God really loves Arabs!
Muslims are found in hundreds of ethnic groups around the world. Possibly three quarters of the world’s Muslims are not from an Arabic background. However, Mohammed’s ancient Arab cultural practices, lifestyle and background have profoundly influenced Islam. Knowing that Islam has such deep roots in Arabia it would be good for all Christians to understand that God really loves Arabs. The Bible is a major source of Arab genealogies. We know that there are at least three types of Middle-Eastern Arabs: the Joktanites, the Ishmaelites and the Keturahites.
The Descendants of Joktan
Many Arabs see themselves as descendants of Joktan. The Arabs call him Kahtan. One of the very famous tribes descending from Joktan was Sheba whose descendants founded the kingdom of the Sabeans in Yemen. The Arabs call the famous queen of Sheba by the name Bilquis. Her visit to Jerusalem during king Solomon’s reign is an example of how God’s people had an influence on Arabia even in Old Testament times. Solomon writes one of the so called “Messianic Psalms” (Psalm 72) partly with Sheba in mind (see verses 10 and 15). Jesus speaks very positively concerning the Queen of Sheba (Matthew. 12:42). It would appear that at least some of the Semitic tribes worshipped the God of Shem even if they did not know him fully.
God made promises to Abraham concerning Ishmael that he would bless him exceedingly (Genesis 17:18-27). God’s covenant to bless all the nations did not come through Ishmael but rather through Isaac, however, God did not forget Ishmael. His descendants are included in God’s promise to bless all the nations (all ethnic groups around the world) through the seed of Abraham (See Genesis 12:1-3; 18:18; 22:18; 24:4; and 28:14). This promised blessing was eventually fulfilled in Jesus.
It is remarkable that Ishmael’s name is a revelation concerning God’s person and character. His name means “God hears”. God clearly heard the distress of Hagar when she called out for help in the desert (Genesis 16:1-16). It was God who designated the name. The name Ishmael is an everlasting testimony of God’s concern for the weak, the afflicted and those who are unjustly treated.
The descendants of Ishmael seem to have settled predominately in northern Arabia. One of Ishmael’s twelve sons named Nabajoth (Nebaioth) fathered (See below) the tribe which eventually became the head of the Nabatean kingdom. The kingdom’s famous capital, Petra, is in present day Jordan. Muslims believe that Mohammed was descended from Nabajoth.
The Descendants of Abraham through Keturah
After Sarah’s death Abraham took another wife (or concubine) named Keturah (Genesis 25:1-3). Abraham had six other sons through Keturah after the birth of Isaac (Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah). All of Keturah’s sons eventually became the heads of Arab tribes. Later Moses married Zipporah the daughter of Jethro the priest of Midian, (Exodus 2:16-22). Jethro recognized the true God and even gave Moses good advice which apparently pleased the Lord (Exodus 18). Certainly the Midianites had some revelation of God through their father Abraham. Some members of the tribe also strongly opposed Israel.
As historians have observed, Arab tribes and clans were involved in idolatry for many centuries. In a similar way Jews were also involved in idolatry, which is why God gave them scriptures and prophets to bring them back to repentance. Mohammed (570 – 632 AD) eventually sought to turn the Arabs from their idolatry to worship the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus even though he did not have a full revelation of God. Mohammed’s understanding of God and efforts to turn away from idolatry has resulted in present day Islam.
Jesus for Arabs
Millions of Arabs around the world identify themselves as followers of Jesus (Isa al-Masih). Many meet quietly in homes and business throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Many other belong to the ancient churches of the Middle East in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.
Isaiah the prophet speaks of a time when the glory of the Lord will be manifested among all Arabs (Isaiah 60:1-7).
We also find encouragement to believe God for the salvation of a multitude of Arabs from the story of Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost some of those who were filled with the Spirit of God spoke of the mighty deeds of God in Arabic (see Acts 2:11). The praises of God were proclaimed in Arabic before they were ever proclaimed in English, French, German or Spanish! Arabs can also be blessed with Abraham through Christ. Pray along these lines today and ask for revelation of the love God has for Arab peoples.
Recommended reading: “Understanding the Arab World” by Louis Bahjat Hamada