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The Footprints of Abraham

In my forthcoming book, Muslim Mechanics, I discuss Abraham as the progenitor of the three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Depending on your source, Abraham dates from 1750 B.C. to 2200 B.C., approximately 4,000 years ago. His recognition of one God during this period was unique as it was more common to worship and recognize multiple deities. Christians and Jews recognize Abraham from the book of Genesis in the Old Testament or the Pentateuch. Muslims have a unique relationship with Abraham as the Prophet Muhammad claimed to be a direct descendant of his lineage.

According to the Bible (Genesis 21), Abraham sires his first male child, named Ishmael, with an enslaved woman named Hagar. After he begets his second son, Isaac, with his wife, Sarah, he sends Ishmael and Hagar into the desert so that Ishmael will have no claim on Isaac's inheritance. We know Hagar and Ishmael survive with divine intervention, and Ishmael later marries an Egyptian woman having 12 sons of his own. Later, in the Bible, we see the reunion of Ishmael and Isaac at Abraham's burial in Hebron (Genesis 25). At this point, Biblical scriptures and Islamic traditions separate with different stories.

According to the story passed down by the Prophet Muhammad, Abraham accompanied Hagar and Ishmael through the wilderness to Mecca, in current Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, writings from the Jews in Judea do not support that legend, but documents from the Samaritans in Israel provide geographical support for that journey.

Islamic tradition holds that Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca and then returned to Canaan after leaving them in this uninhabited region of Arabia. He later returned when Ishmael was older to build the Kaaba. The Kaaba is the house of God that Allah directly commanded Abraham to build with Ishmael's help. The Qur'an mentions Abraham's connection with this site in both 2:125 and 22:78.

The Footprints

Yes, there are actual footprints, or at least a semblance, attributed to Abraham. Scroll down and look at the pictures. Several stories go with the impressions, so I will try to do justice to them all. First, if you look at them, you immediately conclude that they are not the prints of human feet. There are no toe impressions, nor is the ball of the foot is not visible. Sandals or slippers may have made them, but not the feet themselves.

It is said that during the construction of the upper level of the Kaaba, Abraham stood upon an extensive stone rock which was moved along with him as each area was finished. The height of the Kaaba is 50 feet, so he needed some lift to help him reach the upper limits. One tradition suggests that when Abraham stood on the platform, it miraculously rose to allow him to reach the upper parts of the Kaaba. It would also miraculously lower to enable Ishmael to hand him stones. Another story is that Abraham would stand on the rock and lift his son, Ishmael, on his shoulders to place stones in high places. Abraham also stood on the stone to preach to his workers about the one true God. Consequently, by God's grace, the stone softened, and thus imprints of his feet were engraved on the stone as a reminder to his descendants.


The stone in which the footprints are cast is 16 inches square and 8 inches high. The depth of the footprints in the rock is about 4 inches. Some religious scholars (ulema) have made some forensic calls as to possibilities about Abraham's height. First, the foot size is about a men's size 16. The top of the door of the Kaaba is 18 feet. The height of the Kaaba is 50 feet. Thus, some scholars believe that Abraham was a big man, perhaps 10 to 20 feet tall. Remember, Abraham's existence was 4,000 years ago, and even the Bible refers to "giants" back in those days (Genesis 6). Goliath, from the days of King David, 3,000 years ago, was estimated at 6 feet, 9 inches.

Maqam Ibrahim

The stone with the footprints can be found inside a small brass structure about 46 feet from the doorway to the Kaaba. This structure is called the Maqam Ibrahim or the Station of Abraham. Verse 2:125 from the Qur'an says, "Take the spot where Abraham stood as your place of prayer." It is common for those pilgrims performing the Hajj or just on pilgrimage to pray near the spot where Abraham's footprints are.

Jesus' Footprints

Jesus also left footprints. There are two places where a pilgrim can go to see Jesus' footprints.

First, Jesus left a set of footprints at the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives. Legend has it that these footprints originate from when Jesus ascended to Heaven after his Resurrection. A stone slab in the chapel is called Ascension Rock, and it is said to contain the right footprint of Christ. The section bearing the left imprint was taken to the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Dome of the Rock.

The second set of footprints allegedly belonging to Jesus can be found in Italy of all places. According to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, Saint Peter was fleeing from his persecutors in Rome around the year 64 A.D. along the Appian Way outside the city. Jesus appeared to Peter who asked him, "Lord, where are you going?" Christ replied, "I am going to Rome to be crucified again." Peter gained the courage to return to Rome and accept his crucifixion upside down.

Tradition holds that on this site of Jesus' appearance to Peter, the Church of Saint Mary in Palmis was erected. At the center of the church is a marble block containing the impression of Jesus' feet he left after His appearance to Peter. The church's official name alludes to the relic, as palmis refers to the soles of Jesus' feet. The marble slab you see today in the church is a replica of the original housed in a nearby basilica.

Credit for all three images goes to Wikipedia Commons.

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