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Thoughts on the Covenant

Email Response to a Reader

Finally, an answer to your question(s)...For the sake of completeness, I'll include your questions and then follow them with responses:

> When I wrote to you about
> the chapters in Genesis and the split occuring between Ishmael and Isaac
> (peace be upon both of them), you said that it was a lineage split and not a
> religious split. But God said that he was establishing a "covenant" with
> Isaac and not Ishmael. Was that "covenant" entirely based on just lineage?
> I am still curious as to how the Prophet Muhammad could receive revelations
> when his lineage comes from Ishmael, when God dosen't have a "covenant" with
> Ishmael, only through Isaac.

First of all, implied in your question is that the covenant of God was established with Isaac (peace be upon him) alone, and therefore no revelation would come to people outside of his lineage. From a logical standpoint (before I get to the Bible and the Qur'an), I cannot accept the notion that God only gave revelation to one people. What of all of the other peoples who existed before the Jews? What about those who existed at the time of the Jews who lived across the globe, say, in China or South America, or southern Africa? If we in fact believe in a Just God, then we should know in our hearts that revelation to one people alone would be inconsistent with our beliefs. It would be unjust for God to give revelation to the Jews and then to send their contemporaries in China to Hell for failing to follow the law or the commandments or for believing in more than one "god". This would be unjust, and therefore cannot be from God.

Along those same lines, the Qur'an's answer to such a belief is this:

10:47 And for every Ummah (nation or community) there is a Messenger; when their Messenger comes, the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.

16:36 And surely, We have sent among every Ummah a Messenger proclaiming: "Worship Allah Alone, and avoid false deities." Then of them were some who Allah guided and of them some upon whom the straying was justified. So travel through the land and see what was the end of those who denied the Truth.

So, according to the Qur'an, every people received a Messenger, not just the Jews.

Secondly, again before I get to the Bible, the word "covenant"....what does it mean? According to Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, it simply means a contractual agreement; a formal sealed contract, or a clause from such a contract.

Now why is this significant? The word itself means that an agreement was made, a bargain or a keep your end I'll keep my end. So a logical question follows....Is it possible to break a "covenant"? If so, what happens? (I'll get to this later)

Some important points about the Biblical claims: (Please note that I do this with extreme hesitation. I do not believe the Bible to be in its original form, so to reference it is problematic. However, since your question revovles around and requires Biblical text, I'll use it)

The first mention of the covenant is to Abraham (peace be upon him) prior to having any children.

In Genesis 12:2-3: I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you; and in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Now a couple of things are worth mentioning at this point as asides... "I will bless those who bless you." Interestingly enough, when Muslims pray, there are times when we sit following our prostrations and just prior to the end of our prayer. During these times Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) instructed the Muslims to ask Allah for blessings to be upon Ibraheem (Abraham, peace be upon him) and the family of Abraham. We are instructed to say this in every prayer, our obligatory ones and the ones we do as extra.

"In you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed." Naturally, both Christians and Muslims jump on these words and say that such a statement refers to either Jesus Christ or Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon both of them). Later I'll show you where Jesus denies such a claim being fulfilled in him.

Now, as you know, according to Genesis 16, Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was first married to Sarah who happened to be barren, and thus bore him no children. In verse 16:3 it is noted that Sarah gives her haindmaiden, Hajara (Hagar), in marriage to Abraham (may God be pleased with them all), in hopes that she might bare him a child. And by verse 15, she gives birth to Ishmael (peace be upon him). It is at this point that God's covenant is mentioned bless the progeny of Abraham. So the covenant is well established prior to the birth of Isaac (peace be upon him).

Genesis 17:4: As for Me behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of many nations.

Four chapters later, Isaac (peace be upon him) arrives.

Now let me focus on what is said about Ishmael and then I'll debunk the main two arguments against his being part of the covenant:

Genesis 17:20 And 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.

Genesis 21:13 And also the son of the bondswoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

Genesis 21:18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.

Now, those who wish to deny Ishmael any place in the history of God's religion usually argue one of the following: #1 that Hajara was not a legitimate wife, and #2 that being the son of a slave/servant, that Ishmael is not entitled to the same birthrights as Isaac (peace be upon them both).

#1 Genesis 16:3 And Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his WIFE.

Besides, if she wasn't a legitimate wife, then we are talking about adultery, which simply does not befit a prophet of God. (to those who make this argument, I'd remind them of the verse "I will curse those who curse you.")

#2 According to the Law of God contained in Deuteronomy the birthright of the firstborn is not affected by the status of the mother:

Deuteronomy 21:15-17: If a man has two wives, one beloved and one hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be her's that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit what he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed his firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.

Any attempt to exclude Ishmael (peace be upon him) from God's covenant would be contrary to this Biblical law.

It is also important to mention circumcision in relation to the covenant...Part of fulfilling the covenant requires male circumcision.

Genesis 17:11-14: And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt Me and you...And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.

Ishmael fulfills his part of the promise...

Genesis 17:25: And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

Now I know my response is a little wordy, but here's a very important part of this discussion... Remember when I mentioned the definition of the word covenant and that it was something that could be broken? (as is implied in the verse about circumcision..."he hath broken My covenant")

Well, there are numerous Biblical and Qur'anic verses that refer to the covenant being taken away from the Jews...

Isaiah 11:1-2: And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

If you were to seek the identity of "Jesse" in any number of Biblical Dictionaries you would come up with numerous answers. However, the Encyclopedia Biblica (pg 3292) states that "Jesse" is contracted from "Ishmael"....that someone from the lineage of Ishmael (peace be upon him) will come forth and he will somehow be a manifestation of the qualities mentioned in this verse.

Historically, the fulfillment of Isaac's portion of the covenant came through the prophets Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, and Jesus (peace be upon all of them). What of Ishmael's portion of the covenant? No prophet had been named amongst the lineage of Ishmael until the time of Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Such a shift from the lineage of Isaac to the lineage of Ishmael is likely what Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) was referencing when he said "Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits thereof." (Matthew 21:43)

Though not mentioning who this nation will be, Jesus does make reference to a shift away from the children of Israel.

Jesus (peace be upon him) also alludes to the shift in prophetic leadership in

Matthew 21:19: And when he saw the fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth forever." And presently the fig tree withered away.

Biblical dictionaries call the fig tree a Jewish symbol of prophetic heritage. Thus, Jesus' reference to the death of a prophetic heritage may have been alluding to the end of the chain of Jewish prophets being with Jesus (peace be upon him). Interestingly enough, Prophet Muhammad said "No Messenger appeared between me and al-Masih al-Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus, the son of Mary) and the time between us was 600 years."

And lastly, I'll leave you with some Qur'anic verses to reflect on:

4:150-152 Surely those who disbelieve in Allah and His Messengers and wish to make distinction between Allah and His Messengers (by believeing in Allah and not His MEssengers or by believing in some Messengers, but not others) saying, "We believe in some, but reject others," and wish to adopt a way in between. They are in Truth disbelievers. And We have prepared for them a humiliating torment. And those who believe in Allah and His Messengers and make no distinction between any of them (Messengers), We shall give them their rewards; and Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful
2:80 And they (Jews) say, "The Fire will only touch us for a few numbered days." Say (to them, O Muhammad) "Have you taken a covenant from Allah, so that Allah will not break His covenant? Or is it that ou say of Allah what you know not?"
2:83 And remember when We took a covenant from the Children of Israel, saying: Worship none but Allah and be dutiful and good to parents, and to kindred, and to orphans and the poor, and speak good to people and perform prayers, and give charity. Then you slid back, except a few of you, while you are backsliders.
2:84 And remember when We took your covenant saying: Shed not the blood of your people, nor turn out your people from their dwellings. Then this you ratified and to this you bear witness.
2:85 After this, it is you who kill one another and drive out a party of you from their homes, assist their enemies against them, in sin and transgression. And if they come to you as captives, you ransom them, although their expulsion was forbidden to you. Then do you believe in part of the Scripture and reject the rest? Then what is the recompense of those who do so wmong you, except disgrace in the life of this world, and on the Day of Resurrection they shall be consigned to the most grievous torment. And Allah is not unaware of what you do.
2:100 Is it not the case that every time they make a covenant, some party among them toss it aside? Nay! The truth is that most of them believe not.
5:12 Indeed Allah took a covenant from the Children of Israel, and We appointed twelve leaders among them. And Allah said: "I am with you if you perform your prayers and give charity, and believe in My Messengers; honor and assist them, and lend a good loan to Allah, surely, I will expiate your sins and admit you to Gardens underneath which rivers flow (in Paradise). But if any of you after this, disbelieved, he has indeed gone astray from the Straight Path."
5:15 O People of the Book (Jews & Christians)! Now has come to you Our Messenger (Muhammad) explaining to you much of that which you used to hide from the Scripture and leave out without explaining much. Indeed there has come to you from Allah a light and a plain Book (this Qur'an).
5:16 Wherewith Allah guides all of those who seek His Good Pleasure to ways of peace, and He brings them out of darkness by His Will into light andguides them to the Straight Path.

Let me know if you have more questions...

I hope all is well with you.

Abu Aasiya

Related Sites:

  • A Message from our Maker to the Children of Israel
  • The 10 Commandments & Confirmation in the Qur'an