The Counter Crusade

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Abraham and the Sacrifice

Happy Eid everyone!

Here is the Qur'anic account of the story that we celebrate on the Eid al Adha:

So We gave him (Abraham) the good news of a boy, possessing forbearance. And when he attained to working with him, he said: O my son! surely I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice you; consider then what you see. He said: O my father! do what you are commanded; if Allah please, you will find me of the patient ones. So when they both submitted and he laid him prostrate on his forehead, We called out to him saying: O Ibrahim! You have indeed fulfilled the vision; surely thus do We reward the doers of good. Most surely this is a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. And We left (this blessing) for him among later generations: "Peace be upon Abraham." Thus do We reward the doers of good.
(Qur'an 37: 101-110).

Some Muslims point out that unlike Jewish belief, the Qur'an never says that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, nor does it say that Allah gave that dream to Abraham, and that the dream might have been from Satan. However it seems to me that it came from God, and God knows best.

The other main difference between the Muslim and Jewish belief in regards to this incident is that according to Islam, it was Ismaa'il (Ishmael) who was to be sacrificed, whereas in the Bible it was Ishaaq (Isaac), peace be upon them both and upon their father. Ismaa'il is the father of the Arabs, and Ishaaq is the father of the Jews. So why would the Old Testament be altered to say that Ishaaq and not Ismaa'il was to be sacrificed?

Because God says in the Old Testament,

"I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your seed all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." (Genesis 22: 16-18)

You see, Abraham had only one son back then, one seed. And God promised that through the descendants of that one seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed! So in order to show their superiority over the other nations of the earth, it would have benefited the Jews greatly to change the word "Ishmael" to "Isaac" in the Old Testament.

"But the transgressors changed the word from that which had been given them" (Qur'an 2:59)

`How can you say, "We [the Jews] are wise, for we have the law of the LORD," when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?' (From the NIV Bible, Jeremiah 8:8)

Different translation:

"How can you say, 'We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us'? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie."  (From the RSV Bible, Jeremiah 8:8)

The problem is, however, that only the word "Ishmael" was changed into "Isaac", leaving the Old Testament with several contradictions. For although that was the only place where it was stated clearly that Ishmael was the son who was sacrificed, many other places in the Old Testament indirectly prove that Ishmael was that son.

The first contradiction is in the very same couple of lines in Genesis 22, where God says, "because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son". Thus, at the time of the sacrifice, Abraham had only one son. Yet who was Abraham's first son, Ishmael or Isaac? (Looks like I reverted to the Biblical spelling of the names).

As the Old Testament tells us, Sarah was barren and could not conceive, so she gave Hagar to Abraham that he would be able to have a son.

"So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived." (Genesis 16:3),, (Genesis 16:4),

Now we all know that Ishmael was Hagar's son. And he was the first one to be born. Therefore when Abraham was going to sacrifice his one and only son, it must have been Ishmael, as Isaac had not been born yet!

Now Sarah began to hate Hagar after she became pregnant (out of jealousy), and so Hagar ran out into the desert (Genesis 16: 4-8). But an Angel found Hagar in the desert and told her to go back to her mistress Sarah and submit to her (Genesis 16: 9), and that if she did so, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." (Genesis 16:10),.

Now as was said above, the angel told Hagar that if she returned and submitted to her mistress, God will reward her by making her descendants too numerous to count. Therefore her son would be a blessing to her. This confirms that it was Hagar's son Ishmael who was to be sacrificed, for that one and only seed of Abraham was described as having descendants "as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore" (22:17).

The angel of the LORD also said to her:
       "You are now with child
       and you will have a son.
       You shall name him Ishmael,
       for the LORD has heard of your misery. (Genesis 16: 11)

God heard of her misery and so decided to make her son a blessing for her, a son whose descendants will be too numerous to count, and as was said above, through that one seed (for Isaac was not born yet), "all nations on earth will be blessed".

However, another "verse" was added after this, that completely contradicts all the above verses. It seems there might have been conflict between Arabs and Jews when this verse was added, completely going against the meaning of the previous verse and the one mentioned in the very beginning:

He will be a wild donkey of a man;
       his hand will be against everyone
       and everyone's hand against him,
       and he will live in hostility
       toward all his brothers." (Genesis 16: 12)

How is that possible? According to what was said before, God felt compassion for Hagar because she was hated by Sarah and ran off to the desert. So God, having heard of her misery, decided to give her a blessed son if she returned to her mistress, as a reward. A son whose descendants will be too many to count and will be a blessing to the nations of the earth. So how could God then say that her son will be a "donkey of a man"? It is clearly in contradiction to the rest of the Bible and was added later. And how could it say that he will "live in hostility toward all his brothers" when he DID NOT have any brothers yet?

Finally, it is easy to see that the descendants of Ishmael (Ismaa'il) i.e. the Arabs far outnumber the descendants of Isaac (Ishaaq) i.e. the Jews.

Another major contradiction:

"So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael." (Genesis 16: 15-16),

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

Ishmael was born when Abraham was 87 (he was 86 when Hagar became pregnant), Isaac when Abraham was 100. That means there was a difference of about 13 years between Ishmael and Isaac.

Now according to the Bible, Hagar was sent out into the desert ANOTHER TIME, because Sarah had given birth to Isaac and did not want Ishmael to have a part of Isaac's inheritance.

"But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." (Genesis 21: 9-10),

That would mean that when Ishmael went with his mother to the desert the second time, he was 13 years old! But that clearly does not fit into the story as it continues:

"Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die." And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation."

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

 God was with the boy as he grew up...."
(Genesis 21: 14-20),

According to this story, Ishmael was still a little boy when Isaac was born, and Hagar was sent off to the desert with him (Ishmael). He was a little boy who cried when they ran out of water, and she lifted him up and gave him water to drink. But if Isaac had been born by then, that would make Ishmael 13 yrs old, at least. How do we explain the contradiction?

The reason is because the part about Sarah telling Abraham to get rid of Hagar and her son is false. It was added later to explain why Hagar was sent off to the desert with her son. Whoever wrote it, explained it by saying that Sarah's son had been born and she was jealous and greedy so she sent them away so that they don't share of the inheritance that Abraham would leave to Isaac.

The Islamic Traditions, however, tell us a completely different account. Abraham was commanded by God to take Hagar and Ishmael to the desert and leave them in His care. Ishmael was still a young child or baby. Isaac had not been born yet. There was no hatred between Sarah and Hagar. They were friends and wives on equal terms and there was no jealousy between them (may God be pleased with them and him, and keep their names far from such accusations). Yes Ishmael was still a child when Hagar went to the desert again, and Isaac would be born 13 years later. The story of the sacrifice happened when Ishmael had become old enough to work with his father, probably between age 10-12, while he was still Abraham's only son.

So what's the lesson for today? It was Ishmael who was to be sacrificed by Abraham, for Isaac was yet to be born (peace be upon all three of them).

And what's the other lesson for today? If you want to change a detail in a story, you better be real good or you'll create many contradictions!


  • somone better read this post! I spent a whole lotta time working on it!

    in fact, anyone who reads it should leave me a comment, so i can have some comfort that someone out there (hopefully more) has read it.

    By Blogger Silencer, at 12:16 AM, January 11, 2006  

  • I read it!

    By Blogger Elizabeth, at 4:30 AM, January 11, 2006  

  • Thanks for the references to the bible. I meant to do that on my own one day, but now I have it here!

    By Blogger Morningdew11, at 9:54 AM, January 11, 2006  

  • morningdew- glad i could help.

    elizabeth- thanks for that! that's all i needed :)

    By Blogger Silencer, at 10:46 AM, January 11, 2006  

  • Very interesting.

    I always had trouble with the story of the sacrifice when I was a kid, and until pretty recently it still bothered me.

    By Blogger DA, at 3:23 AM, January 12, 2006  

  • nice work brother.

    By Blogger Sadiq M. Alam, at 10:48 AM, January 12, 2006  

  • "So in order to show their superiority over the other nations of the earth, it would have benefited the Jews greatly to change the word "Ishmael" to "Isaac" in the Old Testament."

    I see your point, but arent Ishmael and Issac still both descendents of Adam and Eve? And as you suggest, both arabs and jews come from the same line (Abraham), so why does God pick one to be superior? I mean, if my parents did that I think me and my brother would pretty much hate each other for a long time. Wouldn't God think so as well?

    Why does God want one sect of his creations dominating other sects of his creations anyway? Aren't all his creations equal before God?

    This passage makes little sense to me:
    "Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies"

    How can a son of Adam be an enemy of a son of Adam, in the eyes of God? Are they not all his children?

    By Blogger Steve, at 1:21 PM, January 12, 2006  

  • I didnt say Islam says one is superior to another.

    When the prophet's wife Hafsa told the Prophet's Jewish wife safiyyah that she's better than her, and Safiyyah went crying to the Prophet, he said to her,

    "Why didnt you say: My father (ancestor) is Aaron, and my (distant) uncle is Moses, so how can you be better than me?" (notice he didnt say she was better either).

    and he told the people in Mecca not to be proud of their lineages, because everyone came from Adam, and Adam came from dust.

    I'm just quoting what the Old Testament says.

    By Blogger Silencer, at 4:40 PM, January 12, 2006  

  • Surely though, to any mother a thirteen year old child is still a 'boy'? So re. the last incident of Hagaar being sent into the desert, the use of that word doesn't really prove anything.

    At any rate, though, it always surprises me how many students of religious scripts become obsessed with small details such as this. I don't think God really cares either way; he's probably more concerned with whether we treat everyone in our way with respect and love. If we wanted to please God we should surely just live in peace with each other, go work in a soup kitchen and stop bickering about things which took place thousands of years ago.

    But that's only my humble opinion. Maybe He really does favour Halal over Kosher. Or the other way around. I can't imagine so though.

    By Blogger J's Girlfriend, at 11:13 PM, January 12, 2006  

  • silencer - I understand, I didn't mean to suggest you did. But if the claim is that the jealousy over God liking Ishmael over Issac motivating changing the texts, then I was simply pointing out that I dont know why God is playing favorites with his creations!

    By Blogger Steve, at 2:56 PM, January 13, 2006  

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