I recall reading somewhere that some Muslim scholars in the past said it could be Issac - perhaps influenced from Bible? But even the Bible says that "Take thine only son, your only son who you love, Issac" (Gen 22:2) and at no time was Issac Abraham's only son as Ishmael outlived Isaac and was the first born.

Now the Qur'an in the time sequence of 37:100-113 indicates it was Ishmael. Plus in Qur'an 11:71 glad tidings are given of Jacob, Issac's son. Had Issac been son of sacrifice it would have been no test as Abraham would have known that somehow Issac would be spared to be the father of Jacob in the future. Peace be upon all the Prophets.

11:71. And his wife was standing (There), and she laughed: But We gave her Glad tidings of Isaac, And after him, of Jacob.


2 Answers 2


Indeed, there is no clear evidence from a verse in the Qur’an or an authentic hadith who the sacrifice was, neither is there a consensus.

Qur’anic Evidence

In Surah As-Saffat, Allah gives tidings of Isma’el, then there is a narration of the story of sacrifice, then Allah gives tidings of Is’haq, followed by Ya’qoob:

وَقَالَ إِنِّي ذَاهِبٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ رَبِّ هَبْ لِي مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ فَبَشَّرْنَاهُ بِغُلَامٍ حَلِيمٍ فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعْيَ قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَىٰ فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ فَانْظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَىٰ ۚ قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ افْعَلْ مَا تُؤْمَرُ ۖ سَتَجِدُنِي إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ مِنَ الصَّابِرِينَ فَلَمَّا أَسْلَمَا وَتَلَّهُ لِلْجَبِينِ وَنَادَيْنَاهُ أَنْ يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ قَدْ صَدَّقْتَ الرُّؤْيَا ۚ إِنَّا كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ إِنَّ هَٰذَا لَهُوَ الْبَلَاءُ الْمُبِينُ وَفَدَيْنَاهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ وَتَرَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ فِي الْآخِرِينَ سَلَامٌ عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَبَشَّرْنَاهُ بِإِسْحَاقَ نَبِيًّا مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ وَبَارَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ وَعَلَىٰ إِسْحَاقَ ۚ وَمِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِهِمَا مُحْسِنٌ وَظَالِمٌ لِنَفْسِهِ مُبِينٌ

And [then] he said, "Indeed, I will go to [where I am ordered by] my Lord; He will guide me. My Lord, grant me [a child] from among the righteous." So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy. And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, "O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think." He said, "O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast." And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead, We called to him, "O Abraham, You have fulfilled the vision." Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good. Indeed, this was the clear trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice, And We left for him [favorable mention] among later generations: "Peace upon Abraham." Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good. Indeed, he was of Our believing servants. And We gave him good tidings of Isaac, a prophet from among the righteous. And We blessed him and Isaac. But among their descendants is the doer of good and the clearly unjust to himself.

Qur’an 37:99-113 (Sahih International translation)

It may be concluded that the above-mentioned verses are relating the story in sequence. If so, then the sacrifice was Isma'el. However, it is well known that the word and in Arabic does not necessarily indicate sequence. For example, in Qur’an 54:18, Allah says: “'Aad denied; and how [severe] were My punishment and warning.” Allah’s punishment occurred after His warning, but the verse mentions the word "punishment" first (not in sequence).

When the Qur'an mentions the good tidings of Is'haq:

وَلَقَدْ جَاءَتْ رُسُلُنَا إِبْرَاهِيمَ بِالْبُشْرَىٰ قَالُوا سَلَامًا ۖ قَالَ سَلَامٌ ۖ فَمَا لَبِثَ أَنْ جَاءَ بِعِجْلٍ حَنِيذٍ فَلَمَّا رَأَىٰ أَيْدِيَهُمْ لَا تَصِلُ إِلَيْهِ نَكِرَهُمْ وَأَوْجَسَ مِنْهُمْ خِيفَةً ۚ قَالُوا لَا تَخَفْ إِنَّا أُرْسِلْنَا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِ لُوطٍ وَامْرَأَتُهُ قَائِمَةٌ فَضَحِكَتْ فَبَشَّرْنَاهَا بِإِسْحَاقَ وَمِنْ وَرَاءِ إِسْحَاقَ يَعْقُوبَ قَالَتْ يَا وَيْلَتَىٰ أَأَلِدُ وَأَنَا عَجُوزٌ وَهَٰذَا بَعْلِي شَيْخًا ۖ إِنَّ هَٰذَا لَشَيْءٌ عَجِيبٌ

And certainly did Our messengers come to Abraham with good tidings; they said, "Peace." He said, "Peace," and did not delay in bringing [them] a roasted calf. But when he saw their hands not reaching for it, he distrusted them and felt from them apprehension. They said, "Fear not. We have been sent to the people of Lot." And his Wife was standing, and she smiled. Then We gave her good tidings of Isaac and after Isaac, Jacob. She said, "Woe to me! Shall I give birth while I am an old woman and this, my husband, is an old man? Indeed, this is an amazing thing!"

Qur’an Hud 11:69-72 (Sahih International translation)

It is mentioned that Ibrahim was informed about Is'haq, and after Is'haq comes Ya'qoub. We know now that Ya'qoub was Is'haq's son, but from the verse it could be that he would be Is'haq's son, or another son of Ibrahim after Is'haq, and so on. There is no explicit mention in the verse that Ya'qoub would be Is'haq's son.

Hadiths’ Evidence

The most famous hadith that mentions Isma’el by name was documented in Musnad Ahmad:

إن جبريل ذهب بإبراهيم إلى جمرة العقبة فعرض له الشيطان فرماه بسبع حصيات فساخ ثم أتى الجمرة الوسطى فعرض له الشيطان فرماه بسبع حصيات فساخ ثم أتى الجمرة القصوى فعرض له الشيطان فرماه بسبع حصيات فساخ فلما أراد إبراهيم أن يذبح ابنه اسماعيل قال لأبيه: يا أبت أوثقني لا أضطرب فينتضح عليك من دمي إذا ذبحتني فشده فلما أخذ الشفرة فأراد أن يذبحه نودي من خلفه أن يا إبراهيم قد صدقت الرؤيا

Jibril went with Ibrahim to the Jamrah of Aqaba, the Shaitan appeared to him, so Ibrahim threw seven pebbles at the Shaitan. The Shaitan disappeared. When Ibrahim reached the middle jamrah, the Shaitan re-appeared to him, so Ibrahim threw seven pebbles at the Shaitan. The Shaitan disappeared again. When Ibrahim reached the farthest jamrah, , the Shaitan re-appeared to him, so Ibrahim threw seven pebbles at the Shaitan. The Shaitan disappeared again. When Ibrahim wanted to slay his son Isma’el, Isma’el told his father: O father, tie me up so that if I jitter, my blood does not get on you when you slay me. So Ibrahim tightened the knot, then when he took the knife to slay him, he heard from behind: "O Abraham, You have fulfilled the vision."

— Musnad Ahmad, Hadith #144283 (my own translation, so treat with care).

This hadith is narrated through the authority of ‘Ataa’ ibn Al-Sa’eb through ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas. Although ‘Ataa’ ibn Al-Sa’eb is considered a trusted source, during his last years, his memory became weaker, and as such with this particular hadith which is not definite when he narrated it, it is not considered an authentic hadith by some scholars.

There is a number of other hadiths that say the sacrifice was Is’haq, but all of them do not go above the level weak (weak, very weak, or fabricated). Thus, in terms of hadiths, there is no conclusive evidence that the sacrifice was either Isma’el or Is’haq.

Scholars' Opinions

There are several books that discussed the topics from Zahrat At-Tafasir to Al-Dorr Al-Manthour to At-Tafsir Al-Kabir to Zaad Al-Mi'aad to Al-Bedaya Wa Al-Nehaya, among others. There is a difference in opinions. In summary, Abdullah ibn 'Abbas, 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ood, 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab, and 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, Al-Zohry, among others, said that the sacrifice was Is'haq. Abdullah ibn 'Umar, Sa'id ibn Al-Musayyib, Hassan Al-Basry, Mujahid, 'Ataa' ibn Abi Rabah, among others, said that the sacrifice was Isma'el.

We know from the Seerah that Isma'el was in Mecca, and that Is'haq was in Jerusalem, and that the sacrifice act took place in Mecca. However, from a scholarly point of view, this is not enough evidence to draw a conclusion.

The bottom line is we do not know which son was the son of sacrifice, neither should we be too bothered about it. As Muslims, we believe both Isma'el and Is'haq were prophets of Allah, and that Ibrahim was a mighty prophet of Allah. We also believe that Allah tests his prophets at the highest level of tests (as their faith is also at the highest level). It was a test from Allah to Ibrahim and his son, and they passed. May Allah's blessings be on all of them.

  • Can you please give reference to your claim that Ali ibn Abi Talib said, the sacrifice was Isaac. Thank you.
    – Noor
    Dec 13, 2016 at 14:29
  • @Noor - You can refer to Zad Al-Maseer (زاد المسير في علم التفسير) by ibn Al-Qayyim, pg. 1191-1194 (tafsir As-Saffaat), Ed. 2002, published by Dar ibn Hazm (I do not know a web link to the reference).
    – III-AK-III
    Dec 18, 2016 at 10:26
  • +1 for a good answer! Even though it might not be a source of evidence, it is mentioned in the Bible that it was Isaac (Ishaq). However I think you explained it well, Razi in his tafsir add some good point about the different opinions, as one example: "فالذين قالوا الذبيح هو إسماعيل قالوا كان الذبح بمنى، والذين قالوا إنه إسحق قالوا هو بالشام وقيل ببيت المقدس"
    – Kilise
    Jul 14, 2017 at 11:18
  • I don't think the main Quranic argument comes from the "sequence". Apparently it comes from the "separation of the story from Ishaq". This some sort of indicates that it was not Ishaq. And Allah knows best. Peace be upon all the Prophets of Allah. Jul 29, 2021 at 15:31

The question regarding which of Abraham's sons was the sacrifice, Ismaeel or Isaac, has been solved by Muslim scholars a long time ago.

Nobody should state that this is a matter of uncertainty.

According to Ibn Kathir, vers 37:101 "So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son" can be interpreted as follows:

And this son is Ishmael(P) for he is the first son whose good news was brought to Abraham(P). He is older than Isaac according to Muslims and ahl al-kitâb (i.e., the People of the Book) too. It is even said in their Scripture that Ishmael(P) was born when Abraham(P) was 86 years old and Isaac(P) was born when Abraham(P) was 99. In their Scripture as well, God is said to have ordered Abraham(P) to sacrifice his only son and in another version his firstborn. And, at this spot, they inserted falsely the name of Isaac(P) against the text of their very Scripture. The reason they inserted Isaac(P) is that he is their father whereas Ishmael(P) is the father of the Arabs. They added Isaac(P) out of envy and brushed away "only son" by saying that Ishmael(P) and his mother had already been to Makkah. This is a mere [farfetched] explanation since we never say "only son" except to a person who hasn't got but one son. Moreover, the firstborn has got a special place [in the heart of his father] that is not given to the following children and the order to sacrifice him is therefore a greater test. Some knowledgeable people were inclined to say that the sacrificed was Isaac(P). This was reported from some people of the salaf (i.e. people of the previous generations) and it was even reported from some Companions(R) but [this opinion] does not have any bearings from the Book [i.e., the Qur'ân] nor from the Sunnah. I think such opinion was received from the Rabbis of ahl al-Kitâb as is without evidence. Moreover, God's Book is a witness and points to the fact that it is Ishmael(P) because the glad tiding said that the son was patient and that he is the sacrificed. Only afterwards, He said: "And We gave him the good news of Isaac - a prophet,- one of the Righteous." and when the Angels brought the good news of Isaac(P) to Abraham(P) they said: " "Fear not," and they gave him glad tidings of a son endowed with knowledge." And the Most High said: " We gave her [Sarah] glad tidings of Isaac, and after him, of Jacob." [11:71] meaning that in the lifetime of Abraham(P) and Sarah(P), Isaac(P) will beget a child that he will call Jacob(P) implying that Isaac(P) will have a progeny. We have already explained why it is not possible that Isaac(P) be sacrificed while still a child i.e., because God promised them [Abraham and Sarah] that he will have a progeny. On the other hand, Ishmael(P) was described as forbearing and he fits that description.

According to hadith, the sacrificed son is Ismaeel

Narrated by al-Hâkim in Al-Mustadrak, and Ibn Jarîr [at-Tabarî] in his commentary with its isnâd, and others that cAbdullâh Ibn Sacîd al-Sâbihy said: "We were at Mu'âwiyah's reception and the people started discussing [the story of] Ishmael and Isaac(P) and which one was the sacrificed. Some said Ishmael and some said Isaac(P). Mu'âwiyah said: I am the expert you need; We were at the Prophet's(P) when a bedouin came to him saying "O Prophet of God, I have left the pasture dry and the life hard, the children died and the wealth is gone, so give me [something] of what God has bestowed on you, O Son of the two sacrificed." The Prophet(P) smiled and did not blame/criticize what he said. The people asked: Who are the two sacrificed O Commander of the believers? He replied: When cAbdul Muttalib was ordered to dig Zamzam he vowed to sacrifice one of his sons if God helps him with his mission [i.e., Zamzam]. When he achieved the mission, he cast lots on his children, there were ten of them. The choice fell on cAbdullâh so he decided to sacrifice him but the child's uncles, Banu Makhzûm, opposed the sacrifice and said satisfy your Lord and ransom your son. So, he ransomed him with a hundred camels. Mu'âwiyah said: this is one [of the two Sacrificed] the other is Ishmael(P)."

This report is regarded as Marfu.

Additionally, we can have a look at our Hajj rituals. As pilgrims we must run between Saffa and Marwah, as Hajar did, the mother of Ismaeel, in search for water. It was her baby son Ismaeel, under whose feet she "discovered" the well of Zam-Zam.

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