Christian Comparisons · Understanding Islam

The Origins of Islam and the Christian Bible

It is well known that many of the stories of the Bible are found in the Qur’an, but did you know that some Muslims believe that the religious shrine in Mecca called the Ka’aba, which Muslims are required to visit in their lifetime, can be found in the Bible?

Kaaba1911Drawing

One of my favorite versions of the story of the origins of the Kaaba and the city of Mecca, comes from Martin Lings’ book Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, but for our purposes I will give a brief summary. 

The origins of the religion of Islam, like the other Abrahamic religious traditions, begin with Adam and Eve. The major split in the origin story however, begins with the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael. The Islamic tradition claims that the descendants of Ishmael were those who lived within the Arabian Peninsula, so it is Ishmael who truly begins the separate story of Islam. That being said, Prophets found in the Bible that come after Isaac are recognized by the Qur’an with particular importance of the Prophet Moses and Jesus Christ, with Jesus being considered the Messiah but not the “Son of God” (I will do a post about this on a later date).

As the Bible explains, Hagar and Ishmael had been cast out from the tribe of Abraham and sent to wander the desert. The Bible gives very little information on Ishmael after they were sent away, aside a brief story found in Genesis 21:17-20:

17 God heard the boy crying, and from heaven the angel of God spoke to Hagar, “What are you troubled about, Hagar? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy crying. 18 Get up, go and pick him up, and comfort him. I will make a great nation out of his descendants.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. She went and filled the leather bag with water and gave some to the boy.20 God was with the boy as he grew up; he lived in the wilderness of Paran and became a skillful hunter.

The Wilderness of Paran mentioned in Genesis 21:20 is considered to be the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia, and is mentioned again in Deuteronomy 1:1,  Deuteronomy 33:2, in Numbers 10:12 as a place that the Israelites came in rest in the Exodus, and a place visited by David in 1 Kings 11: 17-18, following the death of Samuel.

The further account of the story according to the Islamic tradition, is that the well of water which God created was actually formed at the touch of Ishmael’s heel, and the valley later became a major trading city due to the abundance of water from this well. The well came to be known as ZamZam, which Muslims still drink from when they go on Hajj today.

The other Biblical passage that seems to allude to the existence of the Kaaba and the pilgrimage to Mecca can be seen in Pslam 84:1-6:

How I love your Temple, Lord Almighty!
2 How I want to be there!
    I long to be in the Lord‘s Temple.
With my whole being I sing for joy
    to the living God.
Even the sparrows have built a nest,
    and the swallows have their own home;
they keep their young near your altars,
    Lord Almighty, my king and my God.
How happy are those who live in your Temple,
    always singing praise to you.

How happy are those whose strength comes from you,
    who are eager to make the pilgrimage.
As they pass through the dry valley of Baca,
    it becomes a place of springs;
    the autumn rain fills it with pools.

The Islamic Tradition claims that the Hajj was taken by both Jewish and Christian peoples, and the Valley of Baca is recognized by historians as the city of Mecca, while the “place of springs” is said to allude to the Well of ZamZam.

I have always found it incredibly interesting how aspects of the early history of Islam can be found in the Bible. I believe it serves as a great reminder, especially in this day in age, that the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim peoples inevitably all believe in the same basic principle: The worship and love of a singular and omniscient God!

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