Who was Offered for Sacrifice – Ishmael or Isaac?
Ibraheem`alayhissalaam’s son who was offered for sacrifice and whose sacrifice was accepted without being killed was very special in terms of Allah’s promise of blessings on him and his descendents as well as in terms of honour and closeness to Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. This special honour for the son and his descendents has created two differing claims as to the identity of the son who was offered for sacrifice.
The Muslims believe that the son whom Ibraheem`alayhissalaam offered for sacrifice was Isma’el`alayhissalaam, while the Jewish traditions claim that it was Is-haaq `alayhissalaam.
As the sequence of events has demonstrated in the Festival of Sacrifice article, the Holy Qur-aan makes it abundantly clear that the son who was offered for sacrifice was the first-born, Isma’el (Ishmael)`alayhissalaam. The second son, Is-haaq (Isaac)`alayhissalaam, was born miraculously as a reward for the acceptance of the sacrifice from Ibraheem and Isma’el`alayhimussalaam.
In addition to the clear context and the sequence of the story, the Holy Qur-aan gives more clues in this regard. For example:
1. An outstanding quality mentioned for Isma’el`alayhissalaam in the Holy Qur-aan is that he was true to his promise, because he willingly presented himself for sacrifice and promised to be patient and steadfast. He was true to his word and willingly lay down to be slaughtered.
And mention Isma’el in the book, he surely was true to his promise and was a messenger prophet. (Maryam 19:54)
2. The son who was offered for sacrifice was born in answer to prayers (Isma’el) and his outstanding quality was forbearance (Hilm) and patience (Sabr) as indicated in the verses quoted in the Festival of Sacrifice article as well as the following:
And Isma’el, Idrees and Dzul-kifl, all of them were from those who practice patience and steadfastness (saabireen). (Al-Anbiyaa 21:85)
The son who was given because Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala was happy with Ibraheem `alayhissalaam’s submission and who brought happiness to Sarah was Is-haaq (derived from laughter) whose outstanding quality was knowledge:
And they (angels) gave him (Ibraheem) the good news of a knowledgeable son. (Adz-Dzaariyaat 51:28)
None of the distinguishing attributes of the son offered for sacrifice have been attributed to Is-haaq `alayhissalaam as his special qualities either in the Qur-aan or in the Bible. The Holy Qur-aan attributes them as distinguishing qualities only to Isma’el `alayhissalaam.
3. After concluding the story of Ibraheem `alayhissalaam with verse 112, the Holy Qur-aan makes a concluding statement for both sons of Ibraheem`alayhissalaam. In doing so, it mentions the son who was offered for sacrifice without name and then mentions Is-haaq separately by name — both being blessed by Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala:
And We blessed him (the one presented for sacrifice and mentioned in the verses (101-107) as well as Is-haaq, and from descendents of both, there are good and there are those who are clearly unjust to themselves. (As-Saafaat 37:113)
One may ask why the Holy Qur-aan has not clearly mentioned Isma’el`alayhissalaam’s name? The style of the Holy Qur-aan is that it does not mention anything that is clear from the text and is well known in the society. From the text and the order of the verses the fact was evident that the son who was offered for sacrifice was the first born and that the second son was born only after the sacrifice episode. Similarly, in Arabian society, the presentation of Isma’el `alayhissalaam for sacrifice was well known and accepted. So much so that every year without fail Arabs used to present sacrifices in remembrance of Isma’el’s sacrifice. Hence to mention something that obvious was against the concise style of the Qur-aan. Had it not been Isma’el, the first born who was given in answer to prayers, then the name would have definitely been mentioned. No mention of the name is evidence in itself that it was Isma’el`alayhissalaam.
Unfortunately, to discredit Arabs and the Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu `alayhi wa sallam, the Jews manipulated their books and tried to hide the facts mentioned in the Bible about Ibraheem `alayhissalaam’s activities in Makkah, conceal his association with Holy Ka’bah, and Marwah and tried to attribute sacrifice and other good things about Isma’el to Is-haaq. The Holy Qur-aan has repeatedly pointed out their efforts in obfuscating and concealing the facts and encouraged to reform their behaviour. For example:
After giving a detailed account of the achievements of Ibraheem and Isma’el i`alayhimussalaam including their construction of the Holy Ka’bah, the Qur-aan says:
And who is more unjust than he who conceals a testimony that he has from Allah? And Allah is not at all unaware of what you do. (Al-Baqarah 2:140)
After mentioning Qiblah, it says:
Those whom We have given the Book recognize it as they recognize their sons, but some of them most surely conceal the truth while they know (it). (Al-Baqarah 2:146)
After mentioning Safaa and Marwah, it says:
Surely those who conceal the clear proofs and the guidance that We revealed after We made it clear in the Book for people, it is they whom Allah shall curse, and those who curse shall curse them (too). Except those who repent and amend and make manifest (the truth), it is they to whom I turn (mercifully); and I am the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful. (Al-Baqarah 2:159-160)
After mentioning the truth about Holy Ka’bah, Makkah and the Hajj, it says:
Say: O people with the Book! Why do you disbelieve in the revelations of Allah, while Allah is witness on what you do? Say: O people with the Book! Why do you hinder a believer from the way of Allah, seeking to make it crooked, while you are witnesses (to its truth)? And Allah is not unaware of what you are doing. (Aali-‘Imraan 3:96-99)
When many Jews and Christians became Muslims, some of them brought their knowledge and impressions about the previous Biblical personalities along with them and starting spreading those ideas among Muslims as well. When that kind of information started circulating among Muslims, it created confusions in the minds of some Muslims as well.
However, the Judaeo-Christian efforts to conceal the truth have not succeeded very well. A little careful study exposes what has transpired. Their manipulations of the text of their books have created many inconsistencies and improprieties. For example, they claim that the son who was offered for sacrifice was Is-haaq (Isaac). They base their claim on the following verse of the Bible:
“And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Genesis 22:2)
But, there is a slight problem with this statement in the Bible. According to the Bible itself when Isaac`alayhissalaam was born, Ibraheem `alayhissalaam already had a 14-year-old son, Isma’el `alayhissalaam. So, if the son who was offered for sacrifice was ‘the only son’, it cannot be Isaac because Isaac was never an only son even for one day. It has to be Isma’el who was ‘the only son’ for 14 years.
To this argument, their response is: ‘the only son’ actually means ‘the only son from his own wife’, ‘the only blessed son’, etc. Unfortunately, all of these explanations are fabricated because the words of the Bible ‘the only son’ do not include any of the qualifiers these people want to attach with the phrase. In addition, the Bible itself negates all of these claims. According to the Bible, Isma’el was Ibraheem `alayhissalaam’s, legitimate, beloved and blessed son as per the following examples:
“And Sarah Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.” (Genesis 16:3)
“And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.” (An Nahl 16:15)
In the same day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. (Al Israa’ 17:26)
In fact, Isma’el was Ibraheem’s `alayhissalaam most beloved son. When Ibraheem`alayhissalaam was given the good news that he would father Is-haaq, instead of being excited about the second son, the bible records that Ibraheem`alayhissalaam responded immediately with a prayer for Isma’el `alayhissalaam:
“And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Genesis 17:19) (i.e., he lives under the kind, blessed and protective sight of Allah).
This indicates his passionate love for Isma’el. God in the bible responded:
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:20)
Another reason that it could not have been Isaac `alayhissalaam is that before Isaac was born, God in the bible told Ibraheem `alayhissalaam that:
And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, [and] with his seed after him. (Genesis 17:19 KJV)
Sarah your wife shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:19 RSV)
If Ibraheem`alayhissalaam was already told that Isaac `alayhissalaam’s descendents will have covenant with Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta’aala, how could Allah then test Ibraheem`alayhissalaam by asking for his sacrifice, considering also that episode of sacrifice happened long before the son offered for sacrifice could be married or have children?
In fact, the son who was offered for sacrifice was given the good news of many descendents only at the completion of the episode of sacrifice, and the good news of Isaac`alayhissalaam’s birth was also given at that time:
And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only [son]: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which [is] upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:16-18)
Also, the place where episode of sacrifice took place was Marwah – a hillock besides the house of Allah in Makkah, which in the Bible was misspelled and pronounced as Moriah, of which name there has been no place.
Even if, for the sake of argument, we set aside every other evidence, the strongest evidence comes from the history, practices and traditions of Jews and Arabs. It is a well-known fact that Jewish customs and practices have been largely determined by the lifestyle of their patriarchs. They circumcise their children because Ibraheem`alayhissalaam did; they do not eat the meat from the hind of an animal because of an incident that occurred when Jacob`alayhissalaam wrestled with God; they do not eat anything that Jacob did not eat for his own personal reasons, etc. Surprisingly, their whole history is devoid of any practice of sacrifice in remembrance of Ibraheem`alayhissalaam’s offering his son for sacrifice.
On the other hand, since the day Isma’el was offered as sacrifice, Arabs have been offering sacrifice of animals in commemoration of the sacrifice of their great grandfather, Isma’el, at the same place where and on the same day of the year when the original sacrifice happened. That had continued throughout their history every year without fail until the advent of Muhammad Sall Allahu`alayhi wa sallam and has continued since then among Muslims without any break.
It is reported that even the horns of the Ram that replaced Isma’el`alayhissalaam were preserved in the Holy Ka’bah but were lost when the building of Ka’bah collapsed during the army action by Hajjaaj bin Yousuf.
Every year, millions of Muslim continue offering their sacrifices on that day and place. In fact, people start their journey of Hajj with the same words that Ibraheem uttered when he realized that he has been called upon to sacrifice his son. Even the Bible records that:
After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” (Genesis 22:1)
The people going for Hajj say the same thing: Labbayk, Allahumma Labbayk. Here I am, O Allah, here I am.