IN PART 1 we began comparing the Biblical and Qur’anic accounts of one event in the life of Abraham, whose life of trust in God we Muslims celebrate as part of our Hajj, and specifically a climactic incident commemorated on ʿEîd Al-Aḍḥa: the elderly Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son acting on a vision in which he was asked to give up his first and—at that time—only son.
We note corruptions in the Biblical text’s account which could explain why the Biblical account identifies the “son of sacrifice” as Abraham’s second son, Isḥâq/ Isaac—rather than this first son, Ismâʿîl /Ishmael as indicated in the Quran, Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât, 37.
We continue with evidence of redaction in the Biblical text—relevant to the question of who was the “son of sacrifice”—and how the Quran leads us to the correct answer to our question.
Substitution of God’s Name: “Jehovah Jireh”
As with the replacement of the name of the sacrificed son (Genesis 22:2)—Isaac instead of Ishmael, so also the particular name of God here specified, has been retroactively placed in the text of this Biblical narration. The Bible recounts that after performing the sacrifice of a ram which had been caught in a nearby bush, Abraham called the place “Jehovah Jireh” (in English, “The LORD will provide”)
Abraham looked around and saw a ram caught in a bush by its horns. He went and got it and offered it as an offering instead of his son. Abraham named that place “The LORD Provides” [Jehovah Jireh]. And even today people say: “On the LORD’s mountain he provides.” (Genesis 22:13-14)
But this name of God had been unknown to Abraham and Isaac, according to another Biblical text. The name was introduced—in a later period—for the first time to Moses, as God Himself testifies:
And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty [El Shaddai], but by my name LORD [Jehovah] was I not known to them.” (Exodus 6:3)
Accordingly, it is evident that the name “Jehovah Jireh” could not have been employed and announced by Abraham, and it is a stark example of a corruption of detail in the Genesis account where the sacrifice event is reported.
The Narrations of the Bible and the Quran: Redacted Story vs. Revealed Account
The narrations of the Bible and the Quran regarding the sacrifice event differ as to their status as divine revelation—the former is “redacted” at a later date by an editor of the text, but the latter would be unedited from the revealed account and meticulously preserved in its original form, as per Allah’s promise in the Quran:
We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it [from corruption]. [Sûrat Al-Ḥijr, 15:9]
The Quranic story-lesson of Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât, 37: 100-113 portrays devoted men, father and teenage son, who are ready to surrender to God in any circumstance and apparently free from worry of the outcome resulting from their obedience.
According to the Bible, Abraham was told to go make a burnt sacrifice of his son. When the son wanted to know about the animal which was supposed to be sacrificed, the father concealed God’s command which had directly ordered him to sacrifice the son, and he dodged revealing his true undertaking by saying that God would provide an animal for the sacrifice. As it is reported:
And Isaac spoke unto Abraham his father, and said, My father; and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22: 7-8)
When they had reached the indicated place, the father bound the son instead of the promised animal and took a knife to slay him. Such devotion earned God’s mercy and in the end a ram was sacrificed instead of the son.
By contrast, the Quran presents a more nuanced and more forthright interaction between father and son. It does not indicate that Abraham was directly ordered by God to carry out human sacrifice (which was still widely practiced at that time), nor that the father disguised his true intent in order to lure his son to a remote place to be sacrificed, as the Bible has it. The Quran has it that having seen a vision, Abraham felt a compulsion to sacrifice his son and even asked for his son’s opinion. The son then submitted to being sacrificed—if that is what God had indicated for his father to do with him. As it is stated in the Quran:
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!” [Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât, 37: 102]
Such surrender and submission of the son and the father earned God’s mercy and God accepted “a great sacrifice” instead of the son. It is to be noted that, unlike the Bible, the Quran does not mention an animal like a ram, because the sacrifice of a ram cannot be greater than that of Abraham’s son. Focusing on the import of Abraham’s and Ishmael’s compliance with the will of God, the Quran imparts the weightiness of this exemplary story-lesson: a great sacrifice’ (dhibḥîn ʿaẓîm).
We [Allah] called out to him, “O Abraham! Thou has already fulfilled the vision!” – thus indeed do We reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial – And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice... [Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât, 37: 104-107]
Ishmael: Hidden/Misidentified in the Bible Account vs. Clearly Indicated in the Quran
Although the Quran does not mention Ishmael by name in the account of Abraham’s sacrifice of his only son, it specifically indicates his presence and participation in the sacrifice event in Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât. In this Surah, the Quran tells us that in granting Abraham’s prayer for a son, Allah gave him
the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear. [(Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât, 37:101]
Later, this same son was asked his input regarding being sacrificed for obedience to God (quoted above in Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât, 37:102). It was only after completion of the birth and sacrifice event of the first son, Ishmael, that Allah announced His reward to Abraham concerning the promise of his second son Isaac, by name:
And We gave him [Abraham] the good news of Isaac—a prophet—one of the Righteous. [Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât, 37:112]
then He glorified also the second son saying:
We blessed him [Abraham] and Isaac. [Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât, 37:113]
It was due to Abraham’s trust in God that God blessed him first with Ishmael and then with Isaac. That is the point of the willingness-to-sacrifice story in both the Bible and in the Quran.
The Qur’anic narration unambiguously indicates that the second son is Isaac and the first is Ishmael (Abraham’s “only son” for 14 years), whereas the Bible mixes the two sons in its account of the sacrifice event. In spite of competing “facts” left in the redacted narration of Genesis 22, the text still emphasizes the point that it was the elderly Abraham’s “only son” whom Abraham was being asked to sacrifice.
Within the narration of the event in Genesis 22 we find that the name “Isaac” apparently has been later inserted to identify “your only son” (Genesis 22:2) with the son favored in Hebrew Scripture, namely Isaac/Ishaq, and in other verses to replace “him/he” with “Isaac” (Genesis 22:6, 7) so as to make a stab at a water-tight identity of Abraham’s “son” referred to in verses 3, 5, 10, 12, 13 and 16. Unfortunately—actually, fortunately for us—the Genesis account leaves traces of the original identity of the son of sacrifice as the first son, Ishmael. The contradictory information has not been removed.
Sometime later God tested Abraham; he called to him, “Abraham!” And Abraham answered, “Yes, here I am!” “Take your son,” God said, “your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much, and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain that I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.” (Genesis 22:1-2)
Confusion among Hadith Collectors over the Son of Sacrifice
Unfortunately, a sizeable number of people, referring to certain ḥadîths, want to say that not Ishmael, but Isaac was the sacrificed son. There are some narrators of ḥadîths who name Isaac as the son of sacrifice, while others say Ishmael. Interestingly, some of them record both Ismâʿîl and Isḥâq in their own reported ḥadîths. According to Hadith Science, those ḥadîths having anti-qur’anic statements or information should be rejected and considered as unacceptable.
Is it possible that God asked Abraham twice to sacrifice each of his sons? What would have been the point of the second sacrifice as long as Abraham still had the first-born son along with the second one?
So those ḥadîths claiming the son of sacrifice to be Isḥâq as the “only son,” are anti-qur’anic; and thus they should not be accepted as authenticated Islamic documents. After all, Hadith scholars think such ḥadîths to be baseless and that they have originated from rabbinic texts later adapted to imitate the form of Islamic traditions. Even the Biblical texts give us information to conclude that Ishmael was the son of sacrifice since he was the first son, the only son for 14 years until the birth of Isaac. Logically, it had to be the “only son” who was the son of sacrifice. Thus we can point out that the Biblical text had to have been corrupted in redaction—so as to give pride of place to the son of Abraham’s [Hebrew] wife, not to Abraham’s son by his wife’s [Egyptian=Arab] slave girl (Genesis 16:1-4).
Furthermore, the sacrifice event naming Ismâʿîl as Abraham’s son of sacrifice has been recorded in oral traditions among the Arabs. Eventually, what were claimed to be the horns of the ram that was sacrificed during this event came to hang in the Kâʿba until the first century of hijra—indicating the importance of this event to the Arabs, even though Abraham is claimed in the Hebrew tradition as being one of themselves—as represented by the Jews of Arabia during the time of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Accordingly, such retro-formed “ḥadîths” naming Isaac as the son of sacrifice should be branded “spurious” and thus rejected in Islamic traditions.
The discussion above clarifies the corruption and distortion of the Bible, in that it wrongly has Isaac as the sacrificed son—rather than Ismâʿîl/Ishmael, who has rightfully been commemorated and celebrated among Muslims every year during ʿEîd Al-Aḍḥa. This truth makes proud and high-minded all the sons of Abraham. And it also frees them from falsehood, as Jesus said to his followers:
If you obey my teaching … you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (Gospel of John 8:31-32)