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According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham's first wife was named Sarah and her handmaid was named Hagar. However Sarah could not conceive. According to Genesis 16:3 Sarah (then Sarai) gave her maid Hagar in marriage to Abraham, in order that Abraham might have an heir. Genesis 16: 3 states, "And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid....and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife”. Hagar conceived Ishmael from Abraham, and the Ishmaelites descend from him.
After Abraham pleaded with God for Ishmael to live under his blessing, Genesis 17:20 states, "But as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation."
The third century BCE Samaritan book The Secrets of Moses says in chapter VIII: "1. And after the death of Abraham, Ishmael reigned twenty seven years; 2. And all the children of Nebaot ruled for one year in the lifetime of Ishmael; 3. And for thirty years after his death from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates; and they built Mecca.; 4. For thus it is said (in Genesis 25:16): 'As thou goest towards Ashur before all his brethren he lay.'" Josephus states "were born to Ismael twelve sons: Nabaioth, Kedar, Abdeel, Mabsam, Idumas, Masmoas, Massaos, Chodad, Theman, Jetur, Naphesus, Cadmas". These inhabited all the country from Euphrates to the Red Sea, and called it Nabatene. Palestinian targum further explain Genesis 25:16: "And they (children of Ishmael) dwelled from Hindikia (Indian Ocean) to Palusa (Pelusiumt, which is before Egypt) as thou goest to Atur (Assyria)." The 14th century CE Kebra Nagast says in chapter 83: "Many countries are enumerated over which Ishmael ruled."
Assyrian and Babylonian Royal Inscriptions and North Arabian inscriptions from 9th to 6th century B.C, mention the king of Qedar as king of the Arabs and King of the Ishmaelites . Of the names of the sons of Ishmael the names “Nabat, Kedar, Abdeel, Dumah, Massa, and Teman” were mentioned in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions as tribes of the Ishmaelites. Jesur was mentioned in Greek inscriptions in the First Century B.C.
The Qedarite kingdom continued long after the demise of the last native Babylonian king Nabonidus, but the Nabataean kingdom emerged from the Qedarite kingdom because of the continuity in geography and language between the two tribes some two hundred and fifty years later. Many Arabic tribes names of the time of Muhammad (and now) such as Asad, Madhhij, and the ancestor tribes of Muhammad: Ma'ad and Nizar were found in the Namara inscription dated 325 AD in the Nabatean script.
Maqrizi says that Moses wiped out almost all non-Ishmaelite Arabs such as Amaleq and Midianites, and by the time of Muhammad all Arabs were descendents of Ishmael according to historians Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi and al-Sharqi who believed that all Arabs were descendents of Ishmael including the Qahtanites.
Medieval Arab genealogists divided Arabs into three groups:
Abu Ja'far al-Baqir (676–743 AD) wrote that his father Ali ibn Husayn informed him that Mohammed had said: "The first whose tongue spoke in clear Arabic was Ishmael, when he was fourteen years old." Hisham Ibn Muhammad al-Kalbi (737–819 AD) established a genealogical link between Ishmael and Mohammed using writings that drew on biblical and Palmyran sources, and the ancient oral traditions of the Arabs. His book, Jamharat al-Nasab ("The Abundance of Kinship"), seems to posit that the people known as "Arabs" (of his time) were all descendants of Ishmael. Ibn Kathir (1301–1373) writes, "All the Arabs of the Hijaz are descendants of Nebaioth and Qedar." Medieval Jewish sources also usually identified Qedar with Arabs and/or Muslims.[d] According to author and scholar Irfan Shahîd, Western scholars viewed this kind of "genealogical Ishmaelism" with suspicion, seeing it as,
[...] a late Islamic fabrication because of the confusion in Islamic times which made it such a capacious term as to include the inhabitants of the south as well as the north of the Arabian Peninsula. But short of this extravagance, the concept is much more modest in its denotation, and in the sober sources it applies only to certain groups among the Arabs of pre-Islamic times. Some important statements to this effect were made by Muhammed when he identified some Arabs as Ishmaelites and others as not.
Ishmaelism in this more limited definition holds that Ishmael was both an important religious figure and eponymous ancestor for some of the Arabs of western Arabia. Prominence is given in Arab genealogical accounts to the first two of Ishmael's twelve sons, Nebaioth (Arabic: نبيت, Nabīt) and Qedar (Arabic: قيدار, Qaydār), who are also prominently featured in the Genesis account. It is likely that they and their tribes lived in northwestern Arabia and were historically the most important of the twelve Ishamelite tribes.
In accounts tracing the ancestry of Mohammed back to Ma'ad (and from there to Adam), Arab scholars alternate, with some citing the line as through Nebaioth, others Qedar. Many Muslim scholars see Isaiah 42 (21:13-17) as predicting the coming of a servant of God who is associated with Qedar and interpret this as a reference to Mohammed.