When discussing the sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim’s (PBUH) son, my friends insist that the son offered was Hazrat Ishmael (or Ismail). He was the elder son of Ibrahim (PBUH) by Hagar. Therefore, what the Qur’an says about this surprised me when I consulted it. It surprised my friends also. Sign 3 of Ibrahim looks at this important event, and the Qur’an is quoted in full here. So what does it say? We repeat the specific ayah again.
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
The Qur’an does not name the son who Ibrahim (PBUH) offered in sacrifice. So let us undertake a more thorough search and study. Searching through the entire Qur’an you can verify that it mentions his name 12 times.
- Two of these times mention him along with Ibrahim his father (2:125, 2:127).
- Five of these times mention him along with Ibrahim and with his brother Isaac (3:84, 4,163, 2:133, 2:136, 2:140).
- The remaining five ayat mention him without his father Ibrahim, but in a list with other prophets (6:86, 14:39, 19:54, 21:85, 38:48).
The two times that mention him alone with his father Ibrahim (PBUH) talk about praying with him. They do not discuss the 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 2:125
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 2:127
The Holy Qur’an never specifies that Ibrahim offered Ishmael for sacrifice. In the only ayah discussing the event, it just says ‘the son’. So why do so many insist that Ibrahim offered Ishmael rather than Isaac (who was the younger son, of Sarah)?
Commentary on the Sacrifice of the Son of Ibrahim
Yusuf Ali is a respected commentator of the Qur’an as well as a translator of the Qur’an. His commentary for Surah As-Saffat is available at http://www.quran4u.com/Tafsiraya/037%20Saffat.pdf
The commentary on the passage of the sacrifice has the following two footnotes on the son sacrificed:
4096 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).http://www.quran4u.com/Tafsiraya/037%20Saffat.pdf, page 27, C4096
Yusuf Ali’s only reason here is ‘Muslim tradition’.
4101 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…”http://www.quran4u.com/Tafsiraya/037%20Saffat.pdf, page 29, C4101
In this footnote, he notes the Taurat says, “take your son, your only son…”(Genesis 22:2). Then he argues that since Ishmael was 14 years older than Isaac, therefore only Ishmael could be offered for sacrifice as an ‘only son’. But he does not mention that just previously, in Genesis 21, Ibrahim (PBUH) had sent Ishmael and Hagar away. Thus, in Genesis 22 Ibrahim’s ‘only son’ remaining is Isaac since Ibrahim had banished Ishmael. See more details on this here.
Ibrahim’s son sacrificed: Testimony of the Taurat
So the Qur’an does not specify which son, but the Taurat is very clear. You can see that the Taurat 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)
Haddiths clearly state that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) supported the Taurat that we have today. The article on this mentions several hadiths, 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 affirmed the Taurat as we saw here. He taught:
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
It would not be wise to dismiss the Taurat of Musa for the sake of any tradition. In fact, the Prophet Isa al-Masih (PBUH) criticized the religious leaders of his day precisely because they put their ‘traditions’ ahead of the Law. We read:
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 prophet’s warning to never nullify the Message for the sake of ‘tradition’ is very clear.
The Testimony of Today’s Taurat supported by Dead Sea Scrolls
The earliest existing manuscripts of the Taurat, called the Dead Sea Scrolls, date to 200 BCE (more on this here). See the diagram below. This means that the Taurat which the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) referred to is exactly the same as today.
In summary, the Qur’an does not witness to which son Ibrahim offered for sacrifice, while the Taurat clearly names Isaac, the younger son. The prophets Muhammad (PBUH), and Isa al Masih (PBUH), as well as textual criticism all affirm the reliability of the Taurat.