Ismail (Arabic إِسْمَاعِيْل), also known as Ishmael in Christianity and Judaism, is one of the Prophets sent by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to this world to guide mankind. It is believed that Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى  sent around 124,000 Prophets in ancient times, starting with Prophet Adam عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and ending with Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. However, only 25 of them are mentioned in the Quran by name. Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام is one them. His name appears along with other Prophets around 12 times in the Quran.

Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is known for various historic events. He, alongside his mother, was the first habitant of the Holy City of Mecca. The holy well of Zamzam was created by the Will of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى  through the infant Ismail when he was in dire need of water for his survival. Similarly, one of the basic rituals of Hajj, Sai (running between the hills of Safa and Marwa), is also related to the desperate effort of the mother of young Ismail while searching for water for her son. Above all, he was involved in the historic event of sacrifice by his father, Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. He is also known as the founder of Ka’aba, along with his father, Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ.

Family Background and Birth of Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ

Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was born in present day Palestine. Ismail was a son of the Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. His mother’s name appears as Hagar or Hajar, also mentioned as Hajira. She was the second wife of Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. His brother Ishaq, or Isaac, was also a Prophet. So, he belongs to a family of Prophets. He was the successor to Prophet Lut عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, whereas Prophet Ishaq was his successor.

The first wife of Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is known as Sarah. She was sterile, hence Prophet Ibrahim remained without a child for a long time. Knowing this fact, Sarah requested her husband to marry her servant Hajar. Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ accepted her request. Ismail was then born to Hajar. The age of Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ at this stage was around 86 years. It is also mentioned in the 39th verse of Surah Ibrahim:

Translation

All praise be to God who bestowed on me Ishmael and Isaac in old age. Verily my Lord listens to prayer.

Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and His Mother at Mecca

Sometimes after the birth of Ismail, Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, with the Command of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى asked his wife Hajar to get ready for a long travel. Ismail was just an infant at this stage. Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ traveled with both of them and reached a barren land, which was without water, fruits or trees. He left both of them in this remote and barren place and returned to his hometown. His wife Hajar asked why he was leaving them alone there. The Prophet told her that it is the Will of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.

While leaving them, the Prophet gave them a water skin and some food items, which were sufficient for only a few days. Soon, the food and water stock were exhausted. The infant Ismail needed water, but there was nothing for them in this barren valley. Hajar was quite worried about this situation. She desperately ran up the nearby hills, now known as the hills of Safa and Marwa. She ran up and down these hills seven times to see if something was available for them. But she couldn’t find anything. The Almighty Allah so liked this act of Hajar that it was made a compulsory part of Hajj, after the inception of Islam. This ritual is known as Sai. It is mentioned in the 158th verse of Surah Al-Baqarah:

Translation

Truly Safa and Marwa are the symbols of God. Whoever goes on pilgrimage to the House (of God), or on a holy visit, is not guilty of wrong if he walk around them; and he who does good of his own accord will find appreciation with God who knows everything.

Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and the Well of Zamzam

When Hajar came back to her son without any success in finding water for him, the infant Ismail was in dire need of water and was scratching his heels on the earth. Suddenly, with the Will and Command of Allah Almighty, a fountain of water broke out at that particular place where the infant Ismail was scratching his heels.

Hajar managed to make a dam-like structure to gather the water flowing out from the earth. She also filled her water skin from this fountain. This is also mentioned in the Hadith 3362 and 3363 of Sahih Al-Bukhari in Book 60:

Translation

Narrated Ibn `Abbas: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “May Allah bestow His Mercy on the mother of Ishmael! Had she not hastened (to fill her water-skin with water from the Zamzam well). Zamzam would have been a stream flowing on the surface of the earth.” Ibn `Abbas further added, “(The Prophet) Abraham brought Ishmael and his mother (to Mecca) and she was suckling Ishmael and she had a water-skin with her.’

Drinking the Zamzam water is also one of the rituals of Hajj. It is considered as the most sacred water on the earth.

Settlement Starts at Mecca

The Zamzam water provided good fortune for Hajar and her son Ismail. After some time, a group of people passed by this place and saw flying birds. They came here and found that a fountain of water was flowing. They requested Hajar to allow them to live here. She allowed them. It is believed that they belonged to the tribe of Jurhum, which eventually emerged as the Quraysh tribe of Mecca.

This way, the Prophet Ismail and his mother became the founders of the holy city of Mecca.

Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام and Construction of Ka’aba

Years passed and infant Ismail grew a young man. Meanwhile, his father Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ came back with the Will of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to construct the House, Ka’aba. He told his son Ismail that Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى has entrusted a big task of construction of the House of the God, Baitullah, also known as Ka’aba. He asked his son to help him accomplish this huge task. Prophet Ismail immediately agreed to help him.

They gathered stones and started the construction. Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ used to bring stones and Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ do the construction work. Soon, the walls rose to a height where it was difficult for Prophet Ibrahimعَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ  to place more stones over them. Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ  then brought a big stone and placed it near the walls so that his father would stand on it to complete the construction work. This stone is known as Maqam-e-Ibrahim and is placed near the walls of the present-day Ka’aba.

While the son and the father were helping each other build the House of God, they used to ask Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى  to accept their efforts. This is narrated in the 127th verse of Surah Al-Baqarah:

Translation

And when Abraham was raising the plinth of the House with Ishmael, (he prayed): “Accept this from us, O Lord, for You hear and know everything;

Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and the Historic Event of Sacrifice

Another important event in the life of the Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is the historic act of sacrifice. His father had consistent dreams where he was slaying his beloved son Ismail. Being a Prophet, he soon realized that it was a message from Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to offer sacrifice in His way. He shared this dream with his beloved son Ismail. Ismail agreed to offer himself for sacrifice and asked his father to do as Commanded by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.

This historic event is mentioned in the Quran in Surah As-Saffat in verses 100-107:

Translation

  1. (And he prayed:) “O Lord, grant me a righteous son.”
  2. So We gave him the good news of a clement son.
  3. When he was old enough to go about with him, he said: “O my son, I dreamt that I was sacrificing you. Consider, what you think?” He replied: “Father, do as you are commanded. If God pleases you will find me firm.”
  4. When they submitted to the will of God, and (Abraham) laid (his son) down prostrate on his temple,
  5. We called out: “O Abraham,
  6. You have fulfilled your dream.” Thus do We reward the good.
  7. That was indeed a trying test.
  8. So We ransomed him for a great sacrifice

This act of both the Prophet Ibrahim and his son, Prophet Ismail, was so liked by the Almighty that it was made compulsory for Muslims to slaughter sacrificial animals on Eid Al-Adha. It is also a compulsory part of the Hajj.

Ismail in the Quran as a Prophet

Prophet Ismail has been praised in the Quran as a man of good deeds, having patience, and being in a righteous way. There are quite a few verses in the Quran about the Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ.

Verse 85 of Surah Hud:

Translation – (Remember) Ishmael, Edris and Dhu’l-Kifl. They were men of fortitude,

Verse 48 of Surah Sad:

Translation – And remember Ishmael, Elisha and Dhu’l-Kifl. Every one of them is among the best.

Verses 54 and 55 of Surah Maryam:

Translation

Commemorate Ishmael in the Book. He was true of his promise, and a messenger, a prophet.

He enjoined on his household worship and zakat, and he was obedient to his Lord.

Death of Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ

There is no mention of the age and death of Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ in the Quran. Per the traditions, he lived for around 130 years and died in Mecca. It is believed that he was buried alongside his mother, Hajar, near the walls of the Ka’aba. However, there is no concrete evidence about his burial place.

Important Events From the Life of Prophet Ismail عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ

  • He was born to Hajar, the second wife of Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ.
  • He along with his mother was left alone in a far off place currently known as Mecca, which was a barren valley at that time. Ismail was just an infant at that time.
  • A significant event happened during their stay at that barren place: the emergence of the Zamzam well, which has been flowing since then and is considered to be the most sacred water on earth. This fountain erupted on the place where infant Ismail was scratching his heels in desperate need of water. Before that, his mother ran up the hills of Safa and Marwa in desperation to find water. She did it seven times in a row. This act was so liked by Allah that it was made a compulsory part of Hajj. The Pilgrims repeat this act by running between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times.
  • He built the House of God, Ka’aba, along with his father, Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ.
  • He offered himself to be slaughtered by his father, Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, to fulfill the Command of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى Muslims, all over the world slaughter sacrificial animals in commemoration of this historic act of sacrifice.