An Indisputable Biblical Prophecy Announcing Islam

As Muslims, we know that the original revelation sent to Jews and Christians has been corrupted, but not in totality, so we can still find prophecies about Muhammad ﷺ.

We find many Qur’anic verses on this matter, such as 7:157:

Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written [i.e., described] in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel, who enjoins upon them what is right and prohibits them from what is wrong and makes lawful for them what is good and forbids them from what is evil 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 – it is those who will be the successful.

There are many Biblical verses announcing the Final Messenger ﷺ but here we’ll look at one particularly potent, and also easy to explain, example which shows that the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ was indeed announced centuries before his blessed birth.

More specifically, we’ll look at Genesis 17:20.

Reading Genesis 17:20

The book of Genesis is the first book of the Bible in the Jewish and Christian canons.

Ascribed to Moses (‘alayhi as-salam), it describes the creation of the world up to the origins of the Israelites, with the story of Jacob and Joseph (‘alayhima as-salam).

Thus, in-between it also contains the stories of Abraham and his son, Ishmael (‘alayhima as-salam).

It’s in such context that we read in Genesis 17:20:

And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.

We could in fact just stop here. Ask any Jew or Christian, which descendant of Ismail (‘alayhi as-salam) created a nation which has been “fruitful” in numbers?

None but the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ.

But let’s dig further.

A Convert to Islam on Genesis 17:20

Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari, not to be confused with the more famous Qur’anic commentator and historian, was born in ninth-century Iran.

Like other Muslim scholars, he was a polymath, mastering mathematics, astronomy, and calligraphy, but he is best remembered for his works in medicine, penning Firdous alHikmah (Paradise of Wisdom) c. 860, the first encyclopedia of medicine in the Arabic language, containing innovative ideas in pediatrics and child psychology.

Described as an ethnic Jew, Persian, or Syriac in different sources, what’s of interest for us is that he was an ex-Christian who wrote two books against his former religion, Al-Radd ´ala al-Nasara (The Refutation of the Christians) and Kitab al-Din Wa’l Dawla (The Book of Religion and Empire).

In the latter, he gave and commented upon dozens of Biblical prophecies about Muhammad ﷺ, but when it comes to Genesis 17:20, he wrote:

He made clear and open announcements to Abraham (peace be upon him) and Hagar (God’s mercy be upon her), and we have seen them come to fulfilment or made apparent only with the appearance of the Prophet (may God bless him and give him peace). Hagar was given the kind of announcement about this greater than we have ever seen any wife of past men receive apart from Mary the pure virgin, mother of Christ (peace be upon him). However, Mary, (peace be upon her) was given the announcement about Christ once, while Hagar was given the announcement about Ishmael twice, and his father (peace be upon him) was given the announcement a number of times. Then, after her passing, God, great and mighty, mentioned Hagar many times on the tongues of the prophets, as though addressing her. I will explain this, as God wills, in its due place.

What God almighty revealed to Abraham (peace be upon him) about Ishmael alone are his words on the tongue of Moses (peace be upon him) in the first Book of the Torah in Chapter 10, for God said to Abraham (peace be upon him), ‘I have answered your prayer about Ishmael and have blessed him and increased him and made him exceedingly great. He will beget twelve mighty beings, and I will make him a mighty nation.’[Genesis 17:20] This is in the translation of Marcus the translator, though in the Torah interpreted by the seventy-two Jewish priests it says, ‘He will beget twelve nations.’ For there is nothing greater among the promises and announcements about anyone than the word of God, great and mighty, ‘I have blessed him and increased him and made him exceedingly mighty.’ Less than this from God, great and mighty, is great, and something smaller than it is significant, because the scope of what God sees is exceedingly great and mighty, and there is no more mighty scope than it.

This is a reproach and refutation of that rude and uncouth person who slandered Ishmael and dishonoured him with the words of God about him, ‘He will be a wild ass of the people’. I will explain this under this point as a rebuke to this insane sniveller. For Moses (peace be upon him) prophesied about such a prophecy in the first Book, Chapter 9, saying, ‘When Hagar fled from Sarah, the angel of God appeared to her and said, “Hagar, Sarah’s slave-girl, where have you come from and where are you going ?” Answering him, Hagar said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarah.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and be submissive to her, for I will multiply your offspring and your seed until they cannot be counted in number. And you will bear a child and give birth to a son and will name him Ishmael, because God has heard your self-denial and humility. He will be a wild ass of the people, and his hand will be over all and the hand of all will be stretched out to him, and his dwelling will be on the boundaries of all his brothers.”’[Genesis 16:7–12]

This is a second announcement which the angel delivered directly to Hagar (peace be upon her) from God, great and mighty, giving the news that God would make the hand of her son uppermost and the hands of all the people lower with respect to him. And among the prophecies of Moses (peace be upon him) we have not seen this come to fulfilment or made manifest except after the appearance of the Prophet Muḥammad (may God bless him and give him peace).[1]

He goes on about other prophecies about Ishmael (‘alahi as-salam) and how they’re linked with the rise of Islam.

Is Ishmael (‘alayhi as-salam) Portrayed Badly?

Apart from Genesis 17:20, we see al-Tabari’s comments about another prophecy, that found in Genesis 16:7-12. Many Christian polemicists see Ishmael (‘alayhi as-salam) being described as a “wild ass” or “wild donkey” as a negative description, but in Genesis 49 many of the twelve tribes of Israel are themselves compared to animals, such as the tribe of Dan being called a snake in Genesis 49:17, without being a sort of insult.

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In fact, both Jewish and Christian scholars have seen in Ishmael (‘alayhi as-salam) being described as a “wild donkey” a compliment, meaning “independence” and warfare against those who try to submit him, which is again comparable to how Islam is alone in resisting the liberal New World Order nowadays.

John Meuhleisen-Arnold, an English-Christian clergyman and missionary, wrote in Ishmael: Or, a Natural History of Islamism, and Its Relation to Christianity, a book released in 1859 which was quite influential back in those days:

The ”wild ass”, to whom Ishmael is here compared is described in the book of Job as a wild, independent and haughty animal, living in the wilderness. He is known in natural history as the Dsigetai [Mongolian wild ass]; a fine, strong and noble creature; of the size and bearing of a lightly-built horse, light-footed and slender, with a neck resembling that of a stag, which he always carries upright (…) his wild and proud appearance indicates unsubdued power and perfect independence; and indeed no one has hitherto succeeded in taming him. Even when caught young they prefer to die in their fetters, than to submit to the will of man (…) the Arab bears precisely the stamp of the wild ass, here described. He lives in herds and tribes and is as untamed and untameable.[2]

This comes from a Christian missionary who can’t be accused of having hidden affinities for Islam.

But isn’t that interesting? How even a criticism of Islam becomes an argument for Islam: Ishmael (‘alayhi as-salam) as a “wild donkey” announced the fiercely independent and unconquerable nature of Islam, Islam itself being conquering, as al-Tabari wrote!

We again ask the Jews and the Christians: Which nation that claims Ishmael has conquered many while resisting being conquered itself, if not the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ?

Is Ishmael Really the Ancestor of Arabs?

Because of this obvious prophecy, Christian polemicists are so embarrassed that they even have to dissociate Ishmael (‘alayhi as-salam) from the Arabs, mainly aiming at dissociating him from the Prophet ﷺ himself, and thus the Ummah.

Sadly, independent academic scholarship goes against their polemics.

Carol Bakhos, professor of Late Antique Judaism at UCLA, writes in Ishmael on the Border: Rabbinic Portrayals of the First Arab:

As mentioned above, the identification of Arabs as descendants of Ishmael was well established by the time of the redaction of the Talmud, in fact dating back to the Hellenistic period. In the book of Jubilees, Abraham exhorts his sons, including Ishmael and the children of Keturah, and their children to observe circumcision and to avoid fornication, uncleanness, and intermarriage with Canaanites.
(…)
We also find in Josephus several examples where Ishmaelites are identified as Arabs. Discussing the circumcision of lsaac, for example, Josephus writes: “Eight days later they promptly circumcise him; and from that time forward the Jewish practice has been to circumcise so many days after birth. The Arabs defer the ceremony to the thirteenth year, because Ishmael, the founder of their race, born of Abraham’s concubine, was circumcised at that age.”[3]

In fact, the earliest of the Christian critics of Islam, John of Damascus, who died c. 750, called Muslims the “Ishmaelites,” as did many other pre-modern Christian writers, so such link between Ishmael (‘alayhi as-salam) and the Ummah was universally accepted by both Jewish and Christian authorities.

So, now that they can’t deny the prophecy, nor can they deny Ishmael (‘alayhi as-salam) is seen positively, nor can they deny that he’s genealogically connected to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ… let’s actually read some of these Jewish and Christian authorities on the subject, shall we?

Influential Rabbis Admit the Prophecy

Rabbi Bahya ben Asher, from 14th-century Spain, is one of the most influential Jewish commentators of the Bible.

Quoting Rabbi Chananel ben Chushiel, another influential Jewish scholar, who worked in the 11th-century Tunisia, he writes about Genesis 17:20:

ונתתיו לגוי גדול, “and I will make him into a great nation.” Rabbeinu Chananel wrote: we note that this prophecy was fulfilled for them only after 2333 years. [Rabbi Chavell writes that this is an accurate number seeing that Avraham was circumcised in the year 2047 after the creation. The Islamic religion was founded in the year 4374 after the creation. Allow for another ten years until it started spreading throughout the world and you will arrive at the number 2333 after Avraham was circumcised, the date of this prediction.] This delay was not due to their sins as they had been looking forward to fulfillment of the prophecy during all those years. Once the prophecy came true Islam conquered the civilized world like a whirlwind. We, the Jewish people, lost our position of pre-eminence in the world due to our sins. Seeing that at the time of writing we have yearned for the fulfillment of the prophecy that we will be redeemed for a mere 1330 years, we certainly have no reason to abandon hope that it will be fulfilled.

The part between bracket is the editors quoting Rabbi Charles Ber Chavel, from the 20th-century US, so in total you have not one, not two, but three rabbis, quite influential at that, and stretching a period of 1000 years and many continents, making a direct connection between Genesis 17:20 and Islam.

It’s thus no wonder that countless knowledgeable Jews accepted Islam throughout history, such as Ka’b al-Ahbar, active during the times of ‘Umar (radiyAllahu ‘anhu), physicist Abu’l Barakat al-Baghdadi in 11th-century Iraq or mathematician Al-Samawal al-Maghribi in 11th-century Morocco, al-Maghribi also penning a famed book refuting Judaism.

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Some of these ex-Jews have also used one of the peculiar Jewish exegetical tools, the “Gematria,” where they give numerical value to words, to establish a connection between Genesis 17:20 and our Prophet ﷺ:

Other popular passages in the biblical patriarchal cycle foretell the coming of Muhammad. God announces the birth of Isaac to Abraham while at the same time promising to “bless [Ishmael]. I will make him fertile and exceedingly numerous. He shall be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation” (Genesis 17:15-21). It is hardly surprising that the Muslims took this passage as a direct reference to the great Islamic umma to come. Another prophecy derived from the same passage is based on the numerical value of words rather than literalism and is strikingly “Jewish” in technique. The Hebrew expression for “exceedingly,” bi-me’od me’od, computed mathematically (each letter of the Hebrew alphabet having a numerical value), yields the numerical equivalent of the name of the Prophet (the consonants M Ḥ M D add up to 92, the same total as the letters B M’ D M’ D). This exegetical method, called “gematria” in the Talmud, might be a Jewish import into Islamic polemics, for this and other “gematrias” appear in anti-Jewish polemical works written by Jewish converts to Islam.[4]

In fact, even those erudite Jews who didn’t accept Islam, and were even somehow critical of it, such as Maimonides, considered Islam to be monotheistic, unlike Christianity which they considered “avodah zarah” (idolatry), to the extent a Jew can pray in a mosque but not in a church.

Such Jewish appreciation, and often acceptance, of Islam reminds us of a Quranic verse, 26:197:

And has it not been a sign to them that it is recognized by the scholars of the Children of Israel?

Also note that these rabbis say that while this prophecy has been fulfilled, theirs is still pending… and thus, yet another question: many of the Jews and Christians believe we live in the end of times, so if the prophecy about Ishmael (‘alayhi as-salam) hasn’t been fulfilled with Muhammad ﷺ and his Ummah… when will it be fulfilled?

Are they expecting, in the few years to come, an “Ishmaelite” nation would rise, equaling in terms of intensity the early Islamic conquests and eventually reaching the current numbers of Muslims?

Some Christians Admit It

Some Jews might reject the prophecy of Muhammad ﷺ because they have made Judaism an ethnic religion, so they would say, “He’s a prophet for the Gentiles, but not for us. Him being a prophet doesn’t impact us.”

This is a weak response which deserves an article of its own, but let’s say that for Christians it’s more complicated to accept the prophecy because they see their religion as being universal, the same way Islam is universal, so the obvious conflict.

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But some did see the prophecy:

Following the example of many earlier apocalypses about Islamic rule, the APBR also turns to the Old Testament to show that the rise of Islam was foretold. In several passages the Muslims are associated with the progeny of Ishmael. ‘Sons of Ishmael’ is probably the biblical term most frequently used in Eastern Christian texts to refer to Muslims. Islamic rule was considered a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham that he would make Ishmael a great nation and a progenitor of twelve princes (Gen 17.20).[5]

Abdul Majid Daryabadi, a 20th-century Indian-Muslim scholar, who earlier was an agnostic with interests in philosophy and psychology but later came back to Islam and was known for his knowledge in comparative religions, also saw the prophecy of Ishmael (alayhi as’salam) in the New Testament.

In his commentary, he quotes the following passage, Matthew 21:42-44:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.

Daryabadi then comments:

It was the progeny of Ismail that was so long rejected and looked down upon by the Jews (and also by the Christians). It was one of those very Ismailites who at long last was raised to the highest honor. The announcement that this prophet’s opponents shall be smashed is even more clear.[6]

Here is yet another argument against Islam which becomes an argument for Islam: the Christians — when they don’t outright deny the genealogical link — see in Ishmael, and thus in Islam, negative attributes. But it’s precisely such a negative attitude which, as per the New Testament, makes Muslims eligible to be “the rejected stone” which becomes the “cornerstone,” i.e., the despised “Bedouins” who birthed a Prophet ﷺ, himself creating an Ummah, the largest world community of genuine monotheists and the last to genuinely resist against the liberalization (and dajjalization) of the world.

How can Jews and Christians deny such a clear prophecy in their own books?

RELATED: Siding with Paganism: Judaism and Christianity Against Islam

Notes

[1] Rifaat Ebied & David Thomas (ed.), The Polemical Works of ʿAlī al-Ṭabarī, BRILL, 2016, pp. 327-329.

[2] John Meuhleisen-Arnold, Ishmael: Or, a Natural History of Islamism, and Its Relation to Christianity, Rivingtons, 1859, pp. 23-24.

[3] Carol Bakhos, Ishmael on the Border: Rabbinic Portrayals of the First Arab, SUNY Press, 2012, pp. 73-74.

[4] Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, Princeton University Press, 2021, pp. 149-150.

[5] David Thomas, The Bible in Arab Christianity, BRILL, 2007, pp. 140-141.

[6] Abdul Majid Daryabadi, Tafsir-ul-Qur’an: Translation and Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, volume 2, Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, 2007, p. 158.

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Ismael

Incredibly well-written and marvelously concise. Bookmarked.

Mehreen

Jazak Allah