The Claim that Ishmael was the Sacrifice

Many Muslims allege that one indication that the Bible has been altered to discredit Islam is the story of Abraham and the divine command to sacrifice his son. Most Muslims insist that this son was Ishmael. The Bible, however, claims that the son was Isaac (Genesis 22:9, Hebrews 11:17, and James 2:21).

There is only one reference in all the Qur'an that relates this incident and it begins with Abraham making this request:

"O my Lord, grant me a righteous (son)!" So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear. Then when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said, "O my son, I see in a 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!" So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah) and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice), We called out to him, "O Abraham, thou hast 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. -- Surat-us Saffat (37):99-107

Notice carefully in this passage, which is the only one dealing with the sacrifice, that the name of the son is not given! It does indicate, however, that this was the boy whose birth was foretold as "good news." If one searches the whole Qur'an, he will find nothing mentioned about the birth of Ishmael. In fact very little is said about Ishmael, and absolutely nothing is said about the identity of his mother or his sons. It is from the Bible that we learn that Ishmael's mother was named Hagar, and that Ishmael had twelve sons (Gen. 25:12-17). Getting back to the "good news" mentioned in the above verse of the Qur'an, we read this about Isaac and his mother Sarah:

Has the story reached thee of the honored guests of Abraham? Behold, they entered his presence and said 'Peace!" He said "Peace". ... They said, "Fear not," and they gave him glad tidings of a son endowed with knowledge. But his wife came forward (laughing) aloud! She smote her forehead and said, "A barren old woman! " They said, "Even so has thy Lord spoken: and He is full of wisdom and knowledge." -- Surat-uz Zariyat (51):24-25, 28-30

In addition to this, we read a summary of Abraham and Isaac which follows the Qur'anic passage dealing with the sacfifice:

Peace and salutation to Abraham! Thus indeed do we reward those who do right. For he was one of Our believing Servants. And We gave him the good news of Isaac - a prophet - one of the righteous. We blessed him and Isaac. -- Surat-us Saffat (37):109-113

Notice the phrases "and they gave him glad tidings of a son" and "We gave him the good news of Isaac." No such wording can be found for the birth of Ishmael in the Qur'an. It should now be clear that the son about whom the good news was given and who was prepared for sacfifice as described in Sura 37:99-107 was not Ishmael, but Isaac which is exactly what the Bible teaches.

In the beginning of this discussion, it was mentioned that most Muslims believe the son was Ishmael. Not all do! Those Muslims who have carefully studied the Qur'an realize that the evidence points to Isaac. For this very reason, Yusuf Ali in his world-renowned commentary of the Holy Qur'an, page 1204, note 4096, admits the following: "The boy thus born was according to Muslim tradition (which however is not unanimous on this point) the first-born of Abraham viz. Ismail." Notice the words "according to Muslim tradition" and "which however is not unanimous." It is obvious that the claim that the son was Ishmael is not according to the Qur'an! It is important to be reminded that the Qur'an itself states that it came to confirm the previous Holy Books, not to contradict them. It appears that the Qur'an is in agreement with the Bible and that it is Muslim tradition which disagrees!

References for the differing Muslim traditions

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