Did Ibrahim (PBUH) sacrifice Ishmael or Isaac?

Most of my friends, when we discussed the sacrifice of the Prophet  Ibrahim’s (PBUH) son, have insisted that the son who was (almost) sacrificed was Hazrat Ishmael (also known as Ismail) – the elder son of the prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) by Hagar, and not Isaac, the younger son by Sarah.  Therefore, I was so surprised when I read the passage about this in the Qur’an.  When I showed it to these same friends they were also very surprised.  So what does it say?  In Sign 3 of Ibrahim I looked at this important event, and I quote the passage in full at From the Books: Sign 3 of Ibrahim.  I repeat the specific ayah again here

Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: “O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!” (The son) said: “O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practicing Patience and Constancy!  (Al-Saffat 37:102)

You can see that the name of the son is not mentioned in this passage about the sacrifice of the son of Ibrahim (PBUH).  So the issue becomes confusing.  When something is confusing it is best to do a more thorough search and study.  If you search through the entire Qur’an for when prophet Ishmael (or Isma’il) is mentioned you will see his name occurs 12 times.  In two of these times he is the only one named along with Ibrahim his father (2:125, 2:127).  Five of these times he is mentioned with Ibrahim and with his brother Isaac (3:84, 4,163, 2:133, 2:136, 2:140).  The remaining five passages mentions him without his father Ibrahim, but rather he is in a list with other prophets (6:86, 14:39, 19:54, 21:85, 38:48).  In the two times he is mentioned alone with his father Ibrahim (PBUH) you can see that it is talking about other events on prayer – not sacrifice.

Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We covenanted with Abraham and Isma’il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer). (The Cow:125)

And remember Abraham and Isma’il raised the foundations of the House (With this prayer): “Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us: For Thou art the All-Hearing, the All-knowing. (The Cow: 127)

Therefore the Qur’an never specifies that it was Ishmael that was tested by sacrifice, it just says ‘the son’. So why is it believed that it was Ishmael who was tested by sacrifice?

Commentary on the Sacrifice of the Son of Ibrahim

Yusuf Ali (whose translation of the Qur’an is the one I am using) is a respected commentator of the Qur’an as well as a translator.  His commentary footnotes are available at http://al-quran.info

These footnotes on the passage of the sacrifice (from al-Saffat which we used in Sign 3 of Ibrahim) you will find the following two footnotes on the son being sacrificed.

 4071  This was in the fertile land of Syria and Palestine. The boy thus born was, according to Muslim tradition, the first-born son of Abraham, viz., Ismail. The name itself is from the root Sami’a, to hear, because God had heard Abraham’s prayer (verse 100). Abraham’s age when Ismail was born was 86 (Gen. 16:16).

4076 Our version may be compared with the Jewish-Christian version of the present Old Testament. The Jewish tradition, in order to glorify the younger branch of the family, descended from Isaac, ancestor of the Jews, as against the elder branch, descended from Isma’il, ancestor of the Arabs, refers this sacrifice to Isaac (Gen. 22:1-18). Now Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old (Gen. 21:5), while Isma’il was born to Abraham when Abraham was 86 years old (Gen. 16:16). Isma’il was therefore 14 years older than Isaac. During his first 14 years Isma’il was the only son of Abraham; at no time was Isaac the only son of Abraham. Yet, in speaking of the sacrifice, the Old Testament says (Gen. 22:2): ‘And He said, Take now thy son, thine only son Issac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah : and offer him there for a burnt offering…”

Yusuf Ali’s only reason for the view that it is Ishmael and not Isaac being sacrificed is ‘Muslim tradition’.  He makes no reference to holy scripture.  In his second footnote he argues that since the Taurat says ‘take your son, your only son…(Genesis 22:2) and Ishmael was 14 years older, then only Ishmael could be offered for sacrifice as an ‘only son’.  But he is ignoring the fact that just previously, in Genesis 21, Ibrahim (PBUH) sent Ishmael and Hagar away due to the tensions in the family.  Thus, in Genesis 22 Isaac is actually his ‘only son’ since Ishmael had been banished.  This is covered in more detail in my post on this.

Ibrahim’s son sacrificed: Testimony of the Taurat

So the Qur’an does not specify which son, but the Taurat is very clear.  As you can see in the Books that the passage in Genesis 22 mentions Isaac by name six different times (in 22:2, 3, 6, 7 (2 times), 9).

The Taurat supported by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

That the Taurat as we have it today was supported by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is very clear from haddiths.  My post on this mentions several haddith, one of which states that

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Umar: ..A group of Jews came and invited the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) to Quff. …  They said: ‘AbulQasim, one of our men has committed fornication with a woman; so pronounce judgment upon them’. They placed a cushion for the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) who sat on it and said: “Bring the Torah”. It was then brought. He then withdrew the cushion from beneath him and placed the Torah on it saying: “I believed in thee and in Him Who revealed thee.”  Sunan Abu Dawud Book 38, No. 4434:

The Taurat supported by the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH)

The prophet Isa al-Masih (PBUH) also supported the Taurat as it is today as we saw in my post on how he affirmed that the first books were the most important for us.  One quote from him in that article says that

18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law (i.e. Taurat) until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:18-19)

The Warning: Never Tradition over Taurat

So it would not be wise to lightly dismiss the Books of Moses (Musa) for the sake of any tradition.  In fact, the Prophet Isa al-Masih heavily criticized the Jews of his day precisely because they put their ‘traditions’ ahead of the Law.  We see that in his disputes with the Jewish leaders that he says to them:

Jesus (i.e. Isa) replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! (Matthew 15:3-7)

The warning by the prophet is very clear to never nullify the Message for the sake of ‘tradition’.

The Testimony of Today’s Taurat supported by Dead Sea Scrolls

The following diagram shows that the dates of the earliest existing manuscripts of the Taurat, (which is one of the main principles used in textual criticism – the science of determining the reliability of a book – see my post on it here), the Dead Sea Scrolls date to 200 B.C.  This means that the Taurat that both the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) were referring to is exactly the same as we use today.

This is the value for us all to go back to the Books.  Then we can build a foundation from knowing what the Prophets have said rather than remaining confused in speculations

The Bible through time

Manuscripts of Today’s Bible – from long ago

15 thoughts on “Did Ibrahim (PBUH) sacrifice Ishmael or Isaac?

  1. i have spend days reading all ur posts. it helped me understand so many things but confused me with only one thing. Y R U REPEATING THE HISTORY OF JEWS? THEY DENIED MASIH(PBUH) AND THAT HE BROUGHT WITH HIM AND U DENIED MUHAMMAD (PBUH) AND WHAT HE BROUGHT WITH HIM.

    • Yes, they did deny Masih pbuh. They are on a long journey. To understand that journey it is helpful to read the warnings of prophet Musa pbuh (link here). Most of the rest of us also deny the Masih pbuh. But we do it in different ways then they do. For example the Masih asked

      “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

      That is how we often deny the Masih pbuh

  2. it is Ishmael in Qur’an, no doubt

    you misquoted the verses and left out Isaac in the next verse. great job evangelical liar!

    • Hi Cool
      I know that my saying that the Qur’an does not mention Ishmael is strange to you because you have been taught otherwise, but it is true. And you need only look to the following verse yourself to check. But I will do better and quote from Yusuf Ali many subsequent verses and you will see that ismael is not mentioned (though Isaac is)

      037.099 He said: “I will go to my Lord! He will surely guide me!

      037.100 “O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!”

      037.101 So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear.

      037.102 Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said:
      “O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!”
      (The son) said: “O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if God so
      wills one practising Patience and Constancy!”

      037.103 So when they had both submitted their wills (to God), and he had laid him
      prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice),

      037.104 We called out to him “O Abraham!

      037.105 “Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!” – thus indeed do We reward those
      who do right.

      037.106 For this was obviously a trial-

      037.107 And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice:

      037.108 And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later
      times:

      037.109 “Peace and salutation to Abraham!”

      037.110 Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.

      037.111 For he was one of our believing Servants.

      037.112 And We gave him the good news of Isaac – a prophet,- one of the Righteous.

      037.113 We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and
      (some) that obviously do wrong, to their own souls.

    • Really, this ragner is a great liar. He is misinterpreting the verses from bible, torah and quran.

      Don’t waste your time! Read Quran only. All the other scriptures were already corrupted.

      • HI Riza
        How can this have anything to do with ‘misinterpreting’ when the name is clearly not there. Please read the passage. If the name was there and I ‘interpreted’ it in a way to explain it away then I would agree with you. But the name is not mentioned. And I have quoted the entire passage. This is not a case, as Cool, thought, where I may have stopped too early. Here is the link in Arabic if you want to check that.

  3. Was Isaac or Ishmael to be sacrificed ?

    As you know, Kedar is a descendent of Ishmael {Genesis 25:13}, and Ishmael is the the base for the Family Tree of Prophet Muhammad through Kedar.

    An important Fact that I would like you to observe now is how the scribes switched names to illegitimize Ishmael.

    The scribes and commentators say that Ishmael is not a legitimate son of Abraham and therefore the covenant was only with Isaac.

    Now I will show you in the Scripture that it was Really Ishmael who was to be sacrificed and the covenant was first done with Ishmael and Ishmael was a legitimate son of Abraham even after Abraham’s death.

    1. The covenant was first made with Abraham and Ishmael;

    Genesis 17:10 This [is] my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.

    Genesis 17:13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

    Note:-

    2. It was really Ishmael and not Isaac who was going to be sacrificed and the Jewish scribes because of vanity, switched the names;

    Genesis 16:16 “and Abram [is] a son of eighty and six years in Hagar’s bearing Ishmael to Abram.”

    Who’s son? Abraham’s “son”. Now as far as the sacrifice is concerned, Genesis 17:24 “Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.”

    That makes Abraham’s son Ishmael 13, how old is Isaac at this time? Genesis 21:5 “Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.”

    that means during the circumcision/sacrifice, Abraham’s only “begotten” son is Ishmael and not Isaac as the Bible says.

    KJV Hebrews 11:17 “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,”

    Therefore we see that Isaac was not the only son, as a matter of fact, Isaac was not even born yet and Abraham’s Only begotten son was Ishmael. Therefore further confirming the Legitimacy of Prophet Muhammad which God says I will make great Nations from Ishmael.

    Genesis 17:20 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.

    3. Ishmael was a legitimate son even after Abraham died;

    Genesis 16:3 “And Sarai 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 25:9 “Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him (Abraham) in *the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre,”

    Genesis 25:12 “Now these are the records of the generations of *Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, bore to Abraham;”

    Copyright (c) 1998 Mohamed Ghounem & Abdur Rahman
    The Authors give Full Permission to Use any of the Above Material As Your Own to distribute for Free.
    “Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” Qur’an 16:125

    • Salaam wa alaikum Amir
      Thank you for your extensive comments. I understand you are using Genesis (Taurat) to prove Ishmael was a legitimate son. I would agree. But in another comment you say that the Bible (which includes Taurat) has indeed been corrupted. If it has been corrupted why would you quote it to argue your point? If something really is corrupted it is not trustworthy as a source. You cannot have it both ways and the very fact that you quote it shows that it indeed is reliable and trustworthy – why quote it otherwise?
      Now as to Ishmael and Isaac. The Taurat nevers says that Ishmael is ‘illegimate’. It merely says that he is not the son of promise. This is very clearly stated in between the verses that you quoted. The full text reads:

      15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
      17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
      19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 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. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” Genesis 17:15-21

      So we see that yes God will bless Ishmael and that he is under the covenant of circumcision as you say. But the covenant of promise is to be established with Isaac whom Sarah ‘will’ (ie in the future – v21) bear. This other covenant of promise was given before his birth. This was to him and his descendants.
      Given the peculiar history of the Jews, with the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, the rise of David as their king, and all the other Jewish prophets, it requires willful rejection to deny that the Jews did have (at the very least) a special covenant between them and God. This is not to exclude that others have no covenant (I myself am not a Jew), but they had a unique one. And we see here that it starts with Isaac.
      What you are ignoring is that between Genesis 17 (the covenant of circumcision which included Ishmael and was given before Isaac was born as you say) and Genesis 22 (the sacrifice of the son in question) is chapter 21. In the beginning of that chapter Isaac is born and sets off a rivalry between Hagar and Sarah such that Sarah demands that Hagar leave. Abraham is reluctant but God says

      12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave(ie Ishmael) into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:12-13)

      There was to be a specific ‘offspring’ (this is in the singular not plural so it is talking about an individual male) that was to come ‘through’ Isaac. The sacrifice of Abraham was to foreshadow this coming ‘offspring’. If you look at Sign 3 of Ibrahim you will recognize that the details of the event clearly have a foreshadowing of the prophet Jesus – who we all know was Jewish and thus came from Isaac. Isaac is thus called Abraham’s ‘only’ son because he is the son of this covenant of the coming ‘offspring’.
      So it is not a question of ‘illegitimate’ son or not. Ishmael was legitimate. But it was not through him that this promised ‘offspring’ would come. This goes back even to Adam and Eve where we see in Sign of Adam that an ‘offspring’ was to come from a woman (not woman and man – thus the virgin birth which is Jesus who was Jewish and thus through Isaac).
      If you look at my article on scientific textual criticism you will see that it has been written this way since the Dead Sea Scrolls (ie 200 BC). You need some elaborate plot to imagine how the Jewish scribes would switch names to make it point to Jesus – when they do not even believe in him! That makes no sense.

  4. Dear! I am sorry to take so many months to read your article. I do appreciate the research you have done and the pains you have taken to compile it. I,as a Muslim, believe in each and every word of the Holy Qur’an. Had I the time and had I found it necessary to reply logically, I would have done so. But I think that better you have your faith and so should I. It does not make much difference which son was offered for sacrifice. A ‘banished son’ remains a son. Together Father and son built the Ka’aba. Together they prayed. How can we say that Hazrat Ismaiel (PBUH) was ‘banished’. Hazrat Abraham (AS) used to visit his son and wife and lived with them as well.
    Anyhow, Allah Almighty knows the best. It is useless to indulge in debate. You are a very nice fellow. I respect you. One should stand by one’s faith. I true Hindu, a true, Jew, a true Christian a true Muslim is more respectable than a fake one or a hypocrite.

  5. Nice article…very informative..Ishmail that sacrified tested because the person that have to be sacrified was YOUR SON not Your baby … !!!
    Thank you

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