The Cry of Ishmael – Part 1

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Arab Men

Genesis means ‘book of origins’. It describes the origins of the universe; the earth; mankind; the spiritual cancer of sinful human nature; race and ethnicity; languages and people such as the Jews and the Arabs – the ethnic group into which Muhammad (Islam’s founder) was born.

The traditional roots of Islam are found in Genesis 16:1-16

The story starts with Abraham the “exalted father” who is the spiritual reference-point for people who identify themselves as Jews, Christians and Muslims today; this represents an estimated 4 billion people – or over half the planet.

Abraham’s wife Sarah was infertile (Gen.11:30). This was a shameful social stigma so she persuaded him to take her Egyptian slave girl Hagar as his wife and sire an heir through her. This is a point at which self-help entered the DNA of the religious traditions of Judaism (the religion of the ‘sons of Isaac’) and Islam (the servile religion of the ‘sons of Ishmael’). Notice that this is also a root of resistance to receiving divine assistance (i.e. grace).

Sadly Abraham agreed with Sarah; Hagar conceived and then began to despise Sarah who complained to Abraham who abdicated his responsibility. Sarah fought back by mistreating Hagar to the point she fled the household for the desert.

‘The angel of the LORD’ (the pre-incarnate Christ) found Hagar at a spring in the desert.

baby in Middle EastHe told her to return and ‘submit’ within the household, where Ishmael would be born (note: In the Arabic Bible the imperative is tislam which means submit). Ishmael’s descendants would become innumerable (note: there are an estimated 200 million Arabised people today) but Ishmael would also be combative and hostile towards his own – a prophetic description of the mistrust and Muslim-on-Muslim in-fighting that goes on in the Middle East to this day.

Hagar returned to the house; Ishmael was born; Sarai then gave birth to Isaac; the tension started up again so Ishmael, as a youth, was ejected permanently into exile (see Genesis 21).

Imagine Ishmael’s hurt and rejection by his father Abraham which reduced him to broken sobs.

Ishmael’s tears were a plea for the loss of his father’s recognition, coupled with grief that his honourable status as a ‘son’ was replaced by the dishonourable status of ‘servant’.

Saudi Arabia’s most famous son – Muhammad – was a son of Ishmael. He set up the religious tradition of Islam around the ‘cry of Ishmael’. Muslims see themselves as servants accepted by works rather than sons accepted by grace.

A son’s identity as a free man is determined by the DNA of his free mother; a servant’s identity is as a slave is determined by the DNA of his slave mother.

There you have it – faith in Christ makes us a son (or daughter) of God – in the lineage of Sarah the free mother of Isaac; while the religions of Pharisaic Judaism and Islam make us a servant of God trying to find identity through works. This is the lineage of Hagar the servant mother of Ishmael (Gals 4:21-31).

This is another reason for compassion, as a biblical and logical response, to the position that Muslims find themselves born into.

Photo Credits: Top photo, Lower photo. Both Flickr Creative Commons.


  1. Peter Masih

    How different would things have been if we had translated the Bible into Arabic BEFORE Muhammad was born? Would he have arrived at a different understanding of Allah and the previous scriptures? Would the sons of Ishmael have responded to his preaching and leadership in a different way?
    The New Testament was available then in Aramaic/Syriac, Armenian, Coptic (Egyptian), Old Nubian, Ethiopic etc. We only got round to Arabic in the 9th century. Whoops!

  2. Ian Lacy

    So Muslims are in the same sort of position as the older brother in the story of the prodigal son – bound to pleasing the father by a sense of family, loyalty, duty,actions -but with no sense of being loved although all the time the father’s love was – is – there for them .

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