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16. Who Started Islam: Abraham or the Arabs?
Chapter 6. Summary and Outlook

6.3. Answers from Muslim Narrations (Hadith)

By the time of the compilation of Muslim Narrations (after about 800 AD), Islam had conquered many lands from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indus Valley (see 4.6d). Many details about geography and history became accessible then, which were not available to the early Arab Muslims nearly 200 years earlier. Therefore, many questions arose in connection with certain passages of the Koran, like for example those concerning Abraham, Ishmael and the Ka'ba. Muslim Narrations tried to address these to make the Koran more convincing. In the case of Abraham, they brought in details from the Suhuf Ibrahim. However, since the Tawrat Musa was readily available in their days, and since even a superficial reading of this Torah of Moses shows that the Torah and the Koran cannot be reconciled, the compilers of the Narrations had a problem. They could not openly use the Torah and other non-Muslim writings, otherwise they would have been accused of heresy. Therefore, they put the information they needed into the mouths of irreproachable Muslim authorities. For example, al-Tabari often traces his narrations back to al-Abbas, a paternal uncle of Muhammad, who founded the dynasty of the Abbasids, who ruled all Muslims during his time. With this clever solution, information from otherwise reprehensible sources could be included in their enhancements of Koranic content. What was the result in view of our question as to who started Islam?

On the one hand the answer from Muslim Narrations could be: Muhammad and his Arab followers started Islam. This is evident from the fact that e.g. the Kitab al-Tabaqat by Ibn Sa'd (who died in 845 AD) devoted only about 10 pages to Abraham and Ishmael, but around 1000 pages to Muhammad and his Arab followers narrating myriads of details about how they started Arab Islam. And the few pages devoted to Abraham and Ishmael hardly mention that they were Muslims. In addition, they also followed the teaching of the Koran by including details about Noah and Adam. By narrating that the Ka'ba was already there at the time of Noah and that it was transported to heaven in order not to be destroyed by Noah's flood, they indirectly stated that Abraham and Ishmael did not start Islam by erecting the Ka'ba.

On the other hand, the answer from Muslim Narrations could be: Abraham and Ishmael started the deepest roots of Arab Islam, by settling Ishmael in Mecca and by constructing the Ka'ba, which today is the center of the Muslim world. To justify this connection in a manner convincing for the peoples in the Muslim empire of the Abbasids, they had to include geographical and genealogical details. By doing this, however, they brought in new sources of ambiguity and inconsistency. There are two areas to notice here:

In view of geographical details Muslim Narrations could no longer pretend that Abraham lived in Mecca till he died, because his tomb in Palestine (or Syria as that region was called then) was accessible to all. On the other hand, they could not contradict the Koran by saying that Abraham never was in Mecca. So, their solution was to get Abraham to visit Mecca occasionally, on the first trip dropping off Hagar and Ishmael there. But the question was: How did they get there, since at the time of the Abbasids it was clear that the distance between Palestine and Mecca is more about 1300 km long? Some narrations said that Abraham traveled by land, others said that he traveled by air (using a fabulous flying horse). In both cases he did not know the way or the destination and therefore the Narrations bring in the angel Gabriel to lead his way to Mecca. This kind of storytelling and the resulting ambiguity is due to the fact that these Narrations tried to reconcile reality (Abraham's tomb in Hebron, as testified by the Suhuf Ibrahim) with the Koranic dogma of Abraham having built the Ka'ba (see 3.4a to 3.4d).

The other area of problems comes from the genealogical details included in Muslim Narrations. Here significant details from the Tawrat Musa (Torah of Moses) were included in the respective Narrations in a clandestine manner (see 4.5h). One aim was to bring the Arabs out of the fog of history by connecting them to Noah and his sons. In doing this they included the genealogy of the sons of Noah, specifically that of Noah's son Shem and of his sons, from the Suhuf Nuuh (see 4.4a), and connecting them with invented genealogies of the Arabs, who came 3000 years later (see 4.4c to 4.4e). The other aim was to answer the question, how the son of the Hebrew man Abraham, namely Ishmael, became the ancestor of the Arabs in Mecca, specifically the ancestor of Muhammad. They did this by connecting the genealogy of the descendants of Abraham from the Suhuf Ibrahim (see 4.5d and 4.5e) with invented genealogies of the Arabs, who came 2600 year later (see 4.5h). Of course, both of these efforts could not happen without additional ambiguities and inconsistencies appearing, for the narrations do not agree in all details as to who the forefathers of the Arabs were or how the descendants of Ishmael became Arabs (see the end of 4.5h).

Finally, the answer from Muslim Narrations could be: Neither Abraham nor Muhammad started Islam, because these Narrations follow the Koran by claiming that before Abraham both Noah and Adam were Muslims, thus indirectly stating that Islam did not start with Abraham or Muhammad.

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