Son of Abraham and Hagar (Gen. 16: 15), brought into the covenant (Gen. 17: 25) but in a lesser role than Isaac (Gen. 17: 19). He is to be the ancestor of a great nation (Gen. 21: 18) but life for him will be harsh (Gen. 16: 12). His descendants were related to the Edomites (Gen. 28: 9), since Esau was said to be the ancestor of the people of Edom (Gen. 36: 1).

The traders who bought the patriarch Joseph from his brothers (Gen. 37: 25–8) were called Ishmaelites in one source; another (possibly the E source) calls them Midianites (Gen. 37: 28).

It is part of Muslim belief that adherents of Islam are descended from Ishmael.