In the Abrahamic tradition, the Ishmaelites (Arabic: بني إسماعيل Bani Isma'il) were a tribal confederation of Iron Age Semitic-speaking tribes of the ancient Near East, which inhabited a part of the Arab world, through the Qedarites and Nabataeans.

The Kaaba and the Maqam Ibrahim, where the foot-prints of Ibrahim (Abraham) miraculously rested.

The term 'Ishmaelites' is used interchangeably with the Twelve princes of the prophet and patriarch Ishmael including the Qedarites and the Nabataeans. Although the terms Ishmaelites, Muslims, and Arabs are not similar in all instances, however all the early Muslims, including the Ten Promised Paradise were of the Ishmaelite ancestry. "Ishmaelites" (Bani Isma'il) refer to the people whom are described as the direct descendants of Ishmael, including converts of the Abrahamic faith of monotheism by Ishmael and his father Abraham, in ancient Mecca.

According to the religious narratives, the Ishmaelites' origin is traced back to the Islamic prophets and patriarch Abraham and his wife Hagar, through their son Ishmael and his twelve sons, The Islamic prophet Muhammad was an Ishmaelite, through his forefather Adnan, thus the major world religion Islam, traces its origins back to Abraham's first born son Ishmael, while the Jews and Christians traces back to his second son Isaac. The Ishmaelites are the ethnic stock from which modern Arabs and many of the Muslims originally trace their ancestry.


The term Ishmaelite is the English term for the descendants of the Islamic prophet and the Arab patriarch Ishmael in the ancient times. which was used to translate the Hebrew Biblical term Bnei Yishma'el and the Arab Bani Isma'il (meaning the "sons of Ishmael" or "children of Ishmael").

Traditional origins

Shrine and mosque of Qedar in Qeydar city
The Qedarite Kingdom of Ishmaelites, through his son Qedar.


The Islamic holy book Quran states "Allah has gifted all of Ismail, al-Yasa, Yunus and Lut a favor above the nations.
With some of their forefathers and their offspring and their brethren; and We chose them and guided them unto a straight path". (Quran 6:86)[1]

Hebrew Bible

According to the Book of Genesis, Abraham's first wife was named Sarah and her Egyptian slave was named Hagar. However Sarah could not conceive. In chapter 16 Sarah (then Sarai) gave her slave Hagar in marriage to Abraham, in order that Abraham might have an heir.

And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian...and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.[2]

Hagar conceived Ishmael from Abraham, and the Ishmaelites descend from him. After Abraham pleaded with God for Ishmael to live under his blessing, chapter 17 states:

But as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.[3]

Chapter 25 lists his sons as:

And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael
Nebaioth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam,
And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa,
Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah[4]

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, Genesis 25 would have been added during the Persian Period by the Priestly source, who attributed the known Ishmaelite (Shumu'ilu) Tribes as the names of the sons of Ishmael. However, the name and narrative of Ishmael found in other parts of Genesis would antedate this by centuries. The Hebrew Bible already contained the story of Ishmael, and it would later come across Ishmaelite Tribes, and they would invent names for Ishmael's sons, named after the various tribes in the Ishmaelite Confederacy[5]

Family of Ishmaelites
1. Nebajoth
2. Kedar
3. Adbeel
4. Mibsam
5. Mishma
6. Dumah
7. Massa
8. Hadar
9. Tema
10. Jetur
11. Naphish
12. Kedemah

Samaritan Asaṭīr

The Samaritan book Asaṭīr adds:[6]:262

And after the death of Abraham, Ishmael reigned twenty-seven years;
And all the children of Nebaot ruled for one year in the lifetime of Ishmael;
And for thirty years after his death from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates; and they built Mecca.[lower-alpha 1]

Josephus' Antiquities

Josephus also lists the sons and states that they "...inhabit the lands which are between Euphrates and the Red Sea, the name of which country is Nabathæa.)"[8]

Targum Onkelos

The Targum Onkelos annotates Genesis 25:16, describing the extent of their settlements: "And they dwelt from Hindekaia unto Chalutsa, which is by the side of Mizraim, from thy going up towards Arthur."[9]

Kebra Nagast

The 14th century Kebra Nagast says "And therefore the children of Ishmael became kings over Tereb, and over Kebet, and over Nôbâ, and Sôba, and Kuergue, and Kîfî, and Mâkâ, and Môrnâ, and Fînḳânâ, and ’Arsîbânâ, and Lîbâ, and Mase'a, for they were the seed of Shem."[10]

Islamic narrative

The Hijr Ismail associated with Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael) and their building of the Kaaba, which is now the Great Mosque of Mecca.

The Ishmaelite story begins when Abraham (Ibrahim) and Hagar (Hajar) marries for having a child, and the prophetic child was born, who was named Ishmael (Ismail) in the order of God (Allah) through one of his angel, and Sarah, the first wife of Abraham fell jealous after the birth of Ishmael in the love of Abraham, and God ordered Abraham to take his son Ishmael and wife Hagar to Mecca, he prayed for them after leaving them in the following words (interpretation of the meaning): 'O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in an uncultivatable valley by Your Sacred House (the Kaaba ('Cube') at Mecca) in order, O our Lord, that they may perform As-Ṣalāt. So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and (O Allah) provide them with fruits so that they may give thanks'[Qur'an, Ibraaheem 14:37][11]

Ishmael and his mother Hagar, suffered from the great thirst, Hagar ran between the hills of Safa and Marwah in search of water for his son. After the seventh run between the two hills, an angel appeared before him. He helped them and said that God heard Ishmael cry and would provide them with water, and Hagar stopped the water by the help of stones, The Prophet Muhammad said "May Allah forgive Hazrat Hajar if she don't stop the water, there was a great water fountain".

After a few time, a group of the people passed from there, and they saw the well and the wife of Abraham and his son sitting there, the group asked Hagar to have some of the water from the well, in which Hagar agreed, and an Arab tribe started there, Ishmael grew up there and learned Arabic from the tribe, Ishmael was waiting for his father, from many years.

When Abraham arrived Marwah, he find out that his son is alive, when young Ishmael saw his father a long time ago, he ran to him and both huge each other.

God decided to test Abraham again, and he saw a dream in which he was sacrificing his son Ishmael, he saw the dream for two nights, The prophet told his son about the dream and his son accepted the sacrifice both reached the Mount Arafat for the sacrifice. Abraham blindfold himself because he cannot see his son being squirm. he hold the knife but he heard a voice and he saw that the goat was sacrificed instead of his son Ishmael.

God then ordered Abraham to rebuilt the mosque for Ishmael's tribe, which was previously constructed by the first Islamic prophet Adam, both Abraham and his son Ishmael, started building the Kaaba, Abraham was building the mosque while his son was providing him the stones, when the mosque reached walls Ishmael bring the large stone for Abraham to built the roof, the stone called Maqam Ibrahim, The whole Kaaba was constructed but one side of stone was missing, Abraham sent his son in search of stone, to fill it.

When Ishmael leave, The angel Gabriel (Jibril) appeared with the beautiful white stone, the angel told Abraham that the stone which is called Al-Hajar-ul-Aswad belongs to the Jannah and Adam and Eve (Adam and Hawa), the first human beings. The stone is said to be white, but after the sins of the human beings it become black, Later Abraham and his son Ishmael completed the construction of Kaaba, They prayed to God for accepting their efforts, God was happy with them.

Later, three angels appeared on Abraham's house, and they reported Abraham that his first wife Sarah will also bore a prophetic child named Isaac (Ishaq), the descendants of Isaac through his son Jacob (Yaqub) form the great confederation and all of the prophets from Jacob to Jesus (Isa) were sent to the Israelites, while Job (Ayyub) and his son Dhu al-Kifl was sent to the nation of Edom, after the defiance of the Israelites, God sent his most righteous and last prophet of whole mankind Muhammad from the Ishmaelites, the greatest of all 124,000 prophets of God.

Historical records of the Ishmaelites

Assyrian and Babylonian royal inscriptions and North Arabian inscriptions from 9th to 6th century BC, mention the king of Qedar.[12][13][14][15] Of the names of the sons of Ishmael the names "Nabat, Kedar, Abdeel, Dumah, Massa, and Teman" were mentioned in the Assyrian royal inscriptions as Arabian tribes. Jesur was mentioned in Greek inscriptions in the First Century BC.[16] Assyrian and Babylonian Inscriptions have referred to the Ishmaelites as "Sumu'ilu" and Ernst Knauf had written that Yisma'el is a typical West Semitic Personal name found in texts from the 3rd Millennium BC to pre-Islamic Arabic in the First Half of the First Millennium CE. He argues that the North Arabian "Sama'il" would be rendered "Shumu'il" by Assyrians, and would have the same meaning as "Yisma'el" and hence the Shumu'ilu Tribes would be descended to an ancestor named Yisma'el, which is anglicized as Ishmael.[17] One of the Inscriptions mentioning the Ishmaelites is Sennacherib's Annals, in column vii line 96.[18]

The establishment of the Incense Trade Route, the Assyrian Empire’s Geopolitical Surge, and Near Eastern Economic Organization caused larger political entities such as powerful tribes and tribal confederacies to emerge in North Arabia. Knauf writes how growing Incense Demand brought increasing political and economic power to those who controlled the Arabian deserts, prompting camel-breeders of Northern Arabia to organize themselves into larger and more powerful tribes. The Ishmaelite Tribal Confederacy was clearly established by the 7th Century, as per documentary evidence, with the Tribe of Qedar at the political and cultic center. Assyrian Annals show increasing importance of Arab Tribes and how they treated them generally with fear and hostility. The coalition is portrayed with the tribes of Qedar, Nebaioth, Massa', Naphish, and possibly Mishma' (Names of Ishmael's alleged sons in the Priestly addition of Genesis 25, added in the Persian Period of the history of Judaism).[19]

The Qedar Tribe’s political center was Duma (Dumat Al-Jandal), which was also the cultic residence of the six deities of the “king of the Arabs” as John Travis Noble writes.[20] Tayma’s pantheon was quite different from that of Duma, which seems to be the capitol of the Ishmaelites, even though Tema appears as a son of Ishmael in Genesis 25. Noble then writes that it is unlikely that all 12 tribes associated with the sons of Ishmael were in the Ishmaelite Confederacy simultaneously, and tribes joined in one instance may not be a part of it in another instance, and they sometimes may have fought each other despite association with the wider Ishmaelite Confederacy. However, the term “Ishmaelites” or rather “Sumu'ilu” disappears from documentary sources as the Assyrian Empire Fell. However, the individual tribes and members kept going on, as there are references from the time Cyrus came to power of the kings living in tents, and that Southern Palestine and the surrounding areas were inhabited considerably by Arabs, having been entrenched there as early as the 6th century BC. According to Knauf, this expansion caused the tribes to decrease contact, and this caused the Ishmaelite Confederacy to End, not any military defeat.[21]

The Qedarite Kingdom continued long after the demise of the last native Babylonian king Nabonidus. The Qedarites would retain their political sway, and southern Palestine, Transjordan, and northwestern Arabia was controlled by a Qedarite Arab named Gusam ibn Sahr, called Geshem in the Biblical Book of Nehemiah, where he colludes with the Samaritans to prevent the building of the Second Temple. Persians would lose Hegemony over Egypt, Arabia, and Southern Jordan, and this caused the Tribe of Qedar to lose their dominance around 400 BC, soon after which the Nabataeans (Either a separate migrant tribe or a subset of Qedarites) would rise up, with their names appearing in the written records around 312 BC.[22] The Nabataean Kingdom emerged from the Qedarite kingdom because of the continuity in geography and language between the two tribes some two hundred and fifty years later.[23][24][25] Many Arabic tribes names of the time of Muhammad (and now) such as Asad, Madhhij, and the ancestor tribes of Muhammad: Ma'ad and Nizar[26] were found in the Namara inscription dated 325 AD in the Nabatean script.[27][28]

Genealogical trace of the ancestry of Arabs

Medieval Arab genealogists divided Arabs into three groups:

  • "Ancient Arabs", tribes that had vanished or been destroyed, such as ʿĀd and Thamud, often mentioned in the Qur'an as examples of God's power to destroy those who did not believe and follow their prophets and messengers.
  • "Pure Arabs" of South Arabia, descending from Qahtan son of Abir.[29] Some of the Qahtanites (Qahtanis) are said to have migrated from the land of Yemen following the destruction of the Ma'rib Dam (sadd Ma'rib).[30]
  • The "Arabized Arabs" (musta`ribah) of center and North Arabia, descending from Ishmael the elder son of Abraham through his descendant Adnan. Such as the ancient tribe of Hawazin, or the modern-day tribes of Otaibah and Anazzah.

Abu Ja'far al-Baqir (676–743 AD) wrote that his father Ali ibn Husayn informed him that prophet Muhammad had said: "The first whose tongue spoke in clear Arabic was Ishmael, when he was fourteen years old."[31] Hisham Ibn Muhammad al-Kalbi (737–819 AD) established a genealogical link between Ishmael and Muhammad using writings and the ancient oral traditions of the Arabs. His book, Jamharat al-Nasab ("The Abundance of Kinship"), seems to posit that the people known as 'Arabs' (of his time) were all descendants of Ishmael.[32] Ibn Kathir (1301–1373) writes, "All the Arabs of the Hijaz are descendants of Nebaioth and Qedar."[31] Medieval Jewish sources also usually identified Qedar with Arabs and Muslims.[33][34][d] According to author and scholar Irfan Shahîd, while Western scholars viewed this kind of "genealogical Ishmaelism" with suspicion, the concept can be supported for certain groups among the Arabs,

Genealogical Ishmaelism was viewed with suspicion as a late Islamic fabrication because of the confusion in Islamic times which made it such a capacious term as to include the inhabitants of the south as well as the north of the Arabian Peninsula. But short of this extravagance, the concept is much more modest in its denotation, and in the sober sources it applies only to certain groups among the Arabs of pre-Islamic times. Some important statements to this effect were made by Muhammad when he identified some Arabs as Ishmaelites and others as not.[35]

Ishmaelism in this more limited definition holds that Ishmael was both an important religious figure and eponymous ancestor for some of the Arabs of western Arabia.[35] Prominence is given in Arab genealogical accounts to the first two of Ishmael's twelve sons, Nebaioth (Arabic: نبيت, Nabīt) and Qedar (Arabic: قيدار, Qaydār), who are also prominently featured in the Genesis account.[35] It is likely that they and their tribes lived in northwestern Arabia and were historically the most important of the twelve Ishmaelite tribes.[35]

Muslims believe that the first person to speak Arabic clearly was Ishmael: "Isma’il grew up among the Jurhum an Arabic speaking tribe, learning the pure Arabic tongue from them. When grown up he successively married two ladies from the Jurhum tribe, the second wife being the daughter of Mudad ibn ‘Amr, leader of the Jurhum tribe."[36]

In accounts tracing the ancestry of Muhammad back to Ma'ad (and from there to Adam), Arab scholars alternate, with some citing the line as through Nebaioth, others Qedar.[37] Many Muslim scholars see Isaiah 42 (21:13-17) as predicting the coming of a servant of God who is associated with Qedar and interpret this as a reference to Muhammad.[38]

See also


  1. This text has been dated by Moses Gaster to the third century BCE,[6]:262 but A.D. Crown writes that its Aramaic resembles more the language used by the scholar Ab Hisda of Tyre in the 11th century.[7]:34


  1. Quran 6:86
  2. Genesis 16:3, King James Version
  3. Genesis 17:20, King James Version
  4. Genesis 25:13–15, King James Version
  5. Noble, John Travis. 2013. "Let Ishmael Live Before You!" Finding a Place for Hagar's Son in the Priestly Tradition. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
  6. Gaster, Moses (1927). "VIII". The Asatir: the Samaritan book of Moses. London: Royal Asiatic Society. OCLC 540827714.
  7. Crown, Alan David (1993). A companion to Samaritan studies. Tübingen: Mohr, J.C.B. ISBN 9783161456664. OCLC 611644250.
  8. Josephus, Titus Flavius. "ch. 12: Of Ishmael, Abraham's son; and of the Arabians posterity.". Antiquities of the Jews (in Ancient Greek). Book 1: From creation to the death of Isaac. OCLC 70357552.
  9. Onkelos. "Section V. Chaiyey Sarah". Targum Onkelos. (in Aramaic).
  10. "ch. 83: Concerning the King of the Ishmaelites". Kebra Nagast. (in Geez).
  11. IslamQA website: "Ibrahim (peace be upon him)" IslamQA retrieved June 22, 2013
  12. Delitzsche (1912). Assyriesche Lesestuche. Leipzig. OCLC 2008786.
  13. Montgomery (1934). Arabia and the Bible. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania. OCLC 639516.
  14. Winnet (1970). Ancient Records from North Arabia. pp. 51, 52. OCLC 79767. king of kedar (Qedarites) is named alternatively as king of Ishmaelites and king of Arabs in Assyrian Inscriptions
  15. Stetkevychc (2000). Muhammad and the Golden Bough. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253332087. Assyrian records document Ishmaelites as Qedarites and as Arabs
  16. Hamilton, Victor P. (1990). The book of Genesis ([Nachdr.] ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans. ISBN 0802823092.
  17. Noble, John Travis. 2013. "Let Ishmael Live Before You!" Finding a Place for Hagar's Son in the Priestly Tradition. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
  19. Noble, John Travis. 2013. "Let Ishmael Live Before You!" Finding a Place for Hagar's Son in the Priestly Tradition. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
  20. Knauf, Ismael, 1-5, 81-91.
  21. Noble, John Travis. 2013. "Let Ishmael Live Before You!" Finding a Place for Hagar's Son in the Priestly Tradition. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
  22. Noble, John Travis. 2013. "Let Ishmael Live Before You!" Finding a Place for Hagar's Son in the Priestly Tradition. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
  23. Ibrahim (1989). "Nabatean Origins". In Knauf (ed.). Arabian Studies in honour of Mahmud Gul. Journal of the American Oriental Society. Wiesbaden. ISSN 0003-0279.
  24. Marx, edited by Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, Michael (2010). The Qur'an in context historical and literary investigations into the Qur'anic milieu (PDF). Leiden: Brill. p. 211. ISBN 9789047430322. Archived from the original on 2015-10-02.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  25. "routes to Arabia" (PDF). p. 98. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-01-01. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  26. Ibn Ishaq; Guillaume (1955). The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Isḥāq's sīrat. London. p. 696. ISBN 0195778286. Nizar ancestor of Muhammad a descendent of Nebet son of Ishmael
  27. Shahid (1989). Byzantium and the Arabs in the 5th century. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks. p. 344. ISBN 0884021521. Ma'ad son of Adnan and Nizar the Ancestors of Muhammad are mentioned in Namara inscriptions of king of the Arabs Imru' al-Qays ibn 'Amr, an Adnanite and Nabataean according to Ibn Ishaq, dated to year 325 AD and written in the Nabataean script
  28. Ibn Ishaq; Guillaume (1955). The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Isḥāq's sīrat. London. p. 4. ISBN 0195778286. al-Nu'man of the kings of al-Hira was a survivor of the tribe of Qunus b. Ma'add. However, the rest of the Arabs assert that he belonged to the Lakhm of the Rabi'a b. NasrIshmael
  29. McClintock, John; Strong, James (1894). Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper.
  30. O'Leary, De Lacy Evans (2000) [1927]. Arabia Before Muhammad. London: Routledge. pp. 92–3. ISBN 0-415-24466-8.
  31. Wheeler, 2002, p. 110-111.
  32. ""Arabia" in Ancient History". Centre for Sinai. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
  33. Alexander, 1847, p. 67.
  34. Alfonso, 2007, p. 137, note 36.
  35. Shahîd, 1989, p. 335-336.
  36. Ali, Mohar. "The Ka'abah And The Abrahamic Tradition". Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  37. al-Mousawi in Boudreau et al., 1998, p. 219.
  38. Zepp, Ira G. A Muslim Primer: Beginner's Guide to Islam. Vol. 1. University of Arkansas Press, 2000, 50
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