Is the Arab nation descended from Ishmael?
I am tempted to give you the short answer and just reply No! But that
would not be completely true; the evidence is too complex to give such
an answer. On the other hand, it's amazing how many Christians just assume
the answer to be Yes. A popular old reference Bible calls Ishmael "the
progenitor of the Arabs" and goes on to say that Muhammad "came from the
line of Ishmael." That is very definitely untrue as well. The truth is
that the term "Arab" designates peoples of diverse ethnic origins who
are united only by the Arabic language and culture. The seed of Ishmael
represents only a very small component of the genetic pool of the Arabic
people. Let me explain.
In Arabic and Hebrew the term arab means "nomad" (synonymous with bedouin),
and originally referred only to the nomadic people who roamed the Arabian
Peninsula. Later, it was used to designate all the inhabitants of the
peninsula--both nomads and town-dwellers. According to the Old Testament,
the earliest inhabitants of the peninsula descended from Joktan (Gen.
10:26-29), a descendent of Shem (whence the term Semite). Later, the area
was also settled by Abraham's sons through Keturah (Gen. 25:1-4), the
12 sons of Ishmael (Gen. 25:13-16), and finally the sons of Esau (Gen.
36:1-19), all descendents of Abraham (also Semitic). Clearly, Ishmael's
offspring represent just a small fraction of the Arab peoples.
But there is another reason it is incorrect to say that the Arab nation
descended from Ishmael. Following the Arab conquest of the Middle East
and North Africa (7th C.), many of the conquered countries eventually
adopted Arabic as their mother tongue, as well as Islam. There was also
a certain amount of intermarriage between conquerors and conquered. So
that today, the term "Arab" has a strictly cultural and linguistic connotation.
To conclude, while some Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula may be descendants
of Ishmael, most Arabs of the rest of the "Arab World" have no blood relationship
to Ishmael at all.
But what about the claim that Muhammad is a descendent of Ishmael. The
Arabs, of course, make this claim, but I note that some trace his ancestry
through Nebaioth, and others through Kedar, showing that they really do
not know for sure. When one considers the well-documented fact that Muslims
often invent genealogies, I am skeptical.
Arab World Ministries
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