|The Sacrifice Of Abraham: Isaac or Ishmael?|
|Written by mquran.org|
|Monday, 20 November 2006|
It is well known to Muslims, Christians and Jews that Abraham(P) was ordered to sacrifice his son and he was willing to do so but God gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead of his cherished progeny. So far, everybody agrees. However, Jews and Christians say that the sacrificed was Isaac(P) -"Abraham's only son", whereas according to the Islamic tradition the sacrificed is Ishmael(P). The opposition between the two versions has not bothered any side that much because in the common mind "what we think is certainly right and those who think differently are necessarily wrong". Recently, we came across an article by some people claiming that according to the Islamic sources themselves the sacrificed was Isaac(P) (i.e., the Judeo-Christian version of the story). In the following article, the reader will get the fruits of our research about this matter.
The most relevant passage in the Qur'ân is from verse 37:99 to verse 37:109, a passage including two different glad tidings brought to Abraham(P). Here under, we quote the verses concerning the sacrificed:
A Strange Logic
The first argument put forward by those who support the Isaac-theory is that, in the Qur'ân, the name associated to glad tidings is Isaac(P) while Ishmael's(P) name was never associated to good news or glad tidings. They quote verse 37:112
and verse 51:28
Some points have to be made clear in this concern:
Conclusion: The sacrificed is Ishmael(P) according to the opponent's own logic.
Further scrutiny requires that we quote the full passage in surah 37:
It is very obvious that, in this passage, there are two distinct good news, the first one about a forbearing son (the one to be sacrificed) and the second one about Isaac(P). Thus, the sacrificed cannot be Isaac(P) at least not according to the Qur'ân. But, once again, the opponent avoided (willingly?) to quote the full passage and this is frequently their way of doing things. Moreover, those who support that the two news are actually the same show their incompetence with the Qur'ânic style. Such a repetition cannot be imagined nor accepted by anyone who studied the Qur'ân, God's Final Book.
The Opinion Of Ibn Kathîr
The above scan is the exegesis of verse 37:101 "So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son". Here is the translation of the above passage:
In a nutshell, the great Qur'ânic commentator Ibn Kathîr adds to our first three arguments two new ones: according to the Bible, the sacrificed is said to be Abraham's(P) only son (or his firstborn in some versions), which cannot fit Isaac(P); according to the Qur'ân, the good news of Isaac(P) said that he would have a progeny and consequently God cannot order Abraham(P) to sacrifice Isaac(P) before the promise is fulfilled. Again, according to the Qur'ân, the sacrificed cannot be Isaac.
The Opinion of cUlûm al-Hadîth
As a matter of fact, there was a debate between Muslim scholars whether the sacrificed was Isaac(P) or Ishmael(P). But the critical study of the reports allows us to drive safe conclusions. Here is the opinion of a scholar of the Science of Hadîth:
The Opinion Of Judeo-Christian Scholars & Islamic Viewpoint
The Encyclopaedia Judaica says:
The testimony of the former Jew as mentioned hadîth literature as quoted in the Encyclopaedia Judaica reads:
The Oxford Companion To The Bible echoes the same position as the Encyclopaedia Judaica.
It is quite clear from the statement of Judeo-Christian scholars what the Muslim position is about the person who was sacrificed by Abraham(P).
Further Evidence From Hadîth Literature
The following says:
There is another report according to which the Prophet(P) is believed to have said: "I am the son of the two Sacrificed". The authenticity of this report is very controversial so we will not use it as evidence especially when the above report is correct enough and suffices to our study.
According to the Qur'ân, the sacrificed cannot be Isaac(P). According to authentic Islamic tradition, the sacrificed is Ishmael(P). The Muslim scholars have solved this case a long time ago and, very early in the history of Islam, the popular Islamic tradition has integrated the fact that Ishmael(P) was the sacrificed.
Concerning the claim of 'world-renowned commentary of Yusuf Ali', any Muslim with a basic knowledge of Qur'ânic commentary would have a good laugh. The 'commentary' in the translation of the Qur'ân by Yusuf cAlî is just about good enough to be qualified as 'footnotes'. And of course, the commentary on the Qur'ân contains much more than these footnotes. Secondly, the statement
is a rather foolish and reflects colossal ignorance on the part of the critic who has no idea about how the Qur'ânic exegesis is carried out.
Let some people study the Qur'ân thoroughly before calling upon ghosts that will frighten nobody but themselves. Indeed, the Biblical version of the story: "sacrifice your only son, Isaac" or "sacrifice your firstborn son, Isaac" is an enigma they must live with.
Praise be to Allah that guided us to Islam and gave us in the Qur'ân healing and guidance.
 Abul-Fidâ' Ismâcîl Ibn Kathîr ad-Dimishqî, Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, Available online (requires an Arabic enabled browser).
 Dr. Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Abû Shahbah (Professor of Qur'ânic Sciences and Hadîth at al-Azhar and Umm al-Qurâ Universities), Al-Isrâ'iliyyât wal Mawdû'ât fî Kutub at-Tafsîr, Maktabat as-Sunnah (4th edition) - 1408AH/1988, p. 254.
 Op. cit., p. 257.
 Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 9, Encyclopaedia Judaica Jerusalem, pp. 82 (Under 'Ishmael').
 Abû al-Fadl Shihâb-uddîn al-Alûsî, Ruh al-Macâni fi Tafsîr al-Qur'ân al-'Adhîm wassab' al-Mathâni, Part 23, p. 135.
 Bruce M Metzger & Michael D Coogan (Ed.), Oxford Companion To The Bible, 1993, Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York, pp. 329 (Under 'Ishmael').
 Dr. Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Abû Shahbah, Op. cit., p. 259-260.
Muhammad Ghoniem & M S M Saifullah
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