According to the Book of Genesis, Ishmaelites (Arabic: Bani Isma'il, Hebrew: Bnai Yishma'el) are the descendants of Ishmael, the elder son of Abraham and the descendants of the 12 sons/princes of Ishmael.

Traditional origins

According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham's first wife was named Sarah and her Egyptian handmaid or slave was named Hagar. However Sarah could not conceive. According to Genesis 16:3 Sarah (then Sarai) gave her maid/slave Hagar in marriage to Abraham, in order that Abraham might have an heir - "And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian...and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife” (King James Version). Hagar conceived Ishmael from Abraham, and the Ishmaelites descend from him.

After Abraham pleaded with God for Ishmael to live under his blessing, Genesis 17:20 states, "But as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation." The Samaritan book Asaṭīr says in chapter VIII: "1. And after the death of Abraham, Ishmael reigned twenty seven years; 2. And all the children of Nebaot ruled for one year in the lifetime of Ishmael; 3. And for thirty years after his death from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates; and they built Mecca.; 4. For thus it is said (in Genesis 25:16): 'As thou goest towards Ashur before all his brethren he lay.'" This text has been dated by Gaster to the third century BCE but its Aramaic more resembles the language used by the scholar Ab Hisda in the eleventh century.[1]

Josephus states that there "were born to Ishmael twelve sons: Nabaioth, Kedar, Abdeel, Mabsam, Idumas, Masmoas, Massaos, Chodad, Theman, Jetur, Naphesus, Cadmas". These inhabited all the country from Euphrates to the Red Sea, and called it Nabatene.[2] Palestinian targum further explain Genesis 25:16: "And they (children of Ishmael) dwelled from Hindikia (Indian Ocean) to Palusa (Pelusiumt, which is before Egypt) as thou goest to Atur (Assyria)." The 14th century CE Kebra Nagast says in chapter 83: "Many countries are enumerated over which Ishmael ruled."[3]

Historical records of the Ishmaelites

Assyrian and Babylonian Royal Inscriptions and North Arabian inscriptions from 9th to 6th century B.C, mention the king of Qedar as king of the Arabs and King of the Ishmaelites.[4][5][6][7] Of the names of the sons of Ishmael the names “Nabat, Kedar, Abdeel, Dumah, Massa, and Teman” were mentioned in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions as tribes of the Ishmaelites. Jesur was mentioned in Greek inscriptions in the First Century B.C.[8]

The Qedarite kingdom continued long after the demise of the last native Babylonian king Nabonidus, but the Nabataean kingdom emerged from the Qedarite kingdom because of the continuity in geography and language between the two tribes some two hundred and fifty years later.[9][10][11] Many Arabic tribes names of the time of Muhammad (and now) such as Asad, Madhhij, and the ancestor tribes of Muhammad: Ma'ad and Nizar[12] were found in the Namara inscription dated 325 AD in the Nabatean script.[13][14]

Maqrizi says that Moses wiped out almost all non-Ishmaelite Arabs such as Amaleq and Midianites,[15] and by the time of Muhammad all Arabs were descendents of Ishmael according to historians Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi and al-Sharqi who believed that all Arabs were descendents of Ishmael including the Qahtanites.[16]

Genealogical attempt to trace the ancestry of the Arabs

Medieval Arab genealogists divided Arabs into three groups:

Abu Ja'far al-Baqir (676–743 AD) wrote that his father Ali ibn Husayn informed him that Muhammad in Islam had said: "The first whose tongue spoke in clear Arabic was Ishmael, when he was fourteen years old."[17] Hisham Ibn Muhammad al-Kalbi (737–819 AD) established a genealogical link between Ishmael and Muhammad using writings that drew on biblical and Palmyran sources, and the ancient oral traditions of the Arabs. His book, Jamharat al-Nasab ("The Abundance of Kinship"), seems to posit that the people known as 'Arabs' (of his time) were all descendants of Ishmael.[18] Ibn Kathir (1301–1373) writes, "All the Arabs of the Hijaz are descendants of Nebaioth and Qedar."[17] Medieval Jewish sources also usually identified Qedar with Arabs and Muslims.[19][20][d] According to author and scholar Irfan Shahîd, Western scholars viewed this kind of "genealogical Ishmaelism" with suspicion, seeing it as,

[...] a late Islamic fabrication because of the confusion in Islamic times which made it such a capacious term as to include the inhabitants of the south as well as the north of the Arabian Peninsula. But short of this extravagance, the concept is much more modest in its denotation, and in the sober sources it applies only to certain groups among the Arabs of pre-Islamic times. Some important statements to this effect were made by Muhammad when he identified some Arabs as Ishmaelites and others as not.[21]

Ishmaelism in this more limited definition holds that Ishmael was both an important religious figure and eponymous ancestor for some of the Arabs of western Arabia.[21] Prominence is given in Arab genealogical accounts to the first two of Ishmael's twelve sons, Nebaioth (Arabic: نبيت, Nabīt) and Qedar (Arabic: قيدار, Qaydār), who are also prominently featured in the Genesis account.[21] It is likely that they and their tribes lived in northwestern Arabia and were historically the most important of the twelve Ishmaelite tribes.[21]

It is believed that the first person to speak Arabic clearly was Ishmael from Greek literature sources: "Isma’il grew up among the Jurhum tribe, learning the pure Arabic tongue from them though the Jurhum spoke an ancient form of Aramaic. When grown up he successively married two ladies from the Jurhum tribe, the second wife being the daughter of Mudad ibn ‘Amr, leader of the Jurhum tribe. Isma'il could speak only ancient Egyptian and Hebrew of his parents before his marriage into the Jurhum tribe whence he spoke a language derived from all three languages which sounded better than all three and became God's language." [22]

In accounts tracing the ancestry of Muhammad back to Ma'ad (and from there to Adam), Arab scholars alternate, with some citing the line as through Nebaioth, others Qedar.[23] Many Muslim scholars see Isaiah 42 (21:13-17) as predicting the coming of a servant of God who is associated with Qedar and interpret this as a reference to Muhammad.[24]

See also


  1. A Companion to Samaritan Studies, ed. by Alan David Crown, et al. p. 34
  2. Josephus. "12". Complete Works of Josephus Volume 1. p. 42. Children of Ishmael
  3. Gaster, Moses (1927). The Asatir: the Samaritan book of Moses. London: THE ROYAL ASIATIC SOCIETY. pp. 262, 71. Nabateans ruled from the Nile to the Euphrates
  4. Delitzsche (1912). Assyriesche Lesestuche. Leipzig. OCLC 2008786.
  5. Montgomry (1934). Arabia and the Bible. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania. OCLC 639516.
  6. Winnet (1970). Ancient Records from North Arabia. pp. 51, 52. OCLC 79767. king of kedar (Qedarites) is named alternatively as king of Ishmaelites and king of Arabs in Assyrian Inscriptions
  7. Stetkevychc (2000). Muhammad and the Golden Bough. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253332087. Assyrian records document Ishmaelites as Qedarites and as Arabs
  8. Hamilton, Victor P. (1990). The book of Genesis ([Nachdr.] ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans. ISBN 0802823092.
  9. Ibrahim (1989). "Nabatean Origins". In Knauf. Arabian Studies in honour of Mahmud Gul. Wiesbaden. ISSN 0003-0279.
  10. Marx, edited by Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, Michael (2010). The Qur'an in context historical and literary investigations into the Qur'anic milieu (PDF). Leiden: Brill. p. 211. ISBN 9789047430322. Archived from the original on 2010.
  11. "routes to Arabia" (PDF). p. 98.
  12. Ibn Ishaq; Guillaume (1955). The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Isḥāq’s sīrat. London. p. 696. ISBN 0195778286. Nizar ancestor of Muhammad a descendent of Nebet son of Ishmael
  13. Shahid (1989). Byzantium and the Arabs in the 5th century. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks. p. 344. ISBN 0884021521. Ma'ad son of Adnan and Nizar the Ancestors of Muhammad are mentioned in Namara inscriptions of king of the Arabs Imru' al-Qays ibn 'Amr, an Adnanite and Nabataean according to Ibn Ishaq, dated to year 325 AD and written in the Nabataean script
  14. Ibn Ishaq; Guillaume (1955). The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Isḥāq’s sīrat. London. p. 4. ISBN 0195778286. al-Nu'man of the kings of al-Hira was a survivor of the tribe of Qunus b. Ma'add. However, the rest of the Arabs assert that he belonged to the Lakhm of the Rabi'a b. NasrIshmael
  15. Maqrizi (1995) [1350 AD]. Kitab al-Mawa'iz wa al-I'tibar: Book of wisdoms from Ancient writings and ruins. london: Al-Furqan. p. 89. ISBN 1873992165. Moses wiped out Midianites and Amaleq and Gurhumites etc. and left Ishmaelites
  16. Baladhuri. Ansab al-Ashraf. p. 105.
  17. 1 2 Wheeler, 2002, p. 110-111.
  18. ""Arabia" in Ancient History". Centre for Sinai. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
  19. Alexander, 1847, p. 67.
  20. Alfonso, 2007, p. 137, note 36.
  21. 1 2 3 4 Shahîd, 1989, p. 335-336.
  22. Ali, Mohar. "The Ka'abah And The Abrahamic Tradition". Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  23. al-Mousawi in Boudreau et al., 1998, p. 219.
  24. Zepp et al., 2000, p. 50.

External links

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