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It is commonly believed among Muslims that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Ishmael, even though Isaac is clearly named thus in the Old Testament.

The Qur'an confirms the story of the sacrifice, but does not name the son involved.

Is there any Islamic basis for the belief that it was in fact Ishmael?

  • I see you haven't accepted an answer. Are you expecting more views about this to trickle in? I'm trying to get a sense if the below analysis is pretty normative, normative in certain groups, or a fringe interpretation. – Double AA May 13 '13 at 10:39
  • @DoubleAA you are right, there are more traditional viewpoints. – Islam May 13 '13 at 12:22
  • @DoubleAA It's a fairly mainstream analysis. I just haven't accepted the answer because it doesn't convince me personally. – goldPseudo May 13 '13 at 14:48
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In the following ayath in the Quran, one can conclude that Ishmael was the son to be sacrificed

And he [—Abraham—] said [after being saved from the fire]: ‘Verily, I am going to my Lord. He will guide me!’ ‘My Lord! Grant me (offspring) from the righteous.’ So We gave him glad tidings of a forbearing boy. And, when he [his son] was old enough to walk with him, he said: ‘O my son! I have been seeing in a dream that I am offering you in sacrifice [to Allah]. So look what you think!’ He said: ‘O my father! Do that which you are commanded, Insha Allah, you shall find me of the patient. Then, when they had both submitted themselves [to the will of Allah], and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead, We called out to him: ‘O Abraham! You have made the dream a reality’. Verily, thus do We reward the good-doers. Verily, that indeed was a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice [a ram]; And We left for him [a goodly remembrance] among the later generations. Peace be upon Abraham! Thus indeed do We reward the good-doers. Verily, he was one of Our believing slaves. And We gave him the glad tidings of Isaac – a Prophet from the righteous. -(37:99-112)

The ending portion of the passage clearly shows the glad tidings of the birth of Isaac hence one can conclude that the verse is narrating about Ishmael.

Though, in bible they are places where it clearly says that Isaac was the son offered for sacrifice, muslims believe that it's because it was tampered. One of the evidenced put forward for this aprt from the holy Quran are the following two verses.

Abraham was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. -(Genesis, 16:16)

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. -(Genesis, 21:5)

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The Quran does not explicitly name 'the one who was to be sacrificed', though people have used some verses to make deductions about it. I personally find the arguments in favor of Ishmael to be more reasonable.

There are no clear and authentic hadith which solve the matter. Though one may come across some weak ones which favor Ishmael.

There are reports from the Sahabah (companions) and Tabieen (generation after the companions) that favor both views (Ishmael and Isaac), though my current impression after reading Tafsir Qurtubi is that the view favoring Isaac is more common.


The case for Ishmael:

Tafsir Al Qurtubi (seems to favor the view that Isaac was to be sacrificed, but fairly represents both views) says that those who favor Ishmael argue using this verse:

Quran 37:101 So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.

Quran 37:102 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."

They say that the one who was to be sacrificed promised Abraham that he will be patient ... and the Quran itself says that Ishmael fulfilled his promise and was patient:

Quran 21:85 And [mention] Ishmael and Idrees and Dhul-Kifl; all were of the patient.

Quran 19:54 And mention in the Book, Ishmael. Indeed, he was true to his promise, and he was a messenger and a prophet.

Patience and Promise are not linked with Isaac in the Quran, and there isn't anything in the Islamic or Jewish tradition that mentions a major alternate event where these attributes were demonstrated by Ishmael. Qurtubi doesn't seem to offer a counter-argument here to this reasoning, though he might have mentioned something under the respective verses [If I find time I'll check and post it].

Further they argue:

Quran 37:112 And We gave him good tidings of Isaac, a prophet from among the righteous.

Quran 11:71 And his Wife was standing, and she smiled. Then We gave her good tidings of Isaac and after Isaac, Jacob.

The argument presented is that before Isaac was born, his birth was announced by God, and he was foretold to be a Prophet, and it was foretold that he would have a son named Jacob. If God was to command Abraham to slaughter Isaac as a child then that would go against His previous Word.

Qurtubi argues that there are alternate explanations that may resolve this. It could have been that the promise of Prophethood was made after the birth and sacrifice saga. And regarding Jacob it could have been that either the sacrifice saga occured after Jacob's birth, or that it isn't necessarily implied in the Prophecy that Jacob was to be a descendant of Isaac.

Qurtubi mentions the Sahabah and Tabieen who held the view that Ishmael was to be sacrificed:

Below is my personal translation from [ Tafsir Al Qurtubi , bottom page 1 , page 2 ], the portions in [brackets] are my own comments.

A second group of people said: Ishmael was sacrificed for Allah. Those who said this include Abu Hurairah and Abu Tufail ‘Amr ibn Wathila. The same is also narrated from Umar and Ibn Abbas. The Tabieen from whom this is narrated include Saeed bin Musaib, Shabi, Yusuf bin Mehran, Mujahid, Rabi bin Ans, Muhammad bin Ka'ab, Qurzi, Kalbi and Alqamah.

When Abu Saeed bin Zarir was asked about who was sacrificed for Allah, he said in poetry: " No doubt that the one sacrificed was Ishmael. The Book and Sunnah is agreed with that. This is a special previlage that was specified by Allah for our Prophet. Tafsir and Tawil were about this, if you are from the Prophet's Ummah then don't deny the previlage that was granted specially to him"

Asmi said: When I asked Abu Umar ... about the one sacrificied, he said: "What has happened to your intelligence? When was Isaac in Mecca? It was Ishmael who was in Mecca, he was the one built the House of Allah [Kaabah] with his father, and the place of sacrifice is in Mecca. It is narrated from the Prophet that the one sacrificed was Ishmael".

An important point made above is that the greater Pilgriage (Hajj) involves rituals linked with Ishmael, e.g. the Tawaf of the Kaabah (built by Ishmael), the Saye between Safa and Marwah (actions of Hagar, mother of Ishmael) ... the stoning and sacrifice are also done in Mecca and it only makes sense that they would be regarding Ishmael since Isaac was never said to be in Mecca.


The case for Isaac:

Qurtubi mentions that the verse used to support this view is:

Quran 37:101 So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy. [Regarding the one who was to be sacrificed]

With 37:101 being unclear, the only other place where good tidings or indeed any prophecy of "a child of Abraham" is mentioned in the Quran seems to be in clear reference to Isaac:

Quran 37:112 And We gave him good tidings of Isaac, a prophet from among the righteous.

Quran 11:70 And his Wife was standing, and she smiled. Then We gave her good tidings of Isaac and after Isaac, Jacob.

Qurtubi attributes the view that 'Isaac was the one to be sacrificed' to several Sahabah and Tabieen, and he notes that this is the stronger tradtion:

Below is my personal translation from [ Tafsir Al Qurtubi , page 1 ], the portions in [brackets] are my own comments.

The Ulema differed about the one who was commanded to be sacrificied. Many have the opinion that it refers to Isaac. The ones who stated this include Abbas bin Abdul Mutalib. His son was Abdullah, and this is the Saheeh [authentic] narration from Abdullah. Thauri and Ibn Jarij attribute to Ibn Abbas: "Zabih Ullah [Title: Sacrificied for Allah] was Isaac". The same is attributed to Abdullah bin Masud; a person asked him about the most honourable person on which Abdullah responded: "He is Joseph son of Jacob son of Isaac Zabi-Ullah [Title: Sacrificied for Allah] son of Abraham Khalil-Ullah [Title: Friend of Allah)]." [this is in relation to a report by] Hammad bin Zayed narrated from the Prophet: "Al-Karim son of Al-Karim son of Al-Karim son of Al-Karim ... Joseph son of Jacob son of Isaac son of Abraham" [Hadith is also Saheeh Bukhari].

Abu Zubair narrates from Jabir that Isaac is the one sacrificied for Allah. The same is also narrated from Ali ibn Abi Talib.. It is also narrated from Abdullah bin Umar that Isaac was sacrificied for Allah. Umar also said the same. These are seven Sahabah. Tabieen and others also narrated the same, which include Alqah, Shabi, Mujahid, Saeed bin Jabeer, Ka'ab Ala Habar, Qatadah, Musruq, Ikramah, Qasim bin Abi Bazha, Ata, Mutaqil, Abdul Rahman bin Basit, Zuhri, Sa'di, Abdullah bin Huzail and Imam Malik bin Anas, they all said that Zabi-Ullah is Isaac. The same is the view of the People of the Book, the Jews and the Christians. Many people adopted this same view, these include Nihas, Tibri and others.

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