Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis

By Reuven Firestone | Go to book overview
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PART THREE

The Meccan Sequence

INTRODUCTION

After Abraham's emigration to Syria and his encounter with the tyrant, the birth of Ishmael, the incident at Beersheba, and the visit of the angels, virtually all action in the Abraham cycle moves to the environs of Mecca. Abraham brings Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca, settles them there, and then returns to Syria. Although his permanent residence remains in Syria, all the narrative action takes place in Mecca, where he periodically visits his son. Sarah drops out of the story after Abraham settles Ishmael and Hagar in Mecca, and Hagar soon drops out as well as Ishmael grows up, marries a local Arab woman, and acculturates to Arabian life. He is later associated with his father building the Ka'ba and making the Ḥajj pilgrimage during one of Abraham's visits. Despite the fact that Abraham does not appear in every narrative of this collection, he remains a pervasive presence throughout.

The Meccan Sequence essentially establishes Mecca and its environs as Holy Land through Abraham's association with its sacred sites. Although it does not negate the holiness of that area of Syria sometimes referred to as the Holy Land in our Arabic sources, 1 it establishes the precedent of an equally holy geography in the Arabian Ḥfijāz which will eventually surpass it. Abraham establishes the earliest monotheism in Mecca, even pre-dating the monotheism of the Jews and Christians. 2 The ancient monotheistic origin of the Ka'ba is authenticated through his and Ishmael's actions as its founders. Abraham and Ishmael also establish the foundations of a sacred genealogy that will produce the Northern Arabs and eventually, the important tribe of Quraysh, keepers of the Ka'ba and the tribe of the last and greatest prophet, Muḥammad. And finally, Abraham calls all humanity to take part in the first postdeluvian Ḥajj or Pilgrimage to the sacred sites, thus authenticating their monotheistic roots.

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