The role playing game Dragon Age: Inquisition won Game of the Year for 2014, which no doubt increased the Dragon Age franchise’s already large fan base. At its base is a typical good vs evil theme, and good morals as well as faith are included, but it is also incredibly relativistic at its core. This is very typical fare for games these days. After all, it’s more about having the largest customer base and making the most money possible. The game even has romance in it (of all sorts)—a major draw for a segment of the fan base.
Should Christians Play Dragon Age: Inquisition? is my review of the game, but there seems to be something in the game that is not relativistic, something that finds Bioware (the game’s developer) out on a little limb, that I’d like to explore here. And this something is what the demon Imshael can be seen to represent: Islam.
Who is Imshael?
But who is Imshael in the game? He’s a powerful demon who fools many into thinking he’s just a human, and seduces them into taking the deadly and corrupt “Red Lyrium;” one dying Templar says Imshael is the gardener of Red Lyrium. In-game, plain Lyrium is a dangerous “living” mineral which is refined and used as a drug by Chantry Templars in order to resist and dispel magic. Red Lyrium is far more dangerous, containing the demonic “blight” (per the character Bianca), or “darkspawn taint.” Suffice it to say that it’s demonic. It conveys greater powers than regular Lyrium, so one can imagine why many regular Templars were easily swayed into trying it; those who did so make up the corrupt Red Templar order.
Following the quest “Call me Imshael,” you meet Imshael at Suledin Keep, a fortress in the midst of many Red Lyrium mines. According to the dragonage.wikia page, the quest name refers to a famous line in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” where the character says, “Call me Ishmael.” Since Imshael has no apparent resemblance to the Moby Dick character, why did the game writers use this reference? I’m guessing it’s a roundabout way to link Imshael to the scriptural Ishmael. In the Old Testament, Ishmael is the first son of Abram, born of his wife’s slave. Abram, later renamed Abraham by God, in his old age has the son God promised him, Isaac, through his wife; Muslims have turned the story on its head, claiming Ishmael is the heir of promise (and the land of Israel), instead of Isaac.
Imshael is referred to as a “desire demon,” though he spins that, calling himself a “choice spirit” (turns out he is one of the four ancient demons, The Forbidden Ones, who revealed blood magic to the world). In good Satanic fashion, he spins all that he says in order to create doubt and lubricate sin’s entry. When you first encounter him he’s in human form and greets you by implying you’re a murderer, not a hero; he tells you your friends worry him because of how violent they are. Again implying that you’re the one causing bloodshed and he’s the more moral and level-headed one, he says: “True to my name, I will show you that you have a choice. It doesn’t always have to end in blood.” In reality, the choice he offers is to either take a bribe or be stupid and try to defeat him (a true murderer who is killing all kinds of miners as well as Templars). But the choice of bribes he offers is telling: power, riches (wealth), or virgins (that is, sex). If you accept power or riches, you get some things—nothing great—from Imshael and he leaves. If you want to be “showered with virgins,” Imshael reneges on his offer, saying everyone chooses that but that he can never find any. He gives you a Superb Corrupting Rune instead, which is the whole point of the affair. There are references throughout the game to Red Lyrium being corrupting. The taking of any bribe will result in the death of the virtuous knight Michel by Imshael.
Either way, afterwards you encounter a dying Templar who tells you more of Imshael. He tells you that Imshael was the gardener of those who chose—chose him or denied him after taking Red Lyrium. Knowing its affects, the person who had taken Red Lyrium could choose what Imshael had to offer and have him reverse the affects, or you could reject Imshael and be left to die. The soldier said that what Imshael asked you to accept was worse than death, but did not specify what that was before he died.
The Ishmael of the Old Testament and Islam
Ishmael is the son born to Abram and his wife’s slave, Hagar. Abram’s wife, Sarai, had never conceived and so finally gave Hagar to Abram in order to have a child. It was customary in those days to do this, with any resulting children of such a slave considered to be the owning family’s offspring. But as you can see from the names—Abram instead of Abraham and Sarai instead of Sarah—God hadn’t made the covenant with Abram yet. God told Abram earlier that he’d have a child, that through him he’d have innumerable descendants, and that these descendants would inherit a huge swath of land subsequent to a 400 year period of slavery (Genesis 15).
Abram and Sarai had gotten very old and no such child ever came, however, so they took God’s promise into their own hands. The result was Ishmael, born to an 86 year old Abram. Of Ishmael, God told Hagar: “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:12 NIV).
Thirteen years later, when Abram was 99, God visited Abram and made the everlasting covenant with him. God promised to make kings and nations of Abram’s descendants. He changed Abram’s and Sarai’s names at this time, and He told them that their part in the covenant was to circumcise all males. Sarai, now named Sarah, was to have a son, and that son was to be called Isaac. Of Isaac, God said “I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” God continued, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year” (Genesis 17:19b-22; see also Genesis 18:1-15).
Isaac was born just as God said he would be, bringing delight to Sarah, as told in Genesis 21:1-6. At this time Ishmael would’ve been about 14, and when Isaac was weaned, about 16. Ishmael acted mockingly toward Isaac during the weaning celebration, so Sarah asked that Ishmael and his mother be sent away. Abraham apparently loved his first son, as this was a very distressful idea to him. However, God approved of the separation, since Isaac was the son of promise whom Abraham’s descendants would be reckoned, and not the first-born Ishmael. God reiterated that Ishmael would still be blessed, but God’s prescribed work in the world was to be clear; Ishmael (through Abram and Sarai’s actions) represents man’s impatience, unbelief, and attempts to do God’s work on one’s own.
So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael from them. While walking the desert, Hagar ran out of water and thought she and her son would die. God intervened, reminded Hagar of His words, and showed them water. They lived in the Desert of Paran, an area in the Sinai Peninsula. The text implies that they stayed and lived there after Hagar obtained a wife for Ishmael from Egypt, her home country.
Many Arabs, who are of course Muslim, claim that they are descended from Ishmael. This is in no way proven, and seems to be even doubtful. Even so, that view is widely held and has its own related Muslim holiday (Eid al-Adha). I had heard pastors say the same—that Arabs were Ishmael’s descendants—so I always thought it was true until I researched it more for this article; Muhammad, however, didn’t even claim to be descended from Ishmael. That it is widely believed, however, is why Ishmael can be used to represent Islam. Contemporary Islam claims that Jewish scripture is wrong (rewritten, altered, etc., which is not in the least substantiated) in claiming that Isaac was God’s heir of promise, and that instead Ishmael was the son of God’s covenant, giving his descendants the divine right to the land God promised Israel.
Imshael/Ishmael as representative of Islam
It’s a very strong thing to claim that the deceptive (corrupting) and powerful demon Imshael is a reflection of Islam. Using Ishmael, however, Muslims claim that God’s word as given to His nation, Israel, is false. This in itself is a very serious claim which will have very serious consequences. Through Islam, many have come to believe that the ancient words of God are false. What bigger deception and corruption can there be? And in a game that alludes to Catholicism through the Chantry, its Templars, and more, have such an allusion to Islam wouldn’t seem out of place.
The in-game Imshael asks your character to make a choice between seductive gifts that he claims he can give you. The first two are old and obvious temptations that lead people away from God: power and wealth (the New Testament, especially, is filled admonitions to not covet or abuse power and wealth, to not seek them but seek God in faith, and to be humble and serve, but you’d think that homosexuality and abortion are the only sins against God in our society today). Jesus Himself, just prior to beginning his ministry, was tempted by Satan to accept his gift of all the world’s nations (power) and their splendor (wealth). Satan is, after all, the Prince of the World (John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11). But Jesus told Satan to leave and that “You must worship the Lord your God, and you must serve Him only” (Matthew 4:8-10).
The most obvious allusion to Islam through Imshael is the offer to shower your character with virgins. Of course, any person desiring holiness would not consider desiring or obtaining a bunch of virgins for sex as anything from a sinless God. Yet Islam promises virgins to those men who happen to make it into Allah’s paradise (Sura 50:70, 72, 74); instead of viewing earthly desires as unnecessary and unwanted in a holy heaven, Islam promotes them. The number of virgins is not given in the Koran, but further details regarding the Suras instead come from a commentary (Tafsir) by Ibn Kathir (died 1373 CE): “The Prophet Muhammad was heard saying: ‘The smallest reward for the people of paradise is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine, and ruby . . . ‘. “ Sounds like a lot of power, sex, and wealth, huh? But there’s more. That same commentator tells us that Mohammad is going to be married to Mary, Jesus’ mother (amongst some other choice women, the whole of which evokes a conqueror taking the women of the conquered), in paradise.
What else can be said?
After that last bit . . . well, after all of that, it’s hard to think of something to conclude with. However, it seems likely that the writers “meant something” by using the name “Imshael” and alluding to the name “Ishmael” in a game that also alludes to Catholicism. In one online game-related forum, someone opined that the name was “just a joke,” but left the meaning or point of the joke unanswered. Jokes have meaning, of course, so what of Imshael’s? That he can’t keep his promise of virgins? Then the joke is on anyone who believed him.
Did you know that “Suledin,” where you meet Imshael, rearranged is “sin led u”?
 A later “Ishmael” in the Old Testament plots against Gedaliah, a wise, peaceful, and well-liked Jewish ruler who united the area people after Babylon became ruler of the land. Ishmael, though a Jew of nobility, sides with the nation’s enemies, the Ammonites. He kills Gedaliah and others, dumps their bodies, and then flees to Ammon (Jeremiah 40:13-16; 40:41:1-18; 2 Kings 25:25).
 http://www.answering-islam.org/Index/index.html entry for “houris,” which is “virgin.” For more detail, including bizarre claims of eternal erections, see also http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/mary.htm.