(Editor’s Note: Vital Conversations is a running series of commentaries from various faith leaders. The series is sponsored by Phillips Theological Seminary, though many contributions come from theologians who are unassociated with the seminary.)
I am not responsible for 9/11. Maybe 7-11.
Islam is often perceived as a mysterious religion, the faith of the “other.” In reality, it is the same message that was revealed to Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
In many of my talks, I ask attendees, “Who is the most-mentioned prophet in the Quran?” Many answer Muhammad. Many people are surprised that Moses is the correct answer. He was mentioned 171 times. Abraham comes second, being mentioned 69 times, and Jesus come third. Muhammad is the least mentioned prophet in Quran, only being mentioned a total of four times. According to Islamic theology, Virgin Mary is the first lady of Heaven, and she is the ONLY female name mentioned in the Quran. Chapter 19 is even titled her name.
So, let me formally introduce myself, not from the Quran but from the Bible. Geneses 21:14-20 gives us the story of Abraham and Hagar, you know, the other mother. Sarah could not bear any children for Abraham, and she asked him to marry Hagar (a slave in Christian theology, a wife from Muslim theology).
Sarah eventually got jealous when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael and asked Abraham to take his wife and leave her in the wilderness of Paran, which is biblical for Mecca. Islamic theology honors Sarah and, thus, did not attribute jealousy to her. After all, she was the one who asked her husband to marry Hagar and, thus, Abraham’s decision to take his wife and son was the will of God.
Abraham leaves Hagar and heads back to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Hagar and Ishmael have now run out of food and water. Hagar cries, “Let me not watch the child cry,” “God heard the boy cry,” “I will make him into a great nation,” and “He will send him a well of water.”
To this day, Muslims still drink from the well of ZamZam located in Mecca. Interestingly enough, the holiest water for Muslims is not mentioned in the holy book, the Quran, but it is mentioned in Genesis. Genesis 25:13-15 lists the 12 children of Ishmael, and Kedar is the second son who settled in Paran, Mecca, according to John D. Davis (dictionary of the Bible). Abraham would go back and forth between Jerusalem and Paran (Mecca). God then blessed Sarah with Issac, and Issac and Ishmael became brothers from different mothers.
Thus, if you are Jewish or Christian, you know that a Muslim is your brother from another mother.
Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew are called the Semitic — a group of languages belonging to the Afro-Asiatic family and spoken in North Africa and Southwest Asia, also including Maltese, and Amharic. Scriptures were reveled in these languages, so Allah (Arabic), Alah (Aramaic) and Eloh (Hebrew) are all the same word for God.
Many people look at me and think I am responsible for 9/11. Really? Me? The only thing I might be responsible for is 7-11. No, not the big gulp or hot dogs from 7-11, but Genesis 25: verses 7-11. It’s what I love about the story. “His sons Issac and Ishmael came together and buried him (Abraham) in the cave,” which is now located in the city of Alkhaliel or Hebron.
So to my brother from a different mother, I say this: You wrote our family history and, somehow, I was not a part of it. Your side of the family tree ends with Jesus, whose virgin birth, miracles and assertion to heaven I honor. I also acknowledge that he is the Messiah. My side of the family tree also has other prophets that ended with Muhammad.
We have so much in common and so much to catch up on. It has been a while. Let us talk.
Peace, shalom, salaam.