Prophet Ismail (Alayhis salaam)
Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) was deprived of children for a long period. One day he supplicated to Allah to grant him a son. “O my Sustainer, grant me a pious son. We gave him glad tidings of a forbearing youngster.” (37:100-101)
This invocation was accepted in the form of Hajirah (Alaihas salaam) falling pregnant and giving birth to a son who was named Ismaeel. Ismaeel is composed of two words: “Ism” and “Eel”. “Eel” is synonymous to Allah in Hebrew while “Isma” means to listen in both Arabic and Hebrew. He was given the name of Ismaeel because Allah heard the supplication of Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) with regard to the birth of Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam).
The barren valley
Sarah was extremely perturbed when Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) was born to Hajirah. This was because she was the first and elder wife of Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) and the owner of his house whereas Hajirah was younger and his servant. Consequently she told Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) to remove Hajirah and her son from her sight. This request hurt the feelings of Ibrahim (Alayhis salaam) very much. However Allah Ta’ala told Ibrahim (Alayhis salaam) that it will be more expedient for him to do as Sarah requested. In contrast to the contradictory verses of the Torah, Ismaeel was still an infant and Ishaq was not bom as yet. The following narration of Sahih Bukhari supports this view: Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) took Hajirah and his infant son Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) and left them under a tree at a place in close proximity to the present-day well of zamzam. It was a desolate place without any sign of water. Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) left a water-bag and a packet of dates with them and began departing. Hajirah began following him and asked him how he could leave them in such a lonely place where there was no human being. Hajirah continuously repeated these words but Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) remained silent. Finally she asked if this was a command of Allah. Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) replied in the affirmative. Hajirah replied that if it was the command of Allah, then He would not allow them to perish. Saying this, she turned back. When Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) reached a hill where his family was out of sight, he turned towards the place where the ka’bah is, raised his hands and supplicated to Allah thus:
“O our Sustainer, I have made my family reside in a barren land next to your sacred house in order that they may establish salaah. Therefore incline the hearts of the people towards them and provide them with fruits as sustenance so that they may be thankful.” (14:37)
Hajirah continued drinking water from the water-bag and eating the dates for a few days. She breast-fed Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam). However a time came when the provisions terminated and she became extremely perplexed. Due to her hunger and thirst, her milk supply became exhausted and she was unable to continue breast-feeding. The child also became hungry and thirsty. When the situation deteriorated and the child became restless, she moved away and sat at a distance so as not to see him in such a pitiable condition. After pondering for a while, she ascended the nearest hill, Safa, in the hope of seeing someone or finding some water. There was nothing in sight. Then out of love for the child, she ran towards the valley. Thereafter she ascended the hill of Marwa on the opposite side. When she could not find anything there as well, she ran down towards the child. She repeated this seven times. Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) reached this spot and said, “This is the same sa’ee which the people execute during haj.” When she was on Marwa on the final ascent, she heard a sound. She began murmuring to herself that it sounded like a person’s voice. She strained her ears and once again heard the sound. Hajirah said, “If you can assist, then please come forward for your voice has been heard.” It was Jibreel (Alaihis salaam) who rubbed his foot on the ground. Water began gushing out from there. Hajirah attempted to enclose the water from all four sides but it continued gushing out. Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) commented at this stage that Allah have mercy on the mother of Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam). Had she not stopped zamzam in this manner, it would have been a large spring.
Hajirah drank water and breast-fed Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam). The angel told Hajirah not to grieve as Allah would not destroy them. This place will be the Baitullah (house of Allah) and this child (Ismaeel) and his father will be its builders. Therefore, Allah will not destroy this family. The position of the kabah could be easily discernible from the surrounding areas but the flood of water continued levelling the higher areas to the right and left. During this period, the tribe of lurhum came to settle here. They saw birds flying nearby and realised it was a sign of water. They sought permission to settle here. Hajirah complied but said they could not be partners in owning the water. They readily accepted the condition and settled there. Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said that Hajirah herself wanted someone to settle here for mutual companionship. She therefore readily gave them permission to settle here.
The tribe sent a messenger to call the remainder of the family as well. They built houses and began living here. Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) lived and played among them. He also learnt the language from them. When he grew up, his beauty and etiquette attracted them. As a result, they handed one of their daughters in marriage to him. Some time later, Hajirah passed away. Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) used to frequently visit his family. Once when he came, Ismaeel was not at home. He asked his wife where he was. She replied that he was gone in search of sustenance. Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) asked her how her condition of living was. She replied that she was in extreme difficulty and pain. Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) told her to convey his greetings to Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) and to tell him to change his doorframe. When Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) returned home, he perceived the arrival of someone and asked his wife who had come. She narrated the entire episode and conveyed the message as well. Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) told her that it was his father who had come and he suggested that he (Ismaeel) divorce his wife. Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) complied with his father’s wish and divorced her. He later married a second wife.
Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) came on another occasion when Ismaeel (Alayhis salaam) was absent. He asked his wife the same questions. She replied that she was living a comfortable life through the grace of the Almighty. He asked her what food she was receiving. She replied that she was obtaining meat. Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) asked her what she was getting to drink. She said water. Thereafter Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) made the following Du’a: “O Allah, grant them blessings in their meat and water.” While leaving, he left a message for Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) to retain his doorframe. When Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) returned, she narrated the entire incident to him and also conveyed the message. Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) told her that it was his father who had requested that he retain his wife as his life-long companion.
This lengthy Hadith has been narrated in two chapters (Kitabur Ruya and Kitabul Ambiya) of Sahih Bukhari. It can be deduced from both narrations that Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) reached the barren land as a breast-feeding infant.
The command of circumcision was revealed when Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) was 99 years old and Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) 13 years old. In conformity to the command, Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) first circumcised himself, thereafter Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) and the remaining boys of the family. This practice continues till today and is known as the “sunnat of Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam)”.
Allah’s treatment of his close ones is not the same as his treatment of the general masses. They have to traverse the difficult paths of examination and portray their sacrifices and acceptance of Allah’s commands. Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said that the Messengers were tested according to their ranks.
Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam), being a great prophet, also had to undergo severe tests. He succeeded in all his tests due to his great rank. When he was thrown into the fire ‘he displayed extreme patience, forbearance and steadfastness. Thereafter, when he was commanded to leave his wife and son, in a barren land, it was no easy test. He had to leave his son Ismaeel, the fulfillment of a desire during his old-age, the result of his supplications day and night and the lamp of his house. He left Ismaeel in a desolate place solely in order to fulfil the order of Allah. He did not even look back in fear of his fatherly love overcoming him and preventing him from executing the divine command.
After passing these two stringent tests, he had to prepare for a third examination which was much more heart-rending and excruciating.
For three consecutive nights, Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) saw a dream in which he was commanded by Allah to sacrifice his only son. The dreams of the prophets are true. Therefore Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) immediately prepared to carry out the order of Allah. He first mentioned the dream to his son and asked him his opinion. The son was no ordinary person. He was the son of a great Nabi. He replied, “O my father, do as you have been commanded to. By the will of Allah, you will find me of the patient ones.” After this conversation, the father and son left for the desert to present their sacrifice. The father found the son willing and tied his hands and feet like an animal that is about to be slaughtered. He sharpened the knife, made Ismaeel lay down and began to slaughter. Immediately the revelation dawned upon Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) that he had fulfilled the dream. This indeed was a clear test. Now he was ordered to sacrifice the ram that appeared next to him. This is the manner how Allah rewards those who do good. Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) turned around and saw a ram. He thanked Allah and slaughtered it.
This is the sacrifice which has been so thoroughly accepted by Allah that it has become a distinguished characteristic of this fraternity and till today is practised throughout the world on the tenth of Dhul Hijjah. This incident has been narrated in Surah Saaffaat (Chapter 37 verses 83 – 109). The manner in which it has been narrated clearly indicates that the son that was to be sacrificed was Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam). In these verses, the glad tidings of both Ibrahim’s sons have been mentioned. However, the first son has not been mentioned by name. He has only been described in the incident of the sacrifice as ‘forbearing youth’. Thereafter the glad tiding of the second son is mentioned: “We gave him glad tidings of Ishaq.” It is an accepted fact that Ismaeel was the elder of the two sons. When the younger son is mentioned by name in the latter portion of the verse, who else besides Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) can the former verses refer to? Undoubtedly it is Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) who earned the glory of being presented as a sacrifice. The Quran alone does not only imply that Ismaeel was the zabeeh (one to be sacrificed), but if one reads the Torah carefully, it also indicates that only Ismaeel could have been the zabeeh.
“And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and thee into the land of Mor’iah: and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Genesis, chapter 22 Verse 1-2)
Examine the words “only son” in these two passages of the Torah and compare it to the previous verses where Ismaeel is mentioned as the only son. Ishaq was only born when Ismaeel was 14 years old. This clearly indicates that the Jews interpolated the name ‘Ishaq’ in the Bible after the words ‘only son’ in order to attribute this great feat to his progeny viz. the Jews. This interpolation contradicts the Torah as well as the Quran.
Nonetheless, the virtue of being zabeehullah lies solely with Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam). “That is the bounty of Allah. He grants it to whoever he wishes. And Allah is most favourable.” (62:4)
The erection of the Ka’bah
Although Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) was resident in Palestine, he frequently visited his family in Makkah. During this period he was commanded by Allah to build the Ka’bah. He mentioned this to his son Ismaeel and thereafter both father and son began the construction. Hafiz ibn Hajar Asqalani has quoted a narration in Fathul Baari which indicates that the first foundation of the Ka’bah was laid by Adam (Alaihis salaam). The angels showed him the place where the Ka’bah was going to be, built. The lengthy period had effaced its signs. However, it was still evident in the form of a hillock. This was the place divinely indicated to Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam). When he and Ismaeel began digging, the foundations of the previous construction became evident. The baitullah was constructed on those very foundations. However, the Quran has not mentioned any previous construction. It only refers to the construction of Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam).
Before this incident, the entire world was full of idols and statues for worship. Huge buildings used to be erected on the names of these idols. The Egyptians had erected temples for the god of the son, Azwaris, Horis and Bel. The Assyrians had a statue for the god Baal and they worshipped the idol of Abul Houl. The Canaanites had also made an idol for Baal in the famous castle of Balabak. The people of Gaza used to give offerings to Dajoon, an idol with human features and the body of a fish. The Amoons worshipped idols dedicated to the sun and moon. The Persians had constructed thousands of temples for fire worshipping. The Romans beautified their churches with statues of Jesus and Mary. The Hindus also had thousands of idols, like Mahatma, Sri Krishan, Sri Ramchandar and Mahadew.
However, in contrast to all this, the Ka’bah was the first building erected to manifest the unity of Allah. “Indeed the first house constructed for the people (for Allah’s remembrance) is the one in Makkah. It is blessed and a means of guidance for the universe.” (3:96)
The Ka’bah has been blessed with the honour of having a great Nabi like Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) as its builder and Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) as his assistant. As the walls of the Ka’bah increased in height during construction, Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) stood on a slab of stone to continue building while Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) supported it. This is the landmark today known as Maqame Ibrahim. Jibreel (Alaihis salaam) thereafter came to assist him in fixing the Hajar-e-Aswad (the black stone).
When the Ka’bah was built, Allah indicated to Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) that this was going to be the Qiblah of his followers. It was thus rendered the centre of Tauheed. Thereafter Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) supplicated to Allah to grant him and his followers the guidance to establish salaah and Zakaah, to be steadfast, to grant them blessings in their sustenance and fruit and to turn the attention of the rightly guided people to the Ka’bah in order that they may perform Hajj and be blessed in the headquarters of guidance.
“And remember when We made the house (Ka’bah) a place of assembly and safety for the people. Make the Maqame Ibrahim a place of salaah. We commanded Ibrahim and Ismaeel to purify My house for the foreigners, locals and those who bow and prostrate. And when Ibrahim supplicated: “O my Sustainer, make this a city of security and grant its people fruit – those who believe in Allah and the final day from amongst them.” Allah said, “Whoever disbelieves, I will grant him a little pleasure, then I will force him into the punishment of the fire. It is an evil place.” And remember when Ibrahim and Ismaeel raised the foundations of the house saying, “O our Sustainer, accept from us, for indeed You are all-hearing and all-knowing. And O our Sustainer, make us obedient to You and make from our progeny also those who will obey You. Show us the method of performing Hajj and forgive us. Indeed You are most forgiving and merciful. And O our Sustainer, delegate a messenger from among them who will recite your verses to them, teach them the book and wisdom and purify them (spiritually). Verily, You are most powerful and wise.” (2:125-129)
“Behold when We appointed the site for Ibrahim to build the house. (And We commanded him) not to ascribe any partner to Me and to purify My house for the foreigners, locals and those who bow and prostrate. (And We commanded him) to announce the haj to the people. They will come to you from every distant comer on foot and on every kind of conveyance that will be exhausted from the long journey. They will come to witness their place of benefit and take the name of Allah on the animals which He has provided for them during the known days (of haj). Then eat you thereof and feed the hungry poor. Then they should cleanse themselves, fulfil their oaths and circumambulate the ancient Ka’bah.” (22:27-29)
The progeny of Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam)
There is no detailed mention of his progeny in the Quran or hadith. However the Torah has narrated their names separately in detail. According to the Torah he had 12 sons. They were called the 12 leaders. He had one daughter namely Bashama or Mahallaat.
“Now these are the generations of Ishmaeel, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham: and these are the names of the sons of Ishma-el, by their names, according to their generations: the first born of Ishma-el, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Ab’deel, and Mibsam, and mishma, and dumah, and massa, Hadar, and Tema, Jettir, Naphish, Kedemah: these are the sons of Ishma-el, and these are their names, by their nations, and by their castles, twelve princes according to their nations.” (Genesis 25:12-16)
Two of the elder ones, Nebajoth and Kedar are very famous. They have been mentioned in many verses of the Torah. The Arab historians have also thrown much light on their details. Nebajoth’s progeny were the As-haabul Hijr while the descendants of Kedar were the As-haabur Ras. Details of the other sons are not found.
In the Quran
Ismaeel (Alaihis salaam) has been mentioned several times in the Quran. In one of the verses, only his qualities are listed without naming him. This is the verse of the sacrifice. In another two verses he is mentioned as a glad tiding for Ibrahim who wanted a male descendant. In Surah Maryam his name and excellent attributes have been mentioned.
“And remember Ismaeel in the book. Undoubtedly he was truthful of promise and he was a Rasool and a Nabi. He used to command his family to perform salaah and fulfill the zakaah. He was liked by his Sustainer.” (19:54-55)
He passed away at the age of 136. At the time of his death, his progeny had spread far and wide to Hijaz, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt. The Torah alludes to his tomb being in Palestine where he passed away. (see Genesis 25). The Arab historians are of the opinion that he and his mother Hajirah are buried near the Ka’bah in the Haram.