I Am Not Abraham’s Mistake
Pop theology about Arabs contradicts the gospel.

9/11 was a weird day for me. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and as soon as I heard that a plane had crashed into the first tower, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, Oh God, I hope it wasn't Arabs. I'm three-fourths Palestinian and at times have a distinctly Arab cast to me. My last name is Rishmawy. Admittedly it was a selfish thought, but I just didn't see that going well for me in high school. And I was right.

That afternoon in football practice, upon discovering that I was of Arab descent—a "Palestilian" according to one educated linguist on the team—a teammate of mine took it upon himself to spear me in the back. Twice. For those of you who've never played, that sort of thing hurts. Thankfully, my coach caught on quickly and put an end to that. Still, for the next few years I was lovingly called "dune-coon," "sand-n****r," "Taliban," "Osama," and so on by a good chunk of my teammates and friends. And yes, I do mean lovingly. It was wrong, and I don't really get it, but for some reason racial slurs were a way of bonding in the locker room. Still, it grated on me at times.

As frustrating and awkward as being an Arab high-schooler in post–9/11 America could be at times, given garden-variety prejudices, fears, and ignorance, none of those slurs frustrated me as much as what some of my well-meaning, evangelical brothers and sisters ignorantly implied: that I and my entire ethnic heritage were an unfortunate mistake—Abraham's mistake to be exact.

Anatomy of a mistake: Ishmael the Arab

The first time I was struck by that thought, I was working the front counter at a gym in college. At the time, plenty of the regulars knew I was a Christian and a number were Christians themselves, so we'd chat sometimes about faith, life, and the Bible. In one such front-counter chat, the subject of the end times and the Middle East conflict came up and my lovely, kindhearted brother said something to the effect of, "If it weren't for Abraham's mistake with Ishmael, this whole business could have been avoided." I'd like to say that was the only time I'd heard something in that vein, but it wasn't. In fact, you can hear the same thing implied at churches on Sundays, in Bible studies, and on second-rate Bible and prophecy blogs.

For those of you who don't get the "Ishmael" reference, he's mentioning Abraham's firstborn child by his concubine Hagar. Abraham and Sarah were getting impatient about God's promised child, the one through whom God would make Abraham a great nation, so they thought they'd help him out by having Abraham father a child through Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian hand-maid (Gen. 16). This caused family problems that led to Abraham, under some pressure from Sarah, sending Hagar and Ishmael away (Gen. 16–17; 21). It's another one of those wholesome, "family values" stories that makes Genesis so uplifting.

February 28, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 16 comments


March 07, 2013  1:47pm

I just want to add, if anyone is to blame for this I think that we should shift our eyes to the first two people that sinned in the Garden of Eden. Satan's temptations towards them is what caused them and us the pain and suffering that is in our world today but what has happened has happened and we can't take back the past. What I really liked that I saw was at the end of the article when you said "...as a Palestinian Christian, I am not Abraham's mistake; I am God's choice in Christ." You are completely correct. Don't let the world drag you down a path of unrighteousness because of what they say or do to you. We are going to have trials and temptations that come our way as a result of sin and there is nothing that we can do to prohibit them. What we can control is the way that we respond to them and how we present ourselves as vessels used for God's glory.

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Original Anna

March 06, 2013  9:51pm

Abraham didn't make the "mistake". Mohammed made it all up about Abraham being the father of all Arabs through Abraham's "bad" son and Mohammed lived about 600 years after Jesus lived. He couldn't write so he memorized the stories of the Jews and the Christian prophet when he decided he wanted to be a prophet like the Jewish prophets. The problem was he told the stories wrong and mispronounced words and unfortunately the listening Jews laughed at him. He took off in anger and took the stories of the Jews and the Christian "prophet" and put himself into the stories and called his stories the Koran. He dictated his stories to his "secretary". Abraham was the history of many Jews and Jesus' story was told by his disciples not by Jesus. The problem son of Abraham is not the problem or mistake. Mohammed and his lies and fake stories and saying Arabs are from Ishamel was made up by Mohammed and is the mistake. Through the centuries even the Christians picked up this lie probably for their survival among the Arabs. Mohammed became the "prophet" of the Arabs because he made up this religion to make the Arab tribes stop fighting eachother before they wiped each other out. The tribes around the area of Turkey asked him to do this and he did through his own military. Just because Mohammed says Arabs are from Ishamel doesn't make it so. It's a nice excuse to use to give authority to Mohammed's made up religion to get back at the laughing Jews. Now you know where the hate of the Jews comes from with the Muslims.

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Mandy Principato

March 06, 2013  12:50pm

Wow. I am so sorry all of this happened to you. However, as metionted before, God makes no mistakes. To say that God could make a mistake would be taking away from His deity. He knew Abraham'sfirst child would be Ishmael. This by no means took HIm for surprise. This story as an underlying tone of God using us inspite of us. God used Ishmael and gave Him a porpuse in life. Your story is a reminder to us all to. As the body of Christ we need one another. The arm can not say its more inmportant than the knee. We need both to function and we hhave proven stories in the Bible that show use God uses everyone. All you have to do it up the scriptures and read countless stories ofGod using people...some weren't Christinas, others were. God knew 9/11 would happen and has being using itever since. Within the first year, our country turned towards God, now we are a country turning away from God and even though we may not see it, God has a plan for it.

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Lori Hahn

March 05, 2013  7:32pm

excellent article!!

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March 05, 2013  3:48pm

I agree with the author's points however–and I know this is off topic a bit–I recall reading that the Palestinians are descended from the Philistines and the Philistines were not Semitic at all but were a sea-faring people unrelated to Abraham or Ishmael. Therefore they have nothing to do with a mistake or non-mistake of Abraham, anyway.

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March 05, 2013  3:05pm

I appreciate the heart with which this post was written. Every single person should be loved because God loves them. God has sovereignly determined the birth of each person on this planet and Christ died for each one. As a child born out of wedlock makes complications for a single mom, it does not mean that the child is or should be loved any less. That being said, it is important to acknowledge that real conflict has emerged from Abraham's choice. But perhaps the blame for conflict should be more fixed on Sarah. We have no record of there being any conflict between Abraham and Hagar. If Sarah had been more gracious it is conceivable that the family could have stayed together and we would have less conflict in that part of the world. So yes, if Abraham had patiently waited for God's plan than there is no doubt things would be different, but they also would have been different if Sarah would not have blamed Hagar for the result she suggested in the first place.

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charlie (from UK)

March 05, 2013  11:06am

Thank you Derek for airing this subject with such love. Thank you also Danny for your comments, which I was already thinking when I reaached the bottom of the list. Ishmael was born to Abram, whose name was later changed by God to Abraham. As names are so important in many cultures, we find it difficult to refer to Muslims as an Abrahamic faith. In Jordan some years ago when this discussion arose, I suggested that the Arab States should be helping the Palestinians in their need. The response was that 'Palestinians are not Arabs'! In following the command of Jesus to take the gospel to all nations, let us truly love Palestinians even when shuddering at Muslim treatment of non-Muslims.

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March 05, 2013  12:32am

Good article!!! I live in the Middle East & have thought long about this idea of Ishmael being the father of the arabs. The author fails to mention that Hagar was Egyptian, not Arab. When Ishmael married, Hagar found an Egyptian wife for him. Palestinians are also not Arab, they are the Philistines, and they were in the Israel area the same time as Abraham, maybe predating his arrival. Where this "father of the Arabs" idea comes from is hard for me to understand.

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March 03, 2013  11:04pm

John, based on sheer numbers in the world population, I would suspect most of the persecution of Christians today is still probably more at the hands of communists than Arab Muslims (consider the size of communist China), and many of the Christians suffering persecution from Arab Muslims are Arab Christians. I wonder if you realize that by far more Arabs in this country are Christians like Derek than Muslims?

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March 02, 2013  4:50pm

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing[a] on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance."

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