"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Abraham, Hagar, Ishmael & Marriage Choices

In chapter 27, "Exile," in the book The Woman Who Named God, author Charlotte Gordon writes: "Though the fact that Hagar arranged Ishmael's marriage occurs in both the Bible and the hadith, it seems that later Jewish and Muslim commentators did not like the idea of a woman with this degree of power and influence. Sages from both religions attempted to 'correct' this problem by relating a story about Abraham's role in Ishmael's marriage that discounted Hagar's competence. For once, the traditions were united, albeit by their distrust in the capabilities of females."

Then she tells the story of Abraham meeting Ishmael's wife which I will copy from a website instead of typing it all. And after she tells of this (see below) Ms. Gordon writes, "Yet, despite their doubts about her skills as a matchmaker, according to the hadith, Hagar was the founder of a city and a people. She had fought off the nomads' claims to the Zamzam and the holy site of Mecca. Thanks to her, Ishmael and all Arabs would inherit a vital legacy. Despite western preconceptions about Islam, from its beginnings Muslims have revered Ishmael's mother as a heroine, illustrating that the respect of women is inherent to the faith." (pg. 237)

From Ishmael, Son of Abraham

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "After Ishmael's mother had died, Abraham came after Ishmael's marriage in order to see his family that he had left before but he did not find Ishmael there. When he asked Ishmael's wife about him, she replied: "He has gone in search of livelihood." Then he asked her about their way of living and their condition, and she replied, "We are living in misery; we are living in hardship and destitution,' complaining to him. He said: "When your husband returns, convey my salutations to him and tell him to change the threshold of the gate (of his house).'

"When Ishmael came, he seemed to have felt something unusual, so he asked his wife: 'Has anyone visited you?' she replied, 'Yes, an old man of such and such description came and asked me about you and I informed him and he asked about our state of living and I told him that we were living in a hardship and poverty.' On that Ishmael said: 'Did he advise you anything?' She said: 'Yes he told me to convey his salutation to you and to tell you to change the threshold of your gate.' Ishmael said: 'It was my father and he has ordered me to divorce you. Go back to your family.' so, Ishmael divorced her and married another woman from among them (Jurhum).

"Then Abraham stayed away from them for a period as long as Allah wished and called on them again but did not find Ishmael. So he came to Ishmael's wife and asked her about Ishmael. She said: 'he has gone in sof our livelihood.' Abraham asked her; 'how are you getting on?' asking her about their sustenance and living. she replied: 'we are prosperous and well off (we have everything in abundance).' then she thanked Allah. Abraham said: 'What kind of food do you eat?' she said: 'meat.' he said: 'what do you drink?' she said: 'water.' he said: 'O Allah! bless their meat and water.""

The Prophet (pbuh) added: "At that time they did not have grain, and if they had grain he would have also invoked Allah to bless it. If somebody has only these two things as his sustenance, his health and disposition will be badly affected unless he lives in Mecca."

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "Then Abraham said to Ishmael's wife: 'When your husband comes give my regards to him and tell him that he should keep firm the threshold of his gate.' When Ishmael came back he asked his wife, 'did anyone call on you?' she replied: 'yes, a good looking old man came to me,' so she praised him and added: 'He asked about you and I informed him that we were in a good condition.' Ishmael asked her:' did he give you any piece of advice?' she said; 'yes, he told me to give his regards to you and ordered that you should keep firm the threshold of your gate.' on that Ishmael said: 'It was my father, and you are the threshold of the gate. He has ordered me to keep you with me.'

Do you agree with Charlotte Gordon's conclusion that Jewish and Muslim scholars told this Abraham story re: Ishmael's wife because they didn't want a mere woman to have this much power? Or do you think Abraham told Ishmael to divorce his first wife because she gave a bad report about life? What do you think of this story of Abraham telling his son to divorce his wife? Do you think it's in line with Jesus' teachings on divorce? Any other thoughts? Feel free to share whatever comes to mind.

For more posts from this book, please see

Abraham, Sarah, Canaanites & Ancient Egypt

"Rape in the Palace" -- Abraham & Sarah in Egypt

Relating Hagar to Jesus' Birth


Achelois said...

First, I have ordered this book :)

Second, like we were discussing in our email exchange as well, Hagar doesn't exist in the Quran, yet she is a Muslim matriarch - don't get that. But like the author mentions she appears in a handful of ahadith. But I doubt that Muslims did what Jews did (if Jews did in fact discount her role - what a strange argument Gordon puts forward?!). I think Muslims only copied what some of the Jews thought.

The long hadith you quoted about Abraham getting Ishmael to divorce his wife (I know you mentioned it in the email as well) is copied word for word from the Book of Jubilees :) Yes, another apocryphal text!

Achelois said...

Oh, so I meant to say that I disagree with Gordon's claims that Jews wanted make a man more powerful. I don't think this whole divorce thing happened. But it could have, who knows, after all sex and marriage we have seen was much different in the times of Abraham. It does not correspond to the teachings of Jesus, but if a man could remove one partner from his life, he could well ask for the same from his son.

But the hadith has many loopholes: according to Islam Ishmael was in Mecca. So it means Abraham traveled thousands of miles to tell his son whom he abandoned as a baby (and who was also a prophet so he should have been able to differentiate between good and bad for himself) to divorce his wife?!

It may make some sense in the Book of Jubilees according to which Ishmael lived in Israel, not far from his father, but according to the hadith it is a bit unbelievable.

Amber said...

Hmm...interesting. I kind of doubt any of this really happened, for the same reasons Achelois mentioned. As far as the theory of removal of power and influence from Hagar, sure, maybe some Jewish (and/or Muslim) scholar came up with a story like this for that reason, it'd hardly be the first time men used religion to further their own desire for power. But, again, I don't hold this as something that actually happened, so it doesn't really matter. Abraham abandoned Ishmael and Hagar when Ishmael was very young. Um...given my own personal interactions with fathers who've abandoned their children and the childrens mother, I doubt Ishmael would have given a flying fig *what* Abraham said. I would have laughed in the old meddler's face if he'd shown up years later and told me to divorce my husband. Also, I might have thrown something at his head.

Mmm...probably a good thing I'm *not* related to any prophets. :)

Plus, how would Ishmael have known some random old man was his dad? He didn't have a picture, he hadn't seen him for years, and the wife was the one who saw him both times! Not Ishmael. Could have just been some wandering crazy person!

And of course this doesn't fit with Jesus' teachings on divorce. The only reason for divorce is adultery, which the first wife, according to the story, did not commit. But, as Achelois pointed out, the feelings and societal teachings of the time in re: men and women were very different from ours. It was easy and acceptable to put aside a wife or just take another.

Susanne said...

Achelois, so this book is part of the $$$ you spent at Amazon? Ha, ha! It makes you gnaw on furniture yet you ordered it. You are a glutton for punishment. ;-)

Interesting about this story of the wives being from an apocryphal text.

I don't like it because it makes marriage seem like something one can discard if an elder doesn't approve. I guess I have too much Bible in me as far as marriage and divorce go. We are taught that marriage is also a symbol of Christ and the Church and so I think it's a disgrace to imagine a person such as Abraham instructing his son to ditch his wife. Actually it helps me understand why Jesus said Moses allowed divorce *because of the hardness of your hearts* because it's exactly a HARD hearted person who would ditch one wife for a new one. Nice excuse for Ishmael to trade his old wife in on a newer model. Sound familiar? *fuming*

Thanks, too, what you added about Ishmael supposedly living in Mecca and Abraham traveling alllll those miles -at least twice- to have a say in Ishmael's wives. If I traveled hundreds of miles to see my son, I would stick around and not be satisfied with only visiting his wives and giving them cryptic messages to pass along to Ishmael.

Amber, you wrote:

"Um...given my own personal interactions with fathers who've abandoned their children and the childrens mother, I doubt Ishmael would have given a flying fig *what* Abraham said. I would have laughed in the old meddler's face if he'd shown up years later and told me to divorce my husband. Also, I might have thrown something at his head."

Ha, ha. But I totally agree that I'd have the same attitude. At least in Abraham's defense, he didn't seem to WANT to send Ishmael away. It's not like some "fathers" who seemingly don't care or have no qualms at doing this despicable thing.

Thanks, Ladies, for your comments. Enjoyed 'em!