Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Imran's Fatherhood: Part II

Evolution in the Qur’an: The Patriarchs

Masud Masihiyyen


In our first article on the theme of Imran’s fatherhood in the Qur’an, we examined the verses affiliating Jesus’ mother Mary with Imran as his biological daughter (Surah 3:35 and 66:12). While analyzing the first verse, we demonstrated how some English translators of the Qur’an made vain efforts to interpret Mary’s relation to Imran metaphorically and suggested inaccurate and misleading translations to support their arguments. With the help of the context of Surah 66 we also showed that Mary’s identification as Imran’s daughter in verse 12 was meant to be literal rather than metaphorical. In addition to these two verses, Imran’s name occurs in the entire Qur’an for the third and last time in Surah 3:33, where he is introduced as an important patriarch along with Adam, Noah, and Abraham. In this second article we shall focus on Imran’s presentation in the Qur’an as the father of a progeny and try to explain how his being the father of a progeny is associated with his being the husband of Mary’s biological mother. The mystery of Imran’s two-folded fatherhood cannot be analyzed and understood independent of the concept of evolution in the Qur’an though.

Despite having a simple creed that is equal to insipid theology, Islam cannot be asserted to lack the notion of mystery. Although Muhammad never intended to make his statements puzzling or mysterious, he most of the time achieved to leave his followers in suspense who were later saved from the pit of suspense and bewilderment with the help of brooding commentators. The scrutiny of some vague and difficult verses of the Qur'an strikingly proves that Muhammad kept faithful neither to the Biblical accounts he copied nor to his own statements that he had devised earlier through plagiarism. In some cases Muhammad turns out to be a writer that first confirmed a doctrine he heard from the People of the Book, but later modified it in accordance with the new material he drew from some other sources. Muhammad’s reliance on this method was to such a degree that he made the notion of abrogation an official dogma of his religion and scripture. Unlike the cases of abrogation, the evolution of certain teachings and narratives in Muhammad’s mental world was hidden and thus difficult to detect, but they still illustrate his ignorance and hesitance in addition to his efforts to combine and reconcile differing materials.

What actually caused the evolution of certain Islamic doctrines was mostly Muhammad’s familiarity with the basic tenets of Judaism and Christianity, which he endorsed in a rush to win the favor of the Jews and Christians and build up his new religion on the same ground as that of the former monotheistic faiths. The elements that played a significant role in the evolution of some of those teachings were not limited to the innovations Muhammad made in the days following his migration to Medina so that he could forcefully attach himself to the lineage of the former prophets. Since his sources were mostly apocryphal writings, he felt obliged to adapt his previous teachings to what those examples of apocryphal literature suggested. These adaptations for the sake of reconciliation resulted in awkward formulations that made little sense due to odd replacements and modifications.

A brilliant example of that sort of a modification and Muhammad’s evolving teachings is found in Surah 3, which is named Âl-i `Imran (The Family of Imran). As we stated in our first article on Imran’s fatherhood, the Qur’an contends in Surah 3:35 that Jesus’ mother Mary was born of Imran’s wife. In verse 33 of the same chapter Mary’s father Imran is claimed to be the father of a family in the same way as Abraham:

God did choose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of 'Imrān above all people. (Surah 3:33 Yusuf Ali)

The formula in this particular verse naturally begins with Adam; the first man created by God and made the father of the human race, and continues with Noah, who is remarkable in human history as the person that became the father of mankind after the flood. The third person is Abraham, who is the father of Isaac, and through him, of Jacob, the father of Israel. Things seem normal until the verse names the fourth and last person: Imran. This name is the Arabic version of the Hebrew name Amram, who was the father of Aaron, Moses, and their sister Miriam (Mary in English) according to the Biblical accounts. In the Bible, and thus in Judaism and Christianity, Imran is a figure whose name appears exclusively in genealogies and who is known only because of his famous children. Apart from his age and the name of his wife no details are given.1 This is why the occurrence of his name along with father Abraham in a verse reckoning the major patriarchs sounds quite weird.

The Qur’an baffles us all the more when it equates this patriarch Imran in verse 33 with Mary’s father and Jesus’ grandfather in verse 35! From this mysterious identification we understand that while referring to the selection/preference of certain patriarchs and their progenies, Muhammad jumped from Abraham to Jesus’ supposed grandfather Imran, skipping and disregarding many generations although most of the prophets descended from Abraham’s son Jacob, whose name we would expect to see between Ibrahim and Imran. The awkward transition in Surah 3:33 from Abraham to Virgin Mary’s father supposedly named Imran is the basic problem posed by this verse, for Imran in Judaism and Christianity, unlike in Islam, is nothing more than the father of Moses and his siblings and is not considered a significant patriarch similar to Abraham. Our analysis of the names of patriarchs and their particular order in Surah 3:35 will illustrate why Muhammad needed an evolution in one of his basic teachings about the patriarchs and how he accomplished the modification. The answer to this question will also solve the mysterious reference to Imran in Surah 3:33 and 35.

Evolution from Joachim to Imran and the problem posed by it

One of the prominent historical mistakes of the Islamic scripture is certainly related to the name it ascribes to Mary's father. Although Christian Churches tend to name Mary's father “Joachim” in accordance with traditional teachings mostly drawn from non-canonical literature, Mohammad argued that Mary's father had the name Imran. The reason for the modification of the name Joachim to Imran in Islam was dependent on Muhammad's weird and faulty conclusion that Jesus' mother Mary was the same person as the woman named Mary in the Old Testament, who was said to be the daughter of Amram and sister of Aaron.

At first it seems uncanny and contradictory that Muhammad modified the name Joachim to Imran although he used the apocryphal Gospels of Infancy as his primary source while trying to provide historical information on Jesus and His mother. This is an issue that cannot be dismissed with the help of the supposition that Muhammad was a careless or blind borrower. It is true that he did not necessarily keep faithful to the original version of the narratives he copied, but the particular alteration applied to Mary's father's name in the Qur'an is so unusual that it points at a deliberate act of replacement. The denial of the Christian tradition that ascribed the name Joachim to the virgin's father would give birth to a gross mistake in Muhammad's scripture when combined with the chain of a few hasty conclusions he drew from the similarities between Mary's story in the apocryphal Gospels and the 20th verse of Exodus 15.2

The first question that needs to be answered is why Muhammad reacted and objected to the name Joachim, which occurred without any exception as Mary's father's name in all of the non-canonical texts of Christ's birth and infancy. Muhammad’s desire to avoid the name Joachim was relevant to the teachings given in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which he consulted while forming the first Islamic narrative about Christianity: Surah 19 of the Qur'an. It is not difficult to identify the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew as the source and framework of the story about Mary in the 19th Surah since only in that chapter is it related that Mary miraculously ate fresh fruit of a palm tree (date) and drank from the rivulet created for her (vv. 23-26), and this miraculous incident appears only in Pseudo-Matthew's narrative (chapter 20), missing from all the other non-canonical accounts of Jesus' infancy.

The priority given by Muhammad or his mentor to the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew for plagiarism from Christian sources tells us what a hapless person Muhammad was. He was hapless because the particular infancy Gospel that he chose did not make a single reference to John the Baptist. This omission bothered Muhammad a lot as he had heard from Christians about Zechariah and his son John, whose miraculous birth was recounted in association with Jesus. The solution he wrought to this problem necessitated the replacement of the name Joachim with Zechariah in accordance with the substitution of Zechariah's son for Joachim's daughter (Mary). Consequently, in the 19th chapter of the Qur’an:

Joachim’s daughter Mary’s miraculous birth (Pseudo-Matthew)

was changed to

Zechariah’s son John’s miraculous birth (Surah 19)

Muhammad’s faulty conclusion was that Joachim could not have been the name of Mary’s father since that male name was a fabrication by Pseudo-Matthew, who avoided the names Zechariah and John. It is baffling that Muhammad became so sure of his fallacious conclusion that he ascribed the major components of Joachim’s story to Zechariah and produced new contradictions with the Biblical accounts about Zechariah’s lineage. The fact that Pseudo-Matthew identified Mary’s father Joachim as a man descending from the tribe of Judah and that Joachim’s story had a few thematic parallelisms with the story of Joseph (Jacob’s son) in the Old Testament prompted Muhammad to designate Zechariah and his son John in Surah 19 as descendants of the house of Jacob (v. 6) instead of Aaron (Luke 1:5). This dependence of the Quranic story of the birth of John (Yahya in Islam) on the story of the miraculous birth of Mary in Pseudo-Matthew is argued at length in my article Surah Mariam: The Curse of the Apocrypha (see there the narrative about Zechariah and Appendix I and II).

Interestingly, we see that Muhammad narrated and confirmed the story of Mary’s nativity in Surah 3, which he devised in the post-migration period although he had completely ignored the same account while writing the 19th Surah. What drove Muhammad to change his mind and thus evolve his teachings in Surah 3, which belonged to a later period than Surah 19? This curious inconsistency finds an explanation when we remember that Muhammad drew heavily from another apocryphal Gospel of infancy for his teachings in the 3rd chapter: The Gospel of James. The account of Mary’s nativity in this famous non-canonical Gospel was endorsed and incorporated into the 3rd chapter of the Qur'an quite smoothly since Muhammad considered it a reliable story thanks to a reference in it to John’s father Zechariah as the priest organizing the divinely guided selection of Mary’s guardian (chapter 8). Further, unlike the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the Gospel of James was in line with the things stated in Luke’s canonical Gospel with regard to the relation between Zechariah’s wife and Mary (compare the 12th chapter of the Gospel of James with Luke 1:39-45). These significant points may well have convinced Muhammad that there would be nothing wrong with including the account of Mary’s nativity into the list of the things to be plagiarized from the Gospel of James.

Nonetheless, Muhammad noticed that his previous nightmare concerning the name of Mary’s father in Pseudo-Matthew repeated itself in the Gospel of James, for the appearance of Zechariah’s name in this particular text had by no means changed the name of Mary’s father. In other words, James surprisingly agreed with Pseudo-Matthew that Mary’s father’s name was Joachim. This agreement was not appealing to Muhammad though. Coupling his ignorance with arrogance, he contended that Mary’s father was not called Joachim, most likely interpreting the presence of the name Joachim in all Gospels of infancy as the impact of Pseudo-Matthew’s allegedly misleading information. As a result, in the Islamic version of the account of Mary’s nativity, he had to change the original name Joachim into Imran, the alternate name he came up with through his misunderstandings.

Muhammad’s misunderstandings and hasty conclusions regarding the name of Mary’s father dated back to the days when he devised Surah 19 and had to refer in that chapter to the identity of Mary’s parents while copying from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew the account of Mary’s interrogation by her folk with the charges of an illegitimate affair (chapter 12). As we said before, Muhammad’s giving priority to the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and his relevant objection to the name Joachim in that text marked the beginning of his misfortune. Having ignored the order of the narrative in that non-canonical Gospel, Muhammad decided to start the story about Mary with the angelic visit and annunciation, which impelled him to consider the account of Mary’s accusation as the only and perfect occasion of a reference to her family. To compare:

Then was assembled a multitude of people which could not be numbered, and Mary was brought to the temple. And the priests, and her relatives, and her parents wept, and said to Mary: Confess to the priests your sin, you that wast like a dove in the temple of God, and received food from the hands of an angel. (Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew chapter 12 )

Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing. O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot. (Surah 19:27-28).

The particular section that narrated Mary’s accusation by her people and referred to her family in Pseudo-Matthew described Mary as a revered female figure that had the characteristics of a prophetess. Thanks to his vague remembrance of an Old Testament verse describing Aaron’s Sister Mary as a prophetess (Exodus 15:20), Muhammad thought that the Hebrew woman named Mary was no one else than Jesus’ mother. This is why he identified Mary as the sister of Aaron in Surah 19 and then as the daughter of Imran (Aaron’s father had the name Imran) in two verses of the Medina period (Surah 66:12 and 3:35). Thus, the replacement of the name Joachim with Imran in Surah 3 was a confirmation and continuation of Muhammad’s teaching in Surah 19 that Jesus’ mother Mary was the sister of Aaron.

Now that we know how and why Muhammad changed the original name of Mary’s father (Joachim) into Imran, we can get back to the analysis of Imran’s mysterious insertion into a verse talking about forefathers and their selected progenies. With the help of our comparative study, it does not take us a long time to find out that the number and order of the figures in Surah 3:33 is actually a modified form of another verse belonging to the earlier period of the Qur'an. Thus, Muhammad’s teaching about certain ancestors is proven to have undergone evolution before taking its final form in the third chapter.

To our surprise, we find the original version of Surah 3:33 in the 19th Surah of the Qur'an, which is remarkable because both Surah 19 and 3 contain narratives about Mary and Jesus that are obviously plagiarized from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and that of James, respectively. The awkward verse having Imran’s name next to father Abraham is located just before the account of Mary’s nativity in Surah 3 whereas its original version appears at the end of the narratives beginning with Zechariah and Mary’s story and having the recurrent formula “Mention in the book....” in Surah 19. The traditional and widely accepted chronological order of the Qur’an chapters makes it clear that Muhammad first devised the following verse in the Meccan period:

These are they unto whom Allah showed favour from among the prophets, of the seed of Adam and of those whom We carried (in the ship) with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and from among those whom We guided and chose. (Surah 19:58 Pickthall)

and placed it after modification at the introduction to the story of Mary’s nativity, which he copied from the Gospel of James:

Lo! Allah preferred Adam and Noah and the Family of Abraham and the Family of 'Imran above (all His) creatures. (Surah 3:33 Pickthall)

These two verses are amazingly similar because

  1. They both refer to the notion of selection with regard to certain ancestors and their progenies
  2. They both give four names in total.

Apart from the slight differences stemming from different word choice, the only major discrepancy between Surah 19:58 and Surah 3:33 is the name of the fourth ancestor mentioned after Abraham. Muhammad turns out to have replaced Israel (Jacob) with Imran (Mary’s father Joachim) while devising Surah 3. Needless to say, the teaching given in Surah 19:58 about forefathers and their generations is more plausible and biblically accurate, reflecting Muhammad’s faithfulness to the things he heard from Jews and Christians until he came across the apocryphal Gospel of James and altered Israel to Imran thanks to his misinterpretation.

Before solving the mystery of Israel’s (Surah 19:58) evolution to Imran (Surah 3:33), it is crucial to highlight Muhammad’s endorsement of the Judaic and Christian doctrines regarding the patriarchs, Israel’s relation to them, and Israel’s being the elected people of God. The sequence presented in the 58th verse of Surah 19 is perfectly compatible with biblical teachings as it begins with Adam, the father of the human race, and ends in Jacob (later named Israel), father of the nation called Israel. Even this chronological order reflects the influence and guidance of the Bible in the production of this verse since Muhammad mostly disregarded the significance of chronology and thus deviated from the Bible while recounting the stories of the prophets.

Further, the order of the four people confirmed by Muhammad (Adam-Noah-Abraham-Israel) reiterated the Biblical teaching that God first created mankind, but then raised up a nation for Himself. Thus, the act of creation narrowed down and turned into the act of election. Although all of the four figures were patriarchs (ancestors), two of them (Adam and Noah) were considered universal patriarchs because they had become the fathers of the human race. Abraham and Jacob, on the other hand, became fathers of the tribes descending from them. The peculiar formulation in Surah 3:33 illustrates the distinction of the fatherhood of Adam and Noah from that of the other pair.

Judaism and Christianity did not deny Adam and Noah as universal patriarchs, but laid stress on Jacob’s (and the 12 tribes descending from him) selection in accordance with the promise made in Isaac, one of Abraham’s two sons. In other words, the Bible taught a transition from universal patriarchs to tribal ones, mentioning first the fathers of the human race and then the fathers of the nation of Israel. This teaching is brilliantly displayed in Jesus’ two genealogies recorded by Matthew and Luke (chapter 1 in the former and chapter 3 in the latter). Since Evangelist Matthew essentially addressed the Hebrews and underlined the link between God’s promises made to Abraham and Jesus’ miraculous birth, he did not need to include the figures preceding Abraham into Jesus’ genealogy. Evangelist Luke, on the other hand, addressed the Gentiles and underlined the universality of Jesus’ mission along with His human nature. Therefore, he deemed it necessary to bind Jesus to Adam, the first man and forefather of mankind. We are surprised to see that in Surah 19:58 and partly in Surah 3:33 Muhammad adhered to the same teaching and referred both to the universal and tribal forefathers of the Holy Bible.

From Adam to Noah

The fact that Muhammad highlighted Adam and Noah as two patriarchs was a natural outcome of his belief that human race descended from these two men at different times: Adam before the flood whilst Noah after the flood. This was, of course, a basic biblical doctrine stipulating faith in a global flood at Noah’s time. Thus, Muhammad embraced this tenet and considered Noah as the second father of the human race after Adam, which suffices to rebut the speculative argument of some modern Islamic scholars that Noah had been sent to his folk and the flood was therefore local.3 In contrast to the efforts of some Muslim commentators who try to confine the flood to a specific region on earth, Muhammad made it clear by formulating the verses below that the human race was regenerated through Noah’s offspring after the flood:4

And Noah verily prayed unto Us, and gracious was the Hearer of his prayer. And We saved him and his household from the great distress, and made his seed the survivors. (Surah 37:75-77 Pickthall)

Muhammad even drew an implicit parallelism between Adam and Noah by recounting the beginning of Adam’s life on earth after his banishment from Heaven and the beginning of life on earth after the flood in similar terms:

He said: Go down (from hence), one of you a foe unto the other. There will be for you on earth a habitation and provision for a while. He said: There shall ye live, and there shall ye die, and thence shall ye be brought forth. (Surah 7:23-25 Pickthall)

It was said (unto him): O Noah! Go thou down (from the mountain) with peace from Us and blessings upon thee and some nations (that will spring) from those with thee. (There will be other) nations unto whom We shall give enjoyment a long while and then a painful doom from Us will overtake them. (Surah 11:48 Pickthall)

Likewise, as seen in the following verses, Muhammad associated the generations descending from Noah with the flood and the people carried in the ark:

These are they unto whom Allah showed favour from among the prophets, of the seed of Adam and of those whom We carried (in the ship) with Noah.... (Surah 19:58 Pickthall)

We gave unto Moses the Scripture, and We appointed it a guidance for the children of Israel, saying: Choose no guardian beside Me. (They were) the seed of those whom We carried (in the ship) along with Noah. Lo! he was a grateful slave. (Surah 17:2-3 Pickthall)

Abraham and Israel (Jacob)

Jacob’s presentation with the name Israel in Surah 19:58 as the last link of the chain of ancestors once more labels Muhammad a man who acknowledged what he heard from the Jews and Christians about the prophetic lineage and the related election of Israel. For the people who know the traditional Islamic arguments about Abraham’s chosen son it is shocking indeed to see Mohammad testify to the basic Biblical doctrine that God promised to make His covenant with Isaac instead of Abraham’s first-born son Ishmael (Genesis 17:19, 21:12).5

Quite interestingly, the impact of the Judaic and Christian doctrines concerning Abraham’s progeny and Israel’s election was so strong on Muhammad that in five of the six chapters belonging to the Meccan period he skipped Ishmael and designated Jacob as the second son given to Abraham. For instance:

When he had turned away From them and from those Whom they worshipped besides God, We bestowed on him Isaac and Jacob, and each one Of them We made a prophet. (Surah 19:49 Yusuf Ali)

And his wife was standing (There), and she laughed: But We gave her glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob. (Surah 11:71 Yusuf Ali)

And We gave (Abraham) Isaac and Jacob, and ordained Among his progeny prophethood And Revelation, and We granted him his reward In this life; and he was in the Hereafter (of the company) of the Righteous. (Surah 29:27 Yusuf Ali)

We gave him Isaac and Jacob: all (three) We guided … (Surah 6:84 Yusuf Ali)

And we gave him Isaac and Jacob as a farther gift, and we made all of them righteous. (Surah 21:72 Rodwell)

Still, it must be made clear that in the period prior to his migration Muhammad reckoned Ishmael as one of the former prophets and made short and simple references to his mission although he did not affiliate him with Abraham as his son except for in Surah 14. One of such few references can be seen in Surah 19, where Ishmael is taught to be a messenger observing Islamic rituals:

And make mention in the Scripture of Ishmael. Lo! he was a keeper of his promise, and he was a messenger (of Allah), a  prophet. He enjoined upon his people worship and almsgiving, and was acceptable in the sight of his Lord. (Surah 19:54-55 Pickthall)

In Surah 19 God had supposedly asked Muhammad to make mention of Abraham (verse 41) and introduced the narrative that contained the story of Abraham’s objection to his father and folk’s idolatry, his withdrawal from his people, and his fathering Isaac and Jacob. Not only did this narrative lack Ishmael’s name, but was also dissociated from the particular reference to Ishmael in the same chapter through the interpolation of a reference to Moses and Aaron in verses 51-53. Below are the names of the people who are mentioned in Surah 19 until the 58th verse, which talks of four patriarchs:

Zechariah (v. 2-15)
Mary (v. 16-38)
Abraham (v. 41-50)
Moses and Aaron (v. 51-53)
Ishmael (v. 54-55)
Idris (v. 56-57)

Islamic comments making Idris in verse 56 the equivalent of Biblical Enoch6 surprisingly strengthens the possibility that Muhammad intended a latent connection between four of the six names listed above and the four names given in Surah 19:58. In that case, the account about Abraham would correspond to the seed of Abraham whilst the account about Moses and Aaron to the seed of Israel. As for the remaining two patriarchs, Ishmael would be linked to Noah’s progeny whilst Idris (who is considered the same person as Enoch) to Adam. This sort of a parallelism gives us the clue that Muhammad bafflingly tended to present Ishmael as a messenger descending from Noah rather than as Abraham’s son while devising Surah 19.

The amazing matching of the persons who are referred to in Surah 19:41-57 with the four patriarchs named in verse 58 does not necessarily leave Zechariah and Mary out of this parallelism, for the references to Abraham, Moses and Aaron, Ishmael, and Idris along the formula “Mention in the book ….” seem to be attached to the primary narratives about Zechariah and Mary in verses 2-38, which are obviously plagiarized from the non-canonical Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew through significant modifications. In other words, Muhammad first related Zechariah and Mary’s story and then added the other accounts up to verse 58, using the first two narratives as the framework for others. Surprisingly, Zechariah’s story is directly related to the seed of Israel mentioned in verse 58 since Zechariah associates himself and his son with the seed of Israel when he utters the phrase “house of Jacob” in his prayer in verse 6. Although the narrative about Jesus’ mother Mary does not make any explicit associations between her and patriarch Jacob, Moses and Aaron’s matching with the seed of Israel indirectly links Mary to the same progeny because she is called the “sister of Aaron” in verse 28.

The question why Muhammad did not adapt the erroneous and innovated teachings he invented about Ishmael and Mecca to the names and order of the patriarchs in Surah 3:33 gets us one step closer to the solution of the mysterious inclusion of Mary’s father into the same list. Ironically, Muhammad does not affiliate Ishmael with Abraham when he gives the names of the figures and families chosen by God in Surah 3:33 even though he follows a different course and contradicts the Bible when he awkwardly places Ishmael’s name between Abraham and Isaac in the Medina verses that point at the chain of divine revelation. For instance:

Say (O Muhammad): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was vouchsafed unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. (Surah 3:84)

People who naturally wonder why Muhammad skipped Ishmael and jumped to Mary’s father (another Israelite) from Abraham and thus endorsed the Biblical teaching that, of Abraham’s two sons, the line descending from Isaac was preferred should refresh their memories with regard to Muhammad’s plagiarism from non-canonical Christian writings. As we said before, Muhammad abused the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew while devising certain verses of Surah 19 and did the same thing with the Gospel of James while relating the story of Mary and Jesus’ nativity in Surah 3.

Despite its being an apocryphal text, the Gospel of James (like the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew) confirmed the basic Biblical doctrine concerning Isaac’s election and the fulfillment of the divine promises in his seed. More to the point, canonical and non-canonical Gospels of Infancy were about Jesus, an Israelite, and naturally stressed the election of the seed of Israel for the fulfillment of divine promises through the descent of the predicted Messiah from David’s lineage. (David also descended from Israel, Isaac’s son, not from Ishmael). In short, the Gospels of Infancy were unaware of Muhammad’s new allegations about Ishmael that deviated from the teachings of the Bible. While copying from the Gospel of James, Muhammad could not insert Ishmael into Abraham’s lineage either because of his short memory or because he did not have courage to apply such a drastic change to the original form of the story. Consequently, he altered only the name of Mary’s father from Joachim to Imran, keeping faithful to the other elements of the apocryphal Gospel of Infancy he borrowed from while creating Surah 3.

Mystery solved: Patriarch Israel’s replacement with Patriarch Imran

The narrative of Mary and Jesus’ nativity in Surah 3:35-47 was borrowed by Muhammad from the non-canonical Gospel of James (aka the Protoevangelium of James) and adapted to Islamic creed with the help of a few textual alterations. The comparison of the account in the Qur’an with its original version does not only verify the charges of plagiarism, but also displays the superiority of the original source to its copy in terms of integrity and clarity:

(Remember) when the wife of 'Imran said: My Lord! I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower! And when she was delivered she said: My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female - Allah knew best of what she was delivered - the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast. (Surah 3:35-36 Pickthall)

And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world. And Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life. And, behold, two angels came, saying to her: Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks.  For an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying: Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down hence; for, behold your wife Anna shall conceive. And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying: Bring me hither ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they shall be for the Lord my God; and bring me twelve tender calves, and they shall be for the priests and the elders; and a hundred goats for all the people. And, behold, Joachim  came with his flocks; and Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck, saying: Now I know that the Lord  God has blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow  no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive. And Joachim rested the first day in his house. And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself: If the Lord God has been rendered gracious to me, the plate on the priest's forehead will make it manifest to me. And Joachim brought his offerings, and observed attentively the priest's plate when he went up to the altar of the Lord, and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said: Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins. And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house. And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? And she said: A girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary. (Gospel of James chapters 4-5)

Evidently, Muhammad shortened the original and detailed account by selecting a few verses from it and skipping many others. This, of course, made the narrative in Surah 3 vague and even incomplete. In order to overcome this difficulty and help Muslims get a clearer picture of the story, Islamic scholars raced to plagiarize further from the same source, testifying to the fact that most of the stories about Christianity in their scripture had been created thanks to their prophet who borrowed from apocryphal writings. For example, Ibn Kathir added the following part while commenting on the Qur’an verses relating Mary’s mother’s pregnancy:

The wife of `Imran mentioned here is the mother of Maryam, and her name is Hannah bint Faqudh. Muhammad bin Ishaq mentioned that Hannah could not have children and that one day, she saw a bird feeding its chick. She wished she could have children and supplicated to Allah to grant her offspring. Allah accepted her supplication, and when her husband slept with her, she became pregnant. She vowed to make her child concentrate on worship and serving Bayt Al-Maqdis (the Masjid in Jerusalem), when she became aware that she was pregnant. She said, (O my Lord! I have vowed to You what is in my womb to be dedicated for Your services, so accept this from me. Verily, You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knowing.) meaning, You hear my supplication and You know my intention. She did not know then what she would give birth to, a male or a female. (Source)

This clarifying commentary was definitely taken from the Gospel of James:

And his wife Anna mourned in two mournings, and lamented in two lamentations, saying: I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness. … And Anna was grieved exceedingly, and put off her garments of mourning, and cleaned her head, and put on her wedding garments, and about the ninth hour went down to the garden to walk. And she saw a laurel, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying: O God of our fathers, bless me and hear my prayer, as You blessed the womb of Sarah, and gave her a son Isaac. And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow's nest in the laurel, and made a lamentation in herself, saying: Alas! Who begot me? And what womb produced me? Because I have become a curse in the presence of the sons of Israel, and I have been reproached, and they have driven me in derision out of the temple of the Lord. Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like the fowls of the heaven, because even the fowls of the heaven are productive before You, O Lord. (Gospel of James chapters 2-3)

More interestingly, Muhammad seems to have deliberately focused on Mary’s mother and ignored all the references to her father (Joachim) while copying the account of her nativity from the Gospel of James. Accordingly, the borrowed story in Surah 3 begins with the supplication and vow uttered by Mary’s mother in verse 35. In contrast, the Gospel of James first talks about Mary’s father (Joachim) before proceeding to the narrative about his wife and her supplications:

In the records of the twelve tribes of Israel was Joachim, a man rich exceedingly; and he brought his offerings double, saying: There shall be of my superabundance to all the people, and there shall be the offering for my forgiveness to the Lord for a propitiation for me.  For the great day of the Lord was at hand, and the sons of Israel were bringing their offerings. And there stood over against him Rubim, saying: It is not meet for you first to bring your offerings, because you have not made seed in Israel. And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and went away to the registers of the twelve tribes of the people, saying: I shall see the registers of the twelve tribes of Israel, as to whether I alone have not made seed in Israel. And he searched, and found that all the righteous had raised up seed in Israel. And he called to mind the patriarch Abraham, that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac. And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying in himself: I will not go down either for food or for drink until the Lord my God shall look upon me, and prayer shall be my food and drink. (Gospel of James chapter 1)

If we focus on the bolded statements in the narrative above, we can figure out the source of the mysterious sequence of the patriarchs in Surah 3:33. Muhammad was aware of this section on the theme of fatherhood in the Gospel of James, and incorporated it into Surah 3 in the shortest form possible and not without his mistaken conclusions. First, in the original account Mary’s father was depicted as a man having no seed in Israel in contrast to all other righteous people and thus emphatically singled out from the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob) because of his childlessness. Second, he was said to liken himself to patriarch Abraham with regard to the notion of miraculous fatherhood in expectation for a child despite his barrenness. These motifs sufficed to convince Muhammad that Mary’s father signified a unique case in the seed/family of patriarch Israel in terms of fatherhood and that he was made similar to patriarch Abraham. Consequently, he replaced Israel with Mary’s father (whose name he had changed into Imran) while transferring the names of the four forefathers from Surah 19:58 to Surah 3:33 and inserted him right after Abraham as the fourth patriarch. To put it another way, Muhammad thought that Mary’s father’s highlighted affiliation with the twelve tribes of Israel would allow him to take Israel’s place in the sequence of the patriarchs. The analogy drawn in the Gospel of James between Abraham and Mary’s father further encouraged Muhammad to place Imran’s name right after Abraham’s and designate him as the father of a race (patriarch).

The discovery of the ties between the Gospel of James and Surah 3:33 also clarifies the vague link between the references to Imran’s fatherhood in verse 33 and to his wife’s motherhood in verse 35. Thus, it becomes easy to see that in Muhammad’s scripture Surah 3:33-34 were meant to be the equivalent of the teachings about Mary’s father and his relation to the patriarchs in the first chapter of the same Gospel. After all, Surah 3:34 functions to strengthen the significance of lineage and common patriarchs:

They were descendants one of another. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Pickthall)

The emphasis laid in this verse on Allah’s hearing and knowing is most likely derived from the last sentence in the first chapter of the Gospel of James, where Mary’s father asks God to look upon him and hear his prayers.    

Evolution in Surah 3:33 after Mohammad’s death

The lack of a reference to Ishmael or to Muhammad in Surah 3:33 causes much trouble for Islamic scholars as Christian apologists and critics of the Qur’an use this particular verse to prove Jesus’ superiority to Muhammad. For example, in his article entitled Jesus Superior Still According to the Qur’an! Sam Shamoun rebuts the objections of the Islamic scholars who strive to add Muhammad into the list of the chosen and preferred families by expanding the definition of the phrase “family of Abraham” to include Ishmael. As stated in Shamoun’s article, the linguistic structure of the verse will not allow Muhammad’s addition into Abraham’s family with the help of his unsubstantiated affiliation with Ishmael,7 for Mary’s father is linked in Surah 3 to Abraham through his son Isaac, proving that the “final” family chosen by God was by no means related to Ishmael and his lineage.

As we discussed above, Muhammad could never have pointed at Ishmael’s line while referring to Abraham’s family in Surah 3:33 since he copied the names and order of the two patriarchs (Abraham and Imran) from the Gospel of James, a non-canonical Christian text that neither knew nor confirmed the modern Islamic allegations concerning Muhammad’s affiliation with Ishmael. More to the point, in the first chapter of that Gospel of Infancy, which was summarized and incorporated into the 3rd chapter of the Qur’an in the form of two short verses, Mary’s father remembered Abraham not because of his son Ishmael, but because of his son Isaac. Since Muhammad repeated this certain parallelism between Abraham and Mary’s father to the point of presenting the latter as a patriarch, it is unthinkable that he regarded the line descending from Ishmael as chosen and preferred.  

The difficulty posed by Surah 3:33 was noticed by Islamic scholars who tried to solve this problem by making vain efforts to bind Muhammad to the chosen family of Abraham through Ishmael. For instance, Ibn Kathir wrote the following comment and did not understand that Muhammad’s addition to the family of Abraham would be to no avail since Muhammad was born centuries after Mary’s father, who was designated in the Qur’an as the last link in the chain of chosen families. In short, the chronological sequence in Surah 3:33 would never allow Muhammad’s linking to the supposedly preferred family of Ishmael:

Allah also chose the household of Ibrahim, including the master of all mankind, and the Final Prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him. Allah also chose the household of `Imran, the father of Maryam bint `Imran, the mother of `Isa, peace be upon them. So `Isa is from the offspring of Ibrahim, as we will mention in the Tafsir of Surat Al-An`am, Allah willing, and our trust is in Him. (Source)

The weakness of the argument and defense suggested by scholars like Ibn Kathir was well-known to some Muslims who expected to see in Surah 3:33 an overt reference to Muhammad’s family not before, but after the reference to Imran’s progeny. This expectation took the form of a variant reading in the Qur’an after Muhammad’s death. The following statement attributed to the Sixth Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq reads:

“The verse was revealed as, ‘the house of ‘Imran and the house of Muhammad above all beings,’ but they [the opponents of the imams] deleted ‘and the house of Muhammad’ from the Book” ... (Source)

The inclusion of Surah 3:33 into the problematic list of the variant readings of the Qur'an shows how much some Muslim scholars were bothered with it because they considered the lack of a reference to Muhammad in that verse a disgrace and source of resentment. The only thing they could do to avoid this problematic issue was to insert the missing reference into the Qur'an later most probably through wishful thinking.


Some of the Islamic teachings in the Qur’an did not take their final shape at once, being compatible with the doctrines of gradual revelation and abrogation invented by Muhammad, who needed to process the things he heard from the People of the Book for their transfer to the Qur’an. As a result, some basic Biblical teachings evolved in Muhammad’s mind and underwent modifications that corresponded to the correction and amelioration of the previously delivered teachings, and were enforced with the pretext of Allah’s better revelation.

In this process, two things made the evolution of some tenets crucial: Muhammad’s inability to understand the original statements of the Bible and his struggle to reconcile the things he derived from the Bible with the new material he derived from some non-canonical writings. These evolutions did not only expose Muhammad’s ignorance and confusion, but also created some Qur’an verses that were harmonious neither with the Bible nor with the apocryphal texts. Finally, evolving ideas gave birth to some variations even within the Qur’an and turned into mysterious references that can be understood only if the Qur’an is compared first with the Bible and then with the non-canonical literature Muhammad heard and abused while forging his scripture.



The comparison of all the Qur’an verses referring to Abraham’s sons reveals the difficulties Muhammad went through while talking of Abraham’s descendants.8 His vague knowledge on the issue was at first limited to the number of the sons that Abraham had fathered prior to his wife’s death. Muhammad repeated without getting into details about Abraham’s wife what the Bible said: Abraham had two sons. However, he could not give accurate and consistent information on the names of these sons. As evident in five of the six Meccan chapters, his observations gave him the wrong idea that of Abraham’s two sons, Isaac was the firstborn whilst Jacob the second. As a result of Ishmael’s uncanny replacement with Isaac, most of the chapters of the Meccan period did not relate Ishmael to Abraham although the Jews and Christians did not deny or alter the biblical doctrine that Abraham had fathered Ishmael before Isaac.

In all the following verses of the Meccan period Muhammad mentioned Ishmael, but never affiliated him with Abraham or with Abraham’s other son Isaac:

And Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot. Each one (of them) did We prefer above (Our) creatures. (Surah 6:86 Pickthall)

And make mention in the Scripture of Ishmael. Lo! he was a keeper of his promise, and he was a messenger (of Allah), a prophet. (Surah 19:54 Pickthall)

And (mention) Ishmael, and Idris, and Dhu'l-Kifl. All were of the steadfast. (Surah 21:85 Pickthall)

And make mention of Ishmael and Elisha and Dhu'l-Kifl. All are of the chosen. (Surah 38:48 Pickthall)

More to the point, in all of the four Meccan chapters that mention Ishmael (Surah 6, 19, 21, and 38) a reference is made to Abraham as a father, but these verses contain the names Isaac and Jacob, and Ishmael is by no means connected to them. In Surah 6:84, Surah 19:49, Surah 21:72, and Surah 38:45 Abraham’s name always appears along with Isaac and Jacob and forms a triplet. Ishmael, on the other hand, is always kept out of this triplet and awkwardly inserted into the group of some other prophetic figures.

Evidently, having a vague and faltering knowledge of Ishmael’s relation to Abraham, Muhammad kept repeating Isaac and Jacob’s name along with Abraham and did not mention Ishmael as the first son until he devised Surah 14, in which he managed to correct his mistake by removing Jacob from the group of Abraham’s two sons. This removal meant Jacob’s replacement with Isaac and Isaac’s replacement with Ishmael. Muhammad’s correction was quite smooth and theologically beneficial since Ishmael’s first-time identification as Abraham’s first son in the Qur’an was thematically tied to Ishmael’s alleged settlement in Mecca.

Our Lord! Lo! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near unto Thy holy House, our Lord! that they may establish proper worship; so incline some hearts of men that they may yearn toward them, and provide Thou them with fruits in order that they may be thankful. Our Lord! Lo! Thou knowest that which we hide and that which we proclaim. Nothing in the earth or in the heaven is hidden from Allah. Praise be to Allah Who hath given me, in my old age, Ishmael and Isaac! Lo! my Lord is indeed the Hearer of Prayer. (Surah 14:37-39 Pickthall)

The reason for Ishmael’s linking to Mecca and the Cube was most likely Muhammad’s desire to take revenge from Sara, who had thrown Ishmael out of her house and thus prevented him from taking part of Abraham’s inheritance. In Muhammad’s fantasy this was paid back by Allah, who symbolically threw Isaac out of his house when he did not allow him to construct the Cube with Abraham and denied him the honor of settling in Mecca, the hometown of the alleged final messenger.

In the light of this observation it is easy to guess that Ishmael’s identification as Abraham’s first son in Surah 14 was essentially dependent on Muhammad’s aim to associate Abraham with Mecca and his own prophetic claims. Upon hearing from the People of the Book about Ishmael’s departure from Canaan and his settlement in the wilderness, he thought it would be nice and necessary to abuse this biblical story so that his innovated and non-biblical teachings could be validated. It is by no means a coincidence that Ishmael’s first inclusion into Abraham’s family occurred in Surah 14, which was the first Meccan chapter that linked Abraham to Mecca through his son Ishmael. In short, if Muhammad had not fabricated such a connection, Ishmael would not have been suddenly made Abraham’s first son in Surah 14, that is, after so many chapters skipping Ishmael and reckoning Jacob as Abraham’s second son.

It is likewise no coincidence that in Surah 14, the only Meccan chapter that affiliates Ishmael with Abraham and Isaac, nothing is related about Ishmael’s mother. Abraham only thanks God for giving him two sons in his old age, but fails to remember the fact that Ishmael was born naturally whereas Isaac through God’s promise and a miracle. The entire Islamic scripture does not state how Ishmael was born and whether his mother was the same as Isaac’s mother either. This is because Muhammad did not follow the organized and detailed biblical narratives about Abraham’s children and bound Ishmael to Abraham only to support his non-biblical teachings/theories about Mecca.

The Islamic assertion that the recurrent references made to Jacob along with Isaac as Abraham’s son in most of the chapters of the Meccan period were due to Jacob’s being Abraham’s grandson is refuted by the lack of a similar designation in the only Meccan chapter where Abraham thanks God for giving him Ishmael and Isaac. Jacob’s name is missing from Abraham’s prayer of thanksgiving in Surah 14 because when Ishmael took Isaac’s place, Isaac took Jacob’s place, and Jacob was unsurprisingly left out as the third person. Since it was unthinkable for Muhammad to claim that Abraham had three sons rather than two, he applied the modification only to the names, maintaining the number of Abraham’s sons before and after Surah 14. This modification introduced the new pair of Ishmael and Isaac into the Qur’an, which was accurate and compatible with the biblical teaching designating Ishmael as the first of Abraham’s two sons.

However, this correction in the names of Abraham’s two sons would not last long as Muhammad would abruptly switch back to the old pair of Isaac and Jacob and forget about Ishmael’s relation to Abraham in two more Meccan chapters following Surah 14. Strikingly, in Surah 21 and 29 Muhammad bafflingly dissociated Ishmael from Abraham again and formed verses that ignored the names "Ishmael and Isaac" given in Surah 14:

And we bestowed on him Isaac, and Jacob, as an additional gift. And we made all (of them) righteous persons. (Surah 21:72 Sale)

And We bestowed on him Isaac and Jacob, and we established the prophethood and the Scripture among his seed ... (Surah 29:27 Pickthall)

Obviously, Muhammad returned to his mistaken formulation because while writing Surah 21 and 29, he simply and carelessly copied the information he gave about Abraham’s sons in all the chapters preceding Surah 14. As there would be no reference to Mecca in these new chapters coming after Surah 14, there would also be no need to desginate Ishmael in them as Abraham’s first son. Thus, in Muhammad’s flawed reasoning the names of Abraham’s two sons were not stable. The addition of the invented connection between Abraham and Mecca into a chapter would inevitably change the name of the first son into Ishmael. The lack of this connection would bring Jacob’s name back at the expense of Ishmael’s. As Surah 21 and 29 did not repeat the false and non-biblical teaching that Abraham went to Mecca with Ishmael, Abraham mistakenly appeared as the father of both Isaac and Jacob.

It is not difficult to guess what compelled Muhammad to identify Jacob as Abraham’s second son in the Meccan chapters preceding and following Surah 14. First, he was aware of the biblical doctrine that God Almighty had blessed and chosen the nation of Israel (Jacob’s offspring), and wrote a few verses to display his agreement with this teaching:

O Children of Israel! Remember My favour wherewith I favoured you and how I preferred you to (all) creatures. (Surah 2:47 Pickthall)

And certainly We gave the Book and the wisdom and the prophecy to the children of Israel, and We gave them of the goodly things, and We made them excel the nations. (Surah 45:16 Pickthall)

In addition, Muhammad became familiar with the biblical sequence of the three ancestors “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” and incorporated this triplet into his scripture:

And remember Our servants Ibrahim and Ishaq and Yaqoub, men of power and insight. (Surah 38:45 Shakir)

And thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of sayings and make His favor complete to you and to the children of Yaqoub, as He made it complete before to your fathers, Ibrahim and Ishaq; surely your Lord is Knowing, Wise. (Surah 12:6 Shakir)

And I follow the religion of my fathers, Ibrahim and Ishaq and Yaqoub; it beseems us not that we should associate aught with Allah; this is by Allah’s grace upon us and on mankind, but most people do not give thanks. (Surah 12:38 Shakir)

At this point, Muhammad misunderstood the cause of this particular sequence of the three patriarchs and jumped into the conclusion that this triplet consisted of Abraham and his two sons. The natural outcome of this fallacious reasoning was the indirect denial of the tie between Abraham and Ishmael, which again contradicted the biblical account that designated Ishmael as Abraham’s son through his concubine named Hagar. Ishmael’s separation from Abraham before his death and Isaac and Jacob’s burial in the same place as Abraham in the biblical accounts (Genesis 49:29-32) were probably some of the other factors prompting Muhammad to dissociate Ishmael from Abraham in all the Meccan chapters, except for in Surah 14.

Unsurprisingly, Muhammad did not give Ishmael’s name when he related the story of Abraham’s sacrifice (Surah 37:102-107) even though most Muslim scholars tend to identify the child whom God asked Abraham to offer as Ishmael rather than Isaac.9 Traditional Islamic commentaries on this issue are far from accuracy, for Muhammad would have placed Ishmael in the verse below between Abraham and Isaac if he had agreed with the Islamic scholars in regard to the identity of the child mentioned in verses 102-103:

And We blessed him and Isaac. And of their seed are some who do good, and some who plainly wrong themselves. (Surah 37:113 Pickthall)

The interesting point is that Surah 37 lacks a reference to Jacob. This does not raise a problem though since this Surah is one of the few Meccan chapters of the Qur’an where Isaac is singled out as Abraham’s only son born through a miracle, which is a biblical teaching too. For instance, in Surah 51 the biblical account of Abraham’s visitation by the angels is partly followed; therefore, no reference is made to Jacob:

Then he conceived a fear of them. They said: Fear not! and gave him tidings of (the birth of) a wise son. (Surah 51:28 Pickthall)

However, this account occurs with slight variations in Surah 11, but this time Jacob’s name is added even into the angelic annunciation delivered to Abraham’s wife. To compare and contrast:

And his wife, standing by laughed when We gave her good tidings (of the birth) of Isaac, and, after Isaac, of Jacob. (Surah 11:71 Pickthall)

This verse clearly reflects Muhammad’s faulty presumption that Jacob was Abraham’s second son.

After his migration to Medina, Muhammad attempted to reconcile all his inconsistent teachings concerning the identity of Abraham’s first and second son. The solution he found to this problem produced another gross mistake though. The reason for this misfortune was Muhammad’s decision to combine all the names of Abraham’s progeny in a single sentence, disregarding the biblical teaching that did not add Ishmael’s name into Abraham’s selected progeny that would inherit the divine blessings.

In the process of reconciliation, Muhammad first reiterated in Surah 2 the teaching he had previously given in Surah 14 and then abandoned in Surah 21 and 29: Ishmael was Abraham’s son and Abraham had a connection with Mecca through him. Of these, he took the second teaching one step further in Surah 2 with the help of the assertion that Abraham had constructed the Cube with Ishmael (Surah 2: 127). Again, Ishmael was declared to be Abraham’s son only because Muhammad needed to trace the Cube and the rituals about it to Abraham.

Later he added the names of Abraham’s descendants through Isaac into the same sentence that identified Ishmael as Abraham’s first son. For example:

Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. (Surah 2:136 Pickthall)

This awkward sequence gave the wrong impression that Isaac was Ishmael’s son instead of his brother and contradicted the basic biblical doctrine that bound the divine promises and the prophetic lineage to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and not through Ishmael. Further, it contradicted the information previously given by Muhammad in some of the Meccan chapters. For instance, in Surah 12: 6 and 12:38 neither Jacob nor his son Joseph mentioned Ishmael as a forefather preceding Isaac. In Surah 38:45 it was Allah who repeated the biblical sequence of the patriarchs and did not consider Ishmael a member of the triplet. The fabrication of the connection between Abraham and Mecca thus brought about an evolution in Muhammad’s previous teachings.

In the light of this analysis it becomes clear that Muhammad’s teachings concerning Abraham’s offspring were never fully consistent and free from error prior to or after his migration. He excluded Ishmael from Abraham’s story (and replaced Ishmael with Isaac) when the Bible included him as a son and inserted Ishmael into Abraham’s lineage descending through Isaac when the Bible excluded him from the sequence (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) indicating Isaac’s preference by God to Ishmael. These problems and discrepancies depict Muhammad as a man who followed the extreme ends in opposite directions as a result of his failure to understand the simple doctrine that God established his covenant with Isaac although Ishmael was Abraham’s other son.

Note: This appendix tries to give a coherent explanation of the data based on the most commonly used chronology of the Surahs admitted by Muslims. However, issues of chronology of Surahs are a matter of debate. There are several different chronologies that have been proposed for the sequence of revelation of Surahs. Though it is possible that other chronologies might lead to some other conclusions regarding this issue, but the basic fact remains that the different verses of the Qur'an on this matter are inconsistent.


1 In fact, the Bible tells us more about his wife Jochebeth than about Amram. On the other hand, her name was necessarily left out in the Qur’an.

2 More about this can be found in my article The Anatomy of the Qur'an's Mistakes.

3 Further on this issue can be read in Sam Shamoun’s article Does the Quran teach a local flood?

4 However, this verse overtly contradicts Surah 11:36, 40, which stunningly teach that some people from Noah’s folk believed his message and were saved with him. This article highlights the contradictory teachings in the Qur’an regarding Noah’s flood.

5 How Mohammad made a gross mistake with regard to Abraham’s sons in both Mecca and Medina periods is explained at length in the appendix.

6 Read this commentary.

8 It is obvious that there are incoherent, perhaps even contradictory statements about the sons of Abraham in the Qur’an. There was some kind of confusion in the mind of Muhammad about this matter, and a change of knowledge and thus an adaptation of how the Qur’an teaches on this issue.

9 However, there are several early Muslim commentators who were convinced it was Isaac. For a detailed discussion, see the article Abraham and the Child of Sacrifice - Isaac or Ishmael?

Articles by Masud Masihiyyen
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