Many people ask two questions, "When and how did Islam begin and where did Islam originate?" Although Islam is not mentioned directly in the Bible, there is recorded in the Bible an outline of the Arabic people as the Children of Abraham who inhabited the “eastern country”. The history of the Muslim peoples, therefore, begins with the prophet Abraham and his descendants through Ishmael, his firstborn son.
Abraham's first born son by Hagar the Egyptian was Ishmael. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Genesis 16:15, RSV. “And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”
Abraham was given a special promise that the descendants of Ishmael would start and become a great nation. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Genesis 17:20, RSV. “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”
His name (Ishmael) was given by God through the angel, and stands as a perpetual reminder of God's mercy. Ishmael means “God hears” - and understands, and will respond in your times of need. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Genesis 16:7-11, RSV. “The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, "Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?" She said, "I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai." The angel of the Lord said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit to her." The angel of the Lord also said to her, "I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude." And the angel of the Lord said to her, "Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ishmael; because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.”
Again when Hagar and Ishmael were moving to Arabia the angel appeared to her. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Genesis 21:17-21, RSV. “And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation." Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; [northern Arabia] and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”
When Did Islam Begin?
Although the Bible doesn't specifically say when Islam began, let's explore the following. The descendants of Ishmael and the other sons of Abraham through Keturah were given the eastern country and are referred to as the children or people of the east. They are the progenitors of the Arabs. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, traces the starting of his lineage back to Ishmael through his first born son, Nabaioth. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Genesis 25:6,12-18, RSV. “But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country." "These are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's maid, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the first-born of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.
Where did Islam Originate
These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. (These are the years of the life of Ishmael, a hundred and thirty-seven years; he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his kindred.) They dwelt from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria; he settled over against all his people.” The areas noted here in verse 18 are located in Central and Northern Arabia.
There is evidence of a spiritual partnership between the sons of Abraham through Isaac (the Jews) and the sons of Abraham through Ishmael (the Arabs and the prophet of Islam, Muhammad). Ishmael and Isaac together buried their father Abraham. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Genesis 25:7-10, RSV. “These are the days of the years of Abraham's life, a hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife.”
Ishmaelites (the descendants of Ishmael had become traders in spices) rescue Joseph (a son of Jacob, son of Isaac). It's in the Bible, the Torah, Genesis 37:25 & 28, RSV. “Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt… and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.”
This rescuing of Joseph by the Ishmaelites and taking him to Egypt was part of God's plan. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Genesis 45:5-7, RSV. “So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, I pray you." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”
Jethro (a Midianite, Arab, one of the “eastern” children of Abraham, provides refuge for Moses who is escaping for his life from Egypt. Jethro has kept alive the worship of the One true God and therefore teaches Moses, since the knowledge of God among the Hebrew people in Egypt was nearly lost, and Moses had received most of his training in the pagan religions of Egypt in the court of Pharaoh. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Exodus 2:15,16, 21; 3:1, RSV. “But Moses fled from Pharaoh, and stayed in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well. Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock” “And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah.” “Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”
Job, an eastern man - an Arab - endures suffering, provides an example of patient submission to God and gives a picture of the great controversy between God and Satan. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Job 1:1-2;10, NEB. “There lived in the land of Uz a man of blameless and upright life named Job, who feared God and set his face against wrongdoing. He had seven sons and three daughters; and he owned seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred asses, with a large number of slaves. Thus Job was the greatest man in all the East. Now his sons used to foregather and give, each in turn, a feast in his own house; and they used to send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. Then, when a round of feasts was finished, Job sent for his children and sanctified them, rising early in the morning and sacrificing a whole-offering for each of them; for he thought that they might somehow have sinned against God and committed blasphemy in their hearts. This he always did. The day came when the members of the court of heaven took their places in the presence of the Lord, and Satan was there among them. The Lord asked him where he had been. "Ranging over the earth," he said, "from end to end." Then the Lord asked Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job?" You will find no one like him on earth, a man of blameless and upright life, who fears God and sets his face against wrongdoing." Satan answered the Lord, "Has not Job good reason to be God-fearing? Have you not hedged him round on every side with your protection, him and his family and all his possessions? Whatever he does you have blessed, and his herds have increased beyond measure. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and then he will curse you to your face." Then the Lord said to Satan, "So be it. All that he has is in your hands; only Job himself you must not touch." And Satan left the Lord's presence. When the day came that Job's sons and daughters were eating and drinking in the eldest brother's house, a messenger came running to Job and said, "The oxen were ploughing and the asses were grazing near them, when the Sabaeans swooped down and carried them off, after putting the herdsmen to the sword; and I am the only one to escape and tell the tale." While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived and said, "God's fire flashed from heaven. It struck the sheep and the shepherds and burnt them up; and I am the only one to escape and tell the tale." While he was still speaking, another arrived and said, “The Chaldaeans, three bands of them, have made a raid on the camels and carried them off, after putting the drivers to the sword; and I am the only one to escape and tell the tale." While this man was speaking, yet another arrived and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking in the eldest brother's house, when suddenly a whirlwind swept across from the desert and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and killed them; and I am the only one to escape and tell the tale." At this Job stood up and rent his cloak; then he shaved his head and fell prostrate on the ground, saying: "Naked I came from the womb, naked I shall return whence I came. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed by the name of the Lord. Throughout all this Job did not sin; he did not charge God with unreason. Once again the day came when the members of the court of heaven took their places in the presence of the Lord, and Satan was there among them. The Lord asked him where he had been. "Ranging over the earth," he said, "from end to end." Then the Lord asked Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job?” You will find no one like him on earth, a man of blameless and upright life, who fears God and sets his face against wrongdoing. You incited me to ruin him without a cause, but his integrity is still unshaken." Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! There is nothing the man will grudge to save himself. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and see if he will not curse you to your face." The Lord said to Satan, “So be it. He is in your hands; but spare his life." And Satan left the Lord's presence and he smote Job with running sores from head to foot, so that he took a piece of a broken pot to scratch himself as he sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, ‘Are you still unshaken in your integrity? Curse God and die!' But he answered, ‘You talk as any wicked fool of a woman might talk. If we accept good from God, shall we not accept evil?' Throughout all this, Job did not utter one sinful word.”
Caleb gives an example of courage and partners with Joshua in leading the Hebrews into the Promised Land. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Numbers 13:30,31; 14:6-10, RSV. “But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘"Let us go up at once, and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it.' Then the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger then we.' … And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, rent their clothes, and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, ‘The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land, which flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.' But all the congregation said to stone them with stones.”
Rechabites, eastern people, of the same lineage as Caleb, are commended as an example of steadfast faith by the prophet Jeremiah at a time when there was little evidence of faith among the Hebrew people. It's in the Bible, the Torah, Jeremiah 35:14,18,19, RSV. “The command which Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons to drink no wine has been kept; and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father's command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me… . But to the house of the Rechabites Jeremiah said, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because you have obeyed the command of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done all that he commanded you, therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me.'”
Wise men, from the east (from Persia), brought gifts to the infant Jesus. It's in the Bible, the Injil, Matthew 2:1,2,9-12, RSV. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.' … When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”