Today most Muslims believe that Allah (SWT) commanded Abraham (AS) to sacrifice Ishmael (AS), yet the Torah names the boy as Isaac (AS). Incredibly 38 of the companions of Muhammad (SAW) confirm the Jewish narrative and are recorded saying it was Isaac and not Ishmael.
Since its beginnings Islam’s finest scholars have debated which son Abraham was commanded to sacrifice, yet both Judaism and Christianity host no such discussion. The reason for this is simple, the Torah names Isaac multiple times, while Quran keeps the boy’s identity secret. In the absence of a name Muslim scholars sought answers from those who walked with Muhammad and it is their opinions that we wish to explore.
Isaac Ishaq Yitzhak
Ishmael Ismail Yishmael
|Five||The Torah names the boy Isaac 5 times||Zero||The Quran leaves the boy nameless|
|38||Of Muhammad’s companions name the boy Isaac||28||Of Muhammad’s companions name the boy Ishmael|
|3||Ahadith state Abbas b. Abd alMuttalib heard the Prophet name the boy Isaac||0||There no ahadith where a Sahaba heard the Prophet naming the boy Ishmael|
|131||Opinions attributed to Muhammad’s companions name the boy Isaac||133||Opinions attributed to Muhammad’s companions name the boy Ishmael|
|The Prophet said in a conversation, “Then we ransomed him with a tremendous victim.” And he also said, “He is Isaac.”||The ransomed one was Ishmael, but the Jews claimed it was Isaac. The Jews, however, are untruthful|
Abu Kurayb – Zayd b. al-Hubab – al-Hasan b. Dinar – ‘Ali ibn Zayd b. Jud’an – al-Hasan – al-Ahnaf b. Qays – ‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib
Yunnus b. Abd al-Ala – Ibn Wahb – Umar b. Qays – Ata b. Abi Rabah – Abdallah b. Abbas
What does scripture say?
Akedah – Genesis 22:1 – 18
After these events, God tested Abraham. “Abraham!” He said. “Yes?”, “Take your son, your only one, whom you love – Isaac, and go away to the Moriah area. Bring him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will designate to you”. Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took his two men with him, along with his son Isaac. He cut wood for the offering, and set out, heading for the place that God had designated. On the third day, Abraham looked up, and saw the place from afar. Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go to that place. We will worship and then return to you”. Abraham took the offering wood and placed it on [the shoulders of] his son Isaac. He himself took the fire and the slaughter knife, and the two of them went together. Isaac spoke up to Abraham. “Father”, “Yes, my son?”, “Here is the fire and the wood. But where is the lamb for the offering?”, “God will see to a lamb for an offering, my son” replied Abraham.The two of them continued together. When they finally came to the place designated by God, Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood. He then bound his son Isaac, and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham reached out and took the slaughter knife to slit his son’s throat. God’s angel called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!”, “Yes?”, “Do not harm the boy. Do not do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God. You have not withheld your only son from Him”. Abraham then looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He went and got the ram, sacrificing it as an all-burned offering in his son’s place. Abraham named the place “God will See” (Adonai Yireh). Today, it is therefore said, “On God’s Mountain, He will be seen”. God’s angel called to Abraham from heaven a second time, and said, “God declares, ‘I have sworn by My own Essence, that because you performed this act, and did not hold back your only son, I will bless you greatly, and increase your offspring like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your offspring shall inherit their enemies’ gate. All the nations of the world shall be blessed through your descendants – all because you obeyed My voice.'”
Dhabih – Suwar 37:99-113
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.
Which view is authentic?
Proving one opinion over the other is not our intention as both views have a legitimate home in the Islamic tradition. We’re simply encouraging those that say the Torah has been corrupted because it names the boy Isaac to go over the words of the Sahaba, as many of those that walked with Muhammad agreed with the Torah’s teaching.
If naming the Dhabih Allah was the purpose of this narrative the Quran would have included a name, but the name is left out as his identity is not as important as the message.
To modern man child sacrifice seems barbaric and evil, but at the time of the patriarchs child sacrifice was a common form of pagan worship. There is no greater sacrifice than giving up that which you most love, and in dark period many extended this to their own children. Without Abraham’s test many could have assumed child sacrifice an appropriate form of worshiping Allah. But Allah’s rejection of human sacrifice taught man that while we are to submit to Allah in total obedience, we must do so in ways that are pleasing to Him.
This biblical narrative helped eliminated an evil pagan ritual that was widespread in antiquities, but it also speaks to us, telling us to love our children, to care for them, teach them, and cherish them with all our heart.
Allah knows best.
We owe a huge debt to Reuven Firestone who identified the following muhaddithin as preservers of the traditions cited, Ibn Qutayba, al-Tabari, al-Tha’labi, al-Zamakhshari, al-Tabarsi, al-Kisa’i, Ibn al-Athir, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Jarir and Mujir al-Din.
|Supporters of Isaac||Supports of Ishmael|
|al’ Abbas b. ‘Abd alMuttalib and the Prophet (SAW)||3||Amir||2|
|al’ Abbas b. ‘Abd alMuttalib||8||‘Amir b. Wa’ila (see also ‘Amir)||1|
|Abdallah b. Mas’ud||2||Abdallah b. ‘Umar(see also Ibn ‘Umar)||1|
|‘Abdallah b. Shaqiq||2||Abu ‘Abdallah (al’Abbas b. ‘Abd alMuttalib?)||2|
|Abd alRahman b. Abi Sabit||1||Abu Ja’far (including Abu Ja’far Muhammad. b. ‘Ali)||3|
|Abu Hudhayl||3||Abu Salih||2|
|Abu Hurayra + Ka’b||3||Abu alTufayl||3|
|Abu Malik||1||Ahmad b. Hanbal||2|
|Abu Maysara||3||Amru b. al’Ula||1|
|‘Ali b. Mas’ud||1||alDahhak||1|
|Husayn||1||Father of Ibn Abi Hatim||2|
|Ibn Abi Burka||1||Ibn Ishaq said heard Muhammad b. Ka’b alQurazi||4|
|Ibn Abi alHudhayl||1||alKalbi||2|
|Ibn Mas’ud||5||Muhammad b. Ka’b alQurtubi||1|
|Ibn Sabit||5||Mujahid + Ibn ‘Abbas||2|
|‘Ikrima||7||alRabi’ b. Anis||3|
|alJaba’i||1||Sa’id b. alMusayyib||6|
|Ka’b alAhbar||10||alSha’bi + Ibn ‘Abbas||5|
|Makhul||2||Yusuf b. Mihran||6|
|alQasim b. Abi Barra||1|
|alQasim b. Abi Yarza||1|
|‘Ubayd b. ‘Umayr||3|
|‘Umar b. alKhattab||4|
|‘Uthman b. Abi Hadir||1|
|‘Uthman b. Hadir||1|
|Sa’id b. Jubayr||5||4|