discussion of the story
despite disagreement on details, the main theme of this story which history had brought down to us, namely the emigration of ibrahim and isma'il to makkah, is backed by an almost complete consensus on the part of the historians. the differences center on whether, when hagar arrived with isma'il in the valley of makkah, the springs were already there and whether the tribe of jurhum had already occupied the place and had welcomed hagar when ibrahim brought her and her son to live in their midst. when isma'il grew up, he married a jurhum girl and had several sons from her. it was this mixture of hebrew, egyptian and arab blood that gave to isma'il's descendants resoluteness, courage, and all the virtues of the native arabs, the hebrews, and the egyptians combined. as for the detail regarding hagar's difficulty when she ran out of water and of her running to and fro between safa and marwah and the way, in which zamzam sprang forth, all these are subject to debate.
sir william muir, for instance, doubts the whole story of ibrahim and isma'il's trip to hijaz and denies it altogether. he claims that it is one of the israelitisms which the jews had invented long before islam in order to strike a link with the arabs by making them descendents of ibrahim, now father of all. since the jews regarded themselves as descendants of ishaq, they would become the cousins of the arabs and therefore entitled to arab hospitality if the arabs were declared the sons of ishaq's brother, namely isma'il. such a theme, if properly advocated, was probably thought to help establish jewish trade in the peninsula. in making this claim, muir assumed that the religious situation in arabia was far removed from the religion of abraham. the former was pagan whereas ibrahim was a hanif and a muslim. for our part, we do not think that this is sufficient reason to deny a historical truth. our evidence for the paganism of the arabs is centuries later than the arrival of ibrahim and isma'il to the scene. it cannot therefore constitute any proof that at the time of ibrahim's arrival to hijaz and his building of the ka'bah with his son isma'il that the arabs were pagan. neither would sir william's claims be corroborated had the religion of the arabs been pagan at the time. ibrahim's own people, whom he tried to bring forth to monotheism without success, were also idol worshipers. had ibrahim called the arabs to monotheism, as he did his own people earlier, and not succeeded, and the arabs remained idol worshipers, they would not have acquiesced to ibrahim's coming to makkah nor in his son's settlement there. rather, logic would here corroborate the report of history. ibrahim, the man who left `iraq to escape from his people and traveled to palestine and to egypt, was a man who knew how to travel and was familiar with desert crossing. the road between palestine and makkah was one trodden by the caravans for ages. there is, therefore, no reason to doubt a historical event which consensus has confirmed, at least in its general themes.
sir william muir and others who shared his view claim that it is possible that a number of the descendants of ibrahim and isma`il had moved to the arabian peninsula after they had settled in palestine and that the blood relationship had developed after their arrival to arabia. that is a fine opinion indeed! but if it is possible for the sons of ibrahim and isma'il to do such a thing, why should it not have been possible for the two men, ibrahim and isma'il personally, only a generation or two earlier? how can we deny a confirmed historical tradition? and how can we doubt an event which the qur'an, as well as a number of other old scriptures, has mentioned?