Muslims from the four corners of the globe flock throughout the year to the holy city of Makkah as pilgrims, however, during the month of Dhul-Hijjah, the greater pilgrimage known as Hajj consumes millions of people for a total of five days between the 8th and the 12th. The Hajj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, dating back to the time of Abraham and his son Ishmael. Being one of the five pillars of Islam, it commemorates the succession of trials faced by Abraham and his family. Some of those trials that are particularly related to the Hajj will be discussed in this article, comparing the Islamic tradition with Judeo-Christian theology in order to refute inconsistencies in the Old Testament and prove that the Old Testament actually refers to and sanctify’s the Hajj which is from the sunnah (tradition) of Abraham and has been participated in by believers from his time to ours.
Known as the father of the three Abrahamic faiths, Abraham is considered the friend of Allah in the Islamic tradition and holds an esteemed position amongst the Prophets and Messengers of Islam. Furthermore, Islam holds that Judaism and Christianity are not separate religions but deviations from Abraham’s original teachings of monotheism also known as al-hanif. The Qur’an states,
And they say: Be Jews or Christians, then you will be rightly guided. Say: nay, but (we follow) the religion of Abraham, the monotheist, and he was not of those who associated partners with God.1
Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian; but he was a monotheist (Hanif) who had surrendered to Allah (Muslim), and he was not of those who associated partners with God.2
In these verses, Allah establishes the fact that Abraham did not belong to a ‘religion’, but was a monotheist who surrendered to the commandments of God (hence the use of the Arabic word muslim). Another verse which demonstrates this:
O ye who believe! Bow down and prostrate yourselves, and worship your Lord, and do good, that haply you may prosper. And strive for Allah with the endeavor which is His right. He hath chosen you and hath not laid upon you in religion any hardship; the faith of your father Ibrahim (is yours). He hath named you Muslims of old time and in this (Scripture)…”3
A close inspection of the Old Testament also re-iterates this point “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”4 During the address of God to Abraham there is no mention of ‘Jew’ or ‘Christian’, but monotheism is affirmed and he is commanded to submit: “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just…”5 These two factors in fact encompass the life of Abraham, by which he completely embodies the Islamic notions of belief and action in a simplistic way.
His commitment to Tawhid6 was enduring, which is emphasised by the number of trials he was subjected to. The first of those in relation to the Hajj was that of his and his family’s journey to Arabia. Upon God’s command,7 Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael with provisions in a desolate desert valley in Makkah, trusting that God would care for them. “Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.8“9 He supplicated,
O Our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by the Sacred house: In order, O our Lord that they may establish regular prayer. So fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them, and feed them with fruits; so that they may give thanks.”10
When their provisions had depleted, Hagar frantically searched for water running between the hills of Safa’ and Marwah in order to look for travellers in the distance. Allah showed mercy upon both mother and child by sending an angel to cause a spring of water to gush forth, which the Old Testament relates in the book of Genesis: “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”11 As is evident not only from Islamic tradition but also the Old Testament, the water of Zam Zam12 is sanctified and boasts miraculous beginnings. As a result, pilgrims re-enact Hagar’s search for water between the hills of Safa’ and Marwah as well as drinking from the Zam Zam well.
One of the major trials of Abraham was the command by Allah to kill his own son. A task which would seem impossible for most was taken up by Abraham keen to prove himself to his Lord.
And when (his son) was old enough to walk with him, (Abraham) said: O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you. So look, what thinkest thou? He said: O my father! Do that which you are commanded. Allah willing, you shall find me of the steadfast.”13
Ishmael’s steadfastedness to the will of God is remarkable, to the extent that not only did he willfully participate in fulfilling Allah’s commandment, but he also encouraged his father. During this time, the devil attempted to discourage Abraham by sowing doubt within him. However, Abraham and Ishmael dispelled the devil by throwing stones at him and continued on their mission.
Then, when they had both surrendered (to Allah), and he had flung him down upon his face, We called unto him: O Abraham: You have already fulfilled the vision. Lo! Thus do We reward the good. Lo! That verily was a clear test. Then We ransomed him with a tremendous victim.”14
After overcoming the encounter with the devil, an event which is commemorated with the practice of stoning at the Jamaraat, Abraham continued to realise Allah’s command, however Ishmael was spared and Abraham was ordered to sacrifice a ram instead. Consequently, this is the same order with which the Hajj rites are practiced and the ram (or lamb, cow etc.) is sacrificed on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, also known as the day of Eid al-Adh’ha or Yowm al-Nahr.
Although Islamic tradition holds the chosen son (for sacrifice) to be Ishmael, the Old Testament refers to Isaac being chosen for Abraham’s trial. Based upon this, scholars from among the Jews and Christians have argued that Muslims have distorted the story in order to favour Ishmael, the father of the Arabs. However, such claims can be quite easily refuted given that the narration of the sacrifice in the Old Testament (as well as the charge of favouritism) holds many discrepancies.
Genesis (chapter 22) describes the sacrifice story and is relied upon by Jews and Christians to assert their claims. However, the problem begins in the second verse where we are told: “Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love…” However, Isaac was not Abraham’s only son. The mere fact that Ishmael was Abraham’s first born would indicate that there was a time when Ishmael was Abraham’s only son. Some scholars among the Jews have claimed that only here refers to the ‘only Jewish son’ as Ishmael was born of Hagar, an Egyptian.15 However, this claim is completely erroneous as ‘Jews’ did not exist in the time of Abraham, either as a religion or an ethnic people as Abraham and his wife were from Mesopotamia (Iraq). Furthermore, Jews and Christians attempt to use the Qur’an to prove their claims stating that the Qur’an does not name the son who was to be slaughtered. They quote,
He said: “I will go to my Lord! He will surely guide me! O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!” So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: “O my son! I have seen in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice…”16
However, by quoting the Qur’an ignorantly, they not only display their ignorance but also attest to their own falsehood. Although the quoted verses do not name Ishmael as the son, we find that ten verses later Allah states: “And We gave him the good news of Isaac, a prophet, one of the righteous,”17 thus affirming that Isaac had not been born until after the event. This is consistent with the fact that the Jews altered their scripture and replaced the name of Ishmael with Isaac. Thus Allah states in the next verse, “We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong to themselves.”18
In regard to the verse, “So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son”, Ibn Kathir states in his tafsir (exegesis): “And this son is Ishmael for he is the first son whose good news was brought to Abraham. He is older than Isaac according to Muslims and the Ahl al-kitâb (People of the Book) too. It is even said in their Scripture that Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old and Isaac was born when Abraham was 99. As well as that, their scripture states that God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his only son and in another version his firstborn. And, at this spot, they inserted falsely the name of Isaac against the text of their very Scripture. The reason they inserted Isaac is that he is their father whereas Ishmael is the father of the Arabs. They added Isaac out of envy and brushed away “only son” by saying that Ishmael and his mother had already been to Makkah. This is a mere [farfetched] explanation since we never say “only son” except to a person who hasn’t got but one son. Moreover, the firstborn has got a special place [in the heart of his father] that is not given to the following children and the order to sacrifice him is therefore a greater test. Some knowledgeable people were inclined to say that the sacrificed was Isaac. This was reported from some people of the salaf (earliest generations of Islam) and it was even reported from some Companions (of the Prophet) but [this opinion] does not have any basis in the Book (the Qur’ân) nor from the Sunnah. I (Ibn Kathir) think such opinion was received from the Rabbis of Ahl al-Kitâb as is without evidence. Moreover, God’s Book is a witness and points to the fact that it is Ishmael because the glad tiding said that the son was patient and that he is the sacrificed. Only afterwards, He said: “And We gave him the good news of Isaac, a prophet, one of the Righteous “…and when the Angels brought the good news of Isaac to Abraham they said: “Fear not,” and they gave him glad tidings of a son endowed with knowledge.” And the Most High said: “We gave her [Sarah] glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob.” meaning that in the lifetime of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac will beget a child that he will call Jacob implying that Isaac will have a progeny. We have already explained why it is not possible that Isaac be sacrificed while still a child i.e., because God promised them [Abraham and Sarah] that he will have a progeny. On the other hand, Ishmael was described as forbearing and he fits that description”. Ibn Kathir effectively ridicules the Judeo-Christian argument by simply making the point that Abraham was given good news about the birth of Isaac who would go on to father Jacob. Thus, it is logical that Abraham knew Isaac would not die (at least not without having a son).
Progressing with the story in Genesis, the story is enacted (after three days journey) in Moriah, the same place Solomon built the great temple “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.”19 According to the Jews, Abraham took Isaac into the region of Moriah to a specific mountain. However, Islamic scholars have held that the incidence actually took part on the plains of Arafah, somewhere close to (or upon) the ‘Mountain of Mercy’ and the Jewish version has actually distorted the reality. The Judeo-Christian account of Moriah was also inserted into the story of Abraham in order to give a sense of importance to Jerusalem as well as favour the Levant and the Jews. Such interpolations were common particularly during the Babylonian exodus of the Jews as they had become disillusioned with their status as the ‘chosen people’.20 Additionally, the Encyclopaedia Judaica states that: “In the tale of binding (surah 37:99-110) Muhammad identified the son who was to be sacrificed as Ishmael and, indeed, the opinions of the (Jewish) traditionalists were also divided on this subject. It is related that a renowned traditionalist of Jewish origin from the Qurayza tribe, and another Jewish scholar who converted to Islam, told that Caliph Omar Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azîz (717-720) that the Jews were well informed that Isma’il was the one who was bound, but that they concealed this out of jealousy…” Additionally, it is reported from Ibn Ishaq that “Muhammad bin K’ab narrated that Umar Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azîz sent for a man who had been a Jew then converted to Islam and showed signs of true Islam. Before his conversion he was one of their scholars [he was a Jewish scholar]. So he [Umar] asked him: which son did Abraham sacrifice? He replied: ‘It is Ishmael. By God, O Commander of the Believers, the Jews know that but they envy you – the Arabs.”
Jewish and Christian scholars attempt to maintain their false beliefs by claiming that there was a difference of opinion between the salaf, and that some actually believed that Isaac was the son who was to be slaughtered. This claim ironically is true, however, as Dr Muhammad Abu Shahbah states: “The truth is that the reports stating that the Sacrificed is Isaac are part of the Israelliyat (of Jewish origin) due to the People of Book was transmitted by those who converted among them like Ka’b Al Ahbaar, and it was conveyed (from the converts) by some Companions and Followers (tâbiûn) as sign of trust. Later, the scholars who came after them were fooled by such reports and supported that the Sacrificed was Isaac. Every book of exegesis (tafsîr) or biography or even history would mention the argument that took place among the salaf. However, some [of those books] would follow the argument by outlining the truth and others wouldn’t add any commentary either by conviction or surrender [to these reports]…The truth is that the Sacrificed is Ishmael. This is supported by the Qur’ânic verses and reports from the Companions and tâbiûn… No wonder that many Companions and tâbiûn and the later scholars of the Qur’ân and hadîth among which we enumerate great Companions and poles of knowledge (agreed to Ishmael) like: Alî, Ibn ‘Umar, Abû Hurayrah, Abû Tufayl, Sa’îd Ibn Jubayr, Mujâhid, al-Sha’by, Al-Hasan al-Basri, Muhammad Ibn Ka’b al-Qardhy, Sa’îd Ibn al-Musayyab, Abû Ja’far Muhammad al-Bâqir, Abû Sâlih, al-Rabî’ Ibn Anas, Abû ‘Amr Ibn al-‘Alâ’ and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal et al and it is one version and the strongest from the reports of Ibn ‘Abbâs.”
Additionally, Ibn al-Qayyim Al Jawziyyah mentions in Zaad al Ma’ad that ‘it is the correct opinion according to the knowledgeable among the Companions and tâbiûn and later generations. This opinion was famous among the Arabs before the advent of Islam and it was transmitted from generation to generation in tawâtur form and it was also mentioned in the poetry of Umayyah Ibn Abî al-Salt.’ Thus, any attempt by Jewish and Christian theologians to assert that Islamic scholars are in doubt is inextricably false. There was a period when scholars were fooled by such reports, but scholars who proceded them rectified earlier positions.
Continuing with the refutation of the narration in Genesis, we note Abraham’s journey after the incidence to Beersheba “Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.”21 Why did Abraham go to Beersheba,22 especially when (as the Jews and Christians claim) Isaac was his only son? The most reasonable explanation as to why he would have set off for Beersheba is to take his son Ishmael home. Additionally, he stayed there, which proves that Abraham was in Arabia during the time the Ka’bah was built and is the most plausible explanation as to why he stayed. The chronology of the Islamic tradition is coherent with Abraham returning to Beersheba and remaining there. Thus, the discrepancies within Judeo/Christian tradition actually support the Islamic view.
Another aspect of the life of Abraham which plays a significant role in Hajj is when Allah ordained Abraham and his son Ishmael to build a house of worship for him and to call the believers towards it.
Behold! We gave the site to Abraham, of the (Sacred) House, (saying): “Associate not anything (in worship) with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).”23
As they built and circumbulated the Ka’bah, they supplicated,24
And remember Abraham and Isma’il raised the foundations of the House (With this prayer): “Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us: For Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-knowing.”25
This action is also re-enacted as pilgrims circumbulate the Ka’bah seven times at the end of the Hajj (known as the tawaf al-ifaada) often supplicating to God with the same prayer as Abraham and Ishmael.
It is not only the Islamic tradition that discusses the Ka’bah, indeed, the Old Testament also refers to it. Firstly, the Qur’an states,
The first House (of worship) appointed for men was that at Bakkah (Makkah): Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings. In it are Signs Manifest; (for example), the Station of Abraham; whoever enters it attains security; Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to Allah – those who can afford the journey; but if any deny faith, Allah stands not in need of any of His creatures.”26
According to Ibn Kathir, the name Bakkah was used as “‘it brings Buka’ (crying, weeping) to the tyrants and arrogant, meaning they cry and become humble in its vicinity. It was also said that Makkah was called Bakkah because people ‘buka‘ next to it, meaning they gather around it.”27
We also find in the Old Testament during the time of the Prophet, King David,
Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Selah. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca,28 they make it a place of wells; the autumn rains also cover it with blessings.29
This verse explicitly affirms that the Hajj has been a pilgrimage since the time of Abraham and his sons, and that this pilgrimage not only involves passing through the valley of Baca (Bakkah is situated between mountains), but also visit the well (Zam Zam). Allah states in surah Hajj,
And proclaim unto mankind the Pilgrimage. They will come unto thee on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep ravine.30
As is evident, pilgrims still flock in multitudes “to the valley of Baca” as well as visiting “the place of wells.” Still today, pilgrims from every walk of life and place on Earth participate in the Hajj seeking the pleasure of God the Most High. They retrace the footsteps of Abraham and his ‘forbearing’ son Ishmael. As we have discussed, although those who disbelieve attempt to disprove our way of life, their attempts are futile and their ‘truth’ reveals itself to be nothing but falsehood. Instead, Islam proves its superiority as the final revelation, and as we have seen, cannot be challenged in any of its aspects. In regards to the Hajj, it is evident that it was commanded before the advent of Islam and pilgrims who followed various prophets flocked to the sacred house as well. Although the Jews changed their texts, Allah’s promise to protect and guard the truth was nothing but true. All praise is due to Allah who sent His messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, and made it apparent over all other religions even though the disbelievers dislike it.
Notes: This article has been reposted.
4. Genesis 17:7
5. Genesis 18:19
7. Genesis 21:1. Also see Fat’h ul Bari.
8. Beersheba means ‘Well of the oaths’
9. Genesis 21:12
11. Genesis 22:17-19
12. The name Zamzam originates from the phrase Zomë Zomë, meaning ‘stop flowing’, a command repeated by Hajar during her attempt to contain the spring water. (Zam Zam studies and research center)
15. Judaism is matrilineal – it is passed onto the child through the mother.
17. 37:112, see chapter 37 verses 99 to 113.
19. 2 Chronicles 3:1
20. Interpolations into the Old Testament will be discussed in later articles.
21. Genesis 22:19
22. the place where Ishmael and his mother had been left
24. Bukhari 583
27. Tafsir Ibn Kathir
28. The word Baca is translated by Christian and Jewish scholars as ‘weeping’.
29. Psalms 84:4-6
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