Ishmael (or Ismael) is a central figure in the Bible, first mentioned in the Book of Genesis. He is traditionally regarded as the son of Abraham and his concubine, Hagar, and his decedents are the Arabs. He was born when Abraham was 86 years old and sent away when he was the age of sixteen. This separation fulfilled a promise and thus started Ishmael’s journey as a major player in the Bible.
The banishment of Ishmael
In Genesis 16 we are told of Sarah’s deep longing and Abraham’s desire for a son. This leads Sarah to bear a son, Abraham names him Isaac and the family rejoices in their shared joy. However Hagar, Ishmael’s mother, is cast aside by Sarah. In a single moment the suspicions of jealousy transform into an event filled with grief and pain. We are then told in Genesis 21 that Abraham, again, listened to his wife and sent away Ishmael and his mother.
The rise of Ishmael
Bible commentators suggest that Ishmael’s banishment was not seen as a complete surrender as later we are told of Ishmael’s rise in the world. The proscription was instead seen as a test to be passed and in a miracle, God protects Ishmael. Additionally, we are told that Ishmael settled in the wilderness, remarried and at the age of thirty-six had twelve sons. It is through his sons and their tribes that Ishmael is remembered and his name is passed down from generation to generation as a faithful servant of God. Ishmael continues to be part of the Abrahamic tradition, showing himself to be a successor in spirit to his grand-father Abraham.
Ishmael in Islamic sources
In Islamic sources, Ishmael is known for his loyalty and faith in God and their shared history has engrained a sense of closeness between the two. Ishmael’s fatherly bond with Abraham, his entrepreneurial spirit and his selflessness have earned him a prominent place in Islamic tradition. As such, Muslim scholars revere Ishmael as a great prophet and Imam and some view Ishmael as even greater than his half-brother Isaac.
The conversion of Ishmael
The conversion of Ishmael does not appear in the Bible and is largely unknown. According to Islamic tradition, Ishmael made a journey to Syria during which he was visited by Archangel Gabriel, who gave him the testament of Ishmael. This testament relayed the faith of Islam to Ishmael and his subsequent conversion.
Ishmael in modern churches
The importance of Ishmael in the Bible and their spiritual connection is still highly respected in modern churches today. The Christian faith believes in the spiritual continuity of the children of Abraham and this includes Ishmael. Thus, he is a key figure in modern churches and continues to serve as an inspiration to all.
Ishmael in Jewish sources
In Jewish sources, Ishmael is known for his links to the nation of Israel. In particular, there is a prominent prayer known as ‘Tefillat Ishmael’ which is a supplication for Ishmael’s health, happiness and prosperity. This prayer is seen as symbolising the unity of mankind and Ishmael’s place within the greater human story.
The legacy of Ishmael
Ishmael has left a legacy which has lasted for centuries and continues to be as relevant today as it was in Biblical times. He is a prominent figure in the Abrahamic tradition and his conversion to Islam serve as an example to all to cling to the faith in times of hopelessness. His many children, who flourised in the wilderness helped shape the world and serve as a reminder of the power of faith and divine influence. Ishmael’s amazing story has inspired millions of others to be bold in their faith and to never give up hope.
Joseph, the son of Ishmael
Joseph is the eldest son of Ishmael, some sources stating he was born when Ishmael and Hagar were living in Egypt. He is described in the Bible as having a ‘hairy’ appearance, possibly an indication of his semi-nomadic and herding lifestyle. Joseph had eleven brothers, eleven sons and four daughters, which highlights the fertility of Ishmael’s two wives and the success of Ishmael in the wilderness.
The death of Ishmael
The exact date of Ishmael’s death is not known, as it is not constituted in the Bible, however it is believed to be in the mid-1400BC. He is said to have lived a full life and died at the age of 137. It is said he was laid to rest in Hebron and the grave bears his epitaph of the ‘Father of Nations’, an indication of the success and respect he gained in his lifetime.
Potential implications of Ishmael
Ishmael’s life and legacy shows that even in the most dismal of situations one can still see a divine plan at work. His struggles, including his banishment, symbolises the importance of togetherness and support in any situation.
Ishmael in popular culture and scriptures
Ishmael is often discussed in the context of popular culture, from books and the cinema to art and music. Ishmael is prominently featured in sacred texts such as the Qur’an and the Bible, but with different versions of the same story. His continued presence in popular culture and understandings of him span the Abrahamic tradition and is evidence of his importance in society.
Ishmael in the twenty-first century
Today, Ishmael is portrayed in the media and known to the public as a symbol of justice and morality. His suffering, faith and beliefs continue to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to uphold the principles of spiritual life. Educators, activists and artists use this to encourage and inspire others, as well as to raise awareness on the importance of Ishmael’s narrative in the present world.