I am not Abraham’s Mistake

Derek Rishmawy explains how popular evangelical theology about Ishmael contradicts the Gospel. Arabs are not the result of Abraham’s mistake.

9/11 was a weird day for me. I was a sophomore in high school at the time and I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “Oh God, I hope it wasn’t Arabs,” as soon as I heard that a plane had been crashed into the first tower. I’m 3/4 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-nigger,” “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.

Illustration by Seth T. Hahne, www.derekzrishmawy.com
Illustration by Seth T. Hahne, www.derekzrishmawy.com

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, “Yeah, 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. The story goes… (read more)

Read the rest of this article that originally appeared here at Christ and Pop Culture when it was a part of The Gospel Coalition blog.

About Derek Rishmawy

Derek Rishmawy is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, where he wrangles college kids for the gospel. (Think non-ordained college pastor). He is the blessed husband of a lovely lady named McKenna. He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UCI and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at APU. He loves Jesus and more importantly Jesus loves Him. Throw in too many theological tomes, coffee, craft beer, loud music, a beard, and a picture (not necessarily a pretty one) starts to emerge. You can go read his stuff at the Reformedish blog, derekzrishmawy.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @DZRishmawy and on Facebook (Facebook.com/derek.rishmawy).