Muhammad Abdus Samad makes a comparative study of Qur’ānic and Biblical versions of the Sacrifice offered by Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) and concludes that Abraham in fact sacrificed his son Ishmael, and not Isaac as maintained in the Old Testament.
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham as stated in the Old Testament is fabricated, concocted and ill-motivated. The Bible states that once God tested Abraham and commanded him to sacrifice his only son Isaac to Him: “God told: Take your only son Isaac who you love so much and go to the land of Moriah and offer him as sacrifice to me.” (Genesis 22:1-2). Taking a knife and Isaac with him, Abraham went to the land (Moriah) wherein he bound Isaac and placed on the altar for sacrifice. Then God said to Abraham: “Now I know that you fear God.” Abraham looked around and saw a ram caught in the bush by its horns. (Genesis: 22: 3-13). It appears from the episode that Isaac was not aware of his sacrifice in advance nor did he consent his father to sacrifice himself. Hence Abraham bound him so as to sacrifice him. Moreover, it seems to be insignificant among Jews as they do nothing to mark Isaac’s sacrifice in the world.
Was Isaac really the only son of Abraham? Was he really sacrificed by Abraham? Today man lives in an age of mental liberation. Hence he does not blindly support nor subscribe to a belief whether dictated or inherited without proof. Let us make an honest enquiry into the episode about the sacrifice of Isaac as stated in the Bible so as to know who was really the only son of Abraham? And who was really sacrificed by Abraham?
It is known from the Bible that when Abraham was 86 years old, Hagar, his first wife gave birth to a son named Ishmael. And when Abraham was a hundred years old, Sarah, his second wife, bore him a son named Isaac. The Bible states: “Hagar bore Abraham a son and he named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old at that time. (Genesis: 16:15) Sarah bore Abraham a son and he named him Isaac. Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born. When Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded.” (Genesis: 21:1-5)
It clearly appears from the Bible that Ishmael, the Abraham’s first-born was fourteen years older than Isaac, the Abraham’s second -born. There was a 14 years gap between the birth of Ishmael and the birth of Isaac. During this period of gap, Abraham did have no son save and except Ishmael. And it clearly proves that during 14 years gap, Ishmael was the only son of Abraham. So the only son whom Abraham sacrificed to God was none other than Ishmael and it happened during the very 14 years gap.
Muslim traditions say that Ishmael, the first-born of Abraham was sacrificed to Allah by his father Abraham. The Qur’ān states: “O my son! I have seen in a dream that I offer thee in sacrifice. Now see what is thy view? The son said: “O father! Do as thou art commanded (by Allah), thou will find me, if Allah so wills, one of the steadfast. So when they had submitted, he (Abraham) had laid him (Ishmael) prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice. When Abraham lifted the sword, We (Allah) called out to him: “O Abraham! Thou hast fulfilled the dream. For this was a clear trial. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.” (The Qur’ān – 37:102-105)
It appears that Ishmael knew in advance that his father had wanted to sacrifice him as Allah commanded it; hence Ishmael demanded his father to accomplish it. Abraham did so. When Abraham materialised the dream, he saw near them a ram lying on the ground signifying that Ishmael’s sacrifice was substituted by a ram.
Apart from the Qur’ān, the Gospel according to Barnabas also succinctly deals with the sacrifice of Ishmael: “Then spake God, saying to Abraham: “Take thy first-born Ishmael and come up the mountain to sacrifice him.” How is Isaac first-born, if when Isaac was born, Ishmael was seven years old? (Gospel of Barnabas 44:3, 99:2, 13:4).
It is again seen in the Bible that besides his two wives – Hagar and Sarah, Abraham had in latter period married another woman named Keturah who bore for him six sons. Afterward Abraham died at the ripe old age of a one hundred and seventy-five years and was buried by Isaac and Ishmael in Machpelah Cave (Genesis 25:1-9).
It is the matter of grave regret that even if Ishmael was really sacrificed to God, still a large section of Israelites (Jews) denies and rejects it. Instead, they try to establish the sacrifice of Isaac fraudulently in the Bible. There is an ill- motive and conspiracy behind it. Ishmael and Isaac are two legitimate sons of Abraham but what was the religious position conferred to them not told in the Bible. Conversely, the Qur’ān tells that the two brothers were to be renowned prophets of Allah (The Qur’ān – 19:49,54).
Ishmael and Isaac gave rise to two notable lineages in the world. The lineage descending from Ishmael is known as Ishmaelites and Prophet Muhammad ﷺ belongs to this lineage. Conversely the lineage descending from Isaac is known as Israelites (Jews) and many earliest prophets like Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus came from this lineage. But Israelites evermore oppose and reject Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his mission. They do not like to give credit of sacrifice to Ishmael as Prophet Muhammad ﷺ belongs to Ishmaelites. They assume that if they admit the Ishmael’s sacrifice, it would mean for them accepting and recognising the superiority of Ishmael over Isaac in one hand and the prophethood granted to prophet Muhammad ﷺ who belongs to Ishmaelites on the other.
As such the Israelites evermore try to nullify and repudiate the sacrifice of Ishmael. To this end, they invented and contrived the story of Isaac’s sacrifice and included it in the Bible. Even to establish the superiority of Isaac, the Israelites have tried to debase and belittle Ishmael by calling him “Wild-donkey” in the Bible. (Genesis 16:1-2, 21:17) Why he is called the wild-donkey is not known from the Bible whereas he, like Isaac is also the legitimate son of Abraham. (Genesis 16:15)
Someone would however reason that Ishmael’s mother Hagar was an Egyptian slave; hence Ishmael was called the Wild-donkey. It does not hold good here as the Children of Israel were also once slaves under Pharaoh in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 5:6)
Islam makes no distinction between man and man on the basis of rich and poor, free and slave. What Allah loves is one’s faith (Iman) and action (Aml) whatever his lineage, colour, riches and nationality. It is known from the Qur’ān that many facts and true teachings as revealed by Allah earlier were distorted, adulterated and transmuted by the enemy of religion to fulfil their some vested interests. The Qur’ān states: “Woe be unto those who write the Books with their hands and say: “This is from Allah.”(2:79). Lo! There is a party of them who distort the Scripture (Torah) with their tongues and say: “This is from Allah” whereas it is not from Allah; they speak a lie concerning Allah.”(3:78, 5:66)
[The writer is a retired Associate Professor]