The Ka'aba And The Abrahamic Tradition 1

The Ka’a­ba And The Abra­ham­ic Tradition

The sto­ry of Prophet Ibrahim’s migra­tion from Baby­lo­nia to Syr­ia-Pales­tine (Kan’an), then to Egypt, then his return to Pales­tine and sub­se­quent­ly his com­ing with his wife Hajar and son Isma’il to Mak­ka is well-known. These epoch-mak­ing trav­els took place rough­ly at the begin­ning of the sec­ond mil­len­ni­um B.C. Ibrahim had at first called his own peo­ple to aban­don the wor­ship of idols and oth­er objects like the heav­en­ly bod­ies and to wor­ship the One Only God.1 They, how­ev­er, instead of respond­ing to his call, put him to var­i­ous vex­a­tions and ulti­mate­ly to the test of fire from which God pro­tect­ed and saved him.2 Only his wife Sarah and nephew Lot believed and accept­ed his call. Under God’s direc­tive3 Ibrahim, accom­pa­nied by Sarah and Lot first migrat­ed to Haran (in Syr­ia) and then on to Kan’an (Pales­tine). At both the places he preached God’s mes­sage and called the peo­ple to wor­ship Him alone. Next he trav­elled to Egypt where the reign­ing monarch ini­tial­ly designed evil against him but was sub­se­quent­ly attract­ed to him and respect­ed him. The ruler pre­sent­ed Hajar to Ibrahim and Sarah. Hajar was orig­i­nal­ly a princess and queen to anoth­er ruler but was cap­tured in a war by the Egypt­ian monarch.4

With Hajar, Ibrahim returned to Pales­tine and sub­se­quent­ly mar­ried her. Ibrahim had hith­er­to no child. So he prayed to God for a son. God grant­ed his prayer and gave him the good news that a for­bear­ing son would be born to him.5 As Hajar became preg­nant Sarah grew jeal­ous of her ; but God blessed her. Accord­ing to the Old Tes­ta­ment an angel vis­it­ed her and gave her the good tid­ings that she would give birth to the first son to Ibrahim and that she should name the son Isma’il.6

In due course she gave birth to a son, the first-born to Ibrahim, and the child was named Ismail. Ibrahim was at that time 86 years old.

Until Ibrahim’s return from Egypt, Lut had all along been with him. Then Lut was called to Prophet­hood and was direct­ed to preach to the peo­ple inhab­it­ing the then pros­per­ous region lying to the south­east of the Dead Sea. The sin­ful peo­ple reject­ed his repeat­ed appeals to reform them­selves and to obey Allah. Ulti­mate­ly Allah destroyed the intran­si­gent pop­u­la­tion and their habi­tat, sav­ing Lut and a few of his believ­ing fol­low­ers.7 This hap­pened some 12 or 13 years after the birth of Isma’il. The scenes of destruc­tion and dev­as­ta­tion are still vis­i­ble in the region.

After Isma’il’s birth Sarah grew all the more jeal­ous of Hajar so that Ibrahim found it nec­es­sary to sep­a­rate her and the child from near Sarah. Under Allah’s direc­tive and guid­ance he trav­elled with Hajar and Isma’il all the way from Pales­tine to the val­ley of Mak­ka and left the moth­er and the child, with some pro­vi­sions and water, at the spot near which the Ka’­ba stands. It was then an unin­hab­it­ed place. Hajar of course enquired of Ibrahim why he was leav­ing them there. In reply he said that he was doing so accord­ing to Allah’s direc­tive and desire. The vir­tu­ous and believ­ing Hajar will­ing­ly sub­mit­ted to Allah’s will, express­ing her con­fi­dence that Allah would not then let them down.8

Allah of course did not let Hajar and Isma’il down. As the lit­tle amount of water with them was soon exhaust­ed Hajar went in search of water. She ran fran­ti­cal­ly between the near­by Safa and Mar­wah hills in search of water. As she thus com­plet­ed sev­en runs between the two hills, the angel Jib­ril appeared before her by Allah’s com­mand and caused the well of Zamzam to gush forth from the ground for Hajar and Isma’il. The pro­vi­sion of this well for them was indeed the begin­ning of their peace­ful exis­tence there. For water in those days (as also sub­se­quent­ly) was the most valu­able wealth in desert Ara­bia. Soon a Qah­tani tribe of Yaman was pass­ing by the region. Notic­ing that a bird was fly­ing over the spot of Zamzam they cor­rect­ly guessed that there was water there. They reached the spot and sought and obtained Hajar’s per­mis­sion to set­tle there.9

Thus the spot was set­tled and it soon grew to be an impor­tant trad­ing cen­tre, lying con­ve­nient­ly on the trade route from Yaman to the north and vice-ver­sa. Isma’il grew up among the Jurhum tribe, learn­ing the pure Ara­bic tongue from them. When grown up he suc­ces­sive­ly mar­ried two ladies from the Jurhum tribe, the sec­ond wife being the daugh­ter of Mudadd ibn Aim, leader of the Jurhum tribe.

In the mean­time Ibrahim con­tin­ued to vis­it Mak­ka from time to time to know about the well-being of his son and wife.10 On one such occa­sion, when Ismail had reached the age of under­stand­ing, Ibrahim received Allah’s com­mand in dream to sac­ri­fice his dear and only one son. He dis­closed it to Isma’il. The vir­tu­ous son of the vir­tu­ous father, who him­self was to be a Prophet of Allah ; Isma’il unhesi­tat­ing­ly con­sent­ed and asked his father to car­ry out Allah’s behest. Accord­ing­ly Ibrahim took Isma’il to a suit­able spot.11 The Qur’an specif­i­cal­ly states that both father and son sub­mit­ted to Allah’s will12 made him lie on the ground, face down­ward, and was about to strike his neck with knife when Allah’s call reached Ibrahim say­ing that he had already passed the test and that he should instead sac­ri­fice an ani­mal.13

The test was for both father and son and both had cred­itably passed it. It was as a reward for hav­ing passed this test that Allah fur­ther blessed Ibrahim and gave him the good tid­ings that He would favour him with anoth­er son by his first wife Sarah, though both he and she had grown quite old14. Thus anoth­er son, Ishaq, was born to Ibrahim by Sarah when Isma’il was about 14 years old. On anoth­er occa­sion when Ibrahim vis­it­ed Mak­ka Allah bade him build a house for His wor­ship9. Accord­ing­ly, he built the Ka’­ba, assist­ed by his son Isma’il. As they raised the foun­da­tion they prayed to Allah to accept their good deed, to ren­der them sub­mis­sive to His will, to raise from among their prog­e­ny a peo­ple sub­mis­sive to Allah and to raise from among them a Prophet who would puri­fy them and recite unto them His scrip­ture and direc­tives15. Fur­ther they prayed Allah to make Mak­ka and its vicin­i­ty a land of peace and secu­ri­ty and to feed its peo­ple abun­dant­ly — such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day.” (Qur’an, 2:126).

When the build­ing of the Ka’­ba was com­plet­ed Allah com­mand­ed Ibrahim to pro­claim to mankind the duty of pil­grim­age to the House (Ka’­ba)16. So Ibrahim intro­duced the rite of pil­grim­age to the Ka’ba.

The Qur’an as well as the Bible state that Allah espe­cial­ly blessed Ibrahim and both his sons, Isma’il and Ishaq, inti­mat­ing that their descen­dants would mul­ti­ply into nations17. Indeed, it was accord­ing to the Divine plan that the two sons were set­tled in two dif­fer­ent lands. Ibrahim lived long to see his sons grow into matu­ri­ty, estab­lish­ing their respec­tive fam­i­lies. Accord­ing to the Old Tes­ta­ment Ibrahim lived for 175 years and when he died both Isma’il and Ishaq togeth­er buried him18.

Isma’il also lived long for 137 years and left behind him twelve sons from whom twelve tribes arose19. They and their descen­dants lived at Mak­ka ; but as their num­bers increased they scat­tered over the oth­er parts of Ara­bia. Of the tribes who arose out of the twelve sons of Ismail, those from the eldest two, Nabat and Qay­dar20 became more promi­nent. The descen­dants of Nabat migrat­ed from Mak­ka towards the north where, in the course of time, they found­ed the famous Naba­t­ian King­dom (sixth cen­tu­ry B.C. to 105 A.C.) with Petra as its cap­i­tal. The descen­dants of Qay­dar con­tin­ued to live at Mak­ka and its vicin­i­ty for long till the time of Adnan, prob­a­bly the 38th in descent from Qay­dar. The descen­dants of Adnan through his son Ma’dd and grand­son Nizar mul­ti­plied so great­ly that they were in the course of time divid­ed into numer­ous tribes and spread over all parts of Ara­bia includ­ing Bahrayn and Iraq. Most of the tribes who sub­se­quent­ly attained promi­nence traced their descent from Adnan and thus called them­selves Adnanites. Such famous tribes as Tagh­lib, Han­i­fah, Bakr ibn Wa’il, Qays ibn Aylan, Sulaym, Hawazin, Ghataffan, Tamim, Hud­hayl ibn Mudrikab, Asad ibn Khuza­ymah, Thaqif, and Quraysh (sons of Fihr ibn Malik ibn al-Nadr ibn Kinanah) all traced their descent from Adnan and through him from Isma’il and Ibrahim.

Indeed, this Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion was the most impor­tant and uni­ver­sal fea­ture in the social life of the Arabs. It was the sym­bol of their uni­ty and iden­ti­ty, despite their divi­sion into numer­ous inde­pen­dent tribes. It found expres­sion in their prac­ti­cal life in var­i­ous ways. Each and every tribe metic­u­lous­ly main­tained their geneal­o­gy trac­ing it ulti­mate­ly to Isma’il and Ibrahim. They uni­ver­sal­ly prac­tised cir­cum­ci­sion as an Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion (Sun­nah). All the peo­ples of all the tribes believed the Ka’­ba to have been built by Ibrahim and they con­sid­ered it as their spir­i­tu­al cen­tre. They even placed images of Ibrahim and Isma’il along with oth­er images, in the Ka’­ba. In pur­suance of the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion, all the Arabs used to per­form pil­grim­age to the Ka’­ba and Mak­ka, to make sac­ri­fice of ani­mals in con­nec­tion with that rite, and to cir­cum­am­bu­late the Ka’­ba. And despite their relapse into gross idol­a­try, they did not for­get the name of Allah, Whom they regard­ed as the Supreme Lord — a faint rem­nant of monothe­ism which Ibrahim and Isma’il had taught. And most impor­tant of all, when the Prophet asked them, through the Qur’an­ic text, to revert to the true faith of their fore­fa­ther Ibrahim (mil­la­ta abikum Ibrahim) they did not con­tro­vert him on this point of their ances­try going back to Ibrahim, although they were only too ready to oppose the Prophet on all con­ceiv­able grounds. This is worth empha­siz­ing ; for noth­ing was more obnox­ious to an Arab than to ascribe a false or imag­i­nary ances­try to him.

Regard­ing The Abra­ham­ic Tradition

(a) Con­sid­er­a­tion of Muir’s views

Of greater import are the opin­ions of the ori­en­tal­ists about the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion. Gen­er­al­ly, they deny that Prophet Ibrahim(P) ever came to Mak­ka, that Hajar and Isma’il(P) were ever left there by him and that the Ka’­ba was built by him. They also assert that it was Ishaq(P) and not Isma’il(P), who was intend­ed to be sac­ri­ficed. These views are as old as Ori­en­tal­ism itself. It was Muir, how­ev­er, who gave those views their mod­ern form and pat­tern. And ever since his time oth­ers have main­ly repro­duced his argu­ments and assump­tions.21 The con­nec­tion of the Abra­ham myth with the Ka’bah”, writes Mar­go­liouth, appears to have been the result of lat­er spec­u­la­tion, and to have been ful­ly devel­oped only when a polit­i­cal need for it arose.“22

Of the oth­ers who reit­er­at­ed and elab­o­rat­ed the same views men­tioned may be made of J.D. Bate and Richard Bell. The for­mer pre­pared an inde­pen­dent mono­graph enti­tled Enquiries Into the Claims of Ish­mael23 in which he set forth almost all that the ori­en­tal­ists have to say on the theme includ­ing the ques­tion of the sac­ri­fice of Isma’il. The lat­ter, Richard Bell, sug­gest­ed that the rel­e­vant Qur’an­ic pas­sages on the sub­ject are lat­er” revi­sions dur­ing the Madi­nite peri­od of the Prophet’s mis­sion24.

Clear­ly, the sub­ject calls for sep­a­rate treat­ment. The scope of the present work, how­ev­er, neces­si­tates con­fin­ing the present sec­tion to a con­sid­er­a­tion of Muir’s views that are main­ly elab­o­rat­ed and reit­er­at­ed by his successors.

On the basis of the infor­ma­tion con­tained in the Old Tes­ta­ment Muir says : Hager, when cast forth by Abra­ham, dwelt with her son in the wilder­ness of Paran, to the north of Ara­bia.“25. He fur­ther says that the divine promise of tem­po­ral pros­per­i­ty” in favour of Isma’il was ful­filled and his twelve sons became twelve princes” whose descen­dants were founders of numer­ous tribes. These tribes, and also oth­er Abra­ham­ic and col­lat­er­al tribes lived, accord­ing to Muir, in north­ern Ara­bia extend­ing from the north­ern extrem­i­ty of the Red Sea towards the mouth of the Euphrates.“10

He admits, how­ev­er, that the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion and the leg­end con­nect­ed with the Ka’­ba were wide­ly cur­rent and accept­ed in Ara­bia and Mak­ka before the rise of Islam26 but he holds that these tra­di­tions, though ear­li­er than Islam, grew there much sub­se­quent­ly to the time of Ibrahim. Muir men­tions in this con­nec­tion that though a great pro­por­tion of the tribes in north­ern and cen­tral Ara­bia were descend­ed from Abra­ham, or from col­lat­er­al stock, we have no mate­ri­als for trac­ing their his­to­ry from the era of that patri­arch for near­ly two thou­sand years.“27. There­fore he pro­ceeds to con­jec­ture“28the facts” as follows.

He says that there were ear­li­er set­tlers at Mak­ka, many of whom were natives of Yaman. They brought with them Sabeanism, stone wor­ship and idol­a­try. These became con­nect­ed with the well of Zamzam, the source of their pros­per­i­ty ; and near to it they erect­ed their fane [the Ka’­ba], with its sym­bol­i­cal Sabeanism and mys­te­ri­ous black stone. Local rites were super­added ; but it was Yemen, the cra­dle of the Arabs, which fur­nished the nor­mal ele­ments of the sys­tem.“29 Sub­se­quent­ly, an Isma’ilite tribe from the north, either Nabataean or some col­lat­er­al stock”, was attract­ed there by its wells and favourable posi­tion for car­a­van trade. This tribe car­ried in its train the patri­ar­chal leg­end of Abra­ham­ic ori­gin” and engraft­ed it upon the local super­sti­tions.” Hence arose the mon­grel wor­ship of the Ka’­ba, with its Ish­maelite leg­ends, of which Mahomet took so great advan­tage.“30.

In sup­port of this con­jec­ture” Muir advances a num­ber of oth­er sup­po­si­tions. He says that though the exis­tence of the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion was exten­sive and uni­ver­sal, it is improb­a­ble” that it should have been hand­ed down from the remote age of the patri­arch by an inde­pen­dent train of evi­dence in any par­tic­u­lar tribe, or asso­ci­a­tion of tribes”. Accord­ing to him, it is far more like­ly that it was bor­rowed from the Jews, and kept alive by occa­sion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion with them.“31 Hav­ing said so he states that so exten­sive a homage,” i.e., homage to the Ka’­ba must have its begin­nings in an extreme­ly remote age ; and sim­i­lar antiq­ui­ty must be ascribed to the essen­tial con­comi­tants of the Mec­can wor­ship, — the Kaa­ba with its black stone, sacred lim­its, and the holy months.“32 He then attempts to prove the great antiq­ui­ty of the Ka’­ba and its rites by men­tion­ing that the Greek his­to­ri­an Herodotus (5th cen­tu­ry B.C.) speaks of one of the chief god­dess­es of the Arabs and men­tions her name as Alilat which is strong evi­dence of the wor­ship, at that ear­ly peri­od, of Allat the Mec­can idol.“33

Next Muir points out that the Greek author Diodor­us Sicu­lus, writ­ing in the first cen­tu­ry B.C., spoke of a tem­ple” in Ara­bia which was great­ly revered by all the Arabs”. Muir observes that this must refer to the Ka’­ba, for we know of no oth­er whichev­er com­mand­ed the uni­ver­sal homage of Ara­bia.“34 Final­ly, Muir sug­gests that the prac­tice of idol­a­try was old and wide­spread in Ara­bia and, on the author­i­ty of Ibn Hisham (Ibn Ishaq), points out that idol­a­trous shrines were scat­tered from Yemen to Duma [Dumat al-Jan­dal] and even as far as Hira, some of them sub­or­di­nate to the Kaa­ba and hav­ing rites resem­bling those of Mec­ca.“35

On the basis of such facts and argu­ments, Muir states that there is no trace of any­thing Abra­ham­ic in the essen­tial ele­ments of the super­sti­tion. To kiss the black stone, to make the cir­cuits of the Ka’­ba, and per­form the oth­er obser­vances at Mec­ca, Arafat and the vale of Mina, to keep the sacred months, and to hal­low the sacred ter­ri­to­ry, have no con­ceiv­able con­nec­tion with Abra­ham, or with ideas and prin­ci­ples which his descen­dants would be like­ly to inher­it from him“33 These were accord­ing to him either strict­ly local” or being con­nect­ed with the sys­tem of idol­a­try pre­vail­ing in the south of the penin­su­la, were import­ed to Mak­ka by Banu Jurhum and others.

And when the Abra­ham­ic leg­end was graft­ed on the indige­nous wor­ship, the rites of sac­ri­fice and oth­er cer­e­monies were now for the first time intro­duced, or at any rate first asso­ci­at­ed with the mem­o­ry of Abra­ham“36 and once the leg­end was thus estab­lished at Mak­ka, its mer­can­tile emi­nence” which attract­ed the Bedouins of Cen­tral Ara­bia” to it, by degrees impart­ed a nation­al char­ac­ter to the local super­sti­tion, till at last it became the reli­gion of Ara­bia.“37

Final­ly, sug­gests Muir, the Prophet only took his stand on this com­mon ground”, and effect­ed a bridge between the gross idol­a­try of the Arabs and the pure the­ism of Israel”. The rites of the Kaa­ba were retained, but stripped by him of every idol­a­trous ten­den­cy?“38

Clear­ly, this the­sis of Muir’s is based on four assump­tions, name­ly, (a) that poly­the­ism and poly­the­is­tic prac­tices exist­ed at Mak­ka before the migra­tion of the Isma’ilite tribe there ; (b) that the Ka’­ba and the rites con­nect­ed with it are poly­the­is­tic and are of south Ara­bi­an ori­gin, hav­ing no con­ceiv­able con­nec­tion with Abra­ham”; (c) that an immi­grant Isma’ilite tribe super­im­posed the Abra­ham­ic leg­end on those rites and (d) that the com­bined sys­tem was then by degrees adopt­ed by the Arab tribes as the nation­al religion.

The facts and argu­ments adduced by Muir do not, how­ev­er, sub­stan­ti­ate any of the four above-men­tioned ele­ments of the the­o­ry. With regard to the first assump­tion, Muir men­tions three facts. First, he says that the fifth cen­tu­ry B.C. Greek his­to­ri­an Herodotus speaks of an Ara­bi­an god­dess Alilat. Muir notes that Herodotus does not speak specif­i­cal­ly about Mak­ka but main­tains that Alilat should be iden­ti­fied with the well-known Makkan (in fact Ta’i­fan) god­dess Al-Lat. It should be point­ed out that Herodotus, in fact, speaks with ref­er­ence to north Ara­bia. Even tak­ing his state­ment to apply to Ara­bia in gen­er­al, and accept­ing the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Alilat with Al-Lat, the evi­dence would take us back only to the 5th cen­tu­ry B.C., that is, by Muir’s own admis­sion, to a peri­od some one thou­sand and five hun­dred years sub­se­quent to that of Ibrahim. Muir’s sec­ond fact is that the first cen­tu­ry B.C. Greek writer Diodor­us Sicu­lus speaks of a uni­ver­sal­ly ven­er­at­ed Ara­bi­an tem­ple”.

Muir right­ly takes it to refer to the Ka’­ba, but this evi­dence takes us back still less in point of time. i.e., only to the first cen­tu­ry, B.C. Muir’s third fact is that poly­the­ism and poly­the­is­tic shrines were wide­spread all over Ara­bia. He cites this fact on the author­i­ty of Ibn Hisham (in fact Ibn Ishaq). It should be point­ed out that the lat­ter speaks of a state of affairs that pre­vailed pri­or to the emer­gence of the Prophet. Nei­ther Ibn Ishaq nor any oth­er author­i­ty implies that the sit­u­a­tion obtained from time immemorial.

Thus, none of the facts men­tioned by Muir takes us back beyond the fifth cen­tu­ry B.C. It can­not be sug­gest­ed that the sup­posed migra­tion of the Isma’ilite tribe to Mak­ka took place so late as the fifth cen­tu­ry B.C. or even after that ; for, Muir him­self admits that the descen­dants of Kedar, son of Ismail, became so wide­spread in north­ern and cen­tral Ara­bia that the Jews, i.e., the Old Tes­ta­ment, used to speak of the Arab tribes gen­er­al­ly of those regions as Kedarites39. Accord­ing to mod­ern crit­ics, the extant Old Tes­ta­ment was com­posed not lat­er than the fifth cen­tu­ry B.C. As it speaks of a state of affairs already pre­vail­ing in north­ern and cen­tral Ara­bia, which includes Mak­ka, for a long time, and not of a recent dis­per­sion of the Kedarite tribes over those regions, the Isma’ilite tribes must have been set­tled at Mak­ka long before the fifth cen­tu­ry B.C.

Muir’s sec­ond assump­tion that the Ka’­ba and its rites are poly­the­is­tic, that they are of south Ara­bi­an (Yamani) ori­gin and that they have no con­ceiv­able con­nec­tion with Abra­ham” is both incor­rect and mis­lead­ing. The Ka’­ba and its rites must, of course, be assigned very high antiq­ui­ty, as Muir empha­sizes. But that in itself does not prove them to be pre-Abra­ham­ic in point of time, nor that they are south Ara­bi­an in ori­gin. Muir does not advance any evi­dence to show that the Ka’­ba is of south Ara­bi­an ori­gin. If it was estab­lished in imi­ta­tion of any­thing like it exist­ing in Yaman, we should have found some trace of that orig­i­nal tem­ple or some men­tion of it in ancient accounts ; and it should have been ini­tial­ly more impor­tant and more ven­er­at­ed than its sup­posed imi­ta­tion tem­ple at Mak­ka. But the exis­tence of no such old or ven­er­a­ble tem­ple is known, nei­ther in Yaman nor else­where in Ara­bia, from any source, not even from the writ­ings of the ancient Greek authors. To cite the evi­dence of Diodor­us again. He speaks of only one uni­ver­sal­ly ven­er­at­ed tem­ple” in Ara­bia, not of any­thing else like it or supe­ri­or to it. The exis­tence of a num­ber of idol­a­trous shrines through­out Ara­bia before the rise of Islam to which Ibn Ishaq refers and of which Muir speaks, includ­ing even the Yamani Ka’­ba” of Abra­hah, were all estab­lished sub­se­quent­ly to and in imi­ta­tion of the Makkan Ka’­ba, not before it. Muir sim­ply attempts to put the cart before the horse when he draws atten­tion to the exis­tence of these Ka’­ba-like idol­a­trous shrines in order to sug­gest that the Makkan Ka’­ba was orig­i­nal­ly one such idol­a­trous estab­lish­ment. Even then he is forced to admit that many of those idol­a­trous shrines were sub­or­di­nate to the Ka’­ba hav­ing rites resem­bling those at Mecca”.,

In fact, none of those shrines was old­er than the Ka’­ba, nor was any one of them regard­ed by the Arabs as of sim­i­lar antiq­ui­ty and com­mand­ing com­pa­ra­ble ven­er­a­tion. This fact alone proves that those shrines were estab­lished in imi­ta­tion of the Ka’­ba. That they were devot­ed to idol­a­trous gods or god­dess­es was also nat­u­ral­ly in imi­ta­tion of the idol­a­try which had in the mean­time been installed at the Ka’­ba, not vice-ver­sa, as Ibn Ishaq and oth­ers very dis­tinct­ly men­tion. Idol­a­try had of course been preva­lent in many of the sur­round­ing coun­tries since a much ear­li­er peri­od, but to prove that the Ka’­ba was orig­i­nal­ly built as an idol­a­trous tem­ple requires some more rel­e­vant evi­dence than what Muir has adduced. All that he has men­tioned, to repeat, takes us back only to the fifth cen­tu­ry B.C. He can­not imply that the Ka’­ba was built so late as the 5th cen­tu­ry B.C. or around that time.

Muir admits that the Abra­ham­ic tribes of Ara­bia orig­i­nal­ly pos­sessed knowl­edge of God.” They indeed did ; it has been not­ed ear­li­er that despite their declen­sion into gross idol­a­try they had not lost sight of Allah (God) as the Supreme Lord of the uni­verse. And it is remark­able that through­out the ages the Arabs used to call the Ka’­ba the House of Allah” or Bayt Allah. While all the oth­er shrines were each named after some spe­cif­ic god or god­dess, such as the shrine of Al-Lat, that of AI-‘Uzza, that of Wadd and so on, the Ka’­ba was nev­er called after any such idol­a­trous deity, not even after the Quraysh’s prin­ci­pal idol Hubal. If the Ka’­ba was orig­i­nal­ly built for any idol­a­trous deity, the name of that deity would have remained asso­ci­at­ed with it. It can­not be sup­posed that the name of that deity was oblit­er­at­ed when the immi­grant Ismailites alleged­ly super­im­posed the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion upon the tem­ple”. If such sub­se­quent super­im­po­si­tion had at all tak­en place, it is more in accord with rea­son that the name of that idol­a­trous deity would have been con­joined with Allah at the time of the sup­posed inte­gra­tion of the Ka’­ba with the Abra­ham­ic tradition.

To prove the sup­posed idol­a­trous ori­gin of the Ka’­ba, Muir states that the native sys­tems of Ara­bia were Sabeanism, Idol­a­try, and Stone wor­ship, all con­nect­ed with the reli­gion of Mec­ca.“40 This is a high­ly mis­lead­ing state­ment. The reli­gious sys­tems men­tioned were, of course, preva­lent in Ara­bia at dif­fer­ent places and at dif­fer­ent times, not equal­ly and every­where at the same time. Sabeanism with its wor­ship of the heav­en­ly bod­ies pre­vailed in south Ara­bia. Muir does not show how this sys­tem was con­nect­ed with the reli­gion at Mec­ca” except say­ing that as late as the fourth cen­tu­ry sac­ri­fices were offered in Yemen to the sun, moon, and stars” and that the sev­en cir­cuits of the Kaa­ba were prob­a­bly emblem­at­i­cal of the rev­o­lu­tions of the plan­e­tary bod­ies.“10 It is not under­stand­able how sac­ri­fices offered in Yaman to the sun, moon and stars” could be con­nect­ed with the reli­gion at Mak­ka. The Makkan unbe­liev­ers did, of course, offer sac­ri­fices to their idols ; but they did nev­er do so by way of wor­ship­ping the sun, the moon, and the stars ! Indeed the prac­tice of sac­ri­fic­ing ani­mals, or even human beings, for gods and god­dess­es, had been preva­lent among many ancient peo­ples before even Prophet Ibrahim’s(P) intend­ed sac­ri­fice of his son to Allah. But none would, there­fore, sug­gest that such sac­ri­fices by the oth­er ancient peo­ples or by Ibrahim were only sym­bol­i­cal of Sabeanism ! In fact, the term Sabeanism is derived from the Sabaeans who emerged on the scene of his­to­ry much sub­se­quent­ly to the gen­er­al­ly assigned date of the Ka’­ba. More specif­i­cal­ly, wor­ship of the heav­en­ly bod­ies was preva­lent among the ancient Greeks, among oth­ers. In that per­spec­tive, Sabeanism was only a south Ara­bi­an man­i­fes­ta­tion of Hellenism.

More strange is Muir’s state­ment that the sev­en cir­cuits of the Kaa­ba were prob­a­bly emblem­at­i­cal of the rev­o­lu­tions of the plan­e­tary bod­ies”. There is no indi­ca­tion what­so­ev­er that the Sabaeans or oth­er ancient wor­ship­pers of the heav­en­ly bod­ies used to make sev­en cir­cuits around any object as part of their astral wor­ship. It is also quite unrea­son­able to sup­pose that the ancient Makkans or oth­ers of the time were aware of the rev­o­lu­tions of the plan­e­tary bod­ies”. If they had such mod­ern astro­nom­i­cal knowl­edge, they would not have wor­shipped the heav­en­ly bod­ies at all.

With regard to idol­a­try and stone wor­ship Muir, after refer­ring to what Ibn Ishaq says about the exis­tence of idol­a­trous shrines in Ara­bia and how the Isma’ilites, when dis­pers­ing from Mak­ka, used to car­ry with them a stone from the sacred precincts, states that this wide­spread ten­den­cy to stone wor­ship prob­a­bly occa­sioned the super­sti­tion of the Kaa­ba with its black stone, than that it took its rise from that super­sti­tion.“41

As shown above, the evi­dence adduced by Muir does in no way show that the idol­a­trous shrines in Ara­bia and the atten­dant wor­ship of stones or stone images came into exis­tence before the erec­tion of the Ka’­ba. And Muir is gross­ly wrong in sup­pos­ing that the Black Stone at the Ka’­ba was sym­bol­i­cal of stone wor­ship. What­ev­er the ori­gin of the Black Stone and what­ev­er the ori­gin of stone wor­ship in Ara­bia, the pre-Islam­ic Arabs, nei­ther of Mak­ka nor of the oth­er places, are nev­er found to have wor­shipped the Black Stone of the Ka’­ba. The kiss­ing of the Black Stone was no wor­ship of the stone itself ; it marked only the start of mak­ing the cir­cuit around the Ka’­ba. This cir­cum­am­bu­la­tion was not done for any spe­cif­ic idol in the Ka’­ba or around it. It was to all intents and pur­pos­es a cir­cum­am­bu­la­tion of the House of Allah. And it is only an instance of the pecu­liar coex­is­tence of the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tions and idol­a­try which the Makkan reli­gion rep­re­sent­ed on the eve of the rise of Islam. It should be not­ed here that it was very much the prac­tice of Ibrahim(P) that in the course of his trav­els from one land to anoth­er he set up, wher­ev­er he halt­ed, a stone to mark a place ded­i­cat­ed to the wor­ship of Allah (“an altar unto God” as it is put in the Eng­lish ver­sions of the Old Tes­ta­ment)42.

That these places of wor­ship were sym­bol­ized by stones erect­ed as pil­lars is clear from Gen. 28:10, 18 – 22, which informs us that Jacob [Ya’qub(P)], when he jour­neyed from Beer-She­ba to Haran, halt­ed at night at a cer­tain place and in the morn­ing took the stone he had used as his pil­low and set it up for a pil­lar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el.” He fur­ther declared : And this stone, which I have set up for a pil­lar, shall be God’s house.“43 In fact, these stone pil­lars were in the nature of foun­da­tion stones laid at dif­fer­ent places where hous­es for God’s wor­ship were intend­ed to be erect­ed. The Black Stone of the Ka’­ba was one such stone with which the patri­arch Ibrahim(P) laid the foun­da­tion of the House of Allah (Beth-el).44

Nei­ther was the Black Stone of the Ka’­ba sym­bol­i­cal of stone wor­ship, nor were the Prophets Ibrahim(P), Ishaq(P) and Ya’qub(P), by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, stone wor­ship­pers on account of their erec­tion of stone pil­lars as altars unto God”.

The dog­mat­ic asser­tion that the rites con­nect­ed with the Ka’­ba have no con­ceiv­able con­nec­tion with Abra­ham, or with the ideas and prin­ci­ples which his descen­dants would be like­ly to inher­it from him”, is a down­right mis­state­ment. So far as the Black Stone is con­cerned, its con­nec­tion with Ibrahim and with the ideas, prac­tices, and prin­ci­ples that his descen­dants were like­ly to inher­it from him, are indu­bitably demon­strat­ed by the above-men­tioned tes­ti­mo­ny of the Old Tes­ta­ment. That the insti­tu­tion of sac­ri­fice also is very much in line with the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion admits of no doubt, the inci­dent of the intend­ed sac­ri­fice of his son being so clear­ly nar­rat­ed in both the Old Tes­ta­ment and the Qur’an. In this case, too, the coex­is­tence of Abra­ham­ic rites with idol­a­trous prac­tices is notice­able. While the unbe­liev­ing Arabs used to sac­ri­fice ani­mals on var­i­ous idol altars at dif­fer­ent places, their sac­ri­fic­ing of ani­mals at Mina at the time of the pil­grim­age was only in pur­suance of the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion. It was no sac­ri­fic­ing for any par­tic­u­lar idols or their idols in gen­er­al. Nei­ther any idol nor any altar was there at Mina or Arafat. Indeed the pil­grim­age, the stay­ing at Mina, the stand­ing at Arafat and the sac­ri­fices made on the occa­sion were not done for any idol or idols. These were per­formed pure­ly in accor­dance with the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion. Muir’s remarks about sac­ri­fice are some­what con­fus­ing. In attempt­ing to show the sup­posed con­nec­tion of Sabeanism with the Makkan reli­gion he states, as men­tioned ear­li­er, that as late as the fourth cen­tu­ry A.C. sac­ri­fices were offered in Yaman to the sun, moon and the stars”. But while sug­gest­ing that the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion was graft­ed on the sup­pos­ed­ly pre­ex­ist­ing Ka’­ba and its rites by an Isma’ilite tribe he states that the rites of sac­ri­fice and oth­er cer­e­monies were now for the first time intro­duced or at any rate asso­ci­at­ed with the mem­o­ry of Abra­ham.“45 This state­ment of Muir’s con­sti­tutes, in fact, a con­fes­sion of the weak­ness of his the­o­ry and an admis­sion that the rites of sac­ri­fice and oth­er cer­e­monies” were very much con­nect­ed with the Abra­ham­ic tradition.

Indeed Muir’s third and fourth sug­ges­tions, name­ly, that the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion was super­im­posed on the sup­pos­ed­ly pre-exis­tent and idol­a­trous Ka’­ba and its rites by an Isma’ilite tribe sub­se­quent­ly set­tling there, and that this tra­di­tion was still more sub­se­quent­ly adopt­ed by degrees” on the part of the Arab tribes because of the com­mer­cial pre-emi­nence of Mak­ka which attract­ed them thith­er, are more illog­i­cal and absurd. Both these assump­tions run counter to his oth­er state­ment that so exten­sive a homage” to the Ka’­ba and its rites must have its begin­nings in an extreme­ly remote age.“46

The Ka’­ba and its rites, of course, go back to very remote antiq­ui­ty. And it is also not­ed that Muir makes a dis­tinc­tion between the pri­or exis­tence of the Ka’­ba and the exten­sive homage to it on the one hand, and the Abra­ham­ic tra­di­tion on the oth­er, which accord­ing to him was super­im­posed on it and its rites. But that does not resolve the incon­sis­ten­cy and dif­fi­cul­ty involved in his propo­si­tion. If the Arab tribes had since antiq­ui­ty been pay­ing exten­sive homage to the Ka’­ba and its rites, they would not sim­ply add to these insti­tu­tions only the name of Ibrahim at a sub­se­quent stage ‑for that is in essence what Muir sug­gests — just because an Isma’ilite tribe came to set­tle at Mak­ka and imposed Ibrahim’s name on the exist­ing insti­tu­tions. In all like­li­hood, such an ille­git­i­mate attempt on the part of an Isma’ilite tribe would have met with uni­ver­sal resis­tance, both from the pre­ex­ist­ing idol­a­trous pop­u­la­tion of Mak­ka as well as from the Arab tribes.

Muir seems to have fore­seen the dif­fi­cul­ty. Hence he rec­og­nizes, on the one hand, the fact that the Arab tribes of north­ern and cen­tral Ara­bia were by and large of Abra­ham­ic ori­gin so much so that both the Jews and the Old Tes­ta­ment spoke of them as Kedarites (i.e., descen­dants of Isma’il’s son Kedar or Qay­dar) and, on the oth­er, attempts to make room for his the­o­ry in the sit­u­a­tion by sug­gest­ing that it is improb­a­ble” that the mem­o­ry of the con­nec­tion with Ibrahim should have been hand­ed down from the remote age of the patri­arch by an inde­pen­dent train of evi­dence in any par­tic­u­lar tribe, or asso­ci­a­tion of tribes”. As not­ed ear­li­er, he sug­gests that it is more like­ly that it was bor­rowed from the Jews, and kept alive by occa­sion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion with them.“47 Now, it is high­ly unlike­ly that an acknowl­edged con­ser­v­a­tive peo­ple like the Semit­ic Arabs, who of all peo­ple were the most attached to their ancient tra­di­tions, remem­ber­ing their indi­vid­ual genealo­gies going back to a dis­tant past, would have con­tin­ued to ven­er­ate the Ka’­ba and its rites as belong­ing to their com­mon past, and at the same time for­get­ting the real fact of their descent from Ibrahim.

The nature of liv­ing tra­di­tion” is not that it should have been hand­ed down by an inde­pen­dent train of evi­dence in any par­tic­u­lar tribe, or asso­ci­a­tion of tribes.” It is hand­ed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion by pop­u­lar mem­o­ry”, not by the mem­o­ry or evi­dence of any par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual or tribe. It is also just not cor­rect to say, as Muir does, that the Arab tribes hav­ing sup­pos­ed­ly for­got­ten their descent from Ibrahim bor­rowed” the mem­o­ry from the Jews” and it was kept alive by occa­sion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion with them.” No peo­ple who had for­got­ten their com­mon ances­tor would accept the ances­tor of oth­er peo­ple as their ances­tor too because the lat­ter stat­ed so, with­out fur­ther and an inde­pen­dent train of evi­dence.” The fact is that the Arab tribes of cen­tral and north­ern Ara­bia were not mere­ly on occa­sion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion” with the Jews. Through­out the ages till almost the begin­ning of the Chris­t­ian era the Jews and the Kedarite tribes of north­ern and cen­tral Ara­bia were on con­stant con­tact with one anoth­er and they very much con­stant­ly remem­bered their com­mon descent from Ibrahim. But leav­ing aside all these ques­tions and going with Muir all the way, it is only rea­son­able to sup­pose that if the Jews at any point of time remind­ed the Arab tribes of their descent from their com­mon patri­arch Ibrahim, they would also have been told that that patri­arch was no poly­the­ist and that the (sup­pos­ed­ly) pre-exist­ing Ka’­ba and its rites had no con­nec­tion with him. There­fore the Arab tribes would not asso­ciate the Ka’­ba and its rites with the mem­o­ry of Ibrahim even when they were remind­ed of their actu­al ances­tor. But, since the Arab tribes, by Muir’s admis­sion and by all the avail­able evi­dence did in fact asso­ciate the Ka’­ba and its rites with Ibrahim for long before the com­ing of Islam, a nat­ur­al corol­lary of Muir’s sug­ges­tion is that the Jews, when remind­ing them of Ibrahim, must also have told them that the Ka’­ba and its rites were of Abra­ham­ic origin.

The unrea­son­able­ness of Muir’s propo­si­tion does not end here. He says that the Isma’ilite tribe, when it came to set­tling at Mak­ka, brought in its train the patri­ar­chal leg­end of Abra­ham­ic ori­gin” and engraft­ed it on the local super­sti­tions.” Thus by Muir’s own state­ment, when the Isma’ilite tribe came to Mak­ka, they had not for­got­ten their Abra­ham­ic ori­gin. It is, there­fore, rea­son­able to add that they had also not lost sight of the fact that Ibrahim was no poly­the­ist. Hence they would not have des­e­crat­ed the sacred mem­o­ry of their ances­tor by asso­ci­at­ing it with the (sup­pos­ed­ly) pre-exist­ing and poly­the­is­tic Ka’­ba and its rites, the more so because these insti­tu­tions had long been com­mand­ing the homage of the Arabs. In such a state, if they intend­ed to inte­grate them­selves with the Arab tribes, or vice ver­sa, they would have sim­ply allowed the Abra­ham­ic mem­o­ry to remain in the back­ground and would have accept­ed the Ka’­ba and its rites as they were ; for by so doing they would not have lost any­thing, nei­ther their domi­cile nor the prof­itable trade of Mak­ka. Since they did not do so, but accept­ed, as it is said, the Ka’­ba and its rites as of Abra­ham­ic ori­gin, notwith­stand­ing their hav­ing retained the mem­o­ry of their descent from Ibrahim, and since also the Arab tribes accept­ed the Ka’­ba and its rites as of Abra­ham­ic ori­gin, notwith­stand­ing their con­stant touch with the col­lat­er­al branch of Ibrahim’s descen­dants, the Jews, the nat­ur­al con­clu­sion is that they did so because they knew that the Ka’­ba and its rites were of Abra­ham­ic ori­gin. Thus a ratio­nal analy­sis of even Muir’s the­o­ry of sub­se­quent migra­tion to and set­tle­ment at Mak­ka by an Isma’ilite tribe, togeth­er with the oth­er assump­tions he makes and the facts he admits, leads to the unavoid­able con­clu­sion that the Ka’­ba and its rites were of Abra­ham­ic origin.

(b) About the Old Tes­ta­ment evidence 

Muir’s above-dis­cussed the­o­ry and assump­tions pro­ceed from his under­stand­ing of the infor­ma­tion con­tained in Gen. 21:21. He says : Hagar, when cast forth by Abra­ham, dwelt with her son in the wilder­ness of Paran, to the north of Ara­bia.“48 The above-men­tioned pas­sage of the Gen­e­sis sim­ply says that Ismail and his moth­er dwelt in the wilder­ness of Paran”. The clause, to the north of Ara­bia”, is Muir’s own state­ment based under­stand­ably on the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Paran made by oth­er Chris­t­ian writ­ers and exegetes of the Bible. Paran is men­tioned in con­nec­tion with oth­er events at three oth­er places in the Old Tes­ta­ment.49 But in none of all these places it is clear what exact­ly is the local­i­ty meant by the name Paran. The answer to the ques­tion where, accord­ing to Gen­e­sis 21:21, Hajar and Isma’il set­tled thus depends on the cor­rect iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Paran.

The sub­ject was in fact exhaus­tive­ly dealt with by Syed Ahmed Khan Bahadur short­ly after the appear­ance of Muir’s work50. As the argu­ments on either side have not advanced much since that time, it would be worth­while to reca­pit­u­late the main points made by him, adding to them such oth­er facts or points as bear on the sub­ject. He drew atten­tion to the fact that the ear­ly Mus­lim geo­g­ra­phers speak of three dif­fer­ent places bear­ing the same name of Paran, name­ly, first, the wilder­ness where Mak­ka now stands, togeth­er with the moun­tain­ous region adja­cent to it ; sec­ond­ly, those moun­tains and a vil­lage that are sit­u­at­ed in East­ern Egypt or Ara­bia Petra and ; third­ly, a dis­trict in Samarkand.51 He fur­ther point­ed out that the Chris­t­ian schol­ars and exegetes advance three dif­fer­ent iden­ti­fi­ca­tions of Paran. One view is that it com­prised a vast area extend­ing from the north­ern bound­ary of Beer-She­ba as far as Mount Sinai’; the sec­ond view is that it was iden­ti­cal with Beer­she­ba, which was also called Kadesh ; and the third view is that it was the wilder­ness lying on the west­ern slopes of Mount Sinai.52

As regards these iden­ti­fi­ca­tions the first two are obvi­ous­ly wrong, because the descrip­tions of the Old Tes­ta­ment itself clear­ly show Paran to be a dis­tinct and dif­fer­ent area, not a vast wilder­ness includ­ing many oth­ers such as the first iden­ti­fi­ca­tion would sug­gest, and also dif­fer­ent from Beer-She­ba/Kadesh.53 The third iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, that of Paran being a local­i­ty on the west­ern slopes of Mount Sinai, tal­lies with one of the Paran men­tioned by the Mus­lim geo­g­ra­phers, but the local­i­ty was in all like­li­hood not known by the name of Paran at that time. For Moses, in the course of his jour­ney with the Israelites from Egypt to Sinai, does not make any men­tion of Paran although he passed through the same local­i­ty and men­tioned the places on the way. Most prob­a­bly the place came to be known as Paran at a peri­od sub­se­quent to that of Moses on account of the set­tle­ment there of a branch of Banu Pha­ran, a Qah­tan­ite tribe.54

None of these three local­i­ties, how­ev­er, could have been the domi­cile of Hajar and Isma’il. For, in the first place, no local tra­di­tions exist to the effect that they set­tled in any of those local­i­ties. Sec­ond­ly, though Moses and his fol­low­ers are stat­ed to have pro­ceed­ed fur­ther from Sinai and hav­ing passed through Taber­ah”, Kibroth­hat­taavah” and Haze­roth” next halt­ed at the wilder­ness of Paran55 the exact course tak­en by them is not clear. The Chris­t­ian schol­ars them­selves sug­gest as many as five dif­fer­ent direc­tions. More­over, their state­ment that the descen­dants of Isma’il spread over the area from Shur to Hav­i­lah’, or across the Ara­bi­an penin­su­la, from the bor­ders of Egypt to the mouths of the Euphrates” is based on an incor­rect iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Hav­i­lah” men­tioned in Gen. 25:18. They, guess­ing on a slen­der sim­i­lar­i­ty in sound, iden­ti­fy Hav­i­lah with Aval or Auw­al of the Bahrayn islands. In real­i­ty, as Syed Ahmed points out, Hav­i­lah is a local­i­ty in the vicin­i­ty of Yaman, lying at Lat. 17 degrees 30′ N and Long. 42 degrees 36, E, and called after Hav­i­lah, one of the sons of Jok­tan (Qah­tan)56. It is thus evi­dent that the Ish­maelites set­tled in the wide tract of land extend­ing from the north­ern fron­tiers of Yemen to the south­ern bor­ders of Syr­ia. This place now bears the name of Hed­jaz, and it is iden­ti­cal with Paran”, as men­tioned by the Mus­lim geo­g­ra­phers.57 It is fur­ther note­wor­thy that an Ara­bic ver­sion of the Samar­i­tan Pen­ta­teuch edit­ed by R. Kue­nen and pub­lished at Lug­duni Bata­vo­rum, 1851, says in a note that Pha­ran and Hejaz are one and the same place.58

Third­ly, a close look at Gen. 21:14 – 15 would make it clear that the two con­sec­u­tive pas­sages do not real­ly speak of one and the same occa­sion. The state­ment in Gen. 21:14 that Hajar wan­dered in the wilder­ness of Beer­she­ba” does not mean that she wan­dered only there and pro­ceed­ed no far­ther. Nor does the state­ment in Gen. 21:15, And the water was spent in the bot­tle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs”, mean that the inci­dent took place in or in the vicin­i­ty of Beer-She­ba. Nor does it mean that the same water in the bot­tle with which she had left her home was spent” and there­fore she was oblig­ed to cast the child under one of the shrubs”. Beer­she­ba was a place well known to her, Ibrahim hav­ing lived there with her for long. There were also a num­ber of wells scat­tered over the region and dug by dif­fer­ent per­sons, as the Old Tes­ta­ment very clear­ly states at a num­ber of places. The well at Beer-She­ba itself was dug by Ibrahim. All these could not have been unknown to Hajar. She could, there­fore, have obtained fur­ther water, after a lit­tle search, from any of the many wells in the area.

In fact, the Old Tes­ta­ment writer here describes, in two very short and con­sec­u­tive pas­sages, the long and ardu­ous wan­der­ings made by Hajar, of which the begin­ning was her wan­der­ings in Beer-She­ba and the last stage was at such a place where she could get no water, nor replen­ish her bot­tle in any way. So in utter dis­tress and despair, she cast the child under one of the shrubs. The two pas­sages speak of two dif­fer­ent stages of her wan­der­ings, sep­a­rat­ed by not too small gaps of time and place.

Fourth­ly, the caus­es and cir­cum­stances that led to Hajar’s and Isma’il’s ban­ish­ment from home, as described in the Old Tes­ta­ment, also indi­cate that they trav­elled to a land quite away from the area where Sarah and Ibrahim con­tin­ued to live. Accord­ing to the Gen­e­sis, Sarah want­ed that Isma’il should not be heir with her son Ishaq. So also, accord­ing to the Gen­e­sis, it was God’s plan that Ismail and his descen­dants should set­tle in and pop­u­late anoth­er land. The Gen­e­sis very graph­i­cal­ly describes the sit­u­a­tion thus :

11. And the thing was very griev­ous in Abra­ham’s sight because of his son.”
12. And God said unto Abra­ham, Let it not be griev­ous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of the bond­woman ; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hear­ken unto her voice ; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
13. And also the son of the bond­woman will I make a nation because he is thy seed.”
14. And Abra­ham rose up ear­ly in the morn­ing, took bread, and a bot­tle of water, and gave it unto Hagar…”, etc.
(Gen. 21:11 – 14

Thus it is very clear from the Gen­e­sis that it was not real­ly because of Sarah’s desire but deci­sive­ly because of God’s plan and assur­ance of a fruit­ful future for Isma’il com­mu­ni­cat­ed to Ibrahim, and His com­mand to him, that he ban­ished Hajar and Ismail to a dif­fer­ent land. God’s words to Ibrahim, for in Isaac shall thy seed be called”, was a con­so­la­tion as well as an assur­ance that the ban­ish­ment of Ismail did not mean an end to or a con­stric­tion of the line of Ibrahim’s descen­dants. The state­ment, in Isaac shall thy seed be called” meant that Ibrahim’s prog­e­ny will con­tin­ue there where he was at that time, through Ishaq ; where­as the oth­er state­ment was an empha­sis on the fact that Isma’il was his seed (“he is thy seed”) but his prog­e­ny will be mul­ti­plied and made into a nation in anoth­er region. By the very nature of this plan of God’s (and Sarah’s desire to exclude Isma’il from his father’s imme­di­ate pos­ses­sions was itself part of God’s plan), Hajar and Ismail could not have been set­tled in any place in the region of Beer-She­ba and Sinai, which were very much then with­in the sphere of Ibrahim’s and Sarah’s activ­i­ties. Hajar and Isma’il could only have been and were indeed con­signed to a far-away and unset­tled land. The Paran/​Faran men­tioned in the Gen­e­sis as their domi­cile could not sim­ply have been any Paran in and around Beer-She­ba and Sinai, as the Chris­t­ian schol­ars imagine.

Fifth­ly, as regards the exact loca­tion of Hajar’s and Isma’il’s domi­cile Gen­e­sis 21 also fur­nish­es a clue. Thus, when Hajar in her utter dis­tress and help­less­ness prayed unto God and also the child Ismail cried out of hunger and thirst, God respond­ed to them. Says the Genesis :

(Gen. 21:17 – 19)

17. And God heard the voice of the lad ; and the Angel of God called to Hagar out of heav­en, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar ? Fear not ; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.”

18. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand ; for I will make him a great nation.”

19. And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the bot­tle with water, and gave the lad drink.” 

Thus God pro­vid­ed Hajar and Isma’il with a well of water ; on the spot where they were (“God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.”) Hajar did not have to look around and walk any dis­tance to find the well. God opened her eyes”, i.e., God made her open her eyes (Obvi­ous­ly Hajar was deeply absorbed in prayer with her eyes closed), and she saw a well of water.” It was not sim­ply a tem­po­rary relief. It was God’s espe­cial gift for them to be the means of their sus­te­nance and set­tle­ment there in accor­dance with His plan and promise to make a nation” out of Isma’il. This divine­ly pro­vid­ed well can­not be iden­ti­fied with any well in Beer-She­ba and its sur­round­ing region for the sim­ple rea­son that none of these wells is men­tioned in the Old Tes­ta­ment as God-giv­en. On the con­trary they are very dis­tinct­ly described as the work of human hand. Nor is there any local tra­di­tion point­ing to the exis­tence there, now or in the past, of any divine­ly caused well. To attempt to iden­ti­fy the well giv­en by God to Isma’il and Hajar with any of the wells in the Beer-She­ba region would be an affront to the clear word­ing and pur­port of the text of the Gen­e­sis. This well is unmis­tak­ably the Zamzam well by the side of the Ka’­ba. Ever since the time of Hajar and Isma’il it has con­tin­ued to be a peren­ni­al source of water for the descen­dants of Isma’il and oth­ers who repair there, except for a short peri­od of human tam­per­ing with it.

Last but not least, the name of Mak­ka, which is also called Bak­ka in the Qur’an (Q. 3:96), finds men­tion in the Psalm of David, togeth­er with the well too. Thus Psalm 84:6 says :

Who pass­ing through the val­ley of Baca make it a well ; the rain also fil­leth the pools.” 

Baca’ in the above pas­sage is clear­ly Bak­ka of the Qur’an, and the well spo­ken of is the well of Zamzam. It is also note­wor­thy that ancient works on his­to­ry and geog­ra­phy make men­tion of floods being caused at Mak­ka by occa­sion­al heavy rains, a fea­ture not quite unknown even in modem times ‑thus com­plet­ing the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Mak­ka — the rain also fil­leth the pools.”

Thus, despite some obvi­ous dis­crep­an­cies in the descrip­tion of the Gen­e­sis, it is in con­so­nance with all the essen­tial fea­tures in the Qur’an­ic and Islam­ic accounts ; and they com­bined to prove that Hajar and Isma’il were set­tled at Mak­ka, accord­ing to the Divine plan and provision.Endmark

Pro­fes­sor of the His­to­ry of the Islam, Cen­tre for the Ser­vice of Sun­nah and Sir­ah, Islam­ic Uni­ver­si­ty Mad­i­na, Sau­di Ara­bia. Excerpts from Sir­at Al Nabi and the Ori­en­tal­ists : With Spe­cial Ref­er­ence to the Writ­ings of William Muir, D. S. Mar­go­liouth and W. Mont­gomery Watt. Com­piled by Adam Rodrigues.
Cite this arti­cle as : Muham­mad Mohar Ali, The Ka’a­ba And The Abra­ham­ic Tra­di­tion,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Octo­ber 15, 2005, last accessed May 27, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​h​i​s​t​o​r​y​/​k​a​a​b​a​-​a​n​d​-​a​b​r​a​h​a​m​i​c​-​t​r​a​d​i​t​i​on/
  1. Qur’an, 6:74, 80 – 83 ; 19:41 – 50 ; 21:51 – 71 ; 26:70 – 82 ; 29:16 – 18, 24 – 25 ; 37:83 – 98[]
  2. Qur’an, 21:68 – 70[]
  3. Qur’an, 21:71[]
  4. Ibn Khal­dun, Tarikh, II/​I /​79 ; Ibn Sa’d, I, 48, 49[]
  5. Qur’an, 37:99 – 100[]
  6. Gen­e­sis 16:7 – 11[]
  7. Qur’an, 6:86:7:80 – 84 ; 11:77 – 83 ; 15:57 – 77 ; 21:74 – 75 ; 26:160 – 175 ; 27:54 – 58 ; 29:26, 28 – 35 ; 37:133 – 138 ; 51:31 – 37 ; 54:34 – 39 ; 66:10[]
  8. Bukhari, no. 3364[]
  9. Bukhari, no. 3365[][]
  10. Ibid.[][][]
  11. Some reports say it to be at Mina ; some oth­ers think it to be near the Mar­wah hill.[]
  12. Qur’an, 37:103[]
  13. Qur’an, 37:102 – 107[]
  14. Q.37:112 – 113[]
  15. Qur’an, 2:127 – 129[]
  16. Qur’an, 22:27[]
  17. Gen­e­sis 12:2 ; 16:10[]
  18. Gen­e­sis 25:7 – 9[]
  19. The Old Tes­ta­ment, after men­tion­ing the names of the twelve sons of Ismail, states : These are the sons of Ish­mael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their cas­tles ; twelve princes accord­ing to their nations.” (Gen­e­sis 25:16)[]
  20. Kedar of the Old Tes­ta­ment.[]
  21. See for instance, A. Guil­laume, Islam, Lon­don, 1964, pp. 61 – 62 ; P. Lam­mens, L’Is­lam, Croy­ance et Insti­tu­tions, Beirut, 1926, pp. 28, 33[]
  22. D.S. Mar­go­liouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, 3rd ed. (Lon­don, 1905), p. 104. This spe­cif­ic com­ment has been dis­cussed at a sub­se­quent stage in this work, infra, Ch. XIV, see I & II[]
  23. First pub­lished, Lon­don, 1926 ; repub­lished in 1984[]
  24. R. Bell, The Sac­ri­fice of Ish­mael, T.G.U.O.S., Vol. X, pp. 29 – 31 ; and The Ori­gin of the Id al-Adha, M. W. (1933), pp. 117 – 120[]
  25. W. Muir, The Life of Mahomet, 1st edn, Vol. 1., Lon­don, 1858, p. cxi, cit­ing Gen. XXI : 25 ; XXV : 18[]
  26. Ibid., pp. cxv ; cxxv[]
  27. Ibid., p. cxvi[]
  28. Muir specif­i­cal­ly uses this term twice, once at p. cxxv and again at p. cxxvi. He also des­ig­nates his account as the sup­posed his­to­ry of the rise of Mec­ca and its reli­gion”. See side-note on p. ccx­iv of the first edi­tion and p. civ of the third revised edi­tion by T.H. Weir, Lon­don, 1923[]
  29. ibid., 1st edn., p. ccxv[]
  30. ibid., pp. cxxv-cxxvi[]
  31. ibid., p. cxv. See also pp. cxxiv-cxxv[]
  32. ibid., p. ccxii[]
  33. ibid., p. ccx[][]
  34. ibid., p. ccxi[]
  35. ibid., p. ccxi­ii[]
  36. ibid., p. ccxvi[]
  37. Ibid., p. ccxv[]
  38. Ibid., ccxvi­ii[]
  39. Ibid. See also Isa­iah 21:16 – 17[]
  40. Muir, op. cit., p. ccxii[]
  41. Ibid., pp. ccxi­ii-ccx­iv[]
  42. Gen. 12:6 – 8 ; 13:4 ; 13:18. See also Gen. 25:25 which speaks of Ishaq’s sim­i­lar­ly set­ting up an altar unto God’.[]
  43. Gen. 28:10, 18 – 19[]
  44. See Muham­mad Sulay­man Mansur­puri, Rahmatullil-‘Alamin, (Urdu text), Del­hi, 1980[]
  45. Muir, Op. Cit., p. ccxvi. See also supra, p. 72[]
  46. Muir, Op. Cit., p. ccxii[]
  47. See supra, p. 71[]
  48. Muir, Op. Cit., p.cxi. Muir mis­tak­en­ly cites in his foot­note Gen. 21:25. It ought to be Gen. 21:21[]
  49. See Gen. 14:6 ; Num. 10:12 ; Num. 12:16[]
  50. Syed Ahmed Khan Bahadur, Essay on the His­tor­i­cal Geog­ra­phy of Ara­bia (Lon­don, Trub­n­er & Co., 1869)[]
  51. Ibid., p. 74. See also Yaqu, Mu’­jam al-Bul­dan, under Faran[]
  52. Syed Ahmed, op. cit., p.76, cit­ing Kit­to’s Cyclo­pe­dia of the Bible and The Peo­ples’ Bible Dic­tio­nary[]
  53. Syed Ahmed, op. cit., pp. 77 – 79. See also Gen. 14:5 – 7 ; Deut. 33:2 ; Hab. 3:3 ; Num. 10:12 ; 13:1 – 3, 6[]
  54. Syed Ahmad, Op. Cit., p. 85[]
  55. See Exod. 15:32 ; 17:8 ; 18:5 ; 19:2 and Num. 10:12 ; 11:34 ; 12:16 ; 13:26 and 14:25[]
  56. Syed Ahmad, Op. Cit., p. 80. See also Gen. 10:29[]
  57. Syed Ahmad, Op. Cit., p. 80[]
  58. Ibid., pp. 75 – 76[]

1 Comment

  1. Assala­mu alaykum. You men­tioned that the Kedarites lived in Mec­ca. How­ev­er, his­tor­i­cal­ly we know that the Kedarites were set­tled far­ther up in North­ern Ara­bia, clos­er to where Tay­ma is. How do is this rec­on­ciled ? Could it be per­haps that oth­er descen­dants of Ismail (as) lived in Mec­ca instead ?

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