Matt Davies The Holy Qur’an April 4, 2008

Adam, Noah, and Abraham
Discuss the use of Jewish sacred texts in the Qur’an

There is very little doubt that Muhammad was influenced by Jewish and Christian communities that existed in the region where he lived. The phrase “People of the Book”, the Qur’anic description of Jews and Christians, was used to address problems inside those communities or to criticize their rejection of Allah or even to praise them for “trying” to follow Allah. Muhammad had a tumultuous relationship with the Jewish tribes inside Medina, which influenced the writings and revelations that Muhammad preached. The Jewish stories, which were adopted into the Christian cannon, were known inside Mecca due to the city’s key position in the trading routes. Muhammad, being a trader and marrying a prominent trader, would have been in contact with at least the basics of the Jewish texts. Jewish mythology shaped a new social religiosity. Muhammad was part of a prominent trading company, due to the influence of his uncle, Abu Talib. He would have, therefore, known at least the origin stories of various cultures that passed through Mecca. He would have understood the importance of Abraham to the Jewish community and the adopted significance that it played inside the Christian faith. When Muhammad’s revelations began, he realized that he needed to have an origin story that was legitimate to the surrounding communities or faiths. He therefore adopted a story using Ishmael, the eldest son of Abraham through the slave Hagar. Surah 21 is one of the Surah’s that establishes a connection with Abraham and gives the basis for one of Muhammad’s future quests. The Qur’an and the Bible share

Matt Davies The Holy Qur’an April 4, 2008 the story that Abraham leaves his parents and the land of Ur and travels to a distant land. The Qur’an puts a reason behind this story. Abraham’s father worshiped idols that were passed down through his ancestors. Abraham told his father that he was clearly in error and smashed all but one of the idols. Abraham realized that worshipping the true God was more important than continuing family ties with an unfaithful father. Abraham preached that these gods could not speak and, therefore, could do neither good nor harm to the people. Muhammad found himself in a similar situation while inside Mecca, where most scholars attribute Surah 21 to be written. The Ka’bah had 360 idols surrounding it and obviously contradicted Muhammad’s claim for monotheism. Muhammad destroyed these 360 idols and told the Meccans to worship Allah, the one true God. By relating this story to Abraham, Muhammad legitimized a wholly unpopular move and began to establish a connection to the Jewish and Christian communities. Later in his career, Muhammad moved to Medina, where it is believed that he established the idea of the umma. The umma transcended the typical tribal emphasis and established a community of multiple tribes. Admittance into the umma did not require the correct blood or ancestral line; instead, the umma required only belief in Allah and that Muhammad was his prophet. Surah 11 could have been written during the traveling time between Mecca and Medina and it established a reason behind the umma using the popular figure of Noah. Noah was told to build an ark so that those who believed could escape the coming of a disastrous flood. Noah was told to take “a pair from every species, your kinsfolk (except for those already doomed), and all the true believers.” One of Noah’s sons decided to take his fate into his own hands and take refuge in the mountains, where he believed the height of the mountain would save him. When Noah

Matt Davies The Holy Qur’an April 4, 2008 confronts Allah about the death of his son, Allah responded by saying that “he was no kinsman” of Noah. Salvation does not come from family members or blood relations; salvation only comes from accepting Allah and his prophets and submitting to them. This established a justification for the creation of the umma. If the hero Noah had to reject his own son in order to follow Allah, then why wouldn’t the Arab community entertain the rejection of their family for Allah as well? This validation, playing on the popular figure of Noah, would have been appealing to most communities in the area. Finally, Muhammad finalized his Abrahamic connection during his time in Medina, where most Jewish tribes rejected him. The Jews did not believe that any more prophets were coming to preach from God and believed that Muhammad was a fraud. However, Muhammad still wrote about a revelation that further established his connection with Ishmael. Surah 2 reveals that the Ka’bah was created by Abraham and Ishmael and was dedicated as the House of Allah. Muhammad could then recount his destruction of the idols in the Ka’bah to convince the Jewish tribes that he was trying to protect their God, who was the same as Allah. Although most Jewish tribes discounted him, some believed that he was a messenger from God/Allah and believed his claim of Arab lineage from Abraham and Ishmael. By appealing to the Jews that he worshipped and spoke from the God of Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, and Jacob, he tried to gain legitimacy. He knew that if he traced back his race through the patriarch of the Jewish faith, he would be credited among the communities of both Jews and Christians; he gained some converts from both sects. I believe that Muhammad was fully convinced of his lineage back to Ishmael and that the Arab race, and eventually the Islamic faith, was traced to Abraham’s eldest son.

Matt Davies The Holy Qur’an April 4, 2008 By not including a covenantal relationship between God and either Ishmael or Isaac, Muhammad tried to prove that the Jewish and Christian fight over Abraham, and which religion he truly belonged to, was absurd and damaging to the true faith. It did not matter whether they traced their lineage to Ishmael or Isaac because Muhammad did not recognize a covenantal relationship with either of them. The fight between Jews and Christians distracted them from the faith that God/Allah had revealed through the great prophets. This hypocritical view of Abraham further complicates the matter, however. Muhammad tried to reveal that true religion again, using traditional associations with the Jewish heroes and patriarchs and, therefore, claiming them as Muslims. By making the claim that Abraham was a Muslim, Muhammad added a third religion into the mix that tried to establish Abraham as the father. He made a connection with Abraham, using Abraham’s destruction of his father’s idols and the building of the Ka’bah with Ishmael. By using Abraham inside his revelations, he could appeal to the Jewish and Christian communities and show that Abraham was also his father, in a religious sense. He revealed justification for the revolutionary umma by recounting Noah’s struggle with his son. Someone who does not submit Allah is not worthy enough to be considered a kinsman. Muhammad used these Jewish sacred stories to create a new religiosity that forever shaped the Arab world.


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