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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

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Why do Muslims say they are descended from Abraham?

Muslims see themselves, along with Jews and Christians, as children of Abraham, belonging to different branches of the same religious family. The Quran and the Old Testament both tell the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian servant. While Jews and Christians are descended from Abraham and his wife Sarah through their son Isaac, Muslims trace their religious roots back to Abraham through Ismail, his firstborn son by Hagar.

According to both Hebrew and Muslim scriptures, when after many years Sarah did not conceive a child, she urged Abraham to sleep with her maidservant, Hagar, so that he might have an heir. The child who was the result of that union was a boy named Ismail. After Ismail's birth, Sarah too finally became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac. She then became jealous of Ismail, who as firstborn would be the prime inheritor and overshadow her own son Isaac. So she pressured Abraham to send Hagar and Ismail away. Abraham reluctantly let Hagar and her son go, because God promised that God would make Ismail the father of a great nation. Islamic sources say that Hagar and Ismail ended up in the vicinity of Mecca in Arabia, and both scriptures say that they nearly died but were saved by a spring that miraculously gushed from the desert.

The Quran and Muslim tradition tell a rich story about how father and son were reunited. This reunion gave rise to two of the most visible symbols of Islam. According to Islamic sources, Abraham learned that Hagar and Ismail were alive and found them living near present-day Mecca. After hearing of Hagar's harrowing experiences in the desert and the story of the miracle that saved them, Abraham and Ismail rebuilt the Kaaba, which Muslims believe Adam originally built, as a temple to the one true God. It is for this reason that Muslims across the globe turn in the direction of the Kaaba when they pray, as a unifying act of worship of the one true God. Today the Kaaba is considered the most sacred place in the Muslim world. Its distinctive cube shape with its black covering is one of the most familiar symbols in Islam. (See page 23, “What is the Kaaba?”) Muslim scripture also tells that Abraham established the rites of the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca, many of which recreate Hagar's experiences there. The pilgrimage attracts over two million people annually and is another striking symbol of the faith. (See page 22, “What do Muslims do on the pilgrimage to Mecca?”)

There is one significant difference between the biblical and Islamic accounts of the Abraham story. Contrary to the biblical tradition (Genesis 22:1–2), most Islamic scholars designate Ismail rather than Isaac as the intended victim in the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son at God's command (Quran 37:99–113).

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