4. Muhammad was not an Israelite
Muslims often go to Deuteronomy 18: 18-19 as one of the Biblical ‘proof’ texts which prophesy about Muhammad, according to Sura 7:157. In this passage the LORD tells Moses:
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among you, from their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the Prophet speaks in my name.” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19)
Muhammad was not an Israelite, he was an Arab, so he can’t be the prophet the passage refers to. Objection quashed: or so you’d think. But no, the counter-argument goes, Muhammad is a descendant of Ishmael and therefore an Israelite by default. But is this true? Was Muhammad really a descendant of Ishmael? And are descendants of Ishmael really Israelites?
What does Muhammad’s genealogy tell us? According to some websites, Kedar is next in the list of forebears after Ishmael in Muhammad’s lineage:
“Prophet Muhammad- Abdullah- Abd Al Muttalib- Hashim- Abd Manaf- Qusaiy- Kilab (Ancestor of the Holy Prophet’s mother)- Murrah- Ka’b. Lu’ayy- Ghalib- Fihr- Malik- Al Nadr- Kinanah- Khuzaiymah- Mudrikah- Ilyas- Mudar- Nizar- Madd- `Adnan- Adad- Zayd- Yaqdud- Al Muqawwam- Al Yasa’- Nabt- Qaidar (Kedar)- Prophet Ismail”
But according to Muhammad’s earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq, the genealogy has Nabit instead of Kedar:
“Muhammad was the son of “Abdullah, b. “Abdu’l-Muttalib (whose name was Shayba), b. Hashim (whose name was Amr), b. “Abdu Manaf (whose name was al-Mughira), b. Qusayy (whose name was Zayd). B. Kilab, b. Murra, b. Ka’b, b. Lu’ayy, b. Ghalib, b. Fihr, b. Malik, b. al-Nadr, b. Kinana, b. Khuzayma, b. Mudrika (whose name was “Amir), b. Ilyas, b. Mudar, b. Nizar, b. Ma’ add, b. “Adnan, b. Udd (or Udad), b. Muqawwam, b. Nahur, b.’Tayrah, b. Ya’rub, b. Yashjub, b. Nabit, b. Isma’il” (The Life of Muhammad, trans. Alfred Guillaume pp. 3-4)
Why the discrepancies in genealogies which purport to follow the same patriarchal line? Genealogies aside, is there a convincing historical case for Muhammad’s ancestry from Ishmael? According to Islamic sources, Muhammad was from Mecca. Where was Ishmael from? From Israel. Genesis 21 tells us that Hagar and Ishmael were sent away in the Desert of Beersheba (v14), that he married an Egyptian woman and settled in the Desert of Paran (v21.) Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55, Number 583 says that Ishmael was present in Mecca from infancy:
“Abraham brought her and her son Ishmael while she was suckling him, to a place near the Ka’ba under a tree on the spot of Zam-zam, at the highest place in the mosque. During those days there was nobody in Mecca, nor was there any water.”
Mecca is over 800 miles from the desert of Paran (either site). According to the Bible, Ishmael’s descendants settled in the area from “Havilah to Shur, near the Eastern border of Egypt as you go towards Ashur” (Genesis 25:18) Where’s this? Nowhere near Mecca:
Should we trust the Old Testament account with extant manuscripts from c.800 years before the life of Muhammad, or Bukhari, compiled 200 years after Muhammad’s death, earliest manuscript fragment 1000AD – 4 centuries after Muhammad and 29 centuries after the time of Abraham?There is no documentary evidence to suggest that Ishmael embarked on an epic journey south, and without any epigraphical or archeological evidence to support this, it becomes highly unlikely that Ishmael was ever in Mecca or that he was one of Muhammad’s forbears. (The existence of Mecca itself is highly questionable before the 9th century, but that’s for another post.)
But ultimately, genealogies don’t count, geography doesn’t count, and the previous Scripture doesn’t count – because Muhammad’s lineage is a matter of revelation, not of independently verifiable fact. Islamic tradition says Gabriel told Muhammad he can identify as a descendant of Ishmael, whatever the local tribespeople think:
“Ma’n Ibn ‘Isa al-Ashja’i al-Qazzaz (silk-merchant) informed us; he said: Mu’awiyah Ibn Salih informed us on the authority of Yahya Ibn Jabir who had seen some Companions of the Prophet and said: The people of Banu Fuhayrah came to the Prophet and said to him: You belong to us. He replied: Verily, (the archangel) Gabriel has informed me that I belong to Mudar.” (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Volume I, p. 4)
Let’s move on to the second question: does the Bible conflate Ishmaelites with Israelites? Do they both have equal rights as God’s chosen people? In Genesis 17, Abraham pleads for this very thing when God announces His covenant with him:
“Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!
19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.[d] I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 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. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”
God considers Isaac the only legitimate son. We see this in Genesis 22:2:
“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
As such, Ishmael does not inherit the same covenant promises as Isaac; Paul even uses the divergent lineages of Ishmael and Isaac analogously with the new covenant (through Christ) and the old covenant (though the Law):
“These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.
28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”
But there is an even more straightforward answer to the question of who the Israelites are. Who was first given the name Israel? Jacob. Genesis 32:28:
“Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Israelites are descendants of Jacob, the son of Isaac – not Ishmael. This alone disqualifies Muhammad as the prophet of Deuteronomy 18, before we’ve even got on to whether Muhammad really spoke the words of God or not, whether what he said came true etc etc.
More to the point, the Bible already answers the question when it comes to who the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18 might be. In Acts 3:22, Peter says this is referring to Jesus:
“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets,saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.”
Not that Jesus is only a prophet (before you start, Muslims): but it is one of His titles, alongside His other divine titles – Messiah, Son of God, Word of God, Saviour, Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Holy and Righteous One. Our Saviour, Priest and King.
Muslims need to stop asking questions which the Bible has already answered and instead humbly admit they have the wrong man. Not only that, they need to be attentive to what the Scripture goes on to say:
“Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.” (Acts 3:23)
Listen to Jesus and find rest for your souls.
With thanks to Sam Shamoun, who has a lengthier article on this topic here.