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Parashas Vayeira: Avraham and Islam
Avraham Avinu is distressed by Sarah’s instructions to banish Hagar and Yishmael from their home. Hashem addresses Avraham’s concerns:
God said to Avraham, “Do not let the matter of this youth and your maidservant be evil in your eyes. Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice, since through Yitzchak will offspring be considered yours. But also the son of the maidservant I will make into a nation, for he is your offspring.” (Bereishis 21:12-13)
The plain pshat of the statement “I will also make [Yishmael] into a nation” is that Yishmael’s offspring will be numerous, as the Rambam explains in his Iggeres Teiman. However, R’ Avraham ben ha’Rambam notes (ibid.) that this statement contains an allusion to another aspect of Yishmael’s destiny:
But also the son etc. – this alludes to the revelation of Islam, [the adherents of which] believe in the Oneness of the Creator, [and who descend] from him (i.e. from Yishmael). How precise are His words, exalted is He: “I will make him [into a nation]” [implying] at a later time, after the revelation of the religion of Israel, and at a time of darkness for them, on account of their sins. “He told the end from the beginning” (cf. Yeshayahu 46:10).
R’ Avraham ben ha’Rambam saw the rise of the monotheistic Islam as a fulfillment of the promise to Avraham regarding Yishmael. When the offspring of Yitzchak are in “darkness … on account of their sins,” the offspring of Yishmael will raise the banner of Yichud Hashem (God’s Oneness), as their legacy from Avraham Avinu.
When taken in isolation, these words seem like an unqualified endorsement of Islam. Even more, they would seem to indicate R’ Avraham’s view that Islam is sanctioned by Hashem, Himself! However, this overly simplistic view ignores a comment that R’ Avraham made two pesukim earlier (ibid. 21:10):
The religious perfection that was promised to the offspring of Avraham would not include a partnership between the offspring of Yishmael and the offspring of Yitzchak, for [Yishmael] would not inherit a complete partnership with Yitzchak in terms of perfection. This is true, since the offspring of Yishmael would not be obligated in Torah, and even though they believed in it, they renounced it with claims of invalidation and emptied it with claims of modification and forgery. And even though they believe in the Oneness of the Creator, [their belief] in common with the offspring of Yaakov would only be during times of darkness for the offspring of Yitzchak. Therefore, Yishmael would not inherit perfection with Yitzchak.
R’ Avraham is referring here to the Islamic doctrine of Taḥrīf, by which the Muslims maintain that the Jews modified our Torah to remove references to Mohammad.
We see from here that Judaism’s stance on Islam is nuanced. Some of its features are good enough to be alluded to in Hashem’s promises to Avraham; other features are bad enough to remove Yishmael’s descendants from Avraham’s legacy of perfection. Likewise, the role that Islam will play in the unfolding of Hashem’s plan is unclear. Many Jews have been oppressed and killed at the hands of Muslims – and yet, it is impossible for us to see the big picture from our limited vantage point. Rambam expresses this truth in Hilchos Melachim u’Milchamos 11:4:
But the plans of the Creator of the Universe are not within the capacity of man to grasp, for our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. All these matters of Jesus of Nazareth and the Ishmaelite who arose after him – all of these have only straightened the path for the Melech ha'Moshiach (King Messiah), and prepared the world to serve Hashem together, as it is stated: "then I will transform all the peoples, that they all will call upon the name of Hashem and serve Him with one purpose" (Tzephania 3:9).
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