the East. All these became large and strong tribes. Twelve sons of Ishmael are men- tioned by name and described, each one to be a prince with his towns and camps or armies (Gen. xxv.). So are the children from Qitura, and others, as well as those descended from Esau mentioned by their names.
When we behold the number of the family of Jacob when he went to Egypt, which hardly exceeded seventy heads, and when he was met by Esau with an escort of four hundred armed horsemen, and the mighty Arab tribes submitted to the twelve Amirs belonging to the family of Ishmael, and then when the last Messenger of Allah proclaims the religion of Islam, all the Arab tribes unitedly acclaim him and accept His religion, and subdue all the lands promised to the children of Prophet Abraham, we must indeed be blind not to see that the Covenant was made with Ishmael and the promise accom- plished in the person of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace).
Before concluding this article I wish to draw the atten- tion of the students of the Bible, especially that of the Higher Biblical Criticism, to the fact that the so-called Messianic Prophecies and Passages belong to a propaganda in favor of the Davidic Dynasty after the death of King Solomon when his kingdom was split into two. The two great Prophets Elias and Elisha, who flourished in the Kingdom of Samariah or Israel, do not even mention the name of David or Solomon. Jerusalem was not longer the center of religion for the Ten Tribes, and the Davidic claims to a perpetual reign was rejected.
But Prophets like Ishaia and others who were attached to the Temple of Jerusalem and the House of David have foretold the coming of a great Prophet and Sovereign.
As it was said in the first article, there are certain mani- fest marks with which the coming Last Prophet will be known. And it is these marks that we shall attempt to study in the future articles.