Does it matter who the sacrificial child was?

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We have all seen and/or participated in sibling rivalry, but not in the context exhibited by Isaac’s Christianity (used in a loose sense to include Jewish) and Ismail’s Islam.

Believers from both Christianity and Islam concur on the following facts.

  • Abraham (Abram, Ibrahimi) was father to Isaac (Ishaq) and Ismail (Ishmael).
  • Sarah (Sarai) was Isaac’s mother, and Hagar (Hajira) was Ismail’s mother.
  • Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and their wives Sarah, Rebecca and Leah were buried in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, in theWest Bank near Jerusalem.
  • Isaac founded Christianity and Ismail founded Islam.

The centre of contention relating to this immediate family is whether the sacrificial child was Isaac or Ismail. The root of this argument is partly embedded in whether Sarah and/or Hagar was (were) wife (wives) to Abraham. Digest the brothers’ followers’ arguments below.

Christians: Hagar was Sarah’s maid. Sarah handed her to Abraham to cohabit with solely to bear him a son because she herself wasn’t bearing children. ‘…Go into my maid, Sarah urged’ [Genesis 16:2]; ‘…your maid is in your power’ [Genesis 16:6]; ‘…Hager, maid of Sarai’ [Genesis 16:7]. Even God himself tells her ‘…Return to your mistress, and submit to her’ [Genesis 16:9]. Consequently, Hagar was never regarded as a wife of Abraham.

Muslims: The Bible states ‘…and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife’ [Genesis 16:3]. Sarah consented to her husband’s marrying a second wife for the sake of children. Therefore, Hagar was a legitimate second wife.

Christians: There is no mention of Hagar in the Quran. In addition, the word for wife, imra’ah, in ‘…And his wife was standing there and laughed…’ [Surah 11:71], is in singular. If Hagar had also been one of Abraham’s wives, the text would have said ‘one of his wives’, or it would have positively identified her as ‘his wife Sarah’. This is a testimony to the fact that Hagar was merely her mistress.

Muslims: The Bible states ‘…And yet she really is my sister, daughter of my father; only not daughter of my mother. And she became my wife.’ [Genesis 20:12]. Sarah being half-sister to Abraham couldn’t have been a real wife.

Christians: Marrying a step-sister was lawful at that time. Marrying a brother’s daughter was also allowed. People married from within their immediate families.

Muslims: Abraham was 100 years old [Genesis 2:5] when Isaac was born, but 86 years old [Genesis 16:16] when Ismail was born. Therefore, Ismail was his only son during the 14 years. When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his ‘only son’, this could only have been Ismail. Had there been two sons, God wouldn’t have made reference to the ‘only son’.

Christians: Ismail was older, but was born outside marriage. Therefore, Isaac was Abraham’s only legitimate son at that time. So, God refers to the ‘only legitimate son’. Moreover, Hagar and Ismail had been sent away by Abraham [Genesis 21:8-20]. Consequently, Ismail couldn’t have been there at the sacrificial time.

Muslims: Sarah’s half-sisterhood to Abraham makes Isaac a child born out of incest. Therefore, Isaac isn’t a ‘real son’.

Christians: The Quran’s only passage that makes reference to Abraham and the sacrifice [Surah 37:100-113] does not say which son was to be sacrificed. However, the Bible mentions Isaac, by name; ‘…your only son Isaac…Sacrifice him …’ [Genesis 22:2]; and ‘…offered his son Isaac…’ [James 2:21].

Muslims: Only the corrupted versions of the Bible mention Isaac by name, in order to glorify the younger branch of the family, descended from Isaac. But, the actual revelations of God does not mention Isaac.

Christians: The Quran states that Abraham prayed to God ‘…O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!’ [Surah 37:100]; ‘….And we gave him the good news of Isaac – a prophet, – one of the Righteous…’ [Surah 37:112]; ‘…I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you …’ [Genesis 17:19-21]. Abraham prayed for a righteous son and God granted him Isaac.

Muslims: It is only after Abraham passed the test and the sacrifice was ransomed, that he was given the news about Isaac [Surah 37:112]. So it couldn’t have been Isaac because he wasn’t born.

Christians: Nowhere in the Quran is it stated that Ismail was promised to Abraham, and that he was a righteous one. The Quran states that ’…And (remember) Isma’il, Idris, and Zul-kifl, all (men) of constancy and patience [Surah 21:85]. So Ismail is not the Righteous son Abraham prayed for. [Surah 37:100-112] and [Genesis 17:19-21] confirm that the sacrificial son, Isaac, was specifically promised to Abraham.

Muslims: The character of the sacrificial son in [Surah 21:85] and [Surah 37:102] strengthens the argument that Ismail was the sacrificial son and not Isaac. Ismail was among the ones who were patient, the exact trait by which the sacrificial son is described.

Christians: The sacrifice was real. “…And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father! …Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together…”[Genesis 22:7-8].

Muslims: The sacrifice was a mere dream. ‘…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!’ [Surah 37:102]

Christians: Sarah; Isaac and his wife Rebecca; and Isaac’s son Jacob and his wife Leah are buried alongside Abraham, a strong testimony indicative of the legitimacy of the wife and the sacrificial son…….The argument goes on and on.

These perpetual arguments are exhibited in many different contexts. Apart from the need to set the historical facts right, does it matter if the sacrificial child was Isaac or Ismail? Can’t we disengage our religious emotional attachments and live happily together? Would Isaac and Ismail have sanctioned the massacres we are witnessing? Yes, Sarah exiled Ismail, but there was reconciliation and Isaac’s son Esau married Ismail’s daughter Basemath (see Abraham’s family tree chart).

Fanatic attachment to ideology without room for flexibility and constructive engagement has in some instances (Bosnia, Nigeria, Sudan) led Christians and Muslims to massacre each other. Such differences are not healthy for brotherhood/sisterhood.

Abraham chart

Online links

Bible –

Quran –


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