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Subject: Kingdom of Israel (Samaria), Tribe of Manasseh, List of biblical names starting with N, Children of Eber, Hadith of the Twelve Successors, Hagrite, Ten Lost Tribes
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For other uses, see Ishmael (disambiguation).
"Ismail" redirects here. For the figure's role in Islam, see Ishmael in Islam. For other uses, see Ismail (disambiguation).
Kaaba, Apostle to Arabia
Born Canaan
Died Arabia
Honored in Judaism
Influences Abraham

Ishmael (

Islamic traditions consider Ishmael to be the ancestor of Arab people.


Cognates of Hebrew Yishma'el existed in various ancient Semitic cultures,[2] including early Babylonian and Minæan.[1] It is translated literally as "God has hearkened", suggesting that "a child so named was regarded as the fulfillment of a divine promise".[2]

Genesis narrative

This is the account of Ishmael from Genesis Chapters 16, 17, 21, 25



Yahweh's promise to Hagar concerning Ishmael and his descendants. This occurred at the well of Beer-lahai-roi, located in the desert region between Abram’s settlement and Shur. Hagar fled here after Sarai dealt harshly with her for showing contempt for her mistress following her having become pregnant. Here, Hagar encountered an angel of Yahweh who instructed her to return and be submissive to Sarai so that she could have her child there. The blessing that this child's father was promised was that Abram's descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth. However, the promise would be to a son of Sarai; yet God would make of this child a great nation, who would be named Ishmael, because he was of the seed of Abram. The angel continued that "he shall be a wild ass of a man: his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his brethren." When Ishmael was born, Abram was 86 years old.

Inheritance rights and the first circumcision

When he was 13 years old, Ishmael was circumcised at the same time as all other males in Abraham's house becoming a part of the Genesis 17)

At the time of the covenant, God informed Abraham that his wife Sarah would give birth to a son, which he was instructed to name Isaac. God told Abraham that He would establish his covenant through Isaac, and when Abraham inquired as to Ishmael's role, God answers that Ishmael has been blessed and that He “will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17)

A year later, Ishmael's half-brother Isaac was born by Abraham to his first wife Sarah.

On the day of feasting during which Abraham celebrated the weaning of Isaac, Ishmael was “mocking” or "playing with" Isaac (the Hebrew word is ambiguousGenesis 21:11–13)

At the age of 14, Ishmael was freed along with his mother. The Lord’s covenant made clear Ishmael was not to inherit Abraham’s house and that Isaac would be the seed of the covenant. Abraham gave him and his mother a supply of bread and water and sent them away. Hagar entered in the wilderness of Genesis 21:14–21)


After roaming the wilderness for some time, Ishmael and his mother settled in the Desert of Paran, where he became an expert in archery. Eventually, his mother found him a wife from the land of Egypt.[7] They had twelve sons who each became tribal chiefs throughout the regions from Havilah to Shur (from Assyria to the border of Egypt).[8] His sons were:[9]

  1. Nebaioth Nabit (means First-born or First Fruit in Arabic نبيت or نبيط pronounced Nabeet)
  2. Kedar, (in Arabic قيدر pronounced Qaidar) father of the Qedarites, a northern Arab tribe that controlled the area between the Persian Gulf and the Sinai Peninsula. According to tradition, he is the ancestor of the Quraysh tribe, and thus of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.[10]
  3. Adbeel, (means God's servant in Arabic عبدالله) established a tribe in northwest Arabia.
  4. Mibsam (means Smiley in Arabic مبسم pronounced Mubsem)
  5. Mishma (means Obeyed in Arabic مسموع pronounced Masmou')
  6. Dumah (means Sand-Hill in Arabic دومه Doomah)
  7. Massa (means Night Fall in Arabic مساء pronounced Masa') father of a nomadic tribe that inhabited the Arabian desert toward Babylonia.
  8. Hadar (means The Rolling-Stone one of the many names of Lion in Arabic حيدر pronounced Haidar)
  9. Tema (means "The Good News" or "The Right Hand Man" in Arabic تيمن pronounced Tayman)
  10. Jetur (means Revolt or "Rebel" in Arabic يثور pronounced Yathur)
  11. Naphish (means Genuine in Arabic نفيس pronounced Nafees)
  12. Kedemah (means The Front Man or "Scout" in Arabic قدامه pronounced Qudamah)

Ishmael also had one known daughter, Mahalath or Basemath, the third wife of Esau.[11]

Ishmael also appeared with Isaac at the burial of Abraham.[12] Ishmael died at the age of 137.[13]

Deuterocanonical references

The book of Jubilees places the location and identity of the Ishmaelites as the Arab peoples residing in Arab territories. This is the current view for the majority of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish faiths. According to Biblical accounts the Arab people traditionally have had long-standing alliances with the descendants of the Assyrians and the Medes.

World views

Islamic traditions consider Ishmael to be the ancestor of Arab people,[2] excluding Arabs who are descendants of Ya'rub. Arabs who are from Ishmael-descendant tribes are occasionally referred to as "Arabized-Arabs" to highlight their ancestry.

Jewish traditions are split between those, like Josephus, who consider Ishmael the ancestor of the Arabs,[15] and those, like Maimonides, who believe that the northern Arabs are descended from the sons of Keturah, whom Abraham married after Sarah's death.[16]

Pre-Islamic Arabia

Some Pre-Islamic poetry mentions Ishmael, his father Abraham, and the sacrifice story, such as the Pre-Islamic poet "Umayyah Ibn Abi As-Salt", who said in one of his poems: بكره لم يكن ليصبر عنه أو يراه في معشر أقتال ([The sacrifice] of his first-born of whose separation he [Abraham] could not bear neither could he see him surrounded in foes).[17][18][19]

"Zayd Ibn Amr" was another Pre-Islamic figure who refused idolatry and preached monotheism, claiming it was the original belief of their [Arabs] father Ishmael.[20][21]

Also, some of the tribes of Central West Arabia called themselves the "people of Abraham and the offspring of Ishmael", as evidenced by a common opening of speeches and harangues of reconciliation between rival tribes in that area.[22][23]


Judaism has generally viewed Ishmael as wicked though repentant (whereas Christianity omits any reference to repentance, which is sourced in the Talmudic explanation of the Hebrew Bible [24]).[2] Judaism maintains that Isaac rather than Ishmael was the true heir of Abraham.[4]

In some Rabbinic traditions Ishmael is said to have had two wives; one of them named Aisha. This name corresponds to the Muslim tradition for the name of Muhammad's wife.[2] This is understood as a metaphoric representation of the Muslim world (first Arabs and then Turks) with Ishmael.[25]

The name of an important 2nd century CE sage—Ishmael ben Elisha, known as "Rabbi Ishmael" (רבי ישמעאל), one of the Tannaim—indicates that the Biblical Ishmael enjoyed a positive image among Jews of the time.

Rabbinical commentators in the Midrash Genesis Rabbah also say that Ishmael's mother Hagar was the Pharaoh's daughter, thereby making Ishmael the grandson of the Pharaoh. This could be why Genesis 17:20 refers to Ishmael as the father of 12 mighty princes. According to Genesis 21:21, Hagar married Ishmael to an Egyptian woman, and if Rabbinical commentators are correct about Hagar being the daughter of the Pharaoh, his marriage to a woman selected by the Pharaoh's daughter could explain how and why his sons became princes.

However, according to other Jewish commentators, Ishmael's mother Hagar is identified with Keturah, the woman Abraham married after the death of Sarah, stating that Abraham sought her out after Sarah's death. It is suggested that Keturah was Hagar's personal name, and that "Hagar" was a descriptive label meaning "stranger".[26][27][28] This interpretation is discussed in the Midrash[29] and is supported by Rashi, Gur Aryeh, Keli Yakar, and Obadiah of Bertinoro. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki) argues that "Keturah" was a name given to Hagar because her deeds were as beautiful as incense (hence: ketores), and/or that she remained chaste from the time she was separated from Abraham—keturah [ קְטוּרָה Q'turah ] derives from the Aramaic word for restrained.

It is also said that Sarah was motivated by Ishmael's sexually frivolous ways because of the reference to his "making merry" (Gen. 21:9), a translation of the Hebrew word "Mitzachek". This was developed into a reference to idolatry, sexual immorality or even murder; some rabbinic sources claim that Sarah worried that Ishmael would negatively influence Isaac, or that he would demand Isaac's inheritance on the grounds of being the firstborn. Regarding the word "Mitzachek" (again in Gen. 21:9) The Jewish Study Bible by Oxford University Press says this word in this particular context is associated with; "Playing is another pun on Isaac's name (cf. 17.17; 18.12; 19.14; 26.8). Ishmael was 'Isaacing', or 'taking Isaac's place'."[30] Also others take a more positive view, emphasizing Hagar's piety, noting that she was "the one who had sat by the well and besought him who is the life of the worlds, saying 'look upon my misery'".[31]


Ishmael is recognized as an important prophet and Genesis 17:20

Ishmael in the Quran

Ishmael is mentioned over ten times in the Quran, often alongside other patriarchs and prophets of ancient times. In XIX: 54, the Quran says: "And make mention in the Scripture of Ishmael. He was a keeper of his promise, and he was a messenger, a prophet. He enjoined upon his people worship and almsgiving, and was most acceptable in the sight of his Lord." Later on, in XXXVIII: 48, Ishmael is mentioned together with Elisha and Dhul-Kifl as one of "the patiently enduring and righteous, whom God caused to enter into his mercy." It is also said of Lot, Elisha, Jonah and Ishmael, that God gave each one "preference above the worlds" (VI: 86). These references to Ishmael are, in each case, part of a larger context in which other holy prophets are mentioned. In other chapters of the Quran, however, which date from the Medina period, Ishmael is mentioned closely with his father Abraham: Ishmael stands alongside Abraham in their attempt to set up the Kaaba in Mecca as a place of monotheistic pilgrimage (II: 127-129) and Abraham thanks God for granting him Ishmael and Isaac in his old age (XIV: 35-41). Ishmael is further mentioned alongside the patriarchs who had been given revelations (II: 136) and Jacob's sons promise to follow the faith of their forefathers, "Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac", when testifying their faith (II: 133). In the narrative of the near-sacrifice of Abraham's son (XXXVII: 100-107), the son is not named and, although the general interpretation is that it was Ishmael, Tabari[34] maintained that it was Isaac. Most modern commentators, however, regard the son's identification as least important in a narrative which is given for its moral lesson.[35]

Ishmael in Muslim literature

The commentaries on the Quran and the numerous collections of Stories of the Prophets flesh out the Islamic perspective of Ishmael and detail what they describe as his integral part in setting up the Kaaba. According to Muslim tradition, Ishmael was buried in Al-Hijr, inside the Sacred Mosque.[36]

In Islamic belief, Abraham had prayed to God for a son and God heard his prayer. Muslim exegesis states that Sarah asked Abraham to marry her Egyptian handmaiden Hagar because she herself was barren.[32] Hagar soon bore Ishmael, who was the first son of Abraham. God then instructed Abraham to take his wife Hagar and their baby Ishmael out in to the desert and to leave them there. He did so taking them to the location of the Kaaba’s foundations (which now was in ruins) and as he turned away from Hagar and started to walk away she called out to him and asked “Why are you leaving us here?” to which Abraham didn’t reply the first two times she asked. She then changed her question and asked “Did God command you to do this?” to which Abraham stopped, turned around, looked back and replied “Yes.” and she responded “Then God will provide for us.” Abraham then continued on his return journey back to Sarah. In the desert, the baby Ishmael cried with thirst.[32] His mother placed him in the shade under a bush and went in a frantic search for water, which resulted in her running seven times between the Safa and Marwah hills trying to find a source of water or a passing caravan who she could trade with for water. Hagar, not finding any sources of water and fearing the death of her baby, sat down and cried asking for God’s help. God sent angel Gabriel to her informing her to lift up her baby and when she did, she noticed that his feet had scratched the ground allowing a spring of water to bubble up to the surface. Hagar quickly shifted the ground to form a well around the spring to contain the water forming the Zamzam well. Hagar refilled the bottle with water and give her baby a drink. This spring became known to caravans that traveled through Arabia and Hagar negotiated deals with them for supplies in exchange for the water. From her actions, the city of Mecca (originally Becca or Baca in Hebrew)) grew, and attracted settlers who stayed and provided protection for her and Ishmael as well as being sources of various goods brought in and exchanged with visiting caravans. To commemorate the blessing of the Zamzam well which God gave to Hagar and Ishmael, Muslims run between the Safa and Marwah hills retracing Hagar’s steps on her search for water, during the rites of Hajj.[32]

Abraham returned and visited Ishmael at various times throughout his life. At one time, according to a tradition of Muhammad, Abraham had arrived when his son was out and Abraham visited with Ishmael’s wife. Abraham decided to leave before seeing his son, but based upon the complaints Ishmael’s wife made in response to his questions, he gave her a message to give to her husband when he returned home, which was “change his threshold.” When Ishmael arrived that night, he asked if they had had any visitors, and was informed by his wife of the man who had visited and what he said. Ishmael understood his father and explained to his wife that the visitor was his father and he had been instructed to divorce his wife and find a better one, which Ishmael did. Some time after this, Abraham returned to visit Ishmael and again Ishmael was out. Abraham talked with Ishmael’s new wife and found her answers indicated faith in God and contentment with her husband. Abraham again had to leave before he saw his son, but left him the message to “keep his threshold.” When Ishmael returned that night, he again asked if there had been any visitors and was informed of Abraham’s visit. Ishmael told his wife who it was that had came to visit and that he approved of her and their marriage.

On one of his visits to Mecca, Abraham is said to have asked his son to help him build the requested Kaaba.[37] Islamic traditions hold that the Kaaba was first built by Adam and that Abraham and Ishmael rebuilt the Kaaba on the old foundations.[38] As Ishmael grew up in Arabia, he is said to have become fluent in Arabic. In the genealogical trees that the early scholars drew,[39] Ishmael was considered the ancestor of the Northern Arabs and Muhammad was linked to him through the lineage of the patriarch Adnan.


In some Christian biblical interpretations, Ishmael is used to symbolize the older—now rejected—Judaic tradition; Isaac symbolizes the new tradition of Christianity.[2] According to the Genesis account, Hagar ran away from the house of Abram, (as he was not yet renamed, Abraham). Sarai's (also not yet given her new name by God, Sarah) harsh treatment, after being treated with contempt by Hagar, caused her to flee. She then was visited by an Angel of the Lord at the well of Beer-lahai-roi, which means, "well of the Living One who sees me" (Gen 16:14). He instructed her to return to Abram's house and give birth to her son, who she was to call Ishmael ("God hears")(Gen 16:11-12). So she returned and gave Abram a son in his 86th year (Gen 16:15-16).

In the book of Galatians (4:21–31), Paul uses the incident to symbolize the relationship between Judaism, the older but now rejected tradition, and Christianity.[2] In Galatians 4:28–31,[40] Hagar is associated with the Sinai covenant, while Sarah is associated with the covenant of grace into which her son Isaac enters.[41]

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í writings state that it was Ishmael, and not Isaac, who was the son that Abraham almost sacrificed.[42] However, the Bahá'í writings also state that the name is unimportant as either could be used: the importance is that both were symbols of sacrifice.[43] According to Shoghi Effendi, there has also been another Ishmael, a prophet of Israel, commonly known as Samuel.[44]

See also


Bibliographic references

Books and journals

External links

  • Genealogy from Adam to the Twelve Tribes
  • Ishmael in Islam
  • : Ishmael.
  • Biographical Study on Ishmael
  • PD-icon.svg 
  • Ishmael in Bahá'í Faith

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