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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

Two Women, One Man - Feudin', a-Fussin' and a-Fightin'
December 18, 1999


Season's Greetings and Happy New Millennium. I'm Nancy Hummel, Abeja's mom. Her dad John and I have been with the Trekkers for two weeks in Egypt and now in Israel. You should meet these Trekkers! They're cool.

Egypt is without a doubt the most exotic place I've ever visited. Most of the people we met are extroverts and very friendly to Americans. We were certainly curiosities there, especially with the children. "Welcome to Egypt. Where are you from? What's your name? How old are you? May I take your picture?" At the Giza Sphinx a young mother ran up to Abeja and thrust her baby in Abeja's arms so she could take a picture of her holding the baby.

But in both Egypt and Israel we saw young uniformed soldiers and police usually carrying Uzis. This sight adds a little tension to the air. Those Uzis might be modern, but the hostility they display had its seeds in the Book of Genesis and has been growing off and on ever since. Do you know the story of the patriarch Abraham? Abraham is considered a prophet for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. But, I'm learning here, the story changes depending on who's telling it. And that's where this four-millennia-old feud begins!

According to Genesis, first book in the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Torah, Abram was married to Sarah, who did not have any children. Sarah had an Egyptian slave-girl named Hagar, whom she gave to Abram as a wife. Sarah told Abram, "The Lord has kept me from having children. Go in to my slave-girl. Maybe I shall obtain children by her." When Hagar found she was going to have a baby, she looked with contempt on her barren mistress. Trouble! In retribution, Sarah ended up being so mean to Hagar that she ran away.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar by a spring in the wilderness. He told her, "Return to your mistress and submit to her." He promised her that the Lord would multiply her offspring so much that they could not be counted. (Hey, that sounds like Cairo today!) The angel continued, " Now you have conceived and shall bear a son, Ishmael. He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin." So Hagar went back to eighty-six-year-old Abram and had his first child, a son named Ishmael. God still came to Abram and made a covenant (a solemn and binding agreement or contract) with him. God would give Sarah a son named Isaac, who would be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. God then changed Abram's name to Abraham, which means "ancestor of a multitude." God would also bless Ishmael and make him the father of a great nation. But God made an "everlasting covenant" with Abraham for Isaac's offspring.

In return, God required Abraham to circumcise all males as a sign of the covenant between them. So when Ishmael was thirteen and Abraham was ninety-nine, they, the male slaves, and all the men in the household were circumcised. (That must have been a sick, sick household for a few days!) The Lord appeared to Abraham again. As Abraham sat outside his tent, three men appeared standing near him. He offered them food, rest, and water to wash their feet. While a feast was being prepared for them, one man said, "Your wife Sarah shall have a son." Sarah, standing inside the tent entrance, heard it and laughed skeptically, for she was quite old. But within a year, when Abraham was a hundred years old, Sarah had a baby, Isaac.

Well, Sarah was still jealous of Hagar and Ishmael. She nagged Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son. He shall not inherit along with my son Isaac!" So Abraham sent Hagar into the wilderness of Beersheba with only bread, a skin of water, and Ishmael. When the water ran out, Hagar put Ishmael under a bush and went a bowshot's distance away to sit and cry so that she would not have to watch him die. But God heard the boy's voice. An angel came and told her, "Lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him." Then she saw a well and filled the skin and gave Ishmael a drink. So Ishmael grew up in the wilderness and became expert with the bow.

I've learned from my Muslim friends here and in Michigan that the version of the Covenant between God and Abraham, found in their holy book the Koran, differs in important ways from the Biblical story. According to them, Abraham left Sarah for a time in order to study abroad in Egypt. While away from home, he met and married Hagar. Remember that in the time of the Patriarchs, men could have more than one wife, and in Islam, they are still permitted up to four wives today. As Abraham's first-born son, Ishmael is the son through whom the Covenant was to be fulfilled.

Also, do you know the story of God's asking Abraham to sacrifice his son? At the last moment, Abraham was prevented from killing his son and sacrificed a ram caught in the bushes instead. In the Bible, Isaac was the son who was to be sacrificed. In the Koran, it was Ishmael. Also in the Koran, Hagar's well became a watering place for travelers. Soon a small village formed there, which became Saudi Arabia. So this is the beginning of two Semitic peoples. Isaac fathered the Jews. Ishmael fathered the Arabs. And the ancient feud between two women still goes on.

Nancy, Abeja's mom

Abeja - You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too: Monument to a Lost War
Abeja - Where the Heck are We, Really?
Christine - Flee to Egypt, and Stay There Until I Tell You
Jasmine - A Life of Love
Jasmine - Promises of the Promised Land
Kavitha - The Miracle of Oil
Team - A Global Holiday
Team - Exercise Your Right and Write

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