The Qur’an uses the metaphor of a rope that links us to God and also links us to one another:
“And hold fast, all together, to the bond with God, and do not draw apart from one another” [Sûrah Âli-‘Imrân, 3:103]
This is good advice for the individual members of each of the three Abrahamic religions; as well as for the three Abrahamic religions themselves.
The scholar Roger Boase writes:
“Abraham is the key ecumenical figure in the Qur’an, mentioned more frequently than any other (person), because he is regarded as the common tribal ancestor of both Jews and Arabs; and the spiritual ancestor of the three faiths. When he was ninety-nine years of age, the Lord made a covenant with him and told him that he would be the father of many nations.
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“According to the (Torah) Book of Genesis (15:5), his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. For this reason, his name was changed from Abram, “father of exaltation,” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.” When one considers that today the total population of Jews, Christians and Muslims exceeds 3.5 billion, which is half the population of this planet, this prophecy is not an exaggeration.
“When (Prophet) Abraham heard this prophecy, he had only one son Ishmael, who was then thirteen years old. Ishmael fathered “twelve princes according to their tribes” (Genesis 25:12-16). From these princes the Northern Arabs are reportedly descended, known by Arab genealogists as the Musta’ribah (Arabianized), or Aramite tribes.
“Ishmael married a daughter of a Jorhamite prince named Mudad and she gave him an illustrious son named Kedar (Arabic Qaydar), who settled in the wilderness of Paran (Arabia) (Genesis 25:13-15; I Chronicles 1:29-31). He was an ancestor of Adnan (or Qays), from whom the Quraysh, the tribe to which Prophet Muhammad belonged, claim descent.
“Therefore, when God addressed Moses and foretold: ‘I will raise up for them a prophet from among their brethren, like you [Moses], and I will put my words into his mouth; he shall convey all my commands to them’ (Deuteronomy 18:18), Muslims take this to refer to Prophet Muhammad, a descendant of Ishmael (and Abraham the Hebrew)…” (The Qur’anic Model of Religious Pluralism: Its Relevance for Muslim-Jewish Relations Today, pp. 6-7)
In Genesis 14:13, Abraham is described as Avram Ha-Ivri (‘Abram the Hebrew’), which translates literally as ‘Abram, the one who crossed over [the river Jordan or the river Euphrates] from the other side,’ i.e. a migrant:
But We delivered him [Abraham] and [his nephew] Lûṭ [and directed them] to the land which We have blessed for the nations. And we bestowed on him Isaac. And, as an additional gift [a grandson] Jacob, and We made righteous men of every one [of them]. And We made them leaders, guiding [men] by Our Command, and We sent them inspiration to do good deeds, to establish regular prayers, and to practice regular charity; and they constantly served Us [and Us only]. [Sûrah Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:71-73)]
So Prophet Abraham was the first ‘muslim’ Hebrew as the Qur’an 3:67 states:
“He (Abraham) was not Yahûdiyyân, ‘a Jew,’ nor Nasrâniyyân, ‘a Christian,’ but rather a Hanîfân, a Muslimân…, i.e. a monotheistic Hebrew believer submitting (islam) to the one imageless God who created all space and time; and who made the descendants of Prophet Abraham the Hebrew —through Prophets Isaac and Jacob (Isra’el)— into a great multitude of monotheists called the ‘People of Israel’/ Banu Isra’îl.
In addition to the test of offering up his son, Abraham is unique among the numerous prophets whom God chose from among his descendants, whose names are recorded in the Bible and in the Qur’an. With the exception of the non-Jewish prophet Balaam (Bible, Numbers chapters 22-24) (and Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18), all 55 Biblical prophets (48 male and 7 female) and most of the 25 prophets named in the Qur’an, are descendants of Abraham.
“We did grant the Family of Abraham the Book, the Wisdom and a mighty (spiritual) kingdom.” [Sûrah Al-Nisâ’, 4:54]
Prophet Isaiah said:
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he [Abraham] was only one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. (Isaiah 51:1-2)
and the Qur’an states:
“You have an excellent example to follow in Abraham.” [Sûrah Al-Mumtaḥinah, 60:4]
“Follow the way of Abraham as people of pure (monotheistic) faith.” [Sûrah ‘Âli-‘Imrân, 3:95]
The Hebrew nation did not acquire the better known name. the ‘Children /Descendants of Israel (in Hebrew B’nai Israel, in Arabic Banu Isra’il) until a few centuries after Prophet Abraham the Hebrew, when they were oppressed in Egypt. See the early chapters of the Torah’s Book of Exodus for how the Hebrews became the Children of Israel. This may be why some rabbis stated that Prophet Ishmael was also a Hebrew monotheist.
For example, Rabbi Yochanan ben Nappacha said that (Prophet) Ishmael lived for a time as a polytheist but returned to his Hebrew monotheism before Prophet Abraham died. Rabbi Yochanan said:
“Ishmael repented in the lifetime of his father, as it is stated: ‘Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, (jointly) buried him’ (Genesis 25:9).
“The fact that Ishmael allowed Isaac to precede him demonstrates that he had repented and accepted his (Isaac’s Hebrew tribal) authority.” (Talmud Baba Batra 16b)
Also the third century CE Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said:
that Machalat the daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:8-9) was Jewish; and when Esau [brother of Jacob] married her he thought about accepting Hebrew monotheism, until his polytheistic Canaanite wives dissuaded him. (Midrash Genesis Rabba 67:13)
In the Qur’an, God calls upon people to
“follow the religion of Abraham” [Sûrah ‘Âli-‘Imrân, 3:95]
The religion of Prophet Abraham was not yet Judaism; that did not come until the generation of Prophets Moses and Aaron. ‘Hebrew’ refers to (1) a language and (2) a nation who looked back to their original ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The Talmud in Brachot 56b states:
“One who sees Ishmael in a dream, it is an omen that his prayer will be heard just as (Prophet) Ishmael’s prayer was heard.
The Talmud notes: This refers specifically to one who saw [in a dream] Ishmael son of Abraham.”
So Prophet Ishmael was a half-brother of Isaac, long separated from him, but always related, as can be seen from the Qur’an:
“Say: we believe in God and in what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishma’il, Isaac, Jacob and The Tribes; and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus and the Prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another, among the; and to God do we bow our will.” [Sûrah ‘Âli-‘Imrân, 3:84)
Thus the Qur’an accurately states:
“He [Abraham] was not Yahûdiyyân, ‘a Jew,’ nor Nasrâniyyân, ‘a Christian,’ but rather a Hanîfân, a Muslimân…” [Sûrah ‘Âli-‘Imrân, 3:67]
Hanîfân, a Muslimân…” means ‘a monotheistic Hebrew believer submitting (muslimân) to the one imageless God who created all space and time; the God who made Prophet Abraham’s descendants through Prophets Isaac and Jacob (‘Israel’), into a great multitude of monotheists called the People of Israel/ Banu Israel.’
For 1200+ years after Prophet Moses, the Banu Israel was the only ongoing monotheistic community in the world.
“Similarly, no Messenger came to the People before them, but that they said (of him): ‘a sorcerer’, or ‘one possessed’! ” [Sûrah Al-Dhârîyyât, 51:52]
As the Qur’an states:
“The people of Noah denied before them, and the Companions of the Well, and the People of Thamûd and ʿÂd, and Pharaoh, and the brethren /neighbors of Lot; and the Companions of the Forest, and the People of Tubba‘. All denied the messengers [whom Allah sent to them] so My threat was justly fulfilled.” [Sûrah Qâf, 50:12-14]
Unlike the other monotheistic communities that rose and then fell during those centuries, most but not all of Banu Israel remained loyal to the covenant God made with them at Mount Sinai.
Then in the generations following two major revolts against Roman rule (66-70 CE and 132-135 CE) thousands of Jews moved south from the Land of Israel all the way across the Arabian peninsula as far south as the Yemen.
After the Roman Empire became a Christian ruled society and persecutions of Jews became normative, the polytheistic Arabs in Arabia looked better and better to Jews as potential neighbors, so the rabbis saw them more favorably. Many Arabs married Jews and became Jewish to the point that Yathrib was often called ‘the City of the Jews,’ much as New York City is today.
One of Prophet Muhammad’s early biographers Ibn Hisham states:
“Allah had set them [the polytheistic Arabs] on the road to Islam, for there were Jews with them in their country, people who had scriptures, and were endowed with knowledge, while they [the Arabs] themselves were polytheists and idolaters.”
Moreover, it was a time of messianic expectation: prophecies were circulating among the Jews of Yathrib that a new prophet would shortly appear. (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, translation by A. Guillaume (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1967, pp. 93-94). According to the Arab historian al-Samhudi, more than twenty Jewish tribes [and Jewish clans within Arab tribes] were settled in Medina. In my judgment, Prophet Jesus, who said:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Christian New Testament, Matthew 15:24)
only unintentionally became a Jewish Prophet for the non-Jewish world, whereas Prophet Muhammad, the ‘unlettered prophet,’ was the one intentional non-Jewish Prophet for the non-Jewish world:
“Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel, who enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong, and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil [things], and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them. So they who have believed in him, honored him, supported him and followed the light which was sent down with him [even if they did not convert to Islam] – it is those who will be the successful.” [Sûrah Al-A‘râf, 7:157]
“Indeed, the believers [in Muhammad], Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does good (deeds) will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:62]