Chapter 37: Al-SaffatHoly Qur'an (edited by Malik Ghulam Farid), 1994
(Revealed before Hijrah)
103. And when he was old enough to run along with him, he said, `O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I offer thee in sacrifice. So consider what thou thinkest of it !' He replied, `O my father, do as thou art commanded; thou wilt find me, if ALLAH please, steadfast in my faith.'(3336)
104. And when they both submitted to the will of God, and Abraham had thrown him down on his forehead,(3337)
105. WE called to him, `O Abraham,
106. `Thou hast, indeed, fulfilled the dream.' Thus, indeed, do WE reward those who do good. (3338)
107. That, surely, was a manifest trial. (3339)
108. And WE ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice. (3340)
109. And WE left for him a good name among the succeeding generations. (3341)
110. Peace be upon Abraham!
111. Thus do WE reward those who do good.
112. Surely, he was one of our believing servants.
113. (a) And WE gave him the glad tidings of Isaac, a Prophet, and one of the righteous.
3337. The Qur'an and the Bible disagree as to which of his two sons-- Ishmael and Isaac--Abraham, in pursuance of God's command, offered for sacrifice. The Qur'an says that it was Ishmael, but according to the Bible, it was Isaac. The Bible, speaking of the sacrifice says `And He said, `Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac and get there into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I tell thee of" (Gen. 22:2). The Qur'an, on the other hand, declares clearly and unequivocally, in the verse under comment, that it was Ishmael who was offered for sacrifice. The Bible, however, contradicts itself in this respect. According to it, Abraham was commanded to offer his only son for sacrifice, but Isaac was at no time his only son. Ishmael was born to Abraham when he was 86 years old while Isaac was born to him when he had reached the very advanced age of 99. Thus for 13 years Ishmael was Abraham's only son, and, being also his first born, was doubtly dear to him. It stands to reason, therefore, that Abraham must have been required by God to offer for sacrifice his nearest and dearest thing which was his only and first born son who was Ishmael.
Some evangelists have vainly tried to show that, "Ishmael being of the handmaid, was born after the flesh while Isaac being born of the free woman was by promise" (Galatians, 4:22,23). Apart from the fact that Hagar, Ishmael's mother, belonged to the royal family of Egypt and was no handmaid, Ishmael has repeatedly been mentioned in the Bible as Abraham's son, exactly as Isaac has been mentioned as his son (Gen. 16:16; 17:23,25). Moreover, analogous promises were made to Abraham in regard to the future greatness of Ishmael as were made to him about Isaac. The Bible says: "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" (Gen. 17:20). "And the angel of the Lord said unto her (Hagar) `I will multiply thy seed exceedingly that it shall not be numbered for multitude." (Gen. 16:10-11). So apart from the substitution in the Bible of Isaac for Ishmael which seems to be deliberate, and of Moriah for Marwah, an hillock which lies in the vicinity of Mecca near which Abraham in fulfilment of his vision, referred to in the preceding verse, left Ishmael with his mother Hagar while yet a child, there is nothing in the Bible to lend the slightest support to the view that Abraham offered Isaac for sacrifice and not Ishmael.
Furthermore, the fact that whereas no trace is to be found in the religious ceremonies of Jews and Christians of the supposed sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, the Muslims spiritual descendants of Ishmael, commemorate with great fervour his intended sacrifice, by slaughtering every year rams and goats all over the world on the tenth day of Dhu'l-Hijjah. Thus universal sacrifice of rams and goats by Muslims on a specific day in commemoration of Abraham's preparedness to slaughter Ishmael establishes beyond dispute or doubt that it was Ishmael whom Abraham offered for sacrifice and not Isaac. In a sense Abraham had already fulfilled his vision by leaving Ishmael while yet a child with his mother, Hagar, in the bleak and barren valley of Mecca where at that time there was to be found no sign of life, nor even a blade of grass or a drop of water. That brave act, in fact, had symbolised the sacrifice of Ishmael.
3338. The words "Thou hast indeed fulfilled the dream" show that Abraham was not required to fulfil his vision in actual fact but that it was only a practical demonstration of his intention and preparedness to slaughter his son which was desired of him. The vision, as stated above, had already symbolically been fulfilled in Hagar and Ishmael having been left by Abraham in the valley of Mecca which was at that time an arid and barren waste. The leaving behind of a weak and helpless woman with a child, in a place completely devoid of all signs of life and even of water or any other means of subsistence, did indeed constitute a great sacrifice on the part of the noble Patriach.
3340. Abraham's preparedness to sacrifice Ishmael was perpetuated in the Islamic institution of "Sacrifice" which forms an integral part of the ceremonies of Hajj. As long as Islam lasts--and it shall last till the end of time--Pilgrimage to Mecca will continue to be performed and on the tenth day of Dhu'l Hijjah goats and rams will continue to be slaughtered in hundreds of thousands in Mecca and all over the Muslim world in commemoration of Ishmael's sacrifice. It is this institution of "Sacrifice" that seems to have been referred to in this verse in the words: "And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice."
The reference in the verse may also be to the abolition of human sacrifice which seemed to be in vogue in Abraham's time and to the substitution for it of animal sacrifice.
3341. What greater testimony could there be to Abraham having left behind him a good name than that the followers of the three great religions--Islam, Christianity, and Judaism--take pride in ascribing their ancestry to the great Patriach.