Middle Eastern Mythologies
The Arabs and Islam
Is there an Islamic mythology?
Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a living religion, so many Muslims, Christians, and Jews object to the term “myth” in relation to stories sacred to their religions. However, if we use the word simply to refer to stories that are beyond ordinary human experience, stories that people outside of the religions in question do not take literally, we may reasonably speak of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic myths.
With relatively minor variations, Muslims adhere to the Genesis creation and flood stories. Yahweh is Allah, Satan is Iblis, Adam is Adam, Eve is Haiwa. Noah is Nuh. Moses, as Musa, is important as the revealer of the Torah, itself recognized as a sacred text. The New Testament is important, too, as it contains the story of Isa (Jesus), the penultimate prophet, who was born miraculously of Maryam (Mary).
The story of Abraham (Ibrahim) is particularly essential to Muslims. Islam means “Obedience” or “Submission” to the will of Allah. In his submission to God’s command that he sacrifice his son, Ibrahim was, in a sense, the first Muslim. In the Islamic tradition it is usually Ismail (Ishmael), rather than Iaaac, who is set up for sacrifice. As the willing victim he is the symbol of the perfect Muslim child, and Muhammad is said by some to have descended from him.
As the son of Abraham by the slave Hagar, Ismail was Abraham’s firstborn. According to the Islamic story, Ibrahim felt guilty when, at Sarah’s bidding after she gave birth to Isaac (Ishak), he expelled Hagar and Ismail. He went in search of the pair and found them at the well of Zamzam in the place now called Mecca. It was the water of this well, opened for them by the angel Jibril (Gabriel) that had saved their lives in the desert. With Ismail, Abraham built the Kabah.