Many people believe that the Bible supports the Arabs being descendants of Ishmael and that the hostility of Arabs toward Jews is a continuation of the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac. These ideas come from Islam rather than the Bible.
Are modern Arabs descendants of Ishmael?
Islam mistakenly claims that Mohammad descended from Ishmael. They rewrite the biblical account claiming the Abrahamic covenant came through Ishmael not Isaac.
The word Arab designates peoples united by the Arabic language and culture. The Arabian Peninsula’s early residents descended from Joktan, a descendent of Shem (Genesis 20:26-29). Later Abraham’s sons by Keturah, the twelve sons of Ishmael, and the sons of Esau settled in the area (Genesis 25:1-4, 13-16; 36:1-19). The Arab people existed before, during, and after Ishmael. Obviously the genetic offspring of Ishmael represented only a portion of those dwelling in Arabia.
The descendant of Ishmael through his twelve sons intermarried with tribes, including the Midianites (Genesis37:25-28; 39:1; Judges 8:24). No credible evidence supports the view that Ishmael went to Mecca and became the father of the Arab peoples.
The Muslim-Arab conquest of North Africa and the Mid-East in the seventh century persuaded many peoples to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim religion. Inter-marriage occurred between the victors and the conquered.
The Qur’an does not state that the Arab peoples descended from Ishmael.
Many who consider themselves Arabs are Arabs in language and culture, but most have no genetic relationship with Ishmael.
Was Mohammed a descendent of Ishmael as believed by Muslims?
Muslims point to genealogies made by Ibn Ishak around A.D.770-775 who created genealogies linking Mohammed with Ishmael. His genealogy contradicts Mohammed who claimed no knowledge of his ancestry beyond his seventeenth ancestor. Mohammed lived over 2,500 years after Ishmael. We have no written record before Mohammed connecting Mohammed with Ishmael. Mohammed’s family was from Yemen. The Ishmaelites became extinct as a distinct people many centuries before Mohammed’s time.
Does the Bible predict a perpetual hostility between the Arabs and Jews?
Some mistakenly consider Genesis 16:12 and 25:18 as a basis for believing the modern hostility of Arabs and Jews is a continuation of the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac.
These texts are not easy to translate. The NIV translated 16:12 “he will live in hostility toward all this brothers” The KJV has “he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” NASB translates it “he will live to the east of all his brothers. The NIV states in 25:18 “they will live in hostility toward all their brothers.” ESV has “he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” KJV reads “and he died in the presence of all his brethren.” The Hebrew in 25:18 literally says “they fell before all their brothers.”
As stated above, the identification of today’s Arabs as “descendants of Ishmael” has serious problems. Equating today’s Jews with “all their brothers” also would be difficult to establish.
Are modern Arabs descendants of Ishmael? Most are not.
Was Mohammed a direct descendent of Ishmael as believed by Muslims? No.
Does the Bible predict a perpetual hostility between the Arabs and Jews? No.