In our day it is increasingly important to find common ground on which people from a variety of religious traditions can communicate. This is a particularly urgent concern in light of the current tensions between Christianity and Islam. It is often a struggle to find a common language and terminology between the two religions, but many scholars believe that the common ground can be found through Mary, who is loved and venerated within both religions, although many aspects of devotion to Mary in Islam do not parallel the way she is venerated within Christianity.
There are currently about one billion professed Muslims in the world who adhere to the teachings and ritual observances set forth in their sacred book, the Koran, and elucidated by their prophet, Muhammad. They refer to God as Allah and reject the Christian understanding of the Trinity.
Islam was founded on the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century and is based on the revelations of Allah to Muhammad. The Prophet Muhammad taught that Islam was the final religion, building upon and perfecting the teachings of the prophets who went before: Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
This common story begins to diverge when Abraham becomes the father of two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. One of the most heartbreaking and beautiful stories in the Jewish and Christian tradition is the story of Abraham, who (according to the Old Testament) was told to sacrifice his son Isaac, whom he dearly loved. In the Old Testament account, Abraham and Isaac travel to Moriah for the sacrifice.
Isaac carries wood on his back and notes with some concern that they've got the wood, they've got the fire, but “where is the lamb for the offering?” You can almost hear Abraham sigh when he replies, “God himself will provide a lamb.” In the end, God does just as Abraham has promised, but not in the way that Abraham had imagined — he prevents Abraham from killing Isaac and he provides a ram caught in a nearby thicket instead.
The Koran does not explicitly state which son was to be sacrificed, but according to most Islamic commentators, it is Ishmael, Abraham's son by Hagar, who is chosen for the sacrifice. Just as Abraham lowers the dagger to sacrifice Ishmael, the dagger turns to wax in his hand, and God prevents the sacrifice. Like the Old Testament account, God provides a ram in Ishmael's stead.
According to Islamic belief, Ishmael went on to become “the Father of all Arabs,” the first Prophet to preach and write of the one true God, and the first to practice his prayers in a worthy manner. Ishmael's prominent status within Islam is especially interesting because the Old Testament account doesn't offer too many details about what ultimately happened to Ishmael after he and Hagar were sent away.
What ultimately happened to Ishmael?
According to Genesis 21:18 when Sarah mistreats Hagar and Hagar departs for the first time, God tells Hagar that Ishmael will be the father of a great nation. When Abraham dies, Ishmael returns and reports that he has become the father of twelve sons who reside east and north of Egypt. This geographical location is in presentday Saudi Arabia.
While most countries have a significant Muslim presence, many of the countries of Western Europe have been experiencing particularly rapid growth in their Muslim populations. Muslims make up a majority of the population of the Middle East, North Africa, and Indonesia. Because of the increasingly large Muslim population worldwide, it is helpful to have at least a working understanding of this global religion.