Ishmael and Isaac in the Bible and the Quran

The Biblical Story of Ishmael and Isaac: An Analysis and Comparison with the Islamic Narrative

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Originally Published: January 11, 2014

Updated: March 29, 2015


“Say ye: “We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam).””


          – The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:136


The Biblical story of Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, is at the heart of theological and historical disagreements among Jews and Christians on the one hand and Muslims on the other.  It is among many issues which have been debated by followers of the three Abrahamic religions for centuries and remains a highly contentious issue even to the present day.  What is it about the story as it is told in the Judeo-Christian tradition which puts it at stark contrast with that of the Islamic tradition?  Is the acceptance of the Biblical version justified for Jews and Christians or are they the victims of an insidious deception which has caused them to reject the truth?  In this article, we will discuss this possibility.  We will first summarize the Biblical version of the story of Ishmael and Isaac (peace be upon them).  Following the summary will be an analysis of the Biblical story to discuss the internal contradictions and inconsistencies which ravage the text and yet which somehow have remained hidden from the vast majority of Jews and Christians.[1]  Finally, we will summarize the Islamic version and compare it to the Biblical one.  It is hoped that from this objective analysis, the reader will find that the Islamic version, and not the Biblical one, is much more deserving of acceptance.


The Biblical Story


The Biblical story of Abraham and his two sons is found in the first book of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis.  For the purposes of this article, we will concentrate specifically on the contents of Genesis 16-18, 21-22, and 25.


As the story goes, Abraham and Sarah (originally known as Abram and Sarai, respectively) had both grown old and yet still had no child.  Desperate to “build a family”, Sarah urged Abraham to impregnate her slave Hagar, who was an Egyptian.[2]  After some tensions developed between Sarah and the now-pregnant Hagar, the latter fled from the abuse of her mistress and encountered an angel who prophesied that she would bear a son who would be named Ishmael.  And so it was that Hagar bore the eighty-six year old Abraham a son.[3]


The story then moves 13 years forward to when Abraham was 99 years old and so Ishmael was 13 years old.  It was at this point that God gave the name Abraham to the patriarch and also instituted the “Covenant of Circumcision”.  God also announced that Sarah would bear a son named Isaac, with whom God would establish His covenant (and not with Ishmael, the first-born son).  In keeping with the “Covenant of Circumcision”, Abraham circumcised himself as well as Ishmael and every other male in his household.


One day, Abraham was visited by three angels, who again announced to him the birth of Isaac as well as to tell him of the impending destruction of Sodom, where Abraham’s nephew Lot lived.[4]


As had been promised, Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom Abraham named Isaac.  At this point, Abraham was now 100 years old.  As before, tensions again began to rise between Hagar and Sarah.  By this time, Isaac had been weaned and Sarah demanded of Abraham to:


“Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”[5]


Though Abraham was distressed, God ordered him to do as Sarah had demanded, and told Abraham not to be distraught for He would make a nation out of “the son of the slave”.[6]  Obeying God’s command, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael into the desert of Beersheba, where their limited supplies quickly dwindled.  Faced with the prospect of death, Hagar placed the 16-year old Ishmael under a bush, unable to watch her son die of thirst.  However, both were saved when God intervened and provided water.  Ishmael lived and grew up to be an archer in the desert.[7]  He also had 12 sons and lived to the age of 137 and was also present with his brother Isaac when their father, passed away at age 175.[8]


Meanwhile, once Hagar and Ishmael had been sent out, Isaac’s status as God’s chosen was established.  It began with a test.  God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his “only son, whom you love”, in the “region of Moriah”.[9]  Abraham complied with the command, but just before sacrificing Isaac, he was stopped by an angel.  Abraham had passed the test with flying colors and God promised him that:


“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”[10]


Thus, the Bible establishes that it would be through Isaac, and not Ishmael, that God would bless “all nations on earth”.[11]


Analyzing the Story


The story of Ishmael and Isaac, as summarized above, is accepted as a historically accurate version of events by Jews and Christians.  But is it really?  In actuality, a careful reading of the text will reveal several flaws in the story which cannot be reconciled through reason.  In this section of the article, we will see the evidence for why this story must be rejected.


According to the story, Hagar and Ishmael were exiled shortly after Isaac was weaned:


“The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.””[12]


According to the Jewish commentator Rashi, weaning occurred when a child was 24-months old (i.e. 2 years old).[13]  This would mean that Ishmael would have been 16 years old at the time, as mentioned above.  We know this because Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born and 100 years old when Isaac was born, as stated in the summary.  As such, Ishmael was old enough to be married and have his own family and certainly old enough to be considered a man who would be expected to be caring for his mother, and not the other way around.  Even in modern times, a 16-year old is expected to bear certain responsibilities.  In fact, the Bible states that even young children and boys were called to become prophets, which is of course a great responsibility.  For example, Samuel is described as a “boy” when he began preaching:


“The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”[14]


According to Josephus, Samuel was not even a teenager when he became a prophet:


“…to Samuel the prophet, who was yet a child, he openly shewed his sorrow for his sons’ destruction. […]

Now when Samuel was twelve years old, he began to prophesy…”[15]


So clearly, even a 12-year old, though still considered a “child”, could still be given heavy responsibilities.  Hence, even children in ancient times were expected to show more maturity than people would expect from children at that age in the modern world.


Since this is irrefutable, a contradiction arises when we read the Genesis account of Hagar and Ishmael’s exile.  Since Ishmael would have been a teenager (older than Samuel was when he became a prophet) and more likely to be caring for his mother than the other way around, the Genesis account is most certainly erroneous because it describes him as if he was an infant!  It states [our comments in bold]:


“Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. [Rashi states that Hagar carried Ishmael on her shoulders because he was unable to walk due to a curse placed on him by Sarah![16]] She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.”[17]


When reading this account, one would have to question Ishmael’s actual age.  He was clearly not 16 years old, because the text describes him consistently as a “boy” or “lad” who was completely dependent on his mother.  This is even clearer from Genesis 21:20, which states that God was with Ishmael “as he grew up”.  How could this be if he was already 16 years old and would probably have been married already under normal circumstances?  He was already old enough to be considered a man.  How much more “growing up” did he have to do?  Even in modern times, a 16-year old is considered old enough to be able to work and drive a car.  Why then does Genesis treat Ishmael as if he was a child…unless he really was?  As we shall see later, this possibility fits in well with the Islamic version of the story.


            As Dr. Laurence Brown has observed:


“…Genesis 21:14-19 portrays the outcast Ishmael as a helpless infant rather than an able-bodied sixteen-year-old youth…”[18]


The proof of Ishmael’s actual age can be seen in the Hebrew text.  The Hebrew word used to describe the 16-year old Ishmael is “hay-ye-led” (translated by the NIV as “boy”), and it is ironically the same word used to describe the 2-year old Isaac (but translated by the NIV as “child”)![19]  Why is the word translated differently within the same chapter?  If there is any lingering doubt as to the real meaning of the word, we should consider that it is almost exclusively used in the Bible to literally describe children, and more specifically, young children or infants.  Examples of its usage in the Bible are the following passages:


“But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.”[20]


“Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”[21]

“After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.”[22]


Another place where this word is used is Ecclesiastes 4:15, but a different form is used in verse 13.  Let us see these verses:


“Better a poor but wise youth [ye-led][23] than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth [hay-ye-led],[24] the king’s successor.”


We can see the obvious inconsistency with which this word is translated.  Nevertheless, it is clear that the word refers to a child, specifically one who is less than 13 years of age.  How do we know this?  In the commentary on Ecclesiastes 4:13, Rashi explains that in the Jewish tradition, any boy less than 13-years of age was considered a child, whereas anyone 13-years or older was considered a man:


“…why is it called a child? Because it does not enter man until thirteen years.”[25]


Hence, we can see that Ishmael too must have been a child, for why else was he referred to as a “boy” (hay-ye-led)? The account in Genesis 21 is, thus, chronologically wrong and is possible proof that later editors placed the story in the wrong section of Genesis (for obvious polemical reasons) and that this incident must have occurred much earlier than the Bible claims.  It must have occurred when Ishmael was still a baby or a young child.


Alternatively, it is also possible that the contradiction is the inevitable result of different versions of the story that have been joined together as one long narrative.  Indeed, it is the general view of Biblical scholars that the books of the Pentateuch are the result of this editorial process.[26]  The Book of Genesis, including the account of Ishmael and Isaac, is no different.[27]


Some Jews and Christians may object that Ishmael was a child when he was cast out.  They may point to the fact that Genesis 21 refers to him both as “hay-ye-led”[28] and “han-na’ar”.[29]  The latter is used in most cases in the Bible to describe a “young man”,[30] so its usage would be appropriate when referring to Ishmael, who was 16-years old at the time, and hence an adult according to Rashi.  However, this argument only raises another contradiction since it does not change the fact that the word “hay-ye-led” mostly refers to young children.[31]  Given that Ishmael is shown to be helpless and completely dependent on his mother, it is unlikely that he would have been described as “han-na’ar” and hence the use of the word is actually inappropriate.  He cannot be both “hay-ye-led” and “han-na’ar”, just as in English, he cannot be described both as a “child” and as an “adult”.


In addition to this inconsistency, we also need to consider the incident of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, as told in the Bible, for it is partially responsible for the disagreements between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions.[32]  As mentioned in the summary, Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac, who was referred to as Abraham’s “only son”.  After reading this passage, we must ask the obvious question.  Why did God refer to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son” when he clearly had two sons, Ishmael being the other and the elder of the two?  In fact, earlier God had specifically counted Ishmael among Abraham’s “offspring” (and of course, there was no reason not to):


“I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”[33]


Why did God specifically refer to Ishmael as Abraham’s progeny in one place and then referred to Isaac as his “only son” in another place?  The Jewish commentator Rashi offered a rather bizarre extra-biblical conversation between God and Abraham to explain this contradiction:


“He [Abraham] said to Him, “I have two sons.” He [God] said to him,“ Your only one.” He said to Him,“ This one is the only son of his mother, and that one is the only son of his mother.” He said to him,“ Whom you love.” He said to Him,“ I love them both.” He said to him,“ Isaac.” Now why did He not disclose this to him at the beginning? In order not to confuse him suddenly, lest his mind become distracted and bewildered, and also to endear the commandment to him and to reward him for each and every expression. — [from Sanh. 89b, Gen. Rabbah 39:9, 55:7].”[34]


Can any rational person accept this explanation?  If the intention was to avoid confusing Abraham, then God would have simply mentioned Isaac by name without adding the phrase “your only son, whom you love”?  Clearly, this explanation makes little sense and does not reconcile the contradiction.  It is no wonder, then, that Christian apologists have come up with other explanations, though they are just as absurd as the one suggested by Rashi.  For example, Emir F. Caner and Ergun M. Caner make the following claim:


“First, the term ‘only’ may be in reference to your ‘beloved’ son (John 1:18, 3:16).  Second, the verse is an affirmation of the inheritance intended for Isaac, the legitimate heir of Abraham, and not Ishmael, born from a concubine who thereby had no right to the promises of God.  It is clear that Isaac is the one God desired to bless (Genesis 21:12).”[35]


This is, of course, just a mindless repetition of an age-old polemical argument, but it clearly has no merit.  First, to refer to the Gospel of John in the New Testament to explain the meaning of the phrase in Genesis 22 is both irrelevant and absurd.  What does one book have to do with the other, even if Christians believe in both?  Certainly, Jews place no importance on the Gospel of John and the concept of Jesus being the “son of God”!  Second, the idea that Ishmael was not a “legitimate heir of Abraham” is refuted by the Bible itself, which clearly states that he was a legitimate son of Abraham.[36]  Why then would he not be a “legitimate heir” as well?  Moreover, Genesis 16:3 states clearly that Hagar was given to Abraham by Sarah to be his “wife”:


“So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.”[37]


It seems the Caners, and indeed all apologists who use this argument, simply pick and choose some passages from the Bible while ignoring others.[38]


So, we must look for an alternative answer by asking a different question.  What if this part of the story is also chronologically misplaced?  What if this part of the story actually refers to Ishmael, who was born 14 years before Isaac?  Surely, the phrase “your only son, whom you love” only makes sense if it was referring to Ishmael.  This suggests that the editors of Genesis altered the story as well as its place in the Bible and thus tried to deny Ishmael his rightful place as a legitimate son and heir of Abraham.  To Jews and Christians, this may come as a shock, but given the undeniable history of the Bible’s editorial evolution, reasonable people would not be shocked at all.


In closing, a careful analysis of the Genesis account reveals irreconcilable contradictions in the text.  No doubt, Jewish and Christian apologists have gone to great lengths to explain these problems, but an objective analysis can only lead to one conclusion: these inconsistencies are real and cannot be explained by polemical gymnastics.  Rather, the best explanation appears to be that the story has been edited by anonymous hands and passed off as “scripture”.[39]  It is just another sordid example of Biblical “myth-making”.[40]


The Islamic Story


            Compared to the Biblical story, the story as told by the Islamic tradition is consistent and more in line with the facts.  Ishmael’s birth and his near-sacrifice are described in a beautiful passage in the Quran:


“He (Ibrahim] said: “I will go to my Lord! He will surely guide me!  O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!  So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear.  Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: “O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!” (The son) said: “O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practicing Patience and Constancy!  So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), We called out to him “O Abraham! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!” – thus indeed do We reward those who do right.  For this was obviously a trial- And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice: And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times: “Peace and salutation to Abraham!””[41]


It is well known that these verses deal with the birth of Ishmael (peace be upon him), as the vast majority of Quranic commentators have stated.  This is clearly seen by the fact that following these verses, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) next mentions Isaac (peace be upon him), so verses 99-109 could not have referred to him:


“And We gave him the good news of Isaac – a prophet,- one of the Righteous.  We blessed him [Ibrahim] and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to their own souls.”[42]


It should also be noted that Ishmael (peace be upon him) is described as a young man (possibly a teenager) when Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was ordered to sacrifice him, since he is described as having reached the age of “serious work”.


But what about the incident of Ishmael and Hagar’s journey into the desert after Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was ordered by Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) to send them out?  As we saw above, the Biblical story is self-contradictory.  It describes Ishmael (peace by upon him) as a helpless child yet we are supposed to believe that he was actually 16 years old.  From the internal evidence, it is clear that he was indeed a very young child, possibly even an infant.  According to a hadith, this is exactly what Ishmael (peace be upon him) was at the time of this incident:


“Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: The Prophet said, “May Allah bestow His Mercy on the mother of Ishmael! Had she not hastened (to fill her water-skin with water from the Zam-zam well), Zam-zam would have been a stream flowing on the surface of the earth.” Ibn ‘Abbas further added, “(The Prophet) Abraham brought Ishmael and his mother (to Mecca) and she was suckling Ishmael and she had a water-skin with her.’”[43]


Clearly, both the Bible and Islamic sources describe Ishmael (peace be upon him) as a helpless infant when he was sent out with his mother.  The only difference is that the Biblical story is chronologically flawed and self-contradictory.  Also, both the Bible and the Quran agree that Ishmael was the first-born son of Ibrahim (peace be upon them).  However, the former contradicts itself by referring to Isaac (peace be upon him) as the “only son” of Abraham shortly before the incident of the sacrifice, even though he was the younger of the two sons.


Before we conclude this article, it must be emphasized that even though the Holy Quran and the Ahadith make it clear that it was Ishmael (peace be upon him) who was the son that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) commanded Ibrahim (peace be upon him) to sacrifice (and in all probability, Isaac was not even born yet), it does not in any way suggest that Ishmael was somehow “superior” to his younger brother.  Rather, Muslims revere both sons of Ibrahim (peace be upon them all) and do not believe that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) discriminated against either one of them.  Muslims are taught to hold all the prophets in high regard and not to prefer one over another, praise be to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).  As a matter of fact, if it turned out that Isaac (peace be upon him) was actually the son who was to be sacrificed, it would not have made any difference to the faithful Muslim.  As Professor John Kaltner of Rhodes College states:


“Both Ishmael and Isaac are esteemed equally in the Qur’an and each is held up as a model of faith for the reader, so it is inconsequential which one was almost killed by his father.”[44]




There can be no doubt that after reading the Biblical story (in its correct context despite the obvious editorial efforts) and the Islamic story, that Ishmael (peace be upon him) was not only a legitimate son of Ibrahim (peace be upon him) but was only an infant when he was sent out with his mother.  This event would have occurred years before Isaac’s birth.  It is also clear that Ishmael was the son whom God had ordered Ibrahim to sacrifice, and not Isaac (peace be upon them all), who would not have been born yet.  Therefore, the Biblical version suffers from serious contradictions and can only be the result of textual tampering.  However, despite these insidious attempts at altering the story, there are enough clues within the text itself that point the way to the truth.  Thus, the unavoidable conclusion is that the Biblical story should be rejected as a biased account written by fraudulent hands, and that the Islamic version of the story is more deserving of acceptance and gives a faithful account of the story.


And Allah knows best!

[1] Biblical scholars, including Christian scholars, are no doubt aware of these contradictions, but the majority of lay Jews and Christians are, in all likelihood, completely oblivious of them.


[2] Genesis 16:1-2 (New International Version).


[3] Genesis 16:16.


[4] For the story of Lot, see our article “The Biblical Story of Lot: An Analysis and Comparison with the Quranic Narrative”.


[5] Genesis 21:10.


[6] Genesis 21:13.


[7] Genesis 22:20.


[8] Genesis 25.


[9] Genesis 22:2.


[10] Genesis 22:17-18.


[11] Christians maintain that Jesus (peace be upon him) was the fulfillment of this promise, since his alleged death and resurrection was the path to salvation for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.  As one Christian website puts it:


“[Genesis 22:18] prophesied all nations would be blessed through one special descendant or seed of Abraham. Jews and Gentiles alike are blessed when they accept Jesus a descendant of Abraham as their Savior.”


[12] Genesis 21:8-13.




[14] 1 Samuel 3:1.


[15] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 5:10.


[16]; See verse 14.  If this is true, we are supposed to believe that Hagar was forced to carry her 16-year old son through the desert!


[17] Genesis 21:14-21.


[18] Laurence B. Brown, MisGod’ed: A Roadmap of Guidance and Misguidance Within the Abrahamic Religions (Booksurge, 2008), p. 238.  Kindle Edition.




[20] Exodus 2:3.  This verse describes the well-known story of the mother of Moses placing the infant in a basket on the Nile River.  Obviously, Moses was not a teenager as Genesis 21 would want us to believe regarding Ishmael!  See also Exodus 2:6, 2:9 and 2:10, all of which describe the infant Moses.


[21] Ruth 4:16-17.


[22] 2 Samuel 12:15.  This verse mentions how David’s son from his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba was struck with an illness as David’s punishment for his sin.  The son was clearly still an infant and not a teenager.








[26] The general consensus is that there are four different sources that have been joined together: the “J” source (or “Yahwist” source), the “E” source (or “Elohist” source), the “D” source (or “Deuteronomist” source) and the “P” source (or the “Priestly” source).


[27] See The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Based on the New American Bible: Old Testament, Edited by Dianne Bergart.  Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992, pp. 52-62.


[28] Genesis 21:14.


[29] Genesis 21:12.






In addition, the word “han-na’ar” is also used in 1 Samuel 3:1 to refer to the prophet Samuel (peace be upon him), who as we previously mentioned, was only 12 years old when he became a prophet.


[32] Scholars attribute the version of Isaac’s near-sacrifice to the “Elohist” (E) source.  See The Collegeville Commentary, op. cit., pp. 60-61.


[33] Genesis 21:13.




[35] Emir F. Caner and Ergun M. Caner, More Than a Prophet: An Insider’s Response to Muslim Beliefs About Jesus and Christianity (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2003), pp. 96-97.


[36] Genesis 21:13.


[37] Even though the verse uses different words to refer to Sarah as Abraham’s “wife” (’ê-šeṯ) and Hagar as his “wife” (lə-’iš-šāh), the latter usage is clearly established to mean a legitimate wife, as seen by other verses from Genesis, such as Genesis 20:12, which describes Sarah as “lə-’iš-šāh” as well!


[38] On an unrelated note, the Caner brothers have been discredited as liars and frauds after even their fellow Christians pointed out the discrepancies in their “Islamic” upbringing.  For example, see the following:


Ergun Caner has even been exposed by his fellow Christians for pretending to speak Arabic, when in reality, he was speaking gibberish:


In fact, he has even been caught completely misstating the Shahada, which is the Islamic declaration of faith, despite the fact that he claimed to have been a “devout” Muslim before his conversion to Christianity:


[39] It is an undeniable fact that different versions of the same story were simply brought together later on, as previously mentioned.


[40] Elsewhere in Genesis, the Biblical authors concocted the story of the incestuous origins of Israel’s great enemies, the Moabites and Ammonites.  See our discussion of this in the recently updated article on the Biblical story of Lot:


Thus, myth-making is a common phenomenon in the Bible.


[41] Surah As-Saaffat, 37:99-109 (Yusuf Ali Translation).


Regarding the phrase “حَلِيمٍ بِغُلَامٍ”, which Yusuf Ali translated as “…of a boy ready to suffer and forbear”, an alternative rendering is “…of a gentle boy”, as offered by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi (d. 1977) in his translation (The Glorious Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 2001), p. 805).  Indeed, the Arabic word حَلِيمٍ (halimin) is from the root “م ل ح”, and the word “halim” is defined by Lane’s Lexicon (see p. 632) as:


“…the quality of forgiving and concealing [offences]…or moderation; gentleness; deliberateness…patience…sedateness; calmness…”


Hence, Maulana Daryabadi translated the word “halimin” as “gentle” instead of “forbearing” (although both are correct).  However, the use of the word in the Arabic is significant given its meaning of both “gentle” and “forbearing” as it refuted the Biblical charge against Ishmael (peace be upon him) as being “wild” (Genesis 16:12), as explained by Maulana Daryabadi in his commentary:


“The epithet contradicts the ferocity of temperament attributed to Ishmael by the Jews and Christians” (Ibid.)


[42] Surah As-Saaffat, 37:112-113.


[43] Sahih Bukhari, Book 55, Number 582.


[44] John Kaltner, Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999), p. 124.

15 thoughts on “Ishmael and Isaac in the Bible and the Quran

  1. Anonymous

    The below verse meant that Abraham put the Food and Water on Hagar's shoulder not the boy!!!!

    Read carefully ” He set THEM on her shoulders (which is plural term meaning Food and Drink). Which would be different from “He set HIM on her shoulders (singular).

    You will see what you believe. And if you believe a lie, you will miss the truth.

    “Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. [Rashi states that Hagar carried Ishmael on her shoulders because he was unable to walk due to a curse placed on him by Sarah![16]] She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.


  2. You need to do more research, my friend. There are two reasons your argument is faulty.

    First, the people who translate your Bible are often guilty of academic fraud because they purposefully mistranslate verses to suit their ends. More on this shortly.

    Second, even if you were right about that particular verse, the fact is that you have failed to refute the other issues I raised in the article. Notice how in the verses that follow, Hagar is shown to be clearly carrying Ishmael (peace be upon him):

    “She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

    When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes” (Genesis 21:14-15)

    The verse says that “SHE went on her way”, not “THEY went on their way”. The verse says “SHE put the boy under one of the bushes”, not that “HE sat under one of the bushes”. It is Hagar who is consistently shown to be caring for Ishmael, even though he was supposed to be 17 years old!

    Now, let's come back to the issue of deliberate mistranslations by your deceptive Bible translators. The verse in question is translated in the following way by the NIV:

    “Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.”

    Let's compare this translation to a Jewish translation:

    “And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he took bread and a leather pouch of water, and he gave [them] to Hagar, he placed [them] on her shoulder, and the child, and he sent her away; and she went and wandered in the desert of Beer sheba.” (

    Notice the phrase “…and the child…” has mysteriously disappeared from the NIV only to reappear at the end of the sentence as “…sent her off with the boy”! WOW! What a coincidence!

    So what the verse actually says is that Hagar carried her son. Otherwise, why would Abraham have not given the water and food to Ishmael, since he would have been old enough to care for himself and his mother, instead of the other way around? Think about it!

    You have been deceived, but by choosing to close your eyes to the truth (the actual truth and not the “truth” as you see it), you are only harming yourself. In the end, you have no one to blame but yourself for allowing yourself to be deceived so easily.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous

    I am a christian and read your article so I can better understand your religion. Unfortunately the way you depict the biblical story is incorrect. I realize we have differences, but it is only right that both accounts are accurate.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. According to the great scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was circumcised by his grandfather Abd Al-Muttalib. It is known from historical sources that the Arabs practiced circumcision, even before the coming of the Prophet. The 1st-century CE Jewish historian Josephus mentioned that the Arabs practiced circumcision, and Islamic sources agree that it was a custom of the Arabs.


  5. tq. does that mean circumcision had been in keeping with the tradition of abrahim though the command is never mentioned in alquran? otherwise, the practice would have been discontinued just like the dietary law prescribed in the final revelation compared to the previous ones. in other words, allah never rehash what had been revealed before unless they had been 'extras' invented by man.

    i believe same logic should apply to verse 24.31 where many muslims claim that covering head & hair for women is not mandatory only the bossom is. was it (covering head & hair) had not already been the custom before the prophet?

    animal slaughtering is also never mentioned in alquran & why muslims are doing that?



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  9. Pingback: Journey through the Bible – Abraham’s Eldest Son: Ishmael (Part 2) – INTROVERTED EVANGELIST

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