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16. Who Started Islam: Abraham or the Arabs?
Chapter 3. Did Abraham visit Mecca?

3.4. Which answers do Muslim Narrations (Hadith) give to resolve these problems in the Koran about Abraham and Mecca?

To be able to answer such disturbing questions, Muslims consult collections of Arabic Narrations (Hadith, called "Traditions" by secular people). The problem here is that not all such Narrations are accepted by all Muslims. Generally, more than one million such Islamic Narrations can be found in Islamic literature, but only about one percent (i.e. around 10,000) of these Narrations are regarded as trustworthy, while all the other 99% are regarded as fiction, fabrications or heretical by orthodox Muslims. For our purposes we will here consult three such collections:

Kitab al-Tabaqat by Ibn Sa'd (The Book of Layers or of historical Stratigraphy, organzized in classes of successive historical events, by Muhammad ibn Sa'd al-Basri al-Hashimi, who died in 845 AD), is a collection of narrations pertaining mostly to the events of the life of Muhammad and his companions, helpers and followers. It is one of the oldest biographies of Muhammad, starting with summary accounts about prophets preceding Muhammad. Ibn Sa'd came from Basra and lived primarily in Baghdad (both in Iraq today), but had ancestors from Arabia.
Sahih Bukhari (i.e. the "healthy", that is trustworthy, Narrations selected by Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari, who died in 870 AD, from around 600,000 traditions he is said to have reviewed during his career). This collection is by far the most trusted and honored collection of Sunni Muslim Narrations, comprising about 7350 Narrations (around 4000 Narrations not counting the repetitions). The importance of this collection of Narrations can be seen in the fact that there are around 150 Sunni commentaries on this opus. The Narrations in the Sahih Bukhari are primarily arranged according to the system of Muslim Sharia, i.e. the Narrations pertaining to the same legal matter are grouped under one heading. Nevertheless, you also find some Narrations pertaining to history. Bukhari was from central Asia (from Bukhara, today in Uzbekistan), but had ancestors who were Persians.
Ta'rikh al-Rusul wa-l-Muluk by Tabari (The History of the Messengers and the Kings, by Muhammad bin Jarir al-Tabari, who died in 923 AD), is a universal history from the time of creation to the year 915 AD, focusing primarily on the Muslim world and tradition. This famous opus included Narrations, which were not accepted by earlier collectors and is therefore viewed with some suspicion by orthodox Muslims. Tabari also composed one of the oldest commentaries on the Koran, which was thought to have been lost but was found again in the early 20th century. He also founded his own school of law, the Jariri Madhhab, which however became extinct around 200 years after his death. This Persian universal scholar or polymath came from Tabaristan, which today in is northern Iran, but he traveled widely and was influential in the heart of the Abbasid empire, i.e. in Baghdad.

It would go beyond the scope of this answer to our question from South-India if we were to quote all that can be found in Muslim Narrations about Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar. Let us just look at examples from each one of the three Arabic sources listed above, focusing primarily on the question, whether Abraham visited Mecca or not:

3.4a) Answers from Ibn Sa'd: Let us first look at a Narration from KITAB al-TABAQAT by Ibn Sa'd. In his chapter "Account of Isma'il, pbuh" you find the following Narration (NOTE: To make it easier to find the beginning of the actual content of the Narration we here and in the following print in gray the Isnad of the Narration, i.e. the list of persons, who passed on this Narration to each other from the original Narrator of the Narration): "He (ibn Sa'd) said: / Muhammad Ibn 'Umar informed us: / Musa Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim al-Taymi informed us / on the authority of Abu Bakr Ibn 'Abd Allah Ibn Abi Jahm al-'Adawi, he / on the authority of Abu Bakr Ibn Sulayman Ibn Abi Hathamah al-'Adawi, he / on the authority of Abu Jahm Ibn Hudhayfah Ibn Ghanin; he said: Allah revealed to Ibrahim His command to travel to the sanctuary, so Ibrahim mounted a Pegasus (i.e. a winged horse called Buraq in Islamic tradition) and seated Isma'il who was two years old in front of him and his mother Hajar behind him: (the angel) Gabriel led him on the way to the Ka'bah, till he reached Makkah and made Isma'il and his mother alight by the side of the Ka'bah; he himself returned to Syria." (Quoted from: Ibn Sa'd's Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir. English translation by S. Moinul Haq. Volume 1, page 43. Additions in brackets are by us.) -- So, where did Abraham live according to this Muslim Narration? He lived in Syria, far away from Arabia, and only briefly and miraculously traveled to Mecca to leave his son Ishmael there with his mother Hagar. The Ka'ba had already been built at that time, because Abraham dropped them off near this sanctuary in Mecca. Abraham then returned back to Syria. In early Islam the area, which we today call Palestine or Israel, was part of Syria, which is why Abraham here is said to have returned to Syria.

3.4b) Answers from Bukhari: Next we take an example from SAHIH BUKHARI. In the book on the prophets (Kitab al-Anbiya' = book number 60 in our Arabic version of Sahih Bukhari), in the chapter with Narrations related to Sura al-Saffat 37:94 about Abraham (Bab 906 in our Arabic version of Sahih Bukhari), we find the following Narration: "And Abd Allah ibn Muhammad narrated to me (Bukhari): / Abd al-Razzaq narrated to us: / Mu'mar informed us / from Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani and Kathir ibn Kathir bin al-Muttalib bin Abi Wada'at, one adding to the other / from Sa'id bin Jubai saying: / Ibn Abbas (an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad) said: The first woman to use a girdle was the mother of Isma'il (Ishmael). She used a girdle to hide her tracks from Sarah (who wanted to harm her?). Ibrahim (Abraham) came with her and with her son Isma'il, while she breastfed (i.e. nursed) him, until he placed the two of them near the House (of the Ka'ba?) by a tree above (the well) Zamzam, at the highest (place) of the Mosque. During those days there was nobody in Makkah and there was no water there. So, he placed them there and placed near the two of them a leather bag with dates in it and a waterskin with water in it. Then he started out departing (homewards). So, the mother of Isma'il followed him and said, 'O Ibrahim! Where are you going leaving us in this valley in which there are no humans, nor anything (else)?' She said this to him a number of times and he did not turn his face to her. Then she asked him, 'Did Allah command you with this?' He said, 'Yes.' She said, 'Then He will not get us lost.' Then she went back. So, Abraham departed until he reached the mountain pass, where they did not see him. (There?) he welcomed with his face the House (of the Ka'aba?) (i.e. he faced in the direction of the House) then he called out with these words and raised his hands and said, 'My Lord! truly I have made (some of) my offspring to dwell in a valley without plants, near your taboo (i.e. sacrosanct) house, (until he reached the words) they will give thanks.' (A quotation from the Koran, Sura Ibrahim 14:37) …" This Narration continues with many more words relating how Ishmael's mother first ate dates and drank water to be able to breastfeed Ishmael, but when her supplies were spent she was afraid of dying of thirst and hunger with her son. She then went to the hill al-Safa looking out for somebody to help her, but found none. Then she hurried through a small valley to the opposing hill al-Marwa to look out for people from there, but still she found no one to help her. This she repeated seven times until she saw someone, who turned out to be an angel. He searched with his heel in the ground (others say with his wing) until water came forth, from which Ishmael's mother drank. (This is the reason, why Muslims during the pilgrimage rites in Mecca today do not only have to circumambulate the Ka'ba, but also have to run the 700 meters between the former small hills al-Safa and al-Marwa, commemorating the frantic search for sustenance by Ishmael's mother.) … Watching birds circling above the place of the new well, tribe members passing by found Ishmael's mother there and they asked, if they would be allowed to dwell there near the water well. She agreed but only on the condition that they have no right to the water. After the death of Ishmael's mother, Abraham visited his son Ishmael, but the latter was not around. Abraham then questioned Isma'il's wife, and was instrumental in Isma'il later divorcing his first wife. When he arrived a second time, Abraham was pleased with the second woman, whom Isma'il had by then married, again without seeing Ishmael. Then Abraham came one more time and we read in the narration: "When he (Isma'il) saw Ibrahim, he came to him and the two did as a father does with his son and a son does with his father (a welcoming custom). Then he said, 'O Isma'il! Truly Allah has commanded me with a command.' He (Isma'il) said, 'So do what your Lord has commanded you.' He (Ibrahim) said, 'So will you help me?' He (Isma'il) said, 'So I will help you.' He (Ibrahim) said, 'Truly Allah has commanded me to build a house here;' and he pointed to a hill raised above what is around it. And he (Muhammad?) said: So, there the two raised the foundations of the house. So, he made Isma'il come with the stones and Ibrahim did the building until when the building had become higher, he (probably Isma'il) came with this stone, so he placed it for him. So, he (i.e. Ibrahim) stood upon it while building and Isma'il was handing him the stones, while they were saying, 'Our Lord! Accept (this) from us. Truly you are the Hearer, the Knower.' (This is a quotation from Sura al-Baqara, 2:127) He (Muhammad?) said: So, they went on building until they moved around the building while saying, 'Our Lord! Accept (this) from us. Truly you are the Hearer, the Knower.' " This is the end of this very long narration. It is around 3 pages long in the Arabic original of the Sahih Bukhari (pages 599 to 602 of volume 2 containing parts 3 and 4 of a four-volume version we use, printed in Beirut, Lebanon). -- So according to this famous and highly respected Arabic Narration (Hadith) from the Sahih Bukhari, where did Abraham live? Again, we do not get any information to answer this question. The only thing we are told by this Islamic text is that Abraham brought his son Ishmael with Ishmael's mother to an empty place in the wilderness and that there an angel helped Ishmael's mother (whose name remains unknown) dig a well. This well is identified by Muslims today with the Zamzam well, which plays a role in the pilgrimage rites of Muslims in Mecca. It is not related where Abraham went after leaving his son with his son's mother in the wilderness. We only hear that he came back three times after Ishmael's mother had died, the third time meeting and working with his son on a building project, which Abraham was commanded by Allah to perform. This house is believed by Muslims to be the Ka'ba in Mecca and the stone, on which Abraham stood while erecting the walls, is displayed there today as containing the footprints of Abraham. This is believed to be the "Maqam Ibrahim" (the abode of Abraham), where Muslims performing the pilgrimage have to perform two prayer cycles facing the Ka'ba. Today this stone with the alleged footprints of Abraham is encased in a small shrine and can be viewed from outside through glass panes shielding it from the masses around it during the pilgrimage. But we do not get clear information about the place, where Abraham lived, also we are not told how long Abraham stayed with Ishmael after "the House" was completed. -- Comparing this narration with the one from Ibn Sa'd quoted above we note that in Bukhari the Ka'ba was not yet standing, when Abraham brought his wife there, while in Ibn Sa'd the Ka'ba was already built. Also, Ibn Sa'd narrates that Abraham used a winged horse to miraculously arrive in Arabia, while Bukhari's narration seems to suggest that Abraham traveled by land. These and other contradictions between the narrations add to the difficulties posed by the verses of the Koran about Abraham.

3.4c) Answers from Tabari: Finally, we come to an example from the HISTORY OF TABARI. We restrict our attention to two narrations on purported visits of Abraham to Mecca. Towards the beginning of Tabari's History, in the chapter entitled, "Discussion of Abraham, the Friend of the Merciful" we find the following two Narrations: "Accroding to Ibn Humayd / from Salamah / from Ibn Ishaq / from Abdallah bin Abi Najih / from Mujahid and other scholars: When Allah pointed out to Abraham the place of the House and told him how to build the Sanctuary, he set out to do the job and Gabriel went with him. It is said that whenever he passed a town he would ask, 'Is this the town which Allah's command meant, O Gabriel?' And Gabriel would say, 'Pass it by.' At last they reached Mecca, which at that time was nothing but acacia trees, mimosa, and thorn trees, and there was a people called the Amalekites outside Mecca and its surroundings. The House at that time was but a hill of red clay. Abraham said to Gabriel, 'Was it here that I was ordered to leave them?' Gabriel said, 'Yes.' Abraham directed Hagar and Ishmael to go to the al-Hijr (place of refuge), and settled them down there. He commanded Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, to find shelter there. Then he said, 'My Lord! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near your Holy House (until reaching the words) that they may be thankful.' (quoting the Koran Sura Ibrahim 14:37) Then he journeyed back to his family in Syria, leaving the two of them at the House. -- Then Ishmael became very thirsty. His mother looked for water for him, but could not find any. She listened for sounds to help her find water for him. She heard a sound at al-Safa (literally meaning: the Pure or Clear Water) and went there to look around, but found nothing. Then she heard a sound from the direction of al-Marwah (literally meaning: the Place for Quenching Thirst). She went there and looked around, but found nothing. -- Some also say that she stood on al-Safa (literally meaning: the Pure or Clear Water), praying to Allah for water for Ishmael, and then went to al-Marwah to do the same. Then she heard the sounds of beasts in the valley where she had left Ishmael. She ran to him and found him scraping the water from a spring which had burst forth beneath his hand, and drinking from it. Ishmael's mother came to it and made it swampy. Then she drew water from it into her waterskin to keep it for Ishmael. Had she not done that, the waters of Zamzam would have gone on flowing to the surface forever. According to Mujahid's version, Gabriel dug out Zamzam with his heel for Ishmael when he was thirsty." (Quoted from: The History of al-Tabari. Volume 2: Prophets and Patriarchs, translated and annotated by William M. Brinner, New York, 1987, page 73-74. The additions in brackets are from us.) -- The other Narration is the following: "According to Ibn Humayd / from Salamah / from Muhammad bin Ishaq: It is said that when Abraham visited Hagar he was carried on al-Buraq (a winged horse), setting out early from Syria. He rested at midday in Mecca, then left Mecca and spent the night with his family in Syria. This was before Isaac was able to walk and take care of himself, at which point Abraham expected him to do his duty by worshipping his Lord and glorifying His sanctity. Then Abraham was shown in a dream that he had to sacrifice Isaac." (Quoted from: The History of al-Tabari. Volume 2: Prophets and Patriarchs, translated and annotated by William M. Brinner, New York, 1987, page 92.)

3.4d) Summary of the answers from these Muslim Narrations: Let us now compare the teachings of these Arabic Narrations by early Muslims with what we found in the Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim (scripture pages of Abraham) in the Tawrat (Torah). We group our finding under the following questions:

Why did Ishmael and his mother have to leave Abraham? -- The Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim say it is because of the jealousy of Sarah, which displeased Abraham, but God told Abraham to nevertheless follow the desire of Sarah. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations, however, say it was the will of Allah, which he revealed to Abraham. The strife between Sarah and Hagar concerning their sons Isaac and Ishmael play no role in the Muslim narrations.
Where did Ishmael and his mother end up? -- The Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim say they ended up in the wilderness of Beersheba, which is the environs of the place, where Abraham was dwelling at the time in the southern part of Palestine. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations, however, do not mention Beersheba, but only a House, or Mecca. And there is disagreement between the narrations as to whether the House was already there or not. Mecca does not seem to have been in existence yet, so it was a wilderness in an area, where Mecca was later to come into being.
How did Ishmael and his mother end up at the place of banishment? -- The Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim say that they went there themselves, having been sent away by Abraham. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations, however, say that Abraham took them there. Some say he went there miraculously riding a winged horse (Buraq), others suggest he traveled there without flying in the air. In any case, Abraham does not seem to have known the place, where Ishmael and his mother were to go to, because some narrations say that the angel Gabriel had to lead him there.
How did Ishmael and his mother survive at their place of banishment? -- The Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim say that the two were nearly dying of thirst and that an angel of God appeared to them and opened the eyes of Hagar to see a well with water. They drank of the water and survived. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations say that there was a more or less elaborate search by Ishmael's mother, involving two small hills al-Safa and al-Marwa, until finally water was found. Most narrations say that an angel (possibly Gabriel) dug for the water, either with the heel of his foot or with his wing, but there are also narrations which say that it was Ishmael himself, who scraped the ground with his hand and thus found water. In any case Muslims believe that this well is today in Mecca and it is the well of Zamzam, about which there are many other incredible Narrations in Islam.
Did Abraham stay with Ishmael and his mother? -- According to the Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim the two went away on their own and therefore Abraham never was with them there. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations clarify that Abraham did not stay with Ishmael and his mother, but departed to return to his home in Syria, where Sarah and Isaac were staying.
Did Abraham ever see Ishmael and his mother again after leaving them? -- According to the Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim No. Abraham never saw Ishmael or his mother again after they were sent away. -- But according to the Arabic Muslim Narrations Abraham went there several times, however, he never saw Ishmael's mother again, because she had died when he traveled to see Ishmael the first time after he had dropped him off there.
Did Abraham and Ishmael build a house in the place of Ishmael's banishment? -- The Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim do not say anything about this, because Abraham and Ishmael never met again after the son's banishment. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations, however, claim that during his third trip to see his son Ishmael Abraham worked with him on the construction of a House, which Muslims believe is today the Ka'ba in Mecca. But it is not clear, whether the house already existed, when Abraham first dropped off Ishmael with his mother there, or whether Abraham was the first to erect the wall of this house with the help of Ishmael his son.
Where did Ishmael and his mother settle after their banishment? -- According to the Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim they settled in the western part of the Sinai Peninsula, called the wilderness of Paran. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations do not give an explicit geographical location, but they seem to imply that Ishmael and his mother settled where Abraham had dropped them off, especially after finding water there.
Whom did Ishmael marry? -- The Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim say that Hagar, his mother, married him to a woman from Egypt, where she herself came from. This was possible, because they had settled in the Sinai Peninsula right next to Egypt. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations, however, do not specify how Ishmael got his wife. It is only mentioned that his first wife was pessimistic and Abraham in one of his visits cunningly succeeded in getting Ishmael to divorce her and to take a more optimistic wife, whom Abraham later endorsed. There are narrations which suggest that these wives were from the neighboring tribes of Jurhum or Amalek, the first tribes to speak Arabic.
Who were the sons of Ishmael? -- The Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim give genealogical details about them. Ishmael had twelve sons, like his half-brother Isaac. The names of each one is mentioned and they became chieftains of tribes. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations have taken up these genealogies from the Suhuf Ibrahim, however expanding them to ensure a connection to the founders of Arabic Islam (see section 4.4. below).
How old was Ishmael when he died? -- The Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim tell us he died at the age of 137. -- The Arabic Muslim Narrations give us the same number of years that Ishmael lived, namely 137.

So, did Abraham actually visit Mecca according to the Narrations of those Arabs, who started Islam? The answer is yes and no, as is often the case in Islam. No, because Mecca did not yet exist at the time and it was a barren land. Yes, because Ishmael and his mother are said to have been instrumental in finding a means of life in the wilderness, which later became Mecca: the digging of a well, which is the basis of any settlement in a desert. However, there are narrations which suggest that Ishmael's mother was to blame for causing this well to become clogged and that therefore no town of Mecca was able to flourish there for quite some time. One thing is clear, however. Abraham in the view of those, who started Arab Islam, did not come to Mecca to stay there, even though on one visit he is said to have erected walls of a house, which Muslims today associate with the Ka'ba in Mecca.

Here again it is important to highlight, that all of this information from Muslim sources is part of the Islam, which the Arabs started with the Arab man Muhammad. So, the teaching about Abraham having settled his son Ishmael with this son's mother in a desert place today called Mecca is not information from Allah, because the Koran is either vague or silent on this matter. Also, this teaching cannot be traced back to Abraham himself or to his earliest descendants. Rather this teaching is part of the Islam, which Arabs started after around 610 AD. The only direct source we have from the early descendants of Abraham and his sons, namely the Hebrew Suhuf Ibrahim (sacred pages of Abraham) in the Hebrew Tawrat Musa (Torah of Moses) nullifies this teaching introduced by those Arabs, who started Islam after 610 AD, for there Hagar and her son were banished into the desert of Beersheba (Southern Palestine) and they then settled in the western part of the Sinai Peninsula (Wilderness of Paran). This means that Muslims today must believe, what the Arabs, who started Islam, taught in this matter, and there is no basis whatsoever for these beliefs in the ancient scriptures written by the early descendants of Abraham. This is one of the many reasons, why Muslims do not consult or listen to the Tawrat Musa, because then they would have to decide, "Which of the two should we believe: the Torah of Moses or the Koran brought by Muhammad and expanded through Arabic Narrations after Muhammad?"

Before we turn to the next chapter, we need to address two more issues, one concerns the length of time between Abraham and Muhammad and the other concerns the role which the House (supposedly erected by Abraham) played in the life of Muhammad.

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