My friend Cathy recently asked for help to provide a response to Arab assertions that Abraham was a Muslim and possibly Arab, and that Jews were nothing more than Arabs in disguise–unbeknown to themselves. Hey, they both like falafel.
Before tackling these subjects head-on, please permit me to provide a little background…
During the 19th century, European scholars of the Middle East–German Jews in particular–were prone to paint a picture of a tolerant Muslim world which treated non-Muslims admirably.
While it’s true that live Christians and Jews could be a better source of continuous revenue for Muslims via special taxes (the Jizyah) and such than dead ones, even though there was no Holocaust per se of Jews under Muslim domination, it’s also true that dhimmi populations never knew what the morrow would bring. Massacres, forced conversions, subjugation, and so forth were no strangers in the realm of Islam. And forget about non-dhimmi “Peoples of the Book”–Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, pagans, and so forth points east either converted and saw the Islamic “light” or were slaughtered.
A reading of Middle Eastern Jewish scholars such as Norman Stillman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Albert Memmi, and Bat Ye’or is a must on this subject, as is newer work edited and/or authored by others like Andrew Bostom and the much maligned (especially by those who could not factuallydispute her) Joan Peters.
It seems that 19th century whitewash of Islam–which still continues–was largely done to contrast an allegedly tolerant Arab/Muslim East–where Jews are commonly known askilab yahud, “Jew dogs,” and killers of prophets–to a historically intolerant Christian West, complete with its inquisitions, crusades, blood libels, demonization, forced ghettoization and conversions, massacres, Holocaust, and branding of the Jew as the deicide people…and that’s just for starters.
So what does all of this have to do with Abraham?
Firstly, keep in mind that all that we know of Abraham comes via the Hebrew Bible. That is our one and only original source.
We have good corroborative evidence from contemporary, non-Hebraic sources that Asiatic Semitic Habiru /‘Apiru were on the move, causing headaches for Canaanites, Egyptian Pharaohs, and so forth about three and a half to four millennia ago, during the time that Abraham is thought to have walked Planet Earth.
We also know that around that same time Semitic “Shepherd Kings” (the 15th Dynasty) conquered Egypt…possibly/probably kin to the Hebrews. One of the names mentioned in Hyksos records was Yacub…Yaacov in Hebrew–Jacob. The Biblical story of the Hebrew patriarch, Jacob (later renamed Israel), gaining permission to enter the Nile Valley most likely occurred during this time. And he was the grandson of the original Hebrew patriarch, Abraham.
Yes, some say, but others claim that Muslims have their own version of the Abraham story as well.
That’s true, but, keep the following in mind…
When Muhammad, the Arabian Prophet of Islam, fled Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. (the Hijrah), the mixed population of Jews and pagans welcomed him. Pre-Muhammad Yathrib/Medina had been developed as a thriving date palm oasis by Jews fleeing the Roman conquest of Judaea (the banu-Qurayzah, banu-Kainuka’, and banu-al-Nadir tribes, etc.) centuries earlier
Muhammad learned much from the Jews. He listened to their prayers, their Biblical stories, and so forth. While the actual timing of his decision on the direction of prayer may never be known, during his long sojourn with the Jews of Medina, his followers were instructed to pray towards Jerusalem. Early prominent Arab historians such as Jalaluddin came right out and stated that this was done primarily as an attempt to win support among the influential Jewish tribes (the “People of the Book”) for Muhammad’s religio-political claims.
It is from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to Heaven on his winged horse (it only says "the farthest mosque" but Muslims believe that referst to the Temple Mount). A shrine, the Dome of the Rock, would later be erected on this Jewish holy site after the Arab imperial conquest of the land in the 7th century C.E.
There is no doubt among objective scholars–not apologists for Islam–that Jews had an enormous impact on both Muhammad and the religion that he founded.
Hebraic Biblical stories are prominent in the Qur’an, and the holy sites for Muslims in Jerusalem (i.e. the Dome and the mosque erected on the Temple Mount of the Jews) are now deemed “holy” precisely because of those critical years Muhammad spent after the Hijrah with the Jews.
The Temple Mount, Hebrew Biblical stories of Abraham, Ishmael, Moses (mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an), the Angel Gabriel, the Children of Israel, the Hebrew Prophets such as Zachariah, and so forth had no prior meaning to pagan Arabs. They mostly worshipped the idol of the Moon god in the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula’s Kaaba.
While there was also some early Christian influence, intense scholarship has shown that the Holy Law (Halakha) and Holy Scriptures of the Jews had a tremendous influence on the Qur’an and Islamic Holy Law (Shari’a).
As I’ve written often before, Muhammad’s “Jerusalem connection” was most likely not established until after his extended stay with his Jewish hosts. This was no mere coincidence–Islamic religious beliefs regarding Muhammad’s alleged conversations with the Angel Gabriel, etc,. notwithstanding.
And, important for this analysis, as with Jerusalem, so with Islam’s subsequent supplanting of the Hebraic son of Abraham, Isaac, with the allegedly “Arab” son of Hagar, Sarah’s servant, Ishmael.
When the Jews refused to recognize Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets and the chief political honcho, he turned on his hosts who gave him refuge with a vengeance.
Before long, with the exception of Yemen, there were virtually no Jews left on the Arabian Peninsula. He decapitated all the Jewish men in Medina and enslaved their women and children. And the direction of prayer was changed away from Jerusalem and towards the Islamized Kaaba in Mecca instead.
So much for the Arab claim that all was fine for “their” Jews until Zionism came into the picture.
Okay… Now we’re ready to deal with Cathy’s Abraham concerns above and the notion that Arabs are the Jews’ cousins since they’re allegedly descendants of Abraham’s son with Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sarah.
Ramses II ruled Egypt in the 13th century B.C.E., after the native Egyptian reconquest of the land from the Semitic Hyksos. No doubt the latter’s allies fell into disfavor at this time as well–as seen in the story in the Biblical Book of Exodus (“a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph,” etc.). In one Egyptian relief, Ramses is depicted holding up the heads of three conquered peoples…a black African (probably Nubian), Asiatic Semite, and another probably East Asiatic type. Ramses looks quite different from all of the conquered peoples, as do other depicted Egyptians as well.
The Bible states that Ishmael is the son of an Egyptian woman. E G Y P T I A N…not Arab.
While it is true that Semitic culture entered into Egypt (some documents were written in Hieroglyphics in both Egyptian and a Hyksos Semitic language), it’s an extremely far stretch to say that Hagar and Ishmael were thus Arab.
It seems that just like some Jews earlier wanted to contrast Western Christian and Eastern Muslim treatment of their brethren to make a point, that later–to try to ease the strife between Jewish and Arab nationalisms (Zionism and Arabism)–later Jews quite possibly (if not probably) stretched the identity of Hagar from Egyptian to Arab as well.
Jewish commentators use Ishmael to refer to all Muslims, with Nachmanides even saying that it is the banishment of Hagar that turned the Muslims against us, but they began using the term centuries later when Islamic comquest and conversions allowed that generalization, in contrast to Esau's descendants.
While Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula traveled to Egypt, the bulk of Semites coming there in ancient times were not of that origin–regardless of wishful thinking by espousers of the Winckler-Caetani Theory–which, among other things, makes Babylonians, Canaanites, Assyrians, Hebrews, and others all Arabs as well…like those Cathy is dealing with, assert.
Given that Abraham (son of a Babylonian Chaldean Semite), surfaced in history when he did, coincidental with the Semitic Hyksos conquest of Egypt, Hagar was most likely a native non-Semitic or Semitic Hyksos Egyptian. She was not likely Arab–so neither was her son, Ishmael.
Furthermore, when the Jews made reference to Arabs–in the few places where they did–they were not shy to call them that.
So, for example, Geshem the Arab appears in Nehemiah 2:19 and 6:1-6. He was recorded as one of the three leaders opposing the Jews rebuilding the Temple after their return from Babylonian exile upon being freed by ancient Iran’s Cyrus the Great (not exactly the Ayatollah’s ideal Persian leader, if you get my drift)…
In short, if Hagar was an Arab, the Jews would have had no reason not to say so. She wasn’t–so neither was Ishmael, the half brother of Abraham’s Hebrew son with Sarah, Isaac, whom Arabs sought/seek to supplant.
After the Arab imperial conquest of Egypt and much of the rest of the region some twenty-seven centuries since the time of Abraham, it was convenient for Arabs to then write themselves into the original Hebraic story in the Jews’ sacred writings. Adding insult to injury, they next claimed that both Jews and Christians corrupted the original version.
Arabs have gotten away with this utter rubbish even with many “experts” in academia, in the State Department, and elsewhere. Never say that those folks don’t know who butters their bread, however. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been contributed by Arabs and Arab-connected petro-businesses to fund Middle Eastern programs, travel, scholarships, politicians, and the like. Besides the higher indoctrination instead of education on campus, just ask folks like Jimmy Carter, those running the Clinton Foundation and other causes, and too many others like them. Together, such influence-buying contributions make the impact of AIPAC look like child’s play.
My point here has not been to argue particular religious beliefs. That’s between people and G-d.
But historical fact should never be replaced with such beliefs–unless there is adequate and accurate corroboration, documentation, archaeological evidence, and the like to do that with. Arabs and other Muslims have none of that with regards to Abraham and his family–whom they only learned about, once again, via Muhammad’s sojourn with the Jews of Medina…those very same Jews who gave the Arab Prophet, Muhammad, refuge from his enemies–and whom he subsequently slaughtered.
Coming back to the future in 2019, some things change, some don’t. As the late, great baseball player, Yogi Berra, said, “it’s like deja vu all over again”…
When dealing with claims like those my friend has been confronted with, unfortunately there’s no substitute for what needs to be gained only by investing adequate intellectual capital in the subject. Either that, or give up the ship.
Hopefully, despite the increasingly “Progressive” nature of far too many Jews, there will be enough left afterwards who’ve not joined the BDS movement, J Street, (in) abetting Jihadi-supporting groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, and folks like The Three Amigas above, to keep the ship afloat.